Due to the kindness of Eric's folk's neighbors, we were able to spend about 10 days in an awesome house up near the small town of Hayesville, NC.
On our way to the mountain house, we stopped at the KOA in Macon, GA. It always surprises me how fast a backpacking trip can make you appreciate the small things. Upgrading to our car-camping tent instead of our backpacking tent was a luxury! Since we did the John Muir Trail last summer, we have a good base of tough conditions to compare situations too. Already we have found ourselves saying 'well, its not as hard/cold/long/sketchy as the JMT so we can do it!' and that has been extremely helpful. Not that anything we have done thus far has been 'hard' per say.
The KOA was great, too. We camped a lot before taking off on this adventure, so our standards for what makes a good campground varies depending on what we are looking for. For a one-nighter on the way to somewhere else, I am always very comfortable if there is flat ground for a tent, accessible clean water, a bathroom facility, and close access to parking. A KOA is a great option for these requirements, but not great if we are looking for solitude, quiet, and access to untouched nature. Also, each KOA is very different. We were happy to find the Macon KOA was clean, friendly and met all our expectations (plus showers!). They also gave us free cookies our first night 🙂
When we pulled into the mountain home near Hayesville, NC the next day, our jaws dropped. Eric and I had stayed there with his family back in 2011 for a vacation and had very fond memories of the place, but we were still blown away with the beauty of the home and location. It was great to have a warm and dry space to recoup after the emotional roller coaster of moving from CA, staying with family in FL, and starting our long talked about trip.
I'll admit I was a bit of a mess. I think it finally hit me that we had moved. I was no longer a Park Ranger, I will no longer see people on a daily basis that I had grown to love, I will no longer be with my family, again, and I am not actively seeking work. The last one is something I've not felt since I was 14 years old, so I think it will take a while to get used to. I felt so lazy during our time in Hayesville, I had to constantly remind myself that not only is the purpose of this trip to see new places and explore, but also slow down, enjoy the small events in a day, and spend some time on hobbies. I want to give myself permission to read more, play banjo (and guitar for Eric) more, photograph and learn about wildlife, ect. All of those things take time, and I was happy that a few of the days we spent entirely enjoying those freedoms. One of the days I spent waiting to photograph birds on the back deck, which was extraordinarily peaceful. Throughout all of our destinations, there will be exciting days packed with exploration and adventure, and quiet days spent reading and relaxing. Both are important, and both are wonderful.
We did a fair bit of hiking around Hayesville, and both Eric and I were surprised how much we liked the area. We did some climbing at Mount Yonah, and had 'The Lowers' all to ourselves most of the day. It was great to have a slow day to practice setting anchors because we are very rusty (an the bolts were not, so that's good). We are happy to report we did not die. Although we only climbed around a 5.8 all day, we loved being on outdoor rock again.
On our way back from the crag we stopped in the town called Helen. What a rando place. Do you like Germany? Do you also like the middle of Georgia? Do you like American country music with your bratwurst? Then Helen is the place for you! I will say, they have THE BEST dark chocolate salted caramel I have ever had at the Hansel and Gretel Candy Kitchen. It was fun to walk around a little, but tourist attraction towns like Helen are not a huge draw, due to the fact we live out of a truck and have a tight budget. Shopping and restaurants are the highlights here, so we try to avoid much time in towns like that.
Another highlight hike was a loop trail that went between Vogel State Park, Chattahoochee National Forest and the Blood Mountain Wilderness. The destination was Blood Mountain peek, which is along the Appalachian Trail, and we were able to piece together a couple trails to make a loop out of it. Not only was the view gorgeous, we actually enjoyed talking with the AT hikers at the peek (I know, shocking, we enjoyed talking with people). We are already reflecting fondly on our time on the John Muir Trail, so it was nostalgic to talk with them about backpacking gear, resupply points and daily mileage. We definitely agree another long term backpack is in our future, but probably not this year. Since the hike to Blood Mountain went through Slaughter Gap, we laughed a lot about our James Judah incident we had last year in the Trinity Alps, which is a whole other story. We were encouraged by the end of the hike with our mileage of 10.6 miles with a 2,000 ft elevation gain for the day because we have turned into little fat dumplings since we left California. It was nice to know not all of our hiking strength is lost.
Between the towns of Blairsville, Hayesville, Hiawassee, and Helen we had a lot of green space to explore, but the real gem during this time was the warm space, quiet atmosphere, and flexibility of our stay at the beautiful vacation home. We are so thankful for this gift, and hope to visit again. Thanks Sally and Family!
10/10 would live in free house again 😉
Song: Itasca - Paul Spring