It is easy to navigate your way to the height of the Smoky Mountains, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
But the foothills, maybe the best place for a getaway, lie in Ellijay, Georgia. Ellijay is an hour and a half north of Atlanta, about the same distance to the south of Chattanooga, Tennessee. If you blink, you could miss it.
My wife and I made a quick three-day getaway to Ellijay in the fall of 2016. I had never heard of the place, and I sort of liked that. Sometimes the best places to visit are the ones where you have to search, and search hard, for the place you’re staying in.
That’s what we had to do. It was the sort of trip that a GPS was good for getting you halfway there. It got us to Atlanta and through Canton. Then, the directions we had received from the cabin rental staff took over. The directions advised to continue through Jasper to Ellijay, proceed to the third traffic light at the Hardee’s intersection, and turn left. I love directions that utilize landmarks.
We then made turns on Industrial Boulevard and Main Street and a couple Georgia highways before reaching the gatehouse that acted as the check-in area. From the gate, we were to stay on the paved road for two and a half miles, and were instructed to clock our mileage. We crossed two bridges and veered right at a “Canoe Park” sign. Again, perfect directions.
Our cabin was a dream. There was a wraparound porch that included cushioned chairs and a fireplace with a teal “Relax” sign pinned to it. There was a hot tub and a fenced-in yard for our dog, Sonny, to roam in. There was a gas grill, and an American flag hanging over the front porch.
We did a whole lot of nothing on this trip, and it was bliss. We walked to a nearby river several times a day, casting purple Zoom worms into shallow water that never seemed to flow. We didn’t catch a thing in three days, but many times fishing is not about the end result. We took Sonny hiking, and at night he snored in front of the fireplace. We peered through the living room and kitchen windows to see deer bounding through the pines, and strutting up the paved road. Near our cabin, we saw more deer in three days than humans.
At night, we played card games and tested our knowledge with a trivia game about the television series “Friends.” We watched Christmas movies, as is tradition in November and December, and I introduced Jessica to the awesomeness that is the Indiana Jones trilogy from the 1980s.
We heard just about nothing. The notable sounds I remember from this trip are the occasional rumble of a vacationer passing over a rusty iron bridge, Sonny’s collar tag jingling as he shook off river water, and the fishing line peeling out of the reel of a Zebco 33.
We took photos that should be featured on postcards, from deer crossing the street to green-headed mallards easing down the river. I snapped a shot of Jessica and Sonny standing on the muddy bank of that river. Jessica is in her boots and a blue long-sleeve Florida Gators shirt, and Sonny is actually looking at the camera. You can see trees leaning over the river, and the multicolored leaves swept along the ridge. I can’t believe I was so lucky to get that photo. It’s my favorite.
We had to come home from Ellijay just when we had decided that cabin should be our forever home, away from car payments, career disappointments and an ugly world that I fear has lost much of its beauty.
For now, at least, when I’m having a bad day, all I have to do to smile is pull out my iPhone and look at my new background photo.