The Ultimate Road Trip: THE SILVER SNAIL : A solo woman's full-time RV adventure
THE ULTIMATE AMERICAN ROAD TRIP
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North Georgia Mountains

At the southern end of the Appalachian mountain range, there's an Airstream-only park in Helen, Georgia. Nestled between mountains, it's a beautiful park with a stream running through it. There are trails, footbridges and covered pavilions, and if you're a WBCCI member, it's only $180/month for full hook ups, year round. So I made it a destination and with lots to explore in the area, I stayed for two months.

Top of Georgia AIrstream Park

 

TOP OF GEORGIA AIRSTREAM PARK and HELEN
Charlene and Ben were the hosts when I arrived at the Top of Georgia and were extremely helpful, generous and fun, especially considering the challenges that immediately faced me. The wifi in the park was terrible (virtually non-existent since they rely on satellite and all campers share a daily limit, which gets maxed out very quickly) and my verizon phone didn't work at all. With deadlines to meet, the first week was terrible. Usually, I can make do with a coffeeshop in a nearby town, but nearby Helen isn't really a town - it's a fake German disney-esque "village". Parking is $4/day and it was very crowded with Oktoberfesters Oktoberfesting. It took me some time to find solutions to my connectivity problems, and in the end, I got a Wilson Electronics Cell Phone Booster, which made my phone work at the park. Then, after much hunting and getting by with the wifi in select hotel parking lots, I found speedy wifi, beer and pizza at the Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria. It's one of the few local hangouts (non-touristy) and has good food and a casual friendly vibe. Later, I also found the coffeeshop in Sautee, so my fast internet connection was solved with two good options.

The Top of Georgia park was also having one of their big rallies, which made for a particularly crowded campground with lots of friendly, chatty neighbors. Being my first rally, I learned that they are probably best experienced when you do not have work demanding your attention. Since income-generating work is a far-off memory for many rally attendees, and since I was making numerous trips into town for internet, I found myself constantly pressed for time and trying to wiggle out of lazy, impromptu conversations. Still, even though I felt like a fringe element during the rally, I found that this Georgia Unit was an interesting and fun bunch. There's a comfortable sense of community here. I enjoyed the times when I could socialize and I was thankful to them for sharing their beautiful park and making it so very affordable and beautiful.

Top of Georgia AIrstream Park

Top of Georgia AIrstream Park

Top of Georgia AIrstream Park

 

SAUTEE
Discovering the nearby small village of Sautee was a redeeming factor to the disappointing Helen. It was genuine local, with a moderate tourist appeal and I found Sweetwater Coffeehouse to be a nice place to settle into. It's a cozy local place with ambiance and good wifi. And while you're in Sautee, DO NOT MISS the Old Sautee General Store. It's a real step back into time.

sautee, georgia

 

DAHLONEGA
I wish the Top of Georgia Park was closer to Dahlonega, because there's some genuine goings-on here. Dahlonega is a small town that has managed to keep it's town square thriving and charming. It's a pleasant place to stroll and people watch, maybe catch some live music at the Crimson Moon Cafe, or a show at the historic Holly Theatre. I went with neighbors Leon and Tricia to see the Mountain Music and Medicine Show, a live radio broadcast of old-timey mountain music. Loved it. The bands featured on this particular show were Curley Maple, Tucker Station String Band and my favorite - the Steel String Session. Set in the early 1800s, the radio broadcast is based on Doc Johnson's traveling medicine show that sets up on the square in front of the Parker-Nix Storehouse (now the Crimson Moon Cafe). Very fun.

Dahlonega Mountain Music and Medicine Show

Dahlonega is the site of the first US gold rush and its name comes from the Cherokee word "Talonega" which means yellow or golden. The original courthouse in the center of the square is now a Gold Rush museum, and they have an annual festival called the Gold Rush Days. I met Dale, local expert and twitter friend, at the festival and did not find any gold. We did find funnel cakes and beer, though.

By the way, Dahlonega is also home to Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls.

Dahlonega, georgia

Dahlonega gold rush museum
DAHLONEGA GOLD RUSH MUSEUM

 

HIKING
Being the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, there's plenty of good walking and hiking in these hills with many waterfalls to behold. Here's some of the trails Harley and I explored:

• HIGH SHOALS FALLS TRAIL - My favorite trail, except for the unfortunate incident of Harley trampling a yellowjacket nest. Apparently, yellowjackets are really mean and they are most aggressive in early fall (when we were there and Harley stomped all over their home). Did you know that when you swat just one of them, that one sends out a code red to all his comrades to attack? Yup, and then they swarm and they don't just sting you and be done with it. They chase you and keep stinging you, and the more you try to swat them off, the more come. We couldn't outrun them. They stick on you like glue and they sting and bite and sting and bite and they are definately not fun. Poor Leon, my friendly neighbor who happened to be holding Harley's leash at the time, got the worst of it, but luckily none of us had any severe reactions, just some pain and discomfort for days. When not being attacked by mad stingers, this trail is really beautiful. The somewhat remote trailhead is back a few miles on a narrow dirt road that fords a stream, but it's worth it for the waterfalls and variety of landscapes you pass through.

• UNICOI STATE PARK - Lake Trail's 2.5 mile loop was a beautiful daily walk around the perimeter of the lake. The Bottom Loop Trail not so much.

unicoi lake
UNICOI LAKE

• DESOTO FALLS - Nice easy walk to two different waterfalls with viewing platforms.

Desoto Falls, Georgia
DESOTO FALLS

Desoto Falls, Georgia
DESOTO FALLS


• YONAH MOUNTAIN - Good steep climb, but lots of shoe-size rocks to twist an ankle on. Great view. Popular with rock climbers.

• BRASSTOWN BALD - paved and STEEP!, even if it is short. That's why they've got the shuttle you can pay for. Spectacular 360 view.

Brasstown Bald
AT THE TOP OF BRASSTOWN BALD

BRASSTOWN BALD
BRASSTOWN BALD PEAK - LOOKING SOUTH


• UNICOI GAP-INDIAN GRAVE-ANDREWS COVE - Nice hike near our campground. Fellow travelers and great neighbors Tom and Martha, Leon and I hiked it after the leaves had fallen so the rocky trail was like a minefield covered in dead leaves, making for tricky footing. This would be a very beautiful autumn hike before the leaves fall, since it is mostly deciduous trees.

Unicoi Gap, Georgia
LEON, TOM, MARTHA, ME...AND HARLEY


• ANA RUBY FALLS - One of the most popular falls in the area. It's developed and touristy, but nice and worth a visit. Paved trail.

• SMITHGALL WOODS - walked the road to the covered bridge. Nice change from Unicoi. You can park free on Wednesday.

• VOGEL LAKE STATE PARK - nice walk around the lake with a beautiful waterfall midway.

VOGEL STATE PARK GEORGIA
VOGEL STATE PARK

• BLACK MOUNTAIN - with the aid of local expert Dale of Dahlonega, we hiked a super-secret trail to the peak, where there is a not-so-super-secret fire tower.

• TALLULAH GORGE - Lots of stairs. Your legs will thank you for it later. This gorge is 1,000 feet deep and 2 miles long. It has waterfalls. It's one of Georgia's major natural attractions. Deliverance was shot here.

tallulah Gorge, Georgia
TALLULAH GORGE

TALLULAH GORGE
TALLULAH GORGE

TALLULAH GORGE, GEORGIA
COOL.


• AMICOLOLA FALLS - More damn stairs. My legs were not thanking me. Really nice lodge at the top, though, with a great buffet and spectacular view of the mountains.

Amicolola Falls
AMICOLOLA FALLS

Amicolola Lodge
AMICOLOLA LODGE

 

FOXFIRE MUSEUM
If you have ever had an interest in homesteading, you may have seen the Foxfire books. It's a whole series of books about old-time Appalachian living, with lots of how-tos. What's cool about these books, is that they are all researched and written by high school kids who interview their elders and record their memories and knowledge. The museum is on a plot of land in Mountain City where original cabins have been brought to and collected in one place for you and I to walk through, see how they were built, and get a sense of how old-timey Appalachian mountain people lived. I'd like to build one of these for myself and live in the mountains - play the mandolin and sip moonshine on my nice porch in the sunshine and then sit around a blazing fire in the hearth in the evenings.

Foxfire Museum, Georgia

Foxfire, Georgia

 

VINEYARDS
What started out as a wrong turn ended up taking me to Georgia's version of Napa Valley. Specifically, Frogtown and Three Sisters vineyards. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive and a great way to while away the afternoon.

Frogtown Vineyard

THree Sisters Vineyard

THree Sisters Vineyard

 

ASHEVILLE, NC
With a reputation for having a creative, organic, outdoorsy flair, Asheville sounded like my kind of place and since it was not close enough for a day trip, I piled the pals in the truck and took off for a couple of nights of truck-camping. I drove 64 East, a beautiful twisty curvy mountain road (glad I was not towing), with stops in Highlands and Brevard. They were good places to stop and walk around a bit and while the mountain driving is gorgeous, it can sure be time-consuming and exhausting.

Asheville certainly IS my kinda place. With the Blueridge Parkway snaking around it, it's surrounded by gentle mountains and has an easy, green, neighborly culture. I had a fantastic dinner at the Tupelo Honey Cafe and then popped into Jack O' the Woods for some local tunes and casual chitchat. I also scouted out campgrounds, since I would likely return. Asheville gets a big thumbs up.

Highlands, NC
HIGHLANDS, NORTH CAROLINA


PEYOTE'S TAKE ON CAR CAMPING

 

THANKSGIVING
It was Thanksgiving at Conni's house in Atlanta! Fellow friends and travelers Matt and Nancy (who I met back in Maine), were in the neighborhood again (yay!) and Conni with her husband Paul and son Alex (who I've known since Jackson Center) very generously invited all of us over, including all dogs. Delicious food, great people, good times, and fun doggie dynamics, but the best part of it all was Conni's monster lamb lasagna. Holy cow. Oh, and the pecan pie and cheesecake were really good, too....not to mention the champagne and turkey, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts...

THANKSGIVING
CHECK OUT THAT LASAGNA

THANKSGIVING

THANKSGIVING
MATT, KINSEY AND TOBY

THANKSGIVING
CONNI, HARLEY AND SPARTACUS

 

RED TOP MOUNTAIN STATE PARK, Dec 7 - 11
Wanting to spend more time with Conni and get a better idea of the Atlanta area, I moved the trailer from Top of Georgia to Red Top Mountain state park, about 45-minutes north of the city. This state park was gorgeous. I would rather stay in a beautiful place like this and drive, than pay twice as much for a crappy RV resort (aka parking lot) closer to the city. Unfortunately, Conni had a death in the family, so I could only steal her for a day, but we packed it in with a sushi lunch, driving tour, doggie playtime, Ace hardware shopping trip, and a most fabulous dinner at 4th & Swift with friends. I got a taste of the Virginia Highlands neighborhood (which is very appealing) and Harley went home with a very special Bully Stick. Conni, thank you so much! By the way, anybody know what a Bully Stick (aka Pizzle) is made from? I'm embarassed to say it out loud, so click HERE for the answer.

Red Top Mountain State Park

 

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All images and words © Sharon Pieniak
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