Georgia, 2012

My friend Jay and I had agreed that I'd come down to Georgia to watch the Perseids meteor shower with him this year. He offered a telescope and the highest point in Georgia, Brasstown Bald, in the middle of a wilderness and national forest. I'd taken a couple of extra vacation days to ensure that we could take advantage of the nights around the shower peak in case of clouds, but the 12th was clear.

Friday August 10, 2012

I ended up throwing money at the problem of getting myself and my suitcase to work and then to the airport, and despite a bit of a slow bit on the way from work to Logan, it worked out well. I was watching the radar as I wrapped up work that afternoon and was sad to see a big clump of heavy rain clouds zeroing in on Boston. My flight ended up delayed about an hour, but they were seesawing back and forth as to how much it was delayed (thank goodness for free data on my phone, they sent me a tonne of departure update emails once I signed up). I went out to flag down a cab in light rain but it got heavier as I waited at the gate in terminal A. I had had to pay $25 to check my suitcase since I was bringing my hiking poles, I might have to sign up with something to get a free checked bag on Delta especially sine I usually end up flying with them to SLC each year. Then there was a huge line to drop bags off, and I helped direct a French family with a cancelled flight to the customer service line. The security line was short though, and I got waved through the metal detector as they turned off the xray machine just before I got there. Two gate changes and various updated departure times later and they let us board. Then we had to sit in a long taxi line, I chatted a bit with the midwestern girl (just graduated high school) next to me as we both tried to stay calm about the delays (she was stuck overnight in Atlanta on her way home, while I just wanted to get there without having to lose a night). When the wheels went up I breathed a huge sigh of relief and dove into my book to keep myself busy. Delta actually gives you free snacks as well as some soft drinks, but I passed on them after having had a burritto bowl from Fresh City (it gave me a bit of a stomach ache, annoying since the last one I'd had from them was so good). The sunset was gorgeous, I had my phone out on airplane mode to listen to music and grabbed some snapshots with that camera.

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).

Saturday August 11, 2012

I was trying to avoid too much gluten on this trip, so that limited my choices at the included breakfast buffet, but at least they had tea. :) The ubiquitous red delicious apple didn't get finished, I'm addicted to crisper ones. A quick stop at Jay's place to get the last of the gear he wanted to bring, and then my stomach demanded second breakfast. :) We went over near Little Five Points to Radial and I had a lovely turkey gouda scramble while Jay plowed through a huge breakfast with a side order of platter sized pancakes (he was in the last of his intense training for an MMA event, with this break specifically to recharge for a weekend).

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.

Sunday August 12, 2012

The meteor shower peak was that night after midnight, so we were trying to take it easy and maybe incorporate a nap into the day. It being me and Jay of the almost blown off the side of Mt Washington and then benighted trip, that didn't work so well. :) The plan was to go and see the 400 foot waterfall near the retreat (there was also a 200ft one). We crossed the creek and found the trail that looked like it went in the right direction, knowing that it would intersect with the Appalachian Trail in 2 miles so we'd see the waterfall before that. Hah. 2 miles later, we stopped for lunch at a fire circle on a clearing in the AT. :) We'd been following the creek steadily upwards through gorgeous greenery, lots of waxy leaved rhododendron bushes (not in flower), with little cascades and open glens and then a steep climb up out of a valley and then saw the white blazes of the AT. Oops. Jay spotted a walking staff sized branch leaning against a tree and whipped out his knife to whittle the sharp bits off for me to use on the way down. I'd not brought my hiking poles or knee braces, and just a hand carried bottle of water and my camera, but luckily the heat of the day was mitigated by the altitude and the shade, and my knees were okay on the way down with the support of the stick. It was heavy enough that I had to switch hands every so often though, and I missed my feather light hiking poles. I don't think we passed a single person on this trail, it felt really remote.

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.

Monday August 13, 2012

We had a late start today after getting back to the cabin so late. We had breakfast and made a second set of sandwiches, though I think Jay may have eaten his early and we ended up sharing one later in the day. First stop was back to Brasstown Bald where we were able to explain to the older lady on the booth that we'd paid the night before (arriving after midnight, I'd punched out Monday on the car tag), saving us $6 (though I was willing to pay again). They offer a shuttle $3 each way per person from the parking lot or you can hike up the paved path to the summit, 0.6 miles one way. I wore my running shoes since my hiking boots suck on pavement, but brought my hiking poles and water since it was pretty warm. It was a steep climb! Luckily they had benches placed at strategic points, though on passing one near the bottom the young kid was prompted by his grandfather to tell us how far we had to go, and I think he said 100 miles. :) A few kids were running down the slope, making me wince for my knees, I'm old now. :) We trudged up, zig zagging to the summit and crossing the shuttle road near the top. Once up, we climbed on top of the interpretive center to get great views in all directions from the highest point in Georgia. We could see the Appalachians as well as the Blue Ridge and Smokey mountain (I think, lots of peaks and gaps and valleys). It was a bit overcast and hazy but the view was still good. Walking down the steep track, I broke out the hiking poles and went slowly, and had not problem with my knees.

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.

Tuesday August 14, 2012

Last day. :/ We had to have the place cleaned and the linens piled up before leaving, they didn't do a daily housekeeping service, we had gone to get more towels after the wine incident. It went faster than expected and we were at the lodge on the dot of 11am to hand in the keys and were all checked out. The drive back to Atlanta seemed to go more quickly, the twisty roads were familiar by this point and the highway arrived sooner than expected. Breakfast was gone by the time we hit the city, so Jay took us back to Figo (went on my last visit) for lunch. I had a delicious Caprese panini, with salmon crostini and salad. Then a quick stop at his place to change into workout gear and we headed over to the GA National Guard base where he has access to the gym with his military id. I just had to sign in as a civilian and get my towel, easy peasy. Until he started us on a warm up. :) He was doing a light exercise routine to lead up to his bout on Saturday and we only did 4 rounds of the two tabata sets rather than 8. Worked for me, I was nicely warmed up (aka dripping with sweat and panting, but I kept up!). Then he did some important form checks for me, reassuring me that I was doing deadlifts and squats correctly (and I really appreciated that he started me at 135lb for deadlifts, the higher weight really did improve my form since I had to be more careful :) ). I *thought* I was doing bench pressed right, but turned out I was too high on my chest and he got me sorted out. Then I did some KB stuff and stretched while he did a heavy bag workout. Back to his place to shower and change into airport clothes and then it was off to ATL.

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. :)

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