The Cowback Century: 100 Miles Through Georgia and Alabama

Posted 03/03/12 by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in America's Trails, Trail Use

Photo © Katherine Jeter

For her 70th birthday nearly four years ago, Dr. Katherine Jeter decided to mark the occasion with an extraordinary physical and philanthropic feat: cycle 70 miles in one day on the Little Miami Scenic Trail in Ohio, and raise $70,000 for charity. We ran a story on her challenge in Rails to Trails magazine, and Jeter ended up surpassing her fundraising goal. And even though she'd only picked up cycling in her late 60s, she'd found her pedaling stride.

"This whole bicycling addiction really took," she says. 

So naturally, she didn't stop there. After all, Jeter isn't exactly the idle type. She's an avid swimmer and skier, and her husband says she's known as the "Silver Tornado" for her snow-white hair, physical drive and risk-taking nature. So three years later, she decided to up the ante and complete a century for her 73rd birthday.

This time, she gathered four companions, including two of her children and two friends, to pedal 100 miles on the combined Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga trails, which meet at the state line to form a continuous paved corridor connecting Atlanta, Ga., to Anniston, Ala.

The logistics were simple enough. Jeter lives in Spartanburg, S.C., an easy trip to their starting point on the Silver Comet just outside of Atlanta. With her husband driving the SAG (support and gear) vehicle, Jeter's crew planned to pedal one way from the start of the Silver Comet to the end of the Chief Ladiga.

They were gifted on the day of the ride--October 22, 2011--with a "cold, crisp, colorful fall day," says Jeter. "That trail, there's just nothing like it. Laundry blowing on the line, the cows, the people."

Photo © Katherine Jeter

In fact, those cow pastures ended up inspiring the name for the ride, the "Cowback Century." Every time Jeter and company would pass a herd, they'd yell, "Cow back!"

After the ride, Jeter's daughter, Sally Jeter Hammond, put together a slideshow of the experience, titled "Rolling Inspiration." Sally, at age 52, had only picked up cycling a few months before the ride. Like her mother, she'd always been an athlete but had never spent much time on two wheels. Yet with only 12 weeks of training, Sally ended up dusting everyone else (it took her seven hours and 18 minutes).

"She was at the end in Anniston about 45 minutes before the four of us arrived," says Jeter. "That was great, great fun."

In her slideshow, Sally also talks about her motivation for training and getting back in shape for the ride. "Six years ago," she wrote, "my focus on fitness changed when I became a single parent and I put all of my energy into taking care of [my kids]. While they were and still are worth every bit of my attention, I inadvertently stopped taking care of me."

Her mother's example also helped light a fire under her. "The dictionary defines inspiration in many ways," Sally wrote, "but this is my favorite descriptor: an influence that stimulates creative thought or action. It doesn't take much to stimulate my creativity, but it took my gray-haired mother's amazing influence to ignite action on my part. If you know my mother, you know she can ignite and excite most anybody! It's amazing where a little inspiration can take you."

So what's next for Jeter? With the "Cowback" behind her, she's already scoping out her next challenge: looking for another big rail-trail to ride!

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