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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.