Hiking outside Atlanta: first trip

This post is going to be very long, because I had an amazing time and want to document the whole thing.  I went up to visit a longtime online friend this week, and we had the best time and are already planning for me to come back.

The Artist (as I will call her here, given that she’s been a pro artist since before I met her) and I have been friends online since 1997.  Previous to this trip, we’d hung out in person four times: twice at the San Diego comic con in the late 90’s, once in Las Vegas in 1998, and once in 2004 when she was my maid of honor.  The trip came about because I desperately wanted to lay down in grass that wasn’t full of fire ants, and Artist is really into hiking, so I asked if I could come visit for a couple of days and go out into Nature a little.  She and her husband, whom I will call The Genius, have been together for like 16 years, but I’d only met him the once at my wedding.  So going to visit them was stretching my social skills — or so I thought.  It turned out to be the most relaxed I’ve been in years around anyone other than family.  Seriously, it was like Artist and I had been hanging out in person all these years.  The conversations never stopped, and flowed so easily and naturally… it was truly amazing and very exciting.  And I got along well with Genius, too, although almost all our chatting happened with Artist present.

It started when I drove up to Atlanta on Thursday afternoon.  It was a pretty easy five-hour trip, straight up I-75 and then around Atlanta’s perimeter to her house.  I got into town at 5:00 rush hour, but the traffic was mostly headed the other direction so I didn’t get stuck on the highways.  Her house is this adorable 1960s split level in a gorgeous neighborhood.  She and Genius are both artistic and nerdy as fuck, so the decor was utterly unique but comfortable.  We brought my stuff in, chatted a while, and went to dinner.

Buford Highway in Chamblee, I was told is basically Atlanta’s Asian area these days.  A lot of the signs are in non-English languages (I definitely recognized both Vietnamese and Thai alphabets on a number of signs), and there are a ton of awesome little places to eat.  We had dinner at a 24 hour pho joint.  It was so, so good.  After the meal we went back to Artist’s house and had a nap before Genius got off work at 10:00.  We went to an Asian bakery called Sweet Hut for desserts and I fell in love with the place, deciding that I had to go back before I left town to pick up pastries to bring home to my family.  It was the first time I’ve been out at night in years, so it was even more fun.  (Which is probably sad, but I don’t care.)

I had a hard time falling asleep.  I was too wound up!  Finally nodded off at 2:30 and woke up at 7:30 Friday morning.  A&G weren’t up yet, so I lounged on the sofa and read comic books on my iPad.  They were up at 9:00, and we got dressed and went out to a late breakfast at a little diner.  Artist and I both had gyro omelettes.  Delicious.

At noon, the Artist and I left for Tullulah Gorge State Park.  It was an hour and a half drive from A&G’s house.  I confess that I napped for about 45 minutes of the drive.  Stupid inability to sleep…  We stopped outside the park at a little gift shop, where I got my first view of the Gorge.

Tallulah Gorge Overlook

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

We headed off to the state park, where we got our map and figured out what we wanted to do.  We decided to do the south rim, which was a mile and a half round trip.  The western edge of the trail was on a decent incline (about 39 degrees, which I figured out last night while laying in bed, because doesn’t everyone do trigonometry when they can’t sleep?) so it was a decent workout for two fairly non-athletic hikers.  I was pleased that I had no trouble with it; I’m used to long walks, so really it was just the inclines that were different.  Well, that and picking my way around rocks and tree roots.  Turns out it’s fun to be a mountain goat.

I took a bunch of pictures.  Here are a few of the good ones.

Lower Falls Falls close up Falls Devil's Pulpit

Absolutely gorgeous.  I loved every second of it.  I have more pictures, and I’ll post those later, but these are my favorites.

Something I found interesting: the sun feels different there.  I’m used to Florida’s high humidity.  When Artist and I were hiking, it was 90 degrees out but only 28% humidity.  I could feel the sun on my skin far more intensely than in Florida.  I was very comfortable, temperature-wise.  The trail was shady and I’m used to much worse and so it was quite pleasant.  I remarked to Artist that I’d hate to do the trail when summer comes on, but last night in bed I realized that it wouldn’t get any hotter than that and so shady hikes in summer would be absolutely fine with me.

The entrance to the trail was actually in the middle of it, so first we went west.  Went up to the highest point, then came back down and went back down to the eastern end.  There we sat on rocks overlooking the dam and just talked about whatever came to mind.  Every time the wind would shift I could smell the flowers that were west of us.  It was just lovely, completely lovely.  There were deciduous trees and babbling brooks and big fat bumblebees.  I want to go back after I’ve built up some more leg strength so we can take the stairs down to the suspension bridge and then go up to the northern rim’s trail.  I already have a training plan, which involves going up and down the 232 steps of Devil’s Milhopper, a park close to my house.  Beautiful nature plus exercise? PERFECT.

On the way out I found a shady, grassy spot by the visitor’s center and threw myself onto the grass, arms and legs stretched out like I was making a snow angel.  (Grass angel?)  It was fucking awesome.  I petted the grass and made little happy noises, which amused the fuck out of Artist.  She understood, though — she grew up in the same part of Florida as me, and totally got why I appreciated the experience so much.  Florida grass is sawgrass — which is sharp and crunchy — and full of fire ants.  You can’t lay down in Florida grass without getting the fuck bitten out of you.  A little ant got on my hand while I lay in the soft north Georgia grass.  It was black and cute and not even slightly interested in biting me.  I was so happy.

On the way back we stopped for gas and snacks, and then as we were getting into Atlanta we happened upon a Dunkin Donuts.  We each got a donut and drink, then headed back to Artist’s.  Showering after hiking is marvelous.  And so are naps.  We sat around and talking until Genius got home about 10:20, and we all went off to dinner at another little diner.  My club sandwich was so thick I had to alternate between bites of the top and bottom, and the cole slaw had pineapple in it and was surprisingly good.  Back at A&G’s we chatted until 2:00.  I didn’t fall asleep until 4:30, though.

Woke up at 9:00 to find A&G up already.  We went to Sweet Hut again so we could get breakfast and all the pastries I wanted to take home with me.  Back to A&G’s, and I packed up and said my goodbyes around 11:30.

Yesterday was, no exaggeration, one of the best days I’ve had in my entire life.  The company, the hiking, the scenery, the food… Everything was utterly perfect.  I probably thanked Artist twenty times for letting me come up, and it’s still not enough.  And, much to my delight, she had a good enough time that she wants me to come back soon and hike with her and her bestie.  This evening she and I were still talking, over texts this time, about hiking gear and other topics.  It’s fantastic.

One small addendum: I must tell you about some of the scary billboards in south Georgia.

— One from LeagueOfTheSouth.com that just said #SECEDE in huge letters
— Many signs for Adel Outfitters, which claims to have “1000’s of guns”
— Two that said “STRIPPERS — what more can we say?”  The second sign added, “As featured on Jerry Springer.”  So classy.
— One about marriage being between one man and one woman, courtesy of the Blue
grass Church of Christ
— A series of bloody, gory ones from i-will-be-back.org on the subject of the Rapture

Southern Georgia frightens me.

Next trip we’re doing Sweetwater Park, which I must Google because yay hiking.  I’m already psyched!

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