Dan and Hannah Are Taken in as Family by the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club in Georgia


Laurie Lee and Dan, the Pickleball Man

You know, just a simple kindness can mean so much.  A quick word of encouragement.  A thanks that nobody else hears but you.  And in our case a welcoming email inviting us to play at the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.   Because of Laurie Lee, the local pickleball ambassador, we reworked our hiking/pickleball trip to the South to spend three nights in this Pickleball Mecca in northern Georgia.   (By the way, that is Laurie Lee with Hannah and me in front of the Yonah Mountain pickleballers in the preview picture at the top of this blog.)


After four days hiking in eastern Tennessee and in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we are looking forward to hanging out in White County whacking around a wiffleball as part of America’s latest craze: pickleball.

You might wonder how we became ballers of the pickle?  The story is an old one.  Its roots are set in the tennis courts of the College of Wooster in Ohio in 1967 when Hannah and I were first-year students.  If you are doing the math, that is 100 years ago.  Though her women’s tennis team and my men’s team didn’t practice together, we would rally together on the Beall Avenue courts by our dorms.  She took a shine to my backhand and I to her aura as a goddess.


Molly’s husband Tip, Molly, Will, Will’s wife Laurel, and Robyn

Married in 1972 at the tender age of 24, Hannah and I took the next 40+ years off from tennis and never looked back!  It was no sacrifice as road running filled the cardio void while our family grew from two to five with the addition of our three children, who are now 37 (Molly), 35 (Robyn), and 33 (Will).

Though in retirement, Hannah and I go to the Coastal Fitness gym in Kittery, Maine and hike when we travel, unbeknownst to us, there was an inner longing to return to the court; we just didn’t know that it was a court 2/3 the size of a tennis court.   Click here for my recent blog on living the pickleball life.


Having been players for the last ten months, we look for places to pickleball when we travel.  Having previously found games in Tampa and Beaverton, OR, today we are off to the indoor courts of the White County Parks and Rec Center near Cleveland, GA.

Those of you who know us, might think of us as the gregarious sort.  Fact is, we are certifiable introverts.   (Click here for Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.)  As introverts, it’s always easier for us to hang out with each other or another couple.  We love interacting, but in small groups, not larger ones.  It can be easier to stay in the comfort of our home on the coast of Maine rather than make the extra effort.  Easier yes, more fulfilling a big N-O.

The richness and quality of our lives has been in large part due to stepping out of our comfort zone to give things a shot.  Say, ask friends for coffee or ½ priced margaritas at Ruby’s.  And so today, we buck up and drive south on route 75 from Helen to Cleveland, GA to the indoor air-conditioned pickleball courts.


Dan and Paul at the indoor pickleball courts in Cleveland, Georgia

As we enter the gym with three lined courts, Linda immediately comes up to us and says, You must be Dan and Hannah.  Welcome.

Oh, that Laurie Lee is good at setting the stage for us to feel like we belong.  Smiling Georgia faces come our way, among them Clarissa who takes us under her wing right off the bat.  With 20+ pickleballers for three courts of doubles (four to a court), we are welcomed further by Billy and Marcia.  Roberta and Paul step forward.  Apropos since they were the two that responded to Laurie’s email below to her members when I asked her about hiking suggestions in the area.

In part, here’s Laurie’s email.

To the friends I have blind copied, note that this gentleman from Maine says he and his wife are comfortable hiking for 3 to 4 hours at a time. Please send me the names of your favorite hikes with waterfalls and/or any links that might help them.  They will be playing Pickleball with us sometime during the first week of October.


Hannah moving into position at the kitchen

Playing for nearly three hours this first Wednesday in October, Hannah and I have us the workout we love with good folks, upbeat, and skilled.  Smiling at each other, Hannah and I think how lucky we are that our spaceship landed here in northern Georgia.

Many of the players are self-described “bangers.”  That is, rather than play the subtler game of dinking (hitting shots just over the net), shots rip with all their power of a Serena Williams forehand.  Hannah and I dink away and play the softer third shot, which just flutters over the net when hit correctly.  Funny, Pat, their top player, lanky and powerful is a double threat: he plays a masterful short game and is just so damn encouraging and positive.


Near the end of the morning, Laurie has the entire group take a picture for their blog.  She asks us to take the place of honor.  Click here for the link for the Yonah Mountain PC Facebook page. It is an afternoon like none other in northern Georgia.  Away from home, who would think these two Yankee introverts would find such comradery?


Linda, Hannah, Laurie, Dan, and Paul at the Huddle House

By the way, early the following morning, we return to their gym for our second session of pickleball in twenty-four hours.  As the morning ends, Paul and Laurie invite us to join Linda for a Huddle House breakfast just down the road in Cleveland.

Think of the most gracias and accommodating service that you have EVER had.  That is what we had at this southern, down home culinary tradition.


Our MVP special

Check out the MVP special (pictured to the left in front of Hannah) that she and I shared.  Stretching ourselves, we sample grits for the first time!  I have to say  that I’m now a fan.  In retrospect, I think it was the company that made the grits taste so good.

These Yonah County pickleballers just take it to the next level making us feel at home, 1100 miles away from the coast of Maine in the Peach State.


Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam, North Carolina


Having hiked to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park earlier in the day, we now sit high above the valley floor at our Quality Inn and Suites motel here in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  It doesn’t get much better than wine with Hannah at 100 feet.  Click here for the link to the Charlie’s Bunion blog.


Taking the bypass around the Gatlinburg craziness this first week of October, we avoid the traffic, the shopping frenzy, and the snarl.  Later in the day we find the trail log of a thru-hiker at an Appalachian Trail shelter who gives her two cents about Gatlinburg.  Do not go to Gatlinburg, TENN!!! Not a friendly town.  Too many tourists that do not like stinky “homeless looking” hikers.  We met some cool cats through the Smokies.


Fontana Lake

Driving an hour through the Great Smokies to Cherokee, NC, we head west on backroads for the Appalachian Trail at Fontana Dam.  As we approach the reservoir at Fontana Dam, we are stunned to see how low the lake is.  Just two days ago, we hiked in eastern Tennessee to 80’ Laurel Falls, which didn’t have a trickle flowing from its head waters. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.


Downstream on the Little Tennessee River

At the Fontana Dam Visitors Center, we learn that each fall the lake is drawn down (water is released into the Little Tennessee River) to prepare for winter snows and spring rains.  This is all done to avoid the flooding of cities and farmland downstream, specifically Chattanooga, TN.  During World War II, Fontana Dam was built in just 18 m0nths because of the war time need for electricity.


The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail as we head to the Shuckstack Tower

Walking the 2000 steps across this massive dam, we head north on the Appalachian Trail to Shuckstack Mountain, a killer assent of 2000’ elevation gain.   With no intention of making this brutal climb, we look to just explore the approach to the mountain.  Our plan is to hike ten minutes up the steep trail or until we cry “uncle;” in nine minutes we cry “uncle and aunt” and return down the mountain with our tails between our legs.


Hannah on the lower bunk of the Fontana Hilton

With the mountain rightfully claiming victory, we return to the dam and head south on the Appalachian Trail.  Seeing southbound thru-hikers who are within 150 miles of finishing their 2180-mile hike through 14 states, we notice the Fontana Hilton, the sweetest shelter we have seen on the Appalachian Trail.  With a metal roof, the shelter has double wooden platforms on either side of the structure for mats and sleeping bags.


Cell phone charger at the Fontana Hilton

Outside there is a solar phone charger!  Nearby is a fire pit you might see in the finest of backyards in Ithaca, New York; no outhouse or composting toilet for these thru-hikers, there is a fine stone building with a flush toilet, sink, and shower.


Dan on the Appalachian Trail to the south of Fontana Dam

Heading south on the AT for the next mile and a half, we have an easy peezy walk in the park above the reservoir’s edge.   Arriving at the marina, we learn that though the lake has been drawn down, it is still 12-14’ below normal.  Being 24-square miles, Lake Fontana must have a gazillion less gallons of water for the parched populace.


Nearby, we see this small memorial to BamaHiker, the last place where James hiked on the AT.  His wife has printed the paragraph below of his dream of thru-hiking the AT that was cut short due to pancreatic cancer.

She asks hikers to take a stone that she has placed in a pair of James’s boots to celebrate the journey that he wasn’t able to complete.

Since she left her email address requesting a picture of our hike, later I email her with some of these blog pictures near the Fontana Dam.  The next day Brenda emails back.  With her permission, I share her response.


The boots of James


Dear Dan, thank you so much for your email. Please know it so excites me to hear from hikers that stop, take the pebbles and carry them along the trail. I appreciate you and your wife, Hannah, for taking one of my husband’s pebbles. I look forward to reading your blog. I just went to the site and added my email so I can follow you and your adventures. I would count it as an honor if you would include my husband’s story in your blog. He was an awesome man, husband, father and Christian. He is sorely missed! I hope that his story inspires other hikers to press on and not give up. I pray that his spirit of determination helps them along the trail through those difficult days. 

 May God bless you and your wife, Brenda

What has been another good day on the Appalachian Trail has bumped up to a heart-tugging day of joy for us.

By the way, once home, Hannah emails too, and offers Brenda a homemade shawl from our friend Helen, who creates them in memory of her son.  Helen hopes the shawls provide comfort to others experiencing a difficult time in their lives.  Here’s Brenda’s response to Hannah’s outreach.

Dear Hannah.
I rec’d your precious package.  It  so touched my heart!! As I wrapped it around me, I could feel my sweet husband’s embrace. I  could also feel the  love of the precious lady that had spent much time making it and the love of the sweet lady that took time to send it to me. I could not help it, I had a good cry!! Words cannot express my appreciation for you and Ms. Helen. But I do so thank you! I will send a card to Ms. Helen to personally thank her. Would it okay to send a picture of my husband,  James?
You are so right about my James.  He was a wonderful loving husband and father .  He was devoted to his savior, Jesus and his Christian faith. He loved serving in our church as a leader for a  young boys’ ministry for almost  30 years. He had a love for the outdoors and nature which drew him to hiking .
Please know, if you guys are ever in North Alabama ,  please let me know. You have a place to call home here! God bless. Look forward to hearing from you and can’t wait to read the blog.
Love, Brenda  

Please contact Hannah at hannahrothermel@gmail.com if you know of someone who could use the loving warmth of a Maine shawl during a time of crises, acceptance, or reflection.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Charlie’s Bunion in the Great Smokies (Tennessee and North Carolina)


My college roommate, Big Steve, who hailed from Virginia, always said people are friendlier (i.e., more welcoming) in the South.  I cannot disagree.  The you-alls, the yes sir’s, yes ma’am’s, and the look at you in the eyes smiles.   I love it.  Now more than ever we need that civility as a starting point for conversations rather than debates with others.  I once taught poetry to a class of sixth graders for a nun who was a student of mine at Eastern Connecticut State University.  When I came into the room, everyone stood up.  It was very cool.  As a prof of the Exploring Teaching class at the University of New England, I had my students stand when a guest speaker came into the room.  After this election season, we need to listen more and judge less.


I do have a Big Beware for you!!  Think Jersey shore Sunday afternoon on the Garden State Parkway.   Think LA anytime.   Think the Washington Beltway whenever.  Coming from the west to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we leave I-40 for the 22-mile gauntlet drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  First on the drive in, there is Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, and then comes the shops of Gatlinburg.  Get this, on a non-holiday October Monday morning at 11A, the traffic is insane in G-Town.  There are more stores and shoppers per square inch than at the Mall of America in Minne-snow-ta.   I remind you it’s mid-morning Monday.  It takes three changes of the traffic light to get to the next traffic light!

But…later we learn there is a bypass around Gatlinburg to the Great Smokies.  Take it!  Save yourself.


At the parking lot of Newfound Gap

While Hannah trolls for a parking spot at the west side Visitor Center, I seek out a ranger  to learn more about the Ramsey Cascades waterfall hike that we are counting on.  After our experience yesterday with a waterless waterfall in nearby Dayton, TN, I ask if there will be any water coming over the falls.  The good news is that there is water at the falls. The bad news is that the trail is closed due  a bridge out thanks to a fallen tree.

Hearing we’d like to hike for three to four hours, she suggests the Charlie’s Bunion hike beginning at Newfound Gap in the center of the park on the Tennessee/North Carolina line.


The trail immediately grabs our attention with its steady climb, with logs placed conveniently across the trail to make the stepping up easier as well as a measure to limit the erosion.  With Hannah motoring in the lead, we are rocking westward along the Appalachian Trail on this sunny 72F afternoon.  We pass southbound thru-hikers (those hiking the entire 2180 miles of the AT from Maine to Georgia), who are now within 200 miles of their holy grail of finishing at Springer Mountain in Georgia.


The promised rocks and roots of the trail

The first 2.7 miles of the trail to Charlie’s Bunion is almost entirely uphill.  Sweating and panting to keep up with Hannah’s pace, I am loving the physical challenge of such trails.  Though the trail is rated “moderate” by the park service, it’s a serious, no let-up eight-mile round-trip workout.


In contrast, when I am at the gym, if I am tired, I chill and just pedal lightly on the recumbent bicycle.  In pickleball, I stop early if I get weary.  But today on a gut busting 90 minutes of steady uphill climbing, I have no choice but to put one foot ahead of the other and rock on.  That said, I know that we are living the dream – hiking in the Great Smokies.


White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

In addition, I love the “day hiking-ness” of our hikes.  While AT thru-hikers are heading to the Ice House Shelter near Charlie’s Bunion to “sleep” with others in a three-sided shelter where mice scurry over sleeping bags and fellow hikers snore like the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Hannah and I have a humane alternative this evening.  At our motel, we will shower, have a glass of wine, and later sleep in a comfortable bed.  Ah, the good life of the day hiker.


Sort of looks like a bunion, yes?

The final third of the trail is basically downhill.  Rocky and root-filled, the trail keeps our attention as our stride length increases and we continue to have a heckuva workout.  On this mountain ridge line, often with steep drop offs to either side, we never feel in peril as we hike through thick brush and tall trees.


Charlie with his friends Dan and Hannah

As the AT heads to the right, we take the 100 yard spur trail to 5565’ Charlie’s Bunion.   The area beneath the Bunion allows us to rest, then climb the rock outcropping that, yes, does look like a bunion.  Later I snap the arty picture below of Hannah removing her socks and boots, which impresses the hell out of me.  Perhaps, you too from such a modest photographer?

In 1929, when two hikers, Charlie Conner and Horace Kephart, paused for a rest at this spot, Connor took off his boots and socks and exposed a bunion that reassembled the surrounding rocks.  Kephart said, Charlie I’m going to get this place put on a government map for you.  Hence the name.

With four rocky miles back over up and down terrain, we spend less than 15 minutes at Charlie’s vista with Gatlinburg to the west and the North Carolina mountains to the east.  Check out the video below as we head back to the trailhead.


The hike to the trailhead continues to be quite the physical challenge, but with no choice but to move forward, we rock on.

As we pass a twenty-something couple, I think what a worthwhile test of a relationship it would be for those considering marriage to hike together to learn how each other deals with stress and the challenges of such a tough climb.  Marriage is so much more of a challenge than this trail!  Do I hear an Amen!


Anyone married, even a few years, let alone the 44 that Hannah and I have been, knows that life is challenges, compromises and negotiations.  You don’t have to live too long to know that much of life is not about succeeding at Plan A, but learning to deal with Plan B on a regular basis.  I am most fortunate to share the joys and challenges of the trail and life than with Hannah Banana.


Dan and Hannah Hike to Laurel Falls in Tennessee

Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier and Disney Icon, had it right.  Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.


Fact is, today Hannah and I are in Davy Crockett country in eastern Tennessee to hike the Cumberland Trail when the bear gets us.  I’ll explain, but first.  Click here to listen to the Ballad of Davy Crockett from the 1955 Disney TV mini-series and take yourself back to the coonskin cap craze of the Fifties.


Having come to the South this first week of October, we plan to hike the waterfall trails of Tennessee and Georgia as well as the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   This Sunday we have landed in Dayton, Tennessee.   Back in the day, Dayton was quite the center of controversy.


In 1925, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial (John Scopes was a local science teacher) was litigated over the issue of whether evolution should be taught in the public schools.  William Jennings Bryan as prosecutor and Clarence Darrow as defense attorney brought their star power to Dayton.  This trial was later fictionalized in the Spencer Tracy film, Inherit the Wind (1960).  By the way, Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution contrary to Tennessee state statute and fined $100.*


Nearly a century later, we see that “America” has come to the rural South.  In the two bustling little towns we have visited (i.e., Dalton, GA yesterday and Dayton today), there are Comfort Inns and Marriotts with Red Lobsters and Applebees on the edge of town.  There are Lowes and Wal-marts and all the Taco Bells, Mickey Dees, and Little Caesar’s Pizzas you could want.


Dalton has an “Historic Downtown” (i.e., tired buildings with empty store fronts here and there).  Nearby Bryan College was founded in the aftermath of the Scopes Trial to establish an institution of higher education to teach from a Christian worldview.

Traveling from our Sleep Inn and Suites on route 27 in Dalton, we have a simple four miles of driving to the Laurel Snow State Natural Area heading into the mountains.  Then we hit the ¾ mile gravel and dirt road to the trailhead parking.   Weaving in and out to avoid the potholes and gullies, we muddle along at 10 mph, wondering if we will be the only ones on the trail.


Thankfully we arrive at the trailhead with 12 other cars.  I relax and am more confident that we won’t be heading into some sort of Deliverance wilderness.  As a Yankee, I have a hard time getting the depravity of the Burt Reynolds film, Deliverance (1972) and my stint in the Knoxville, TN jail (1971) out of mind when I am in the rural South.  Click here for Part 1 of Dan’s Weekend Incarceration in the Knoxville Jail.


Planning to hike to the 80’ foot Laurel Falls, we see a sign at the trailhead that says that the Laurel Creek Bridge is out.  But that can’t be the bridge to Laurel Falls; there are so many other hikers on the trail today.


Dan in the dry riverbed

In this one-time coal mining area, we hike on a 6’ wide trail above the stony and boulder-y Laurel Creek that has not a bit of flowing water.  That is not a good sign for our chances of seeing a waterfall of any size this afternoon.  Still, we remain upbeat and feel hopeful that we will see some sort of tumbling waters, Tennessee-style.

Meeting a woman older than our 68 years, toting a 40-pound pack, we chit chat.  When we say we are from Maine to see a waterfall, she says, Oh that’s too bad, you came all this way.  This is another bright red flag that there is little we can do about and so we hike on.


White blaze of the Cumberland Trail

Promised a mile and a half of hiking along the river, we follow the white blazes (i.e., white vertical rectangles painted on trees denoting the main trail) of the Cumberland Trail.   These white blazes will prove to be our godsend.  Soon we are rock scrambling along the river with no sense of a trail.  Without a white blaze in sight, we wise up, back track, and finally notice a fallen tree where we missed the sign that says “Main trail;” and then we see a white blaze just ahead.


Hiking up the mountainside, we have a trail that narrows with many sharp rocks and roots along the way.  In the distance we see a metal bridge across the river.  As we approach, we see it has been mangled and understand why it has been closed.  But then across the river, we see a couple and figure if they can cross this bridge, so can we.


Nimbly, we step up and over the twisted bridge and cross easily.  On to Laurel Falls, we now have a trail which is a combo rock scrambling/foot path.  Again we come to what seems to be a dead end, having lost the white blazes.  Looping back after a few minutes, we find that there is a tunnel through the rocks where we are supposed to go.


Not a lick of water coming over Laurel Falls

After three miles of hiking, we take a side trail to a stone wall of mountain – at last Laurel Falls!  Except…

…there is not even a trickle of water coming down from what is usually an 80’ falls.

Such is life and thank you Davy, for adding some much needed perspective: Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.  

*In July 2017 a statue of Clarence Darrow was placed next to the one of William Jennings Bryan in Dayton, Tennessee.  Click on this link to learn how the “Scopes Monkey Trial” controversy lingers into this century.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/14/us/darrow-bryan-dayton-tennessee-scopes-statues.html?emc=edit_th_20170715&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66895847