Home as Destination

Insert all the usual excuses for my absence here.  I’ve been busy. Ideas are percolating. I’m actually in Washington (state) but my mind is on home. Well, Atlanta – my home when I’m not somewhere else. I grew up just south of Atlanta, spent my teen years goofing off around there when I should have been in school, and spent many adult years passing through there wishing traffic would just GO. As my son got a little older, visits “home” gave us a chance to get to know the fun activities that Atlanta has to offer it’s estimated 43 million yearly visitors and just over 5 million residents. We did all the usual stuff the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, the High Museum, the Natural History Museum, etc.

But these days, I treat it more like a layover than a destination even though there is so much more to do and see. Until recently, I hardly explored any new places and haven’t revisited any of the major attractions since my kiddo was a kid. But I’m changing that this fall, and I’m happy to admit I’m just a little excited about it. Last week I popped home to see some super important people, eat the best tomato sandwich ever, and also take a ride on MARTA (that’s Atlanta’s mass transit train/bus system) to be a tourist for the day.

Why? Because when you treat any portion of your life as a layover, waiting for the next thing, you aren’t living. There is too much to see and do and explore. Too many interesting people to meet (or just watch if you are an introvert!). Too many things to taste and hear.

I’ve been inspired even more to ditch the car and do this exploring by public transit thanks to my friend Pattie Baker. She’s a liver of life and a writer that uses her camera and her words to show the stories of people and things she encounters on her daily bicycle commutes in and around Atlanta. Through her lens, I’ve seen parts of Atlanta that I didn’t even know existed, much less offered any reason for me to actually explore.  Here’s the link to what was published in the LDN and below is the ‘behind the scenes’.


So that first “scouting” trip to Atlanta I met up with my mom at the southern end of the MARTA gold line and we made our way to the Arts Center station. True to form, I am always happy to find budget friendly ways to enjoy the sights and attractions so I can save my money for food! This day was no exception – and the High Museum of Art accommodated us nicely with their 100% discount for veterans plus one guest. We explored the few blocks around the museum (thanks to Pattie’s suggestion) and found some cool murals at Colony Square, plenty of shady rest spots along the busy plaza, food trucks and enough outdoor art and novelty that had we not actually gone into the museum I still would have been happy with that excursion.

Not quite done, we hopped back on MARTA and headed south to Centennial Olympic Park (where we would have arrived sooner if I wasn’t running my mouth and missed our stop!) to catch the Atlanta Streetcar for a ride to Sweet Auburn Market. This was probably the highlight of my day. I’ve been to markets all over the US, but this one was perfect – like a farmer’s market, but open 7 days a week with just enough fresh and prepared food offerings to satisfy any appetite. And all the vendors are local independent business owners. We picked up some yummy pralines and really tried to convince ourselves we could eat something else, but the Food Trucks had filled our bellies earlier. We made our way back around to Olympic Park to enjoy a chilled beverage and watch the kids playing in the fountains then parted ways.

It was a great day, but it was just a start. In my research (one hour on google maps and my usual quick searches for cheap fun stuff to do), I discovered that the National Park Service has a webpage with itineraries to explore places listed on the National Register of Historic Places! Who knew!?!

So, if you haven’t googled your city for fun stuff to do lately, perhaps you’ll be surprised at what you didn’t know was right there. Let me know what you discover!


OTW: FDR State Park Hike

Less than ideal, but perfectly acceptable, day pack hanging from the trail sign.

Growing up near Pine Mountain, GA we would sometimes spend an afternoon at F.D. Roosevelt State Park. There weren’t any official trails then, so I imagine we didn’t get too far off the beaten path, but I do remember the freezing water in the Liberty Bell Pool, the fun playground adjacent where we might have a picnic lunch, and the old grill at Dowdell’s Knob that clung to the top of the mountain. At five years old, 1,395′ is WAY up there! Later years, the park would host Christmas Caroling and offer hot cocoa at the amphitheater and a warm toasty fire in the nearby lodge which now houses the Park Visitor Center.

IMG_4574Back in the 80′ and 90’s a group of volunteers built and continue to maintain approximately 40 miles of trails. A few years ago, my mom met her goal of hiking all of the trail sections and loops – a pretty neat feat given her dislike of heights and sudden drop-offs! The main 23-mile trail is a basically a ridge hike with seven loops dropping down into gaps and through some historical sites. The trails are very well maintained with great signage and color-coded blazes, but very few are for beginners – as most of the terrain is rocky and there are some pretty steep sections. But there are sections that everyone can enjoy.

A Carolina Wren was rudely surprised when I reached into the cubby for the trail log!

Recently, I decided to tackle Dowdell’s Knob Loop, a 4.3 mile section at the peak. It was a spur of the moment thing while I was in town for other reasons so I didn’t have a hiking buddy with me, or barely any of my usual hiking supplies. Luckily, because my car is my closet, I was able to cobble together a day pack with enough of the essentials to make me feel good about the hike that day. I checked in at the trail head to let someone know where I was and what I was up to, and also signed the trail head register. I’d stopped by the visitor center for a map and make sure the trail was open and in good condition (sometimes controlled burns or recent weather can cause a trail to be temporarily closed).

At 10 am on a brisk May morning, I set off from the upper trail head. Now, for those that aren’t awake yet, or just aren’t that concerned, the UPPER trail head implies two things: 1. There are two trailheads. 2. One of them is at a higher elevation than the other. The hike is a loop. Starting at the top also means ending at the top!  I won’t give you a step by step account of the hike (click here for a great trail description by Atlanta Trails) but will point out some highlights so you can enjoy it your way!

Blazes are found on trees or rocks roughly every 75-100′

The entire 4.3 miles was worth every ache in my feet and hips the next day, but if you’ve only got a short time or you have younger children with you then I would recommend starting at the top at the trailhead shelter. This 400′ connecting trail leads to the main blue-blazed Pine Mountain Trail. Turning west at the junction will take you past the 1953 B-25 Crash Site bearing a memorial plaque. Continuing for about a quarter-mile, you will reach Elephant Rock and just past that the trail starts getting rougher as you enter the area hit by the 2011 tornadoes. If you turn around here, the entire out-and-back will be about 1.2 miles and offer interesting scenery, history, geology and moderately easy terrain without too much elevation change.

Trail Snacks!

Continuing on, as I did, and you’ll descend from the rocky peak into the forested valley floor, crossing streams and eventually finding a waterfall before you start the long uphill stretch taking you the last mile back to the trailhead. I’d purposefully chosen to start and end the hike at the top because of the beautiful view I would have while enjoying my post-hike snacks. Ending a 4.3 mile hike at your car with nowhere to sit and catch your breath is just no fun!

It took me a little longer than I’d hoped, but I made sure to stop along the way and just look. Look up from the trail, Look beyond the trees, Look into the creek, Look behind me (because the view is always different when you turn around, right?), and just take in the smells and sounds. Ok, I may have also been trying to catch my breath. This was my first hike in some time, and i was coming off jet-lag and an upper respiratory infection. The weather was perfect, an unusual 50 degree morning with full sunshine. The coolness kept the bugs at bay, which was a nice treat in May. This hike may require hefty applications of bug repellent in summer months!

It’s interesting, and sometimes even fun, to revisit places that we frequented as a child. Sure, they change over time and so do we, so while we can’t go back and enjoy them exactly as we did when we were young, we can appreciate them in new ways. What places did you enjoy as a child that you’d like to revisit now and experience them anew? 

“I’m Just An App” – Sam brings people together

Bridge on Road To Hana

Waiting impatiently for my travel buddy to get ready for our day trip, I was reminded of why I do things alone – leave when I’m ready, go where I want, and stay as long as I’d like. But I’d offered shotgun to anyone that wanted to join me for the day and I am true to my word so I took a few deep breaths, decided I could stretch my comfort a bit and hoped the day wouldn’t go as crappy as it seemed to be starting. Naomi wasn’t only embracing Aloha time, she was also pregnant and prone to car-sickness. I was REALLY stretching my patience imagining all that could go wrong on our drive to Hana.

It was also a rainy morning and I wasn’t as prepared for the day as I usually am, having not fully read about each of the sights and attractions along the way so I would know which ones I wanted to stop at and which ones were okay to pass up given we only had one day. The Road to Hana, as every single guidebook and travel blog post will tell you, is definitely not about the destination! Did I mention I’d only met Naomi a few days earlier, a cousin of a friend for whom we were in Hawaii to celebrate a 50th birthday.

IMG_4402We finally reached the “starting point” in Paia about an hour later than I’d imagined and I still wasn’t convinced this was going to be a good day. That’s where we picked up Sam, our travel guide for the day. This was the best decision we made all day, as Naomi was likely not going to be a reliable co-pilot given her condition and propensity for vomiting! Sam didn’t come with a name, but through some kismet of bonding, Naomi and I dreamed the name up at the same time so it stuck. Sam proved to be more helpful than just telling us about the sights we were passing and the local history, his wit and insights also provided common ground for me and Naomi to laugh together or question his integrity. Sam was a uniting force. He was also pretty amusing, mentioning more than once that “I’m just an app” after offering alternative routes or suggestions and pointing out that the decision was entirely ours!

My view of the 59 bridges along the road!

The rain hindered visibility but it didn’t dampen our fun. As the miles twisted by, creeping along the cliffsides of Makaiwa Bay, we were greeted with vibrant tropical plants and flowers along the roadside but had to imagine the sweeping vista of Pacific Ocean to our left. Naomi showed no signs of car sickness and wasn’t a nervous passenger, so my mood quickly lightened. We stopped a few times and stretched our legs, taking goofy pictures and getting our feet muddy. We fussed at Sam for skipping ahead or forgetting to tell us something, we collectively hoped the weather would clear at least for the return drive, and both white knuckled it a few times through some nuttily narrow hairpin turns.

IMAG1231At Waianapanapa State Park we trekked down to the black sand beach and watched kids and grown-ups alike play in the surf while a mermaid posed for a photo shoot on the lava rocks at the far end of the beach. We also crawled through a cave, hesitating only a few seconds but holding hands, and bravely stood under a blow hole – thankful it was ebb tide!

We made it to Hana and even a little further, visiting the pools and waterfalls at Ohe’o Gulch, in the Kipahulu District of Haleakalā National Park and doing our best to stand up straight in the bruising wind rushing up the cliff. The sun had We heeded Sam’s subtle suggestion to turn around for the return drive from here as he clearly would not be a willing participant for any further adventures around the south part of the island. Talked out and a little road weary, we quietly listened to Sam’s commentary about the history of Hawaii and it’s people during our two hour return trip – stopping only once for a quick leg stretch and potty break.

Turns out that Sam, and all those other Road To Hana writeups are spot-on; it really is about the journey. If you’d like Sam to be your guide, I recommend Gypsy Guide, but I can’t promise he’s on every trip – as a preview of today’s Hale Akala adventure sounds way more feminine. If you’d like Naomi to be your new friend, well you’ll have to wait a few months as she’s got a few months left to make a human. But assuming the Aloha attitude, enjoying the journey and going with the flow – that’s doable for even the most inflexible of all of us!


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#TBT: The Vacation edition

Recently, while telling a few acquaintances  that I was packing for vacation, I was taken aback when one of them said “Wait, your LIFE is a vacation!” as if I wasn’t allowed to get away and do something fun because what I do all the time is fun?

And yes, I’ll admit that I enjoy my Traveler lifestyle, but just because the banker or the doctor or the fireman enjoys their job doesn’t mean they can’t take a vacation from it, right?

It takes a lot of work to fill 8-9 months of the year with productive and meaningful work (volunteer or seasonal jobs), find enough couches to stay on without wearing out my welcome at any one of them, and cultivating new relationships so that there are even more couches to stay on! And then there’s actually doing those things. And don’t even get me started about the stress when  a plan falls through!

I sound like I’m whining, but really I’m not. I love hearing when people say they are inspired by my travels or they live vicariously through me, but I’ve realized that I don’t always show the more mundane side which would temper that “grass is always greener” mentality just a little. Last spring, I wrote a post about a typical on-the-road day that gives a small glimpse into my roadtripping life. You can read that one here It Takes A Lot Of Planning…  So maybe I’ll start sharing a bit more of the nitty gritty, or maybe I’ll just post pics of goats. But I digress….

So, yes. I am going on vacation. I’m getting away from the things that normally occupy me. Even  more vacation-like, I only did about 20% of the planning I normally do, and I’m going with other people, and we are staying in a place with beds and showers and a kitchen and a pool (no tents involved!) And you can bet there’s a beach or two involved!

Here’s a picture of an old goat on a rock. Just because.

I won’t be gone long and I’ll probably even sneak in a little writing here or there. After all, I am a Travel Writer. Or A Writer Who Travels? Or a Traveler Who Writes…