One of my new post-retirement goals is, each week(ish), to see or do something I’ve never seen or done before and that’s what I saw and did yesterday. I’d read in Brown’s Guide to Georgia that the route voted most scenic by the Georgians they surveyed was the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway out of Helen.
Brown’s Guide describes it this way:
A nationally designated scenic byway, this 38-mile loop winds its way through the area of the Chattahoochee National Forest which surrounds the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. The loop, which begins and ends outside of Helen, has good views of Raven Cliffs Wilderness to the south and Mark Trail Wilderness to the north. It passes Jack's Gap where Jack's Gap Trail leads to Chattahoochee Gap and the source of the river. The drive also passes through Unicoi Gap where the Unicoi Turnpike crossed the Blue Ridge.
It seemed like the perfect time and place to begin my weekly(ish) forays into my version of a bucket list. The time being fall and a weekday would juxtapose the beginnings of the leaves turning, while ensuring that thousands of other bucket fillers wouldn’t be doing the same thing, hogging the roads and annoying me. The place was good in that it was close enough for an easy day trip and far enough away not to be the other end of my sofa. Plus, my first baby was conceived in the general area some 38 years ago, so there was that.
Driving up 400 (the Hospitality Highway 50 cents up 50 cents back) I was enjoying myself. I had a full tank of gas, a Diet Coke by my side, NPR on the radio, and my trusty I Phone in my lap with the GPS up and running. Little did I know that the Diet Coke and GPS overuse would cause me a couple of problems later in the day.
I knew the small town of Helen would be a disappointment and I wasn’t disappointed. Re-crafted in the early 1960’s to save a small town, Helen is a German Alpine Village in the middle of the North Georgia Mountains. On what turned out to be our first conception experience in 1974, The Big Kat and I stayed at the absolutely gorgeous nearby Unicoi Lodge as part of a weekend trip with his new work buddies at Abbott Labs. For dinner one evening, we all traipsed into Helen and I still remember its cheesiness.
Yesterday, when I stopped by for my Alpine fix, Helen had, if possible, become even more cheesified. Although it appeared that they've added more walkways down by the river, which is actually quite pretty, there are now lots more gift shops with many more items not handmade anywhere, much less in North Georgia. There is also a glut of fast food restaurants and chain motels, all sporting the yodel ay hee hoo motif. Another new addition is that you currently can’t park anywhere in Helen without paying the $5 cash only, all day parking fee.
The $5 parking fee was a problem in that I needed to pee and I didn’t have five bucks in cash after paying the Hospitality Highway toll. Although the kind ticket taker told me that, if I would hurry, he wouldn’t charge me, I couldn’t find a single place in Helen to pee in the two minutes I gave myself, so I left the parking lot and Helen with my $4.50 in cash and my bladder full, confident there would be a gas station in my near future.
There wasn’t. I guess one thing that makes a scenic byway scenic is that they don’t allow gas stations and, because this scenic byway was clinging to the side of a mountain, I couldn’t find anywhere I felt safe enough to run out into the scenic part to squat with my pants down around my ankles. So I kept on, my bladder petulantly undulating with the dips and digressions that made that particular byway so blasted scenic. After what seemed like miles and miles of freaking scenic beauty, trusting my GPS to read the swerves and the curves, I finally found a sign that said: Brasstown Bald, Highest Point in Georgia, Historic Site and Rest Stop, 6 miles.
Rest Stop! Thank you God and Jesus! Surely Rest Stop meant Restroom Stop! I careened onto the road, and six painful miles later, I came to a tiny house with a sign that said Entry Fee: $3.
"Please tell me you have a restroom." I said to the guard, so so grateful I still had $4.50.
"Yes mam, Right up there. Three dollars please."
But at least I was at the highest point in Georgia and that was something to be proud of.
It wasn't until I was finished powdering my nose and had walked back outside that I realized I wasn't at the highest point in Georgia. Not yet. That would be just a short half mile walk up the path or I could take a shuttle for another three bucks. I looked in my pocket book and counted out the dollar fifty I still had left, remembering I'd need another 50 cents to get past the toll booth to get back home, So I started up the path knowing I could certainly walk that far. After all, I did much farther every morning back at home.
Straight uphill. That path was straight uphill. I stopped a couple of times to read some markers and try to breathe. One of of the markers said the path had been built by convict labor in the 1950s.
After about an eighth of a mile (and 4 markers and lots of bending over) I turned around and headed back down. I could have made it all the way if I'd just had on tennis shoes and if I hadn't had my pocket book with me and if my phone was charged and if there wasn't the chance I'd need to pee again.
I ended up eating my granola bar lunch in the parking lot of the Brasstown Bald History Site, which was really quite scenic. As I ate, I tried to ascertain if and how my Tom Tom GPS system (Tommy Jr), which I'd just remembered was in my glove compartment, worked.
Tommy Jr. did work and he talked me off that mountain a whole different way, a way that was truly scenic, and I made it home in time to watch the end of Katie on ABC.
See that tiny thing at the top of the picture? That's the highest point in Georgia.
What I learned from my first Adventure Thursday:
The only people who sightsee during the week are old people, some of whom ride motorcycles.
Helen is still Helen.
I need to watch my Diet Coke intake while traveling on scenic byways.
Using my cell phone GPS probably isn't the way to go for road trips.
I can walk long distances but not straight up and not with my pocket book.
I can travel a pretty long way and still get home in time to watch Katie on ABC.
Maybe I do need a car charger for my phone now that I'm such an adventurer.
What my adventure cost me:
$20 for gas
$1.00 for tolls
$3.00 for entry into the Brasstown Bald Historic Site
$1.29 for a bottled Diet Coke
What it could have cost me:
$25.29 for all of the above
$5.00 for peeing in Helen
$3.00 for the shuttle
$10.90 for a car charger
$10.00 for lunch other than a granola bar
$200 ticket for public indecency if there hadn't been a bathroom at Brasstown Bald
All in all, and in spite of not making it to the top of Georgia, I think I did okay with my first Adventure. But if you are disappointed that, because I didn't learn all that much about any of the places I visited, including everything mentioned in Brown's Guide, and therefore you didn't either, see:
Brown's Guide to Georgia
PS. As with the way of bloggers and blogging, my friend Diane, after reading my story, posted a wonderful tale about being stuck in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with three teen-agers, which also included a great, somewhat bi-partisan look at the history of the interstate highway system. Here's the link: The Road from Pigeon Forge