When it comes to getting away from it all, most folks prefer going up to the mountains or down to the beach. In other words, there are mountain people and there are normal people.
We recently got back from a few days in the mountains somewhere just across the Georgia line into North Carolina so that my mom could see different colors of leaves. A friend offered to let us borrow his cabin — or I would deem it, a luxury mountain mansion. The price of free was too enticing to pass up.
Granted, we could have waited a week, stayed home and looked at different colors of leaves right here in my backyard. When you go to the mountains, though, you’re embracing the beauty of “fall foliage,” while at home it’s more, “Ain’t them leaves purty?” followed three weeks later by “I’m gonna cut down every dadgum ugly twig in this backyard if I have to rake one more leaf!”
The mountains of north Georgia and western Carolina — or hills if you’re from some uppity mountain place like Colorado — are indeed beautiful this time of year. And we had a relaxing time in a mountain home with a roaring fireplace and extended family who came by to share laughs, stories and a good meal or two. The setting was serene, the home was perfect, and we were able to grill delicious dinners from a deck overlooking hills and, yes, a whole bunch of different colored leaves.
But it ain’t the beach.
The last time I went to the beach, I think there were about four curves on the drive between here and the Florida coast. You could pass a car for five miles if you felt like it. But somebody came up with the fun idea of making all the roads into the mountains curvy, so that every town is 8 miles apart and a one-hour’s drive away.
There are beautiful vistas every few hundred yards along the way called overlooks where drivers whip the car onto the side of the road at the last second and yell, “Look at that!” while the passengers scream because they think they’re about to fall down a cliff or hit a bear. These passengers already are on edge because while we down here closer to sea level we put guardrails on every straightaway with a 6-foot ditch beside it, taking a winding turn at 3,000-feet with a sketchy shoulder, no guardrail and signs that read “Watch for falling boulders and DON’T HIT THAT BEAR” is all part of the fun.
At one of the overlooks, my wife decided to stroll a few feet into the woods. “Watch for bears,” I warned jokingly. Then, she stopped. There was a rustle in the leaves. She screamed and ran. I grabbed my camera to take a picture of the, um, chipmunk. Yep. She had confused the two. Granted, it’s dang near impossible to tell the difference between a bear and a chipmunk until — as any naturalist can attest — you get close enough to hear them sing. Bears sing about necessities, while chipmunks sing about witch doctors. #science
We did a lot of driving in the mountains. If you’re visiting a remote mountain home for the first time, you’re going to be recalculating and u-turning a lot. Many of the “roads” are not real roads like “Main Street” but made-up gravel paths like “Ethel’s Lane” and “Gladys Mae Circle” that don’t show up on a GPS. No one uses those old paper maps that unfolded to a handy 8-foot-wide guide to where you’re lost at. Those sure were fun during those family vacations in the 1970s.
“Well, find Atlanta and start from there, dang it!”
“I can’t find Atlanta, Earl! Um, let’s see, J-26 …”
“It’s only the biggest dadgum city in Georgia, Ethel!”
“Oh look, here’s an index. That’s handy! And divorce papers.”
“Keep those handy, too!”
Fortunately, we did have fairly accurate directions to the mountain home a friend let us borrow: Turn left at the Trump 2020 sign. Go 2 miles, past the Calvin peeing on Biden sign, and turn right at the Let’s Go Brandon sign. Make a slight right at the fourth tattered Confederate flag, and then go 100 yards up past where Billy Joe saw that black fella one time. If you hit the Trump 2024, you’ve gone too far.
It wasn’t exactly the most diverse place I’ve ever seen if you catch my drift. The only diversity was in the trees. And, yes, all the colors blanketing the rolling hills were indeed beautiful to witness, even amid a drought that had turned the creeks into trickles and the lakes into mudholes. And, again, I’d love to stay at that home again even if it were moved and placed in the middle of I-185 somewhere between Fortson and Mountain Hill — a little bit noisier than where we were, but much closer to home.
But I’m definitely still a beach guy — middle of summer, dead of winter, whatever. I like the dress code. Every wave is different. The water can be a scenic backdrop, a place to play or a field of work. And while the mountains are drying up amid climate change, the ocean uses climate change to inch a little closer to me each year. The least I can do I make the effort to reach back out to it, as well.
Besides, margaritas just don’t taste right in the mountains.