Sunday, March 16, 2008

March 9-13 2008 – Road Trip – Part Two – North Georgia Mountains

In our Harley Road Atlas, the page on Georgia’s northern mountains is strewn with symbols for scenic motorcycle rides. And by God, they aren’t kidding! We spent a glorious week tackling those rides from two different bases: Unicoi State park, just north of Helen and the driveway of our friends’ new home in Toccoa.

We had been to the area once before, back in March 2005, as part of our drive to Florida from California and Phoenix right after buying the RV. Back then our friends, Bob and Kathy of sv Briana, had been looking for property in Toccoa where Bob had spent most of his medical career. They had taken us on a tour to Helen, a touristy town that has imported a Bavarian alpine motif. We had also picked up a brochure on ownership RV parks in the area from the Tampa RV show that had piqued our curiosity. Things are frequently not what they seem.

But sometimes they are even better. When none of the ownership RV parks were available for nightly rentals, we went instead to the Unicoi State Park. What an elegant set up! Tucked into the folds of the mountains, the park has several forested camping areas and a nice hotel. Again we had the campground almost to ourselves, and we spent every evening around a roaring campfire with hot chocolate as well as other warming libations.

But it was the rides that were grand. The first afternoon we unloaded the bike, bundled up and made our first circuit, up, up, up a winding road alongside horse farms and high mountain lakes with quaint boat houses, to Rte 76, an east-west highway linking the towns on the top of the ridge. The sky was crisp blue and the sun bright. As the afternoon waned quicker than we thought, we cut our loop in half and came down, down, down the tight serpentine curves of Rte 75. This is as far from Florida riding as you can possibly imagine. Don was definitely working overtime, shifting and leaning right, then left, then immediately right and so on. It was a jump from novice to advanced, and he did a great job! It was everything we’d imagined mountain riding to be: beautiful, challenging, rewarding.

And cold!

Our second day we went the other way to catch the second half of the main loop. The highlight would have to be a stop at the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center, perched in Neels Gap where the Appalachian Trail crosses US19/129 high on Blood Mountain. The stone building was built by the CCC in the 1930s and operated as an inn until the 60s. Its future was uncertain until it was leased from the state and turned into Mountain Crossings, a store and hostel for hikers passing through. The view is stupendous, but as we enjoyed our hot chocolate on the stone terrace, we felt a bit silly in our layers and leathers as the hikers passed us in shorts.

Also on this route we found ourselves passing several of the RV parks named in the brochure. We stopped twice before we blew it off. Not a one came close to our imagining, nor to our home base at Nature Coast Landings. And frankly, this kind of RV park wouldn’t be what we’d want in these parts anyway.

What we would want would be something almost exactly like what our friends Bob and Kathy have built for themselves on 4.5 acres of woods in Toccoa. Part of the rules for this trip was not planning further ahead than a day or two, so it was simply our great good luck that when we called them they had just arrived back from the boat in Thailand. We moved to their driveway on a cold and drizzly day, and spent the afternoon around their roaring fireplace getting our cruising enthusiasm pepped up by all the tales of their adventures in Australia and Indonesia. Then, when the weather cleared again, we rode more mountain loops from their place up into Highlands and Cashiers, NC, a highlight of which for me was the warming new age lunch we stumbled over at the Wild Thyme Bakery and Café in Cashiers. (The new owner may be changing the name, though!)

I can’t tell you how much we appreciated the hospitality of parking in Bob and Kathy’s beautiful woods-shrouded driveway and then sharing breakfasts, dinners and nightly fires in their inspiring new home. Sure, just when we have ourselves persuaded that the full-time gypsy life really suits us, they have to go and throw at us such a perfect counter argument. The only negative we could see about it is that our kids are a long way away.

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