When we travel, the trails matter, the weather matters, but it’s the people we meet that add quality and connection to our adventures. Let me explain our connection to the American South, Yankees that we are.
In our quest to hike in all 14 Appalachian Trail states, we had only Georgia to hike to complete our set in the fall of 2015. In October of that year, after flying to Atlanta, we drove the back-country roads to hike at Springer Mountain, the start of the AT itself. Later, we threw in a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were hooked on hiking south of the Mason-Dixon Line. And then it got even better.
Returning the following October 2016, we again hiked the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the waterfall trails of northern Georgia. But the added bonus was finding our own version of pickleball heaven at Yonah Mountain, near Cleveland in northern Georgia. Yonah Mountain pickleball ambassador Laurie Lee welcomed us with open arms and the Yonah Mountain club players greeted us as family.
Then, when Hannah’s Woo Girls Reunion III (four grads of the College of Wooster in 1970) was scheduled for late April 2017 in Richmond, Virginia, we saw it as a golden opportunity to avoid driving 600+ miles to Richmond and rather, fly to Atlanta first. We’d hike in Alabama and then spend three days with amigas and amigos in Georgia hiking and pickleballing before flying to Virginia’s capital city.
One small monkey wrench. Not with our hosts or with the hiking, but with the tendinitis in my right elbow this Monday in late April as we arrive in north Georgia. Hannah and I love us some pickleball as we play three times per week. But for me…pickleball, my love, had got to the point where it just wasn’t any fun because of the pain in my elbow. Finally realizing I just needed to rest, which is hell on athletes of all ages, I took nearly 14 full days off knowing that doing that would give me the best chance to play in Georgia. Still I was grumpy for a fortnight.
Knowing we were coming to Yonah Mountain to play pickleball, I pumped the ibuprofen, iced my right elbow, and, yes, rested; turns out, that’s just what I needed. Arriving on Tuesday morning at the indoor pickleball courts, we were greeted by Billy and Marcia at the White County Parks and Rec Center. Whacking the wiffle ball, dinking (hitting short shots just over the net itself), and just enjoying their friendship, I feel like I am back to my old pickleball self (Hallelujah, brother!).
Looking to upgrade our paddles, Hannah and I borrow ones from Laurie and later Pat to see how they feel. Trying out Laurie’s Onix and later Pat’s Triton, I find my shots solid and deep with no vibrating to aggravate my elbow. Of course, when I want a new paddle, I can rationalize “the need” for one with the best of them. I order a sweet Onix paddle while Hannah goes with the Groove, engineered for women.
That Tuesday evening, our friends Laurie and Linda throw us a party of pickleballers to further make us feel a part of the community. It works. We are among kindred spirits; feeling special.
Each bringing a dish to share, the guests make the evening a community celebration, similar to what Hannah and I try to do when we have potlucks back home in Maine. To kick off the party, 14 of us hike a half mile down to Linda’s tree house cabin, just below the Immokalee Falls.
The next morning (Wednesday) before afternoon pickleball, Laurie arranges for Hannah to have a consult with a local doctor on her voice condition, spasmodic dysphonia. Having tried 100 ways to improve her voice over the last 15 years, Hannah (and I) drive with Linda to Canton, GA to have Hannah checked out. Their experimental voice rehabilitation program has potential; we will explore this option further in the months ahead.
After the Wednesday morning consult, we return in time for two hours of afternoon pickleball. My right elbow holds up for the second day as the rest, daily icing, and ibuprofen have made a difference.
With time for drills, Pat gives me some dinking pointers. Basically, I am reminded of the value of the undercut cross court slice backhand that keeps the ball low and close to the net when dinking. I feel like I have a new toy and can’t wait to practice. As a recreational pickleball player, I just love the opportunities to improve my game.
On our third night (Wednesday), we dine with fellow pickleballers the aforementioned Pat and his wife Clarissa at their place in Cleveland. With salmon on the grill, we have conversation like old friends.
Come Thursday morning, rain wipes out our planned hike up Yonah Mountain with Clarissa and Pat, but… the silver lining is that we are back on the indoor pickleball court by 730A to play for the third day in a row. Playing mostly with the guys while Hannah crushes it with the women, I get quite the competitive workout.
After our pickleball, but before we head to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta for Richmond, we feast with Pat and Clarissa on the breakfast of champions – oatmeal with all the fixings – nuts, seeds, and fruit. Though the oatmeal is fantastico, the best part of morning is sitting over coffee, hanging out with new friends.
Thanks to seeking out the AT in Georgia, we have our Georgia family in the sunny South.