Jay had been waiting 2 hours for me by the time I came out - at least the plane landed at terminal B so I only had to take the plane train a couple of stops to baggage claim. My bag came out as we neared the belt and we were soon out of the airport (with a ridiculously low parking charge, I think that I've been conditioned to expect high fees by Boston). We made a stop at a grocery store (same one that I had to hit to get cold medicine on my last visit) to get a gallon of water to soothe my parched throat and then an easy check in at the hotel (Wingate by Windham Atlanta Galleria Center). I'd found a deal online to get a "suite with jacuzzi tub" for not much more than a regular room, but felt cheated when I saw that the tub didn't have jets. :/ I might not go with that option next time, the room actually felt a bit too big, though I appreciated the kitchenette for having a fridge for the water and my airplane food leftovers, as well as the sink and microwave (but I think the regular room had that as well).
Then we had an uneventful drive up to the wilderness area where we were going to stay for the weekend, Enota Mountain Resort. We made an unintended detour to Brasstown Bald's visitor center before coming back down the spur road and on a little bit to Enota. It's a good thing that Jay's not on such a hair trigger any more, the resort made heavy use of Native American imagery. :/ We were in the Bear's Den cabin instead of any named for tribes, so the images were of various species of bears inside, and it was nice and cozy. It could have used someplace to hang or store your clothes, the closet was half filled with a water heater and had no hangers on the bar. There was a chest at the foot of the bed, but it was filled with extra blankets. The gas stove in the corner reminded me a bit of a detail in a horror movie I saw recently, but I tried to remind myself that it would just be warm in winter. :) The full kitchen was the main attraction besides the fact that we had a whole cabin to spread out in, so after checking in and going back to the lodge to get towels, we did a grocery run to Hiawassee. But first, since we were hungry, we stopped for dinner, and that was a good call, our grocery purchases were completely under control. :) We ate at a nice restaurant called Michaelee's Chocolate Caffe after we couldn't find our first choice. It was good, we indulged in the special appetiser of baked brie, then I had a substantial chicken salad, we shared a chocolate creme brulee, and I finished with a delicious blueberry acai tea. Grocery shopping went smoothly, we each took one dinner to get supplies for, and picked up buns and sliced stuff for sandwiches, as well as basic granola + yoghurt breakfast supplies. And apples, nectarines and grapefruits. :) We also grabbed a bottle of wine which would provide some unintended hilarity at dinner the next night (family friendly camp ground with requests to be discreet about drinking == no corkscrew in the cabin kitchen). The drive back in the dark was a bit of a challenge, the roads are very dark, twisty and hilly there (lots of curves with 20mph speed limits) - we saw lots of sportscars hugging the turns during the days.
After getting back down to the lodge, we paused for a bit to look at the black crested ducks swimming in the trout pond ($6/fish if you wanted to catch your own dinner), went partway up the path that actually went to the 400ft waterfall, and then found the extremely short path to the viewing platform for the 200 ft waterfall. :) It was right beside the "private waterfall rooms" that we'd first considered reserving, and I'm glad we went with the full cabin for just a bit more, they looked tiny, well, regular motel room sized. The woman on duty at the lodge said that they would only offer meals there if enough people expressed interest, and I was glad to have a kitchen to cook meals when I wanted them.
It was about 5pm or so then, and the map that we'd been given at the Brasstown Bald visitor center tempted us into the car and on the road toward Helen to see some waterfalls. It was supposed to be a 1.1 mile hike to the Raven Cliff Falls, but after hiking for over an hour, we still weren't seeing signs of a big waterfall. We'd seen a lot of lovely smaller cascades and the light was falling so we made the decision to turn around before getting to the end of the trail. We passed a few people who were going to keep going (we had lights too), but we had learned our lesson on Washington to respect sunset. There were lots of places to camp in bends of the river and we saw a pair packing in near the end of our hike. Lots of rhododendrons here as well, but also more trash from hikers. The sign in the parking lot clearly showed three bridges that we were supposed to go over before getting to the main falls, but we counted 5 on the way out. At least it was mostly flat and we were able to motor on the way back to the car. It was about 8:30pm once we got there, and we were both ready for dinner.
Jay was on deck to cook that night, he made marinated chicken breast tenders, a kale and avocado salad (though he had to boil the avocado, it was pretty hard to start), and brown rice with tomatoes. When he went to open the bottle of wine, we resorted to the internet for ways to get out a cork w/o a corkscrew. Unfortunately, switching gears halfway through to push the cork down led to both of us getting covered in red wine. It was impossible not to laugh at that point, and we sacrificed a towel to mop things up (and then put it to soak in some cold water). I think we ended up finishing eating at close to 11pm, so it was time to pack up all our layers and the telescope and head to Brasstown Bald to see the Perseids meteor shower.
We ended up staying until close to 3am, the sky was amazing, the milky way clear as daylight and dim constellations easy to spot (though as my eyes got more tired, it was harder to focus, but I always love seeing the Pleiades). Jay had laughed at me for bringing a wool sweater and gloves since it was only supposed to go down to 10-15C, but since we ended up camped out in the visitor center parking lot instead of braving the path to the summit, the asphalt was leaching heat out of my body even with a sleeping pad, bag and blankets. I wish I'd brought a toque, my head wasn't staying warm with a baseball style cap + my rain jacket hood. But: we saw tonnes of shooting stars, despite other people in the parking lot driving around with headlights on and flashing their flashlights in our eyes from across the tarmac. :) The telescope didn't quite work out, it had to be collimated to get a good focus for galaxy viewing and that wasn't going to happen that night. Jay had a red filter for his headlamp, wish I'd thought to dig out mine, but my night vision is pretty good so I just did without a personal light. I was tempted to take a nap and wake up closer to dawn for the peak peak, but Jay was the driver and called it when we felt he was on the edge of being able to get us down the mountain safely.
We still had some daylight left, so we decided to go back to the same area near Helen and try another waterfall quest. But I mentioned that caffeine might be a good idea and Jay's eyes lit up and we went into Helen first to find a cafe. :) We just squeaked in under the 5pm closing time at Hofer's and got tea, coffee, cookies and two slices of cake - the later for me, since I spotted the sacher tort after ordering the rum cake. The sacher tort was a good choice, it was amazingly chocolate-y and moist, while the rum cake was a bit dryer, and the thing that looked like a rum ball on the top was only a ball of icing. :/ We sat outside and enjoyed the oddly Bavarian looking town, complete with a horse drawn carriage going by, two dogs on the front. There were a lot of motorcycle riders in town as well, the twisty roads probably drew them up from Atlanta or from elsewhere.
The hike we were looking at was "only" 1.1 miles one way to get to the Dukes Creek falls, though we wasted a bit of daylight when my navigation skills failed and I missed one turn (there's a Duke's Creek conservation area as well as recreation area not to far apart). Finally found the right trail head, and did the money in an envelope thing to pay our usage fee and used the pit toilet at the edge of the parking lot. The trail looked like it tended down with pavement, and was marked as handicap accessible to the first observation deck, so I stuck with my running shoes, but put on knee braces and carried the poles. We were determined to eat our sandwich at the falls, so we only paused briefly at each of the intermittent observation decks (at some you really had to crane and squint to see the falls). The trail went over boardwalk and stairs before hitting the river and turning into a fire road, but then as we had to descend into a gorge, a switchback heralded the rocky narrow path part of the hike. Before we hit that turn I'd been getting worried that we were walking away from the falls we'd seen in the distance, but the new path brought us right back toward it. And then more wooden walkways, stairs, and observation decks were a point of civilisation in the wilderness. :) A few people were around, but didn't stay as long as we did, as the occasional rain drop was falling, as well as the day trending toward twilight. The final falls were utterly gorgeous. We ate our lunch on the lower observation deck, just basking in the beauty. A tree had fallen and been cut in pieces, at first we thought that it hadn't hit the structures, but after going a bit further to the upper observation point, saw that a section of the wood was much less weathered and a section of the tree was on the other side of it. Lots of round holes had been worn in the rocks as eddies ground them down. The rain was starting to spot a bit harder, so I corralled Jay from his fascination with the falling water and got us moving back up the trail. We made it almost to the car before the clouds opened up, and were only a bit soaked by the time we threw ourselves into the seats and slammed the doors. :) It was also getting dark by then, we'd just beat sunset I think, getting back to the car at around 8:30.
After a short drive back to the cabin, done carefully due to the blind corners and wet road, and it was time for me to start dinner. I got the brown rice on the stove right away and it came out perfectly. The chicken adobo was almost a victim of opaque pot lid + electric element too high, it had a more caramelised taste and no sauce rather than a saucy dish that would flavour the rice as well. But it worked. I also sauteed the kale mix with some of the wine, garlic and the marinade left in the bottle and that tamed it a bit. I think we managed to pour the wine without fountains of red going everywhere that night. :) The cabin was cozy, I never heard the rain falling outside over the fan blowing in the window.
I was concerned that since my flight was at 7pm and I wanted to be there at 5pm that we'd be in
rush hour, but leaving at 4pm got us there at around 4:20. Oops, but it was nice not to have to
rush. Got my bag checked easily and then spent a while in the security line, but got to go
through the metal detector again, score! Then some more time was eaten up by having to take the
plane train to terminal E. Once I got there, I was tempted by more caffeine and stopped at the
Cariboo Coffee stand and got an amazingly delicious vanilla pomegranate oolong latte. My gate
stayed the same this time around, so I felt okay in wandering back a bit to find something to
eat. I found another fresh food kiosk in the food court (so glad that they're getting more
popular) and carried it back to the gate area to eat, then sat and read for a few minutes until
they started boarding. Uneventful flight, except for the little girl next to me that kicked me
twice with her squirming - I snapped at her the second time and she stopped. :/ Her dad made her
apologise when I took off my noise cancelling headphones on the descent. I felt sorry for the
people in front and behind her, she was kicking the front seat and bouncing back in her seat a
lot (annoying enough to me with the connected seats). I ended up keeping the window blind closed
most of the time just so that she'd stop craning across me all the time. Hrmph. Anyway, did get
to see a nice almost rainbow on the clouds as the sun went down. I had a short wait for my bag
and then treated myself to a taxi ride home, the car stopping right in the middle of my street
and pissing off my bike riding neighbour as I got out. Oops. Had a few minutes to have a snack,
decompress and unpack a little bit before falling into bed. Overall an awesome trip. :)