If left to the whims of my own tastes and preferences, I would probably never attend an Appalachian Trail Festival. The latest developments in trekking poles, canister stoves and buffalo jerky do not make my heart sing.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to hike! But I’m a day hiker, or a section hiker in AT parlance. We drive up to the Appalachian Trail (or one of the many other amazing National Forest trails in this part of the world) and hike for a few hours on a weekend when the weather cooperates. The views…the wildflowers…the waterfalls…it is all glorious! And when the sun starts to dip low, we drive home to prepare a home-cooked meal and a cuddle up in a soft bed.
North Georgia News Flash: Dahlonega (GA) was designated as an Appalachian Trial Community last December.
Unless you are planning to undertake the 2200 mile trek from our own Springer Mountain up to Baxter Peak in Katahdin, Maine, you probably missed the big announcement. I know I did. But an enthusiastic group of local adventurers quickly put together a special event to celebrate. This weekend (March 18 – 20) was Dahlonega’s first annual Trail Fest.
My guy was very excited by this event.
I was…willing to check it out.
While he was attending his first lecture (on the Benton MacKaye Trail), I quickly skimmed through the extreme advendors (yes, I made up that word) before scuttling away to read my Kindle and sip a Perrier at Le Petite Cafe. When the waitress asked what I was doing all alone on a lovely Saturday afternoon, I explained that I was not really alone. I was just giving my guy some space to enjoy the Trail Fest. With a knowing smile, she winked and said, “No need to say another word. Why do they always assume we’re interested in that sort of thing just because THEY are?”
Something about that struck a sour note with me, just discordant enough to get me off my lazy bottom and walking back to the Trail Fest. Thank goodness! I got there just in time to join a guided hike to the Findley Gold Mine.
If you didn’t know Dahlonega was the site of a major gold rush in 1829, 20 years before the California Gold Rush, I’m not here to lecture you on American history. Quite frankly, I’m not even remotely qualified. However, the gold mining lore in this region is fascinating. And so incredibly rich in possibilities! No, we didn’t find any of the precious yellow metal stuff on Saturday’s hike, but the experience was priceless. We actually got to slosh through the muck into an abandoned gold mine, get up close and personal with hibernating brown bats (not to mention a rather large dusky salamander) and experience the pure black darkness of the tunnel before re-emerging into the sunlight.
Later that day, we listened to the Nimblewill Nomad (AKA hiker and author M.J. Eberhart) describe his adventures on America’s scenic trails and watched a film about hikers who quit the AT after the first week. The next day, I rushed back to the Fest to hear a lecture on Cherokee Beasts and Spirits (and now know not to nibble the spirit food of the dazzling Nunne’hi). I learned about the beneficial predator beetles being raised and released at North Georgia State University to save our Hemlock trees from a terrible threat.
Gold and ghouls and bats and beetles, oh my! My brain is swimming with so many story ideas right now. Where to start?
I repeat, I probably would not have gone to this event on my own volition. I was definitely outside my comfort zone. Generally, I hate that advice about getting outside your comfort zone to find happiness. It conjures pictures of jumping off cliffs, or swimming with great white sharks, or walking 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in 6 months just to feel alive.
As a writer, I think it’s not really necessary to participate all of those wild, extreme adventures. Sometimes you just need to show up and listen to the sort of real-life characters who dare to stretch the boundaries.