Returning to Lake Hartwell

Elise out fishing with her grandfather on Lake Hartwell.

Greetings from our family’s cabin on Lake Hartwell, Georgia! Our latest road trip is underway.

Despite an unusually heroic (by our standards) effort at planning, we were not able to leave South Florida until late in the afternoon last Saturday. We made the mistake of going out for some Texas barbeque and endless rounds of Shiner the night before, and suffice it to say, much of our last-minute packing did not happen. (FYI, Texas Tony’s in Cape Coral has sublime, authentic Texas barbeque and, more importantly, Shiner Bock on tap. They are opening up another location in Naples. I have not eaten so well since we were at Baylor.)

We decided to spend the night in Gainesville, which was also a huge mistake. I did a search for hotels that allow pets, as we had all three of our pets with us (Sherlock, our Jack Russell terrier; Lexington, our nearly 20-year-old cat; and Henry Flagler, our bearded dragon). The first one that came up was the Best Western Gateway Grand, which was conveniently located next to I-75 and allowed dogs at its restaurant (a plus, as we would not have to leave our dog in the hotel room alone while we searched for dinner). We were able to catch the Duke game sitting at a table near the entrance to the restaurant, which was nice (we were happy to see Coach K’s last game, even if it did mean his career being bookended by losses to UNC).

Welcome to Gainesville.

But that hotel was $300 a night for a bed that was truly less comfortable than sleeping on the floor (the mattress was hard-packed to the point of feeling like you were sleeping on cement) and pillows smaller than the throw-pillows on my sofa at home. (And that was one of the less expensive options in Gainesville. Other options were $600 a night.) We did not get much sleep at all and were achy climbing back into the car for seven more hours of driving. This seems to be what unrelenting tourism is doing to Florida, unfortunately. On future trips, we are definitely going to push across the Florida-Georgia line to find something a little closer to normal. I honestly do not mind paying a lot of money for hotels when we are legitimately parked there on vacation, but that might be the most expensive nap I have ever taken.

Anyway, we made it to Hartwell without much other drama. It was kind of shocking to see how much Atlanta’s population has swollen. We have not driven through Atlanta since Rodney’s folks (college professors) retired and moved out to Hartwell full-time. I had wanted to stick to the interstate for this trip, but after Atlanta traffic added nearly an hour to our trip, I am back on Team Backroads, Reliable Cell Reception is Overrated Anyway.

It’s difficult to believe, but we have not been out to the lake since the beginning of 2020. We came out here at the very beginning of the pandemic, before anyone had guessed what a nightmare it would be for our society. Then my mother-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer (which she has successfully beaten, thank God) and it became important for them to be truly isolated. It is fantastic to be back.

Elise, Rodney, and his dad took Elise out fishing yesterday, which ended in the tragic loss of the drone that Rodney gave me for Christmas. I’m still not quite sure what happened, but that drone is at the bottom of Lake Hartwell now. It seems to have run out of battery mid-flight, but instead of taking itself back “home,” the blasted thing kamikazed into the water at serious speed. I was joking that we should use the high-tech fish finder on my father-in-law’s bass boat to locate it, pull it from the muck, and then shove it in a bag of rice. But it’s quite lost.

We piled into the truck and went to Best Buy in Anderson, South Carolina, to buy a new drone. We had been looking forward to getting pictures of the forest, rivers, and waterfalls in Nantahala National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park this week. Rodney says we need to get a little umbrella for Drone 2.0 because it is now storming here. I recommended getting floaties instead.

We are going to enjoy a lazy day of relaxing at the cabin, listening to the transcendent sound of rain on a metal roof and thunder rolling through the hollows of the foothills. I have already read three books since we arrived.

My current view.

Here is the rest of our itinerary:

  • Several days at a primitive campground in Nantahala National Forest (North Carolina) – at the headwaters of the Nantahala River, with hiking there and along the Appalachian Trail, and pristine night skies (if weather permits);
  • Two-hour drive to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest to show Elise what an old-growth forest looks like;
  • Two-hour drive from Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest to Townsend, Tennessee, where we finally get a hotel room again on the Little River and we get to explore Tuckaleechee Caverns (with seismographs used to monitor the nuclear programs of rogue countries – I can’t wait for that tour);
  • Back to Lake Hartwell for some more R&R with family, and then back to South Florida.

I was a little worried that the wildfires in Tennessee might cut out the last leg of the trip, but they seem to be contained now. (My heart goes out to the people living there.) And amusingly, we had to stop by Belk’s in Hartwell for bona fide winter clothes, which they do not sell anywhere in South Florida. While the days will still be pleasant, it still gets down into the 30s at night. (Before you ask, yes, the bearded dragon and the cat are staying at the cabin while we camp.)

It is azalea season in the Deep South right now, and it feels like the entire world is covered in showers of blossoms. The forests are also full of blooming dogwoods. I am ridiculously excited for the drive into Nantahala.

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