On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, a diverse group of Urban Explorers set on an off-road adventure to ride around the city in areas not typically traversed in our daily lives. The first annual “BeltGrind” ride on April 2nd was billed as a “Bicycle Odyssey through Southern Space and Time” and, oddly enough, lived up to its billing.
Background of the Atlanta BeltLine
Like many Southern cities, the early days of Atlanta’s commercial development were made possible by a network of railroad tracks that ran through and around the city. Over time, many of these tracks became obsolete and unused as ground transportation via highways and trucks supplanted and replaced trains. While Atlanta remains a busy hub for railroads, many in town neighborhoods are threaded with the unused remains of a dormant rail system. In 1999, a visionary Georgia Tech graduate student named Ryan Gravel crafted a thesis paper around the idea that these rails could form the basis for a wide-ranging urban redevelopment program that would reconnect over 40 Atlanta neighborhoods covering a 22-mile area. The project that Gravel envisioned became known as the Atlanta Beltline and the beginning stages have changed the landscape of our great City.
The Eastside Trail of the Beltline opened in October 2012 and has been an overwhelming success, drawing visitors by the thousands and development dollars by the multi-millions. The next stretch to be developed, the Westside trail, just started being paved. However, the rest of the area comprising the 22-mile loop is an undeveloped jumble of old train tracks, brambles, rocks, and goat track.
Enter the BeltGrinders
Atlanta subterranean community organizer Angel Luis Poventud and his band of merry pranksters had the idea that it would be fun, educational, and more fun, to organize a party disguised as a race around the full length of the Beltline. With a loosely hashed out route and some checkpoints along the way, 100 or so riders on all types of rigs and in all kinds of gear set out to explore. Along the way, riders were encouraged to stop at several checkpoints to have their belts stamped with the digits for 2-0-1-7, with a final BeltGrind logo being stamped as a reward for finishing the ride.
With spirits high and flasks full, we set out to meet the unknown. While some folks had been on this path before, for most of us it was uncharted territory. Despite the best efforts of the organizers, several folks wandered aimlessly and got off the trail. No worries, all roads eventually led back to the finish line, where our scratched up limbs were met with a Bluegrass band, a pickup truck converted into a swimming pool and lots of cold beer. Most importantly, the finishers received the BeltGrind Brand on their belts as a reward for their efforts. A true Badge of Honor.
As you can see from the photos, everyone had a great time. Thank you to all the organizers and I can’t wait to ride again in the 2nd annual event.