5K in Every State: Alabama!

After the run through Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Ga and a beautiful dinner in Atlanta on Saturday, we hit the road Sunday morning in search of breakfast. As noted in “5K in Every State – Georgia!” we found the best little diner ever. We got off track a bit and didn’t leave there until nearly 12:30. Um, that’s a 2.5 hour delay! But, it was the last day of the tri-state tour, and by this point we were pretty chill about the whole thing. Here is what Sunday’s schedule looked like:

10:00 On the road to Birmingham (we messed that up)
11:15-4:30 (time change to CDT) Explore Birmingham (turned out to be 3:00-4:30)
5:30 Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run
7:00 Dinner

We pulled into town a little behind schedule, but still had time to poke around. We saw the 16th Street Baptist Church (from the outside), and stepped across the street to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. It’s tough to put into words the flood of emotions as I walked through, saw, and read. Anger, sorrow, heartbreak, shame, overwhelming sadness. But it felt right to feel those things. If you are ever in Birmingham, please see this. I cried a lot, as I suspect many people do while visiting this museum. This is a horrific part of our Nation’s history, but it should not be forgotten. In my opinion, we can only move forward by learning from the past, which means we should never forget.

16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham's first black church to organize in 1871.
16th Street Baptist Church was Birmingham’s first black church to organize in 1871. The current church, however, was built in 1911.

The Bham run was the Magic City AIDS Walk & 5K Fun Run to benefit the Birmingham AIDS Outreach organization. It was held at Railroad Park, which is a beautiful park in an area that is experiencing some development. Lots of apartment/condo/townhouse type buildings going up with a handful of little restaurants and a brewery nearby.

I’m going to be up front about this–there was absolutely no chance I was going to run one step of this race. After two runs in two days, I could barely move. I felt like I needed a six-hour yoga class followed by a couple hour sports massage. Since I was going to walk it, and barely walk it at that, Kathy joined me for this one. I’m glad she did, because we were so slow that the event volunteers and police officers all left the course while we were still out there! I’m sure they had no idea we were that far behind. But there we were, walking through a deserted warehouse district on a Sunday evening in a city to which neither of us had ever been. The sun was just beginning to set as we returned to the park to see volunteers hauling tables and coolers away. No party here, folks. The race was done.

The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.
The sun setting on Railroad Park in Birmingham.

Surprisingly, we had a tough time finding a restaurant that was open on Sunday evening. I thought that was odd for a city of over 210,000, but we finally happened upon Babalu Tacos & Tapas. It was on the printed list given to us at the hotel, and that alone put me in a skeptical sort of mood. I figure if a restaurant has to depend on a hotel to provide its customers, they’re likely not reeling them in on their own merit. But oh, how pleasantly surprised I was. Babalu had sort of an urban, upscale garage vibe (actual garage doors for walls and lots of flannel and man-buns), and we were accidentally given complimentary queso & chips when we sat down. Already off to a smashing start!

The food was good. I had shrimp and grits, and the grits were different from any I had ever tasted. They were way cheesier–somewhere between a salmon color and baby aspirin orange–and the granules were larger than what I consider normal grits. It was tasty. They also had a great drink menu. I tried the CAT 5 which involved Cathead vodka, mint, agave nectar, soda, lime and bitters. That thing was amazing! It was like a Mojito, but a thousand times less sweet. I seldom drink liquor drinks, but I wasn’t driving, so I drank that one and swiftly ordered another. Our server told us they are planning a store in Charlotte, so heads-up to my Charlotte friends–keep your eyes peeled for Babalu!

Our flight was at 10:30 the next morning, and on our way out of town Monday we drove up to Vulcan Park to see the original iron man. According to the Vulcan Park & Museum, “Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, watches over all of Birmingham as a symbol of the city’s iron origins–and the ever-present spark of its indomitable spirit.” It’s an impressive iron statue of a muscular, burly man with a bare bottom. He is 56 feet tall, and with the brick pedestal he reaches 173 feet. Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world. We didn’t have time to check out the museum, but I did get to walk around the grounds and take in the view of the city below. That might be just as impressive as the iron guy himself.

Vulcan, a symbol of the nation's iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.
Vulcan, a symbol of the nation’s iron and steel industry, was cast in 1904 and weighs 50 tons.
The view from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!
The view of Birmingham from Red Mountain at the feet of Vulcan. Breathtaking!

Since we’ve never heard of a pilot holding the plane for folks to sight see, Kathy was waiting in the car with the motor running. I hopped in and just like that our tri-state tour had come to a close. It was a whirlwind for sure, and I wish we had more time in each city, but I’m thankful for seeing what I saw, for the good food and drink, and for the wonderful company. This 5K-in-every-state thing may not be so bad…except for the running!


Tip: See the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Tip: Visit Railroad Park, 19 acres of downtown green space, and Vulcan Park & Museum. There is so much I did not see at Vulcan Park (the observation deck and the museum), but it’s worth the twisty-windey drive up the hill just for the panoramic view of the city below.
Tip: Eat at Babalu Tacos & Tapas and while you’re there, throw back a CAT 5 liquor drink!