Setting a goal on an iconic climb
Some of the goals for Walker Gap are more important than others
Walker Gap is an iconic climb. Not globally iconic or even regionally, but you would have to include it among the great climbs around Birmingham — and just getting there makes it tougher. It’s the kind of climb that inspires goals, but there’s something at the top that may make you recalibrate yours.
By the most direct route you’ll ride about 35 miles to the bottom in Washington Valley. And then go up Straight Mountain.
It’s classic county asphalt. Patched haphazardly and pocked with shallow holes orange with clay washed from where the road was carved from the mountain. Or maybe it’s clay coming up from where the road has worn through.
At the base, it winds gently around ramshackle houses with trash burning in the backyards, chained dogs barking, and roosters crowing. Then come switchbacks, steep and scored where a trailer or something has scraped through the turns again and again. It climbs 700 feet over almost two miles, averaging a 7% grade and hitting at least 15%. As you climb, the houses are less frequent and farther from the road. You begin to see hints of a view through the trees, and the fall leaves seem to reflect that orange clay roadside.
I didn’t have a specific goal in mind when I started; I hadn’t ridden it in over five years. Maybe just a few seconds faster this time.
Just before the last few bends there’s a cross on a roadside reflector that marks the spot where a young man lost his life when his car went off the bluff. They found his body nine days later. His mother said then her goal in life is to put a guard rail there. That was four years ago. The county says there’s not enough of a shoulder to support it.
It’s hard not to have even a vague goal in mind when making the climb. But my goal seems pretty insignificant compared to that one.
The ride: Solo Walker Gap loop