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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.