Dan and Hannah Play Pickleball with their North Georgia Kin

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.

LL map of cleveland

Cleveland is the county seat of White County

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.

LL H and L at her place

Laurie and Hannah

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.

Woo girls outside

Woo Girls – Hannah, Wendy, Maxine, and Bambi

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.

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Hannah with Laurie at the White County Parks and Rec pickleball courts

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.

LL D and H and Billy and Marcia

Han and Dan with Billy and Marica

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!).

LL new paddles

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.

LL Treehouse pickleball players with Pat

Pickleballers on the deck at Linda’s Tree House (She is in yellow.)

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.

LL D and H at Immokaulee Falls

Dan and Han at Immokalee Falls

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.

LL Superior Health care

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.

LL Yonah Mt

Yonah Mountain

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.

LL Pat and Clarissa with Han

Hannah with Pat and Clarissa

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.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Raven Cliffs Trail in Georgia after a Storm

While it’s another morning with rain in the American South, we continue to lead a charmed hiking life.  For the last two days of our late April hiking trip, it rains early, stops midday so we can hike, and then between 4 and 5P the heavens unload while we are safely under cover.

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Raven Cliffs is to the north of Gainesville, Georgia

Hoping to continue our hot streak, we wake at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Dalton, Georgia (just south of Chattanooga) to light rain.  Our plan is to hike the Emery Creek Falls Trail some 20 miles to the east, but there is a major red flag – the trail has 21 stream crossings.  With our hike on the inundated trail at the Walls of Jericho in northern Alabama still fresh in our minds, Hannah and I both want no part of soggy socks, soaked shoes, or wearing our heat-inducing ponchos on this six-mile trail.

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Dodds Creek on the Raven Cliffs Trail

Dismissing the Emery Creek Falls Trail, we choose to drive two hours to the east near Cleveland, GA, where we will be staying with friends for the next three nights, to hike the Raven Cliffs Trail.  It’s a trail we hiked just seven months ago during the height of the drought when no water flowed in Dodd’s Creek and barely a trickle fell from the falls.  Today should be spectacularly different.  Click here for the blog of our last hike at Raven Cliffs.

After two hours of driving the country roads of northern Georgia, we cross the Appalachian Trail on route 75 south and pull into the parking lot to stretch our legs.  Seeing a couple our age with full packs, we learn that they were thru-hikers in 2015 (i.e. they hiked the 2180 mile AT from Maine to Georgia).  As they prepare to head out, I catch their attention and ask what’s ahead for them.

Rav AT map

Appalachian Trail

Mango, (trail name) the older gent, says its more of the same.  A trail with trees.  Not in any sort of self-pitying way, just realistic about the tedium that can be the AT.  His wife, trail name Sunrise (she gets up early to capture pictures of the, you guessed it, sunrise) smiles and says,  not bragging at all, we are hiking the 150 miles to Hot Springs, North Carolina.  That’s about 144 more miles than Hannah and I would ever hike on the AT at any one time.  They mention dealing with the nasty storms two nights ago; from the same system that nearly caused us to go into the tornado storm shelter in northern Alabama.  I never did get to ask why they hike the AT.  There are obvious facts: the hiking in rain, the eating of freeze-dried everything, the hard ground, the snoring of other hikers in the shelters, the mice scurrying over sleeping bags.   It’s clear that I just don’t have the “want to” to be a thru-hiker.  And, let’s be real – I’m soft.

Rav 1A H at start of trail

On the Raven Cliffs Trail

Minutes later, we arrive at the Raven Cliffs Trailhead to sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Though we’ll have no rain today as we hike in the mid-60s, heavy rain is in the forecast once we are done hiking.

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Dodds Creek with Hannah on the trail (upper right)

Though we learn the trail has 687’ of elevation gain to a trio of waterfalls, it doesn’t have the feel of a climb at all over its two and a half miles.  Due to the days of rain, the trail is still just moist, with minor pooling in places.  Fact is, it’s a delightful, mellow walk in the woods as spring has just begin to leaf out in northern Georgia.

Rav 4 more stream

Hiking the entire way along Dodd’s Creek, we have a good workout as we have the music of the stream’s symphony to our left; something we didn’t have this past October.

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Lower falls from the trail

After an hour of easy hiking, we arrive at the end of the trail.  The middle falls is accessible and has the up-close feel of tumbling white water.  The lower falls is difficult to see as we can only peer at it from the distance or stand at its headwaters.  The upper falls has crashing white water, but it is tucked within the mountain and barely visible.

Rav 5A H at middle falls

Hannah at the middle falls

Turning and heading for the trailhead, Hannah and I cover a random selection of topics – friendships, travel, and how fortunate we are.  It’s similar to the scattered thoughts that come into our heads when we meditate.

One conversation is about our friend Brenda planning to write her story in retirement.  I’ve given her my two cents, make that five cents worth (five thoughts) for beginning writers.  And I share them with you now.

Rav keep writing quote

One, focus on quantity over quality in the drafting stage.  Your writing does not need to be perfect right off the bat.  Write and write some more.  Play with words.  Try out different words, phrases, whole paragraphs.  The fine tuning that comes with revising happens later, and is truly one of the great joys for me as a writer.

Two, always keep the pen or computer keys moving.  Don’t let the internal critic overrule what the creative spirit has to explore.

Rav writing as discovery

Three, writing is about discovering what you want to say.  You don’t need a plan nor an outline.  Write and learn what is in your heart.

Four, read your drafts out loud to see how they flow and whether they catch the rhythm you’d like.

Rav writers need encouragement

(diffident means modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence)

Five, as a beginner, find encouraging people to read or listen to your writing.   Have them do two things: one, tell you what they specifically like and two, where they would like to know more.   Many of us have had well-intentioned teachers who thought critiquing our writing was most helpful.  It’s not.  It can kill the spirit of the novice writer.  Many of us can be quick to believe we are not very good writers.  We are fed by encouragement.  Agatha Christie in the panel to the left nails it.

With five miles of hiking in the books, we are off to our friend Laurie Lee’s place near Yonah Mountain.  She is the pickleball ambassador for the local club who last October welcomed us with open arms and a warm heart.   We are back in northern Georgia seven months later, in large part, thanks to her love and attention.

LL H and L at her place

Pickleballers, Laurie and Hannah

Amazingly, we learn over dinner that she was born in the same era and in the same hospital that Hannah was – Strong Memorial in Rochester, NY.  This Georgia girl!  Now we take the leap and wonder could Hannah’s dad, Dr. Kraai have delivered her in the 1950s?  He did deliver 5000 babies as a general practitioner.

Laurie will check her safety deposit box for the paperwork around her birth to see if there is any indication of who delivered her!

Stay tuned.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Raven Cliff Falls in northern Georgia

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Hannah on the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Court

Here’s a riddle for you.  What’s the best way to prepare for three hours of hiking in the Georgia woods?  Damn, you’re on to my trick question.  There’s no best way.  Each hiker and hike is different.  But did Hannah and I ever get our prep right today!

First, we warm up with a couple hours of early morning pickleball with our amigos and amigas at the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.   Then, we fuel up with a big breakfast at the Huddle House in Cleveland, Georgia, thanks to an invitation from three of our sister and brother pickleballers.

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Yonah Mountain Pickleball Players, Linda, Laurie, and Paul with Hannah and Dan

Today, we have set the bar really low to see actual water coming from the head of the waterfalls at Raven Cliff Falls in the Blue Ridge Mountains this first week of October.   You see, four days ago, in Laurel Falls 120 miles to the northwest in eastern Tennessee, we hiked along a mostly dry riverbed to what is usually an 80’ falls; not a trickle fell that day.

The Southeast as well as we in the Northeast and those of you in California and, well, most of the Sahara and Serengeti, are suffering through some serious drought at this time. Click here for the link to the Laurel Falls blog.

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Amped after pickleball and breakfast togetherness, we head a mere seven miles out of Bavarian-themed Helen, GA along the small rural road of route 17/75 to an even smaller alternate 75, to finally the curvy mountain road of route 348 to the trailhead.  Easy to find, the trail is one of many in the area for which we get excellent directions and maps at the Helen Welcome/Visitor Center in town.

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When we ask the local pickleball/hikers what’s your favorite waterfall hike in the area, the unanimous answer is the five-mile roundtrip to Raven Cliff Falls.

Upon arrival at the Raven Cliff Falls Trail, we enter the forest path that parallels Dodd Creek for the next two miles.  Bubbling and gurgling, and dare I say flowing, Dodd Creek is a welcome lift to our spirits that, maybe, just maybe, waterfalls await.

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The trail along Dodd Creek begins

On this riverside trail into the Wildlife Management Area of White County, we gently rise in elevation towards the waterfalls.  Fact is, it feels like we are on level ground most of the way.  As a popular trail,we have many fellow hikers on this Thursday afternoon in the upper 70s.

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A couple from Wisconsin snap our trailside picture

With spectacularmini-waterfalls and cascades along much of the waterway, we hike under the forest canopy with blue sky above, while below us, swimming holes dot Dodd Creek.  The sun-dappled trail is a delight for us hikers, but makes it tough getting the lighting right for us modestly-skilled photographers.

After an hour of an easy going trail of dirt with few rocks, we arrive at the fortress wall of Raven Cliffs.  Tucked in a mountain granite fracture, the Raven Falls are so dark that it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture in this cavern-like setting.  Deciding not to climb further to the head of the falls, which is very rocky, very rooted, and quite vertical, we have the glamour and glory of the falls with its tumbling water here at the base.

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Dan and Han at the modest middle falls

At the middle of the three destination falls, there are hikers of all abilities loving life and picnicking.  The fact is the drought of 2016 has taken its toll on these falls as well.  Though there’s just enough water to splash over our hiking boots, we find that the tranquility of the forest makes up for the lack of waterfallian drama.

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Our best falls along Dodd Creek

Heading back to the trailhead an hour way, it seems Dodd Creek itself is where the action is.  With rivulets coming down the mountain, the main river has more splashing and sparkling water than the falls itself.  Hiking down to the river, we get our best waterfalls picture of the day and, in fact, on our entire weeklong Tennessee/North Carolina/Georgia hiking adventure.

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Dodd Creek in the fall.  Can’t wait to see it in the spring!

No doubt, we’ll come back in the spring when Dodd Creek roars and Raven Cliff Falls thunders; for that coincides with our return to the South after a winter in New England to play with our Yonah Mountain pickleball family.

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

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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.)

pickleball-usapa

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

pickle-group

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?

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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.

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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 to Springer Mountain in Georgia

Ami map of AT in GA

Fueled by biscuits and decafe (Dan) and biscuits and gravy (Hannah) at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay in northern Georgia, we head out this first Monday of October on rural route 52 for Springer Mountain – the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (AT) and what will be our 14th of 14 AT states.

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Hannah on the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain the day before

Most thru-hikers reach the southern start of the AT thru Amicalola State Park.  By doing that though, thru-hikers must take an Approach Trail for 8.5 miles to just get to the start of their hike of five million steps to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  But we have heard of a back door to get to Springer.

Turning off route 52 at the Chevron Station onto Roy Road, we wind for 9.7 miles through forests and farm land in rural northern Georgia.  From there it is 2.2 miles on Doublehead Gap Road to the National Forest fire road across from the Baptist Church.  This seems like the textbook definition of “the sticks” to this Yankee.  (not that there is anything wrong with that to quote Jerry Seinfeld.)

 

SM 1 sign on gravel road

Fire roads are a roll of the dice.  They are usually gravelly, often unimproved with potholes aplenty.  This road has all that with the added feature of being just one lane wide for much of the way.  As we start out up the mountain, a pickup truck passes by; such a vehicle is just the kind of transportation AT thru-hikers would use to be shuttled to this backdoor to Springer Mountain.

One lane fire road to the AT near Springer Mountain

One lane fire road to the AT near Springer Mountain

As I drive on, I am well aware that there could be another vehicle at every turn which would require that I back up for a quite a while; no easy task for someone who lacks even basic spatial awareness to back up into a simple parking space.

Driving 10 mph on this winding mountain road, I slow to a crawl to bump through potholes fortunately more apparent now that they are filled from last night’s rain.  For 35 “steering-wheel-death-gripping” minutes I never relax.  Each turn of the odometer lifts my spirits.  Feeling quite the hero, I find it stunningly that once I pull into the trailhead parking lot, we see five other compact cars already here.

AT sign at trailhead parking

AT sign at trailhead parking

Thankfully this trailhead parking is on the AT itself; but first we have an easy, flat mile hike south on a very rocky trail to the summit of Springer Mountain.

SM 2B H on trail

On the way we meet a young couple in their late twenties with big time backpacks.  They are out to hike to Unicol Gap, 52 miles away over the next five days.  When we ask if they have trail names, they say their shuttle driver gave them each one.  Because of her fear of lizards, he dubbed her Liz.   With his big pack he named him Pack Mule or Mule.

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

White blaze indicating the Appalachian Trail

Within two tenths of a mile of the summit there is a blue blaze (side) trail to the Springer Mountain shelter: wooden framed open front structure with nearby privy and water supply.  Then we meet an equally sunny twenty-something couple heading to the summit.  Again as newbies to the trail, they have no official trail names, but they are considering Tortoise (he) and Hare (she).

Plaque at the summit of Springer Mountain

Plaque at the summit of Springer Mountain

The summit is marked with a plaque noting the challenge that lies ahead for thru-hikers.  Beneath the marker is a trail log which we open to read the entries from the last few days.  Here’s one from a thru-hiker.

Trail log at Springer Mountain

Trail log at Springer Mountain

October 1 – Can I still use my trail name when I get home?!?  I can’t believe it.  I’m here.  Thank you for the lessons and discipline of the trail.  You’re what I needed!!  Apollo

Hannah adds to the register.   October 5 – Dan and Hannah – about to walk our last of the 14 states of the AT.  Came from Maine to do it!!  Yahoo!!   Hannah and Dan

As we retrace our steps back to the parking lot trailhead, we pass three young women who, like the others, plan to hike the 8+ miles to the Hawksbill Shelter for their first night on the trail.

AT to Cover cove Shelter

AT to Stover Creek Shelter

Once on the trail heading north we find the hiking more “walking in the woods” than stepping over and around the rocks as we had done to and from the summit.  Whereas our pace was not quite 2 mph to Springer Mountain we are now rolling through the Georgia woods at 2.5 mph heading to the Stover Creek Shelter, 1.8 mile from the parking trailhead.

After stone hopping across small streams, we meet up with Liz and Mule eating lunch out of a pouch.  Passing no judgement, I think that doing that holds no charm for me.  Eating freeze dried everything for the five to six months while hiking the entire Appalachian Trail leaves me, well, cold.

Stover Creek Shelter on the AT

Stover Creek Shelter on the AT

Having turned around at the Stover Creek Shelter, we arrive back at the trailhead after six miles of hiking over three hours.  We have bagged Georgia, our final AT state.  Celebrating that accomplishment will have to wait as we have the most harrowing part of our trip ahead – driving down the mountain on the narrow forest fire road.

Together on the AT

Together on the AT

Hannah takes her turn behind the wheel and masterfully works her way down the 6.5 mile hill in 30 minutes.  By the way, we do finally pass a truck coming up the mountain.  Fortunately, we pass at a wide point in the one lane road.

View from Springer Mountain

View from Springer Mountain

Springer Mountain is all it’s cracked up to be and now it’s on to Great Smoky Mountain National Park to get another crack at the AT, this time on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.

Dan and Hannah Hike in Amicalola State Park in Georgia

Ami map of AT in GA

To our northeast in South Carolina, punishing rains (15 to 20 inches) spawned by Hurricane Joaquin are swamping the Palmetto State (by  the way, palmetto means “little palm”).   In intermittent mist and showers here in northern Georgia, we have come to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) this first week of October.

Ami D at Unity of North Atlanta

On Sundays when we travel, we look for a Unity Church to make a connection with locals and add some practical positiveness to our day.  This morning, Unity of North Atlanta (UNA) delivers.  The talk this morning focuses on successful relationships having two key components – acceptance and forgiveness.  UNA gives each newbie a rose.

Ami 1 D at Ami sign

Our hiking destination today is in Amicalola State Park some 60 miles to the northwest of Atlanta.  Not trusting our WAZE GPS alone, we pull out our Georgia road map as we drive north on I-575 to two-lane country roads towards the North Carolina border.

Ami 1AA D and H at Arch

Paying $5 admission, we head to the Visitor Center for some hiking suggestions.  Amicalola State Park is known far and wide by AT thru-hikers as the jumping off point for hiking the Appalachian Trail from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine, 2180 miles away.  Though, it must be pointed out that AT hikers leaving Amicalola still have an 8.5 mile Approach Trail to hike before they actually start the AT at Springer Mountain.  Though Hannah and I won’t officially hike on the AT today, we are knocking on the door of completing our 14th of 14 AT states.

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Trails of Tears

Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word for “tumbling waters.”  The Cherokee tribe controlled this area until 1832, when the Treaty of New Echota forced the Cherokee to leave and go further west into the Ozarks. This mass removal would later be known as the Trail of Tears.

Ami 2E raging creek

 

Learning from the young ranger that Amicalola has a 729 foot waterfall, the largest east of the Rockies, we are all in to hike the one mile trail to the top of the falls.  Appreciative of her guidance, I give the young ranger my Unity rose; what had been all business turns into a country smile moment for both of us.

Ami 2F H posing at creek

Winding through the forest paralleling the Amicalola Lodge Road past picnic areas and families playing touch football, the trail is level and easy going on this cloudy 65F afternoon.  Crossing over the road that takes drivers to the top of the falls, we pass the roaring creek engorged by the recent rains.

Ami 2CC trail angel

Trail angel offering assistance

After hiking just a few hundred yards, Hannah needs relief from the scraping of her ankles due to her new hiking boots.  At this point a young trail angel steps up to offer Hannah some surgical tape to secure her Band-Aids.  We learn that she is day hiking on her own while her husband fly fishes in the nearby creek.  She tells us later that they will have dinner together.  And this is where it gets so cute.  Dinner for them is a picnic here at the park.

Ami 3 D beneath falls

After one half mile of skirting the creek, we soon come to the first of two sets of wooden stairways that will take us to the top of the falls.  On this Sunday afternoon we are among many enjoying nature’s hydro-wonderland.  The video below captures our first look at this stunning falls.

Ami 3B H at falls

The stairway climb of first 175 steps and then 450 more has us mingling with families and couples.  In the presence of waterfalls I am mesmerized as I would travel hundreds of miles to be in their hydro-glory.  Along the staircases there are benches for the weary, but we step intently on these grated metal treads to the top, overlooking the valley here in north Georgia.

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

Once at the top, we take the Approach Trail to Mt. Springer just like AT thru-hikers would do.  The edges of the South Carolina storms sprinkle us with light rain, though the forest canopy keeps us mostly dry.  With the refreshing feel to the Georgia rain this fall day, we turn back after a mile to get a second chance at waterfall splendor.

Ami 3D staircases of falls

Approaching five o’clock, families and couples continue to climb the wooden stair cases as we descend. All is not rainbows and roses on the trail.  We do pass a mother with weary eyes holding the hand of her most unhappy preschool son who is sobbing that he doesn’t want to climb anymore; meanwhile his two year old sister is being carried by dad.  Lesson learned by Dan and Hannah.  We’ll wait til our grandsons Owen and Max are both school kids before we bring them here.

Ami 3C falls

Rather than returning tomorrow to Amicalola State Park to hike the 8.5 miles to Springer Mountain and the AT, we have learned of a back road off route 52 that will take us within a mile of Springer Mountain.  With confirming directions from the Visitor Center, we will attack the mountain from the backside manana.

Tonight we have what AT hikers do not have: a warm bed, a shared bottle of Cabernet, and a hot tub at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay, Georgia.  We will sleep well tonight.

Dan and Hannah Hike Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

On a mission to hike our 14th of 14 AT states, Hannah and I fly to Atlanta to hike the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia this first week of October.  This flying Saturday is problematic as Hurricane Joaquin is off the coast but pumping up to 20 inches of rain into nearby South Carolina.  As it turns out Delta never blinks and gets us to Atlanta ahead of schedule.

KM Delta

No truer words have been spoken than Delta is ready when you are.  I had no idea the new Delta has more space above the seats for carry-on luggage.  Which is sweet for us who haven’t checked bags in ten years, even for two week trips to California.   While ESPN beams from the TV in front of my seat for our 2+ hour flight, I think where would we be if we were driving to Georgia from Maine?   Hmmmm, it turns out we’d be somewhere in Jersey, 850 miles from Atlanta.

KM Hartsfield Jackson

As the biggest airport in the United States, Hartfield-Jackson in Atlanta has us walking long wide corridors towards the shuttle train that takes us to the rental car center away from the airport.  Along the way we see a couple in their 50s holding hands laughing and sparkling; so in love with each other.  Classic second marriage!  So appreciative and happy at a second chance for the best that love can be.  They remind me that we first marriage folks got to step up our games and exube (verb form of exuberance) our love day in and day out.

KM 1 D at sign

Surprised that there is no rain here in Atlanta when 100 miles away the deluge is inundating the Palmetto State, we start rethinking our plans for this travel Saturday.   With just a light intermittent mist in the area, we learn that our need to hike can be satisfied just three miles from our Comfort Inn at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

KM 1B H on trail

Going from Kennesaw strip mall craziness to rural forests in a matter of ten minutes, we learn at the Visitor Center that it’s a 700 feet elevation gain over the first mile of the trail to the top of Kennesaw Mountain.  Checking the Weather Channel app on my iPhone, I learn that the chance of precipitation over the next two hours is 30-40%.  Dismissing these odds as the weather folk covering their butts, we forego our ponchos on this muggy 64F degree late afternoon.   Please!  What’s the worst that can happen?   We get soaked within a mile or two of our car.

KM 1C D on trail

The ranger at the desk gives us an excellent detailed map of a six mile hiking loop.  Sounding perfect at 330P, the six mile trail will motivate us to maintain a steady pace on a day in these hills and mountains of Georgia, the home of our 39th president and humanitarian, Jimmy Carter.

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

Trail to Kennesaw Mountain

On this Saturday the parking lot is nearly full of Georgians, a hearty lot, who have taken to the trails despite the threat of rain.   As the mistiness begins, the hike to Kennesaw Mountain is a steady, rocky climb with many granite steps for our hiking pleasure.

 

The Kennesaw Mountain Battle in 1864 was one of the last “victories” of the Confederacy months before Sherman’s devastating March to the Sea from Atlanta to Savannah.

 

KM 3D more of trail

Our one mile climb to the top of Kennesaw Mountain takes 25 minutes and we begin to wonder about the wisdom of hiking the entire six mile loop.  In an act of maturity, which is no small feat for the two of us who think that a good day on vacation is hiking three to four hours, we opt for hiking just to Little Kennesaw Mountain, 1.8 miles into the 6 mile loop.

KM 3C rocky trail

Hiking down to a gap between the two mountains and then up to Little Kennesaw Mountain with its still very rocky trail, we are feeling righteously smug that we didn’t choose to do the macho hike and be Les Miserables.

Still looking good in the rain!

Still looking good in the rain!

 

As we summit Little Kennesaw Mountain, the valley below opens up, but the mist we have had through much of the hike becomes steady light rain; we U-turn for the trailhead.   In the light rain, I shoot this video of the trail to give you an idea of our afternoon in Georgia.

 

Surprised, that despite the rain, Georgians keep coming our way; we see couples, groups of guys, and single women not bothered by the steady precipitation.  Three male runners are using this climb as a training workout; one young man with a full pack runs past us going up and then later coming down the mountain.

KM 4 D and H preview

Meeting a couple just a few years younger than we are with their pooch, we learn that they hike this mountain every weekend.  She adds, We aren’t gone to melt if it rains.

As we hike on back to the trailhead in steady light rain, we find we don’t melt either.  And by the way, who knew 30-40% meant it actually could rain?

 

 

Travel tip – If you only carry-on luggage when you fly, consider requesting a seat in the back of the plane.  In our experience, airlines load from the back after they board their high paying customers.  By selecting a seat in the back and boarding earlier, we have a better chance to stow our bags above the seats rather than be forced to check them at the gangway and be delayed when we arrive at our destination.