Hiking: Appalachian Trail at Tesnetee Gap

Another four miles hiked this past weekend. Greg and I set out on Sunday to hike the Tower Loop Road at Smithgall Woods State Park, we packed our watershoes and a towel and everything in preparation for fording the knee-high creek. But when we arrived at the park, we were greeted with signs “HUNT IN PROGRESS.” Not wanting to get shot with a bow and arrow, Greg and I skedaddled out of there and drove up Richard Russell Scenic Highway to do some hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

The AT touches Richard Russell in a couple of spots. The first place, it actually crosses the road. There’s a nice little parking lot that is consistently full of the cars of folks day hiking or camping somewhere along the trail, but if you go a little further down the road, past the AMAZING OVERLOOK SPOT OF AWE, there’s another, smaller parking lot on the left. This is Tesnatee Gap. The AT merely brushes against the highway here, veering back into the woods for about a mile before crossing at that first spot I mentioned.

This section of the AT, for some unknown reason, is less popular. Which I don’t understand at all. There’s an absolutely amazing vista view less than a mile in. Of course, it’s uphill the entire time, which may dissuade some hikers, but it’s totally worth it!

We typically hike this trail earlier in summer, when the blackberries are in. They grow everywhere around the rock face at the peak, and so there’s been a couple of years where we’ve made a point to get up there during the later part of blackberry season (they grow a couple weeks later up there than in lower elevations) and pick a few bowlfuls, giggling as the hummingbirds dive-bomb us.

This weekend, we went a little further than the initial summit of beauty, and did an extra hilly mile. In and out, we did a smidgen over 4 miles total, with an elevation gain of 1050 ft.

The weather was perfect and visibility was good, but not perfect. We chitchatted with several folks (oddly enough, all from Florida). Overall, it was an awesome hike.

 

 

 

Kayaking and Picnicking at Lake Russell

Lake Russell is a small 100-acre lake in Mt. Airy, Ga. It’s one of my favorite places, especially in cooler months. There’s several quality trails to hike – the lake loop trail is one of my favorites – and the lake itself is great for playing around in our Hobies.

A Couple of the many waterbird houses found around Lake Russell
A Couple of the many waterbird houses found around Lake Russell

Being only 100 acres, Lake Russell is probably the smallest body of water that we take our kayaks out on. Using our Mirage peddle drives, we can kayak around the entire lake shore in 2 hours. But, there are no gas-powered engines allowed, so no large boats. No drunk folks blasting their preferred party music that is always awful when you’re just trying to chill and take in the scenery. It’s just you, your kayak, and occasionally a retiree fishing from his trolling motor-powered john boat.

Me in my Happy Place

So peaceful.

This past Thursday, Greg and I went on such a kayaking excursion at Lake Russell. It was the first cool day after a long heatwave.

We peddled around the lake for about an hour, popped out near the swimming beach area (which was abandoned on a Thursday morning), and grilled us up a couple of hotdogs for an early lunch. Afterwards, we kayaked around for about another hour, picking up where we left off from the shoreline, and headed back in.

It was an amazing a peaceful day. I am grateful for this little slice of heaven so close to home.

Teeny island on a sunken tree
Lunch Break!

Spring in North Georgia

My heart is alive again, for I can be outdoors once more.

I start my mornings meditating outside on my deck, listening to the world waking up around me – the frogs, the crickets, the stream in my backyard, the lazy morning moos from distant cows, and even the hum of 6am traffic from ghe highway beyond even that. It’s a mindful peace that I can find without having to delve into mysic. I prefer to meditate to the sounds of my backyard and forest. It feels more honest to me.

I spend my lunch breaks outside, walking laps around an oh-so-familiar graveyard, now accompanied by the caws of crows and the calls of hawks, the atmospheric tumbling whirl of a lopsided wind ornament. My spirits rise as i can now truly take it all in, instead of retreating into layers of clothing and protection from the bone chilling wind that leaves me exhausted after only a few minutes. Now. My walks are once again uplifting. Soon, the my seasonal companions, the graveyard grasshoppers, will be wildly bouncing about.

My backporch view

And when I get home in the evenings, I can spend hours on my back porch, enjoying the symphony of color and sounds that accompanies twilight in the woods. I may be reading, writing (like I am at this moment), or just being at peace with myself and my surroundings.

I am so grateful for the return of Spring in North Georgia.

 

My Happy Place: Kayaking

A beautiful day on Lake Burton

I like cooler weather. There’s nothing quite like getting up early in the morning, bundling up in layers, and going for a brisk hike to the top of a mountain. Greg and I have some of our best hiking adventures in the middle of winter, when icicles dangle from the jagged scars of fallen trees and magnificent mountain views are revealed from the leafless forests.

But I have so missed getting out on the water in my kayak.

Greg and I picked up kayaking last year. We did the research, saved up, and bought us a couple of peddle-driven Hobie kayaks. (Blessed be the Mirage Drives)

It’s said that you should spend money on experiences rather than objects. This is one of those situations where purchasing an object has lead to some amazing experiences. I love these kayaks and the adventures we’ve had in them.

Cabin fever got the best of us Saturday, and hearing that it was going to be a decent day, we got up early and then… waited until the afternoon to head out to the lake.

What? It was a cold morning!

About two minutes after unloading the kayaks at the boat ramp, I managed to hurt myself. While wading in the frigid lake water, trying to get my kayak set up, my foot slipped off a rock and landed hard on the edge of another rock. I didn’t feel to much at the time, because my foot, being in said frigid water, was relatively numb. Afterwards, in the boat, I felt the boo boo more.

First aid kit to the rescue!

Luckily, it didn’t bother me much. After a bit of a rough start, we were on our way. The wind was cold, the sun was warm, Greg kept taking off his jacket and then putting it back on, and finally used it as a snuggie (too bad I didn’t get a picture of that). And I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I was in my happy place.

And even though I have a sunburn on my legs now (rookie mistake), I can’t wait to get back out there again.

Kayak selfie on the Loeby Hobies

I am grateful for all the adventures I get to have.

 

Hike: Smithgall Woods Loop

After spending about 10 days with one illness or another, last Saturday, Greg and I were feeling peak cabin fever. On top of that, it was a gorgeous day. So we talked about going for a hike – you know, a short, easy going hike to ease ourselves back into things.

We did 7.5 miles. And not a flat 7.5 miles. It was hilly, with an elevation change of 700ft from lowest to highest.

We use A LOT of tissues.

A few weeks ago, we had explored a new part of The Smithgall Woods Center State Park – the Tower Road. At the time, we went for time and just kinda rambled about. But later, we discovered that if you continue on that road and then make the correct turns, you can make that hike into a loop. So that’s what we did.

Everything was going swimmingly. It was a nice, warm day after a whole bunch of rain. We were happy to get out and enjoy the day — until we were about 2 miles from the end. We were walking along the graveled Shackleford Road, when we came to the creek.

We were NOT turning around. So we zipped off the legs to our pants (AH HA, knew that would come in handy); took off our boots, tied the laces, and put them around our necks; removed our socks and stuffed them into high pockets; and forded our way across the creek. The water came up to my knees and was moving very fast. I have never been so grateful for my hiking stick, because it saved my ass a couple of times.

Blessed be the quick-dry pants

We made it across without incident and then stopped to rest a minute and dry off our feet. Soon, we re-donned our foot gear and continued our way back to the parking lot.

Luckily, we did not have the corgis with us. That would have made things much, much more difficult. We typically do not take them with us on new hikes.

Over all, it was a beautiful and adventurous hike. We saw some butterflies, some tadpoles, and a huge tree with some interesting, old initial carvings in it.

 

70 in February

February is typically the coldest month we suffer here in North Georgia. It’s when we have the best chance of our yearly snowfall, and it’s when we have the biggest heating bills.

The polar vortex thing that was happening touched us only a little bit. While certain places up north were experiencing wind chills of -60, we were balmy down here in the teens and 20s.

But that took a dramatic turn this past weekend and even through today. It’s been an early spring, with temperatures in the mid-60s and even hitting the 70s yesterday.

Holy crap, it’s been amazing.

And it is most definitely fleeting.

And so while it’s decently warm and sunny (for the most part), I’ve been enjoying the time outside as much as possible. We went for a hike on Saturday (write-up to come), and on both Saturday and Sunday, I did my meditation outside. Yesterday, we even had the windows open at work, letting the fresh air and warmth in the building.

My meditation set-up on my porch

And though by next week, the temperatures will return to a more frigid normal,  and I will remember this refreshing sneak peak of spring, and know that warmer days are on the horizon.

I am grateful for these glorious 70 degree days in February.

Indian Grave Gap to Tray Mountain

Greg and I have completed two hikes so far in 2019, and both have been brand new to us. This past weekend, we made our way to a remote spoton the Appalachian trail – where the trail crosses Indian Grave Gap Road. Indian Grave Gap Road is a narrowish dirt road that winds through the national forest. If you decide to visit it, I recommend a truck or suv, especially after hard rains like we’ve experienced here in North Georgia lately.

Where the AT crosses the road, there is a small parking lot. We geared up and headed north towards Tray Mountain.

Tray Mountain is the 7th highest peak in Georgia. The trail up to the peak is moderately difficult, and a near constant incline. But it is an awe-inspiring trail with canopies of mountain laurel and rhododendron that give way to breathtaking views. Eventually leading to the very top of Tray Mountain at 2.55 miles (the shelter is as little further down the trail, but we didn’t go that far). This trail has become an instant favorite.