We have an agreement that if chores get too strenuous, projects get too overwhelming, or lists get too long, it’s time to hit the road. Sometimes, it’s just for the day, but every few weeks, we’ll do an overnighter, and every couple of months we do several days.
We don’t go far; maybe a few hours drive to a hiking trail that leads to the top of some grassy bald where we can gaze over beautiful scenery, clear our heads and go back home ready to finish some tedious task.
Most of my readers will find this habit inconsequential as this column is posted in a flying magazine’s website, but for me, it is remarkable. For so many years, my Old Man traveled for his job either by road or airliner. Add that for most of those years he endured a lengthy commute, it is not surprising that he seldom had the desire to get in a vehicle and roam the countryside on his days off. He preferred to work around the farm or restore his airplane.
Then on Dec. 31, 1993, he flew his Luscombe at Pickens County Airport (JZP) for the first time in several years after a lengthy restoration. From that day on, the 12-mile drive to the airport was made eagerly. If I wasn’t an avid flyer before then, I became one. It didn’t matter if I was going to a fly-in breakfast in Alabama or a major fly-in in Lakeland, Fla. This gal was going, and I was happy with that. He was flying, not driving, and he was happy with that.
For the next 10 years, we were empty nesters. I learned to fly. Aviation friendships were formed, and we trotted via Luscombe (and for a time C-172C) as hard and as much as our budget and vacation days would allow. It was wonderful. I was seeing a little part of the world, and he was not in an automobile.
Even after our niece Keely came to live with us, we still flew (now in two Luscombes). But by then, he learned to approach road trips in the Toyota just like his flying adventures in the low and slow Luscombe. Getting there is part of the adventure. Take your time, make frequent stops with lots of leg stretching, have healthy snacks and lots of hydration, and make navigation fun with lots of electronic devices — just like in the Luscombe.
Nine years later we are empty nesters again, and now our habits have evolved to reflect the lifestyle of two active, but aging, retirees. One day, it dawned on me that while I’ve flown to many places, I haven’t actually experienced them. When my friends or family ask if I have been to such a place, I usually say, “Not really, but I have flown over it.” Granted, flying over an area at 1,000 agl is more intimate than flying over at 30,000 feet, but I can’t really say I’ve been there.
Someone will ask if I’ve been to such a city or town, and I say “yes” but then I have to clarify with, “Actually, I’ve been to the airport.” So now, when I first open my eyes in the morning and decide I’ve had enough of painting, planting, cleaning or organizing and tell the Old Man we’re hitting the road, it’s often to a place that I’ve only experienced by air.
In the early spring, we did a tour of the Georgia coast and thought we were ending the journey with a splendid day trip to Cumberland Island National Seashore (by the way, the folks at St. Mary’s Airport (4J6) are very nice!). As we headed back home, I noticed how close we were to the Okefenokee Swamp and made the impromptu decision to visit there.
I have flown over this swamp in various airplanes more than 20 times, most of those flights while traveling to and from SUN ’n FUN. Until this day, I had never experienced this famous natural area in my home state up close and personal.
The nearly 50 nautical miles of swamp we traversed while flying was intimidating in a small, slow single-engine airplane. We always joked that if we survived the crash, the alligators would surely get us. I found out on our visit that lots and lots of alligators, as well as other creatures, do make that swamp their home. As it was cool, the gators were sluggish and not very interested in gaping tourists. Our park service guide, who was piloting the tour boat, was very knowledgeable and it was nice that I didn’t have to worry about any engine outs on my watch.
Another trip we made recently involved both flying over a natural wonder and exploring a town I had only previously seen from the air and from the airport. Fort Payne, Alabama, is known nationally as the home of the country music group Alabama. But in my neck of the woods at the Pickens County Airport in Jasper, Ga., it is known for its fly-in breakfast hosted by EAA Chapter 890 held on fifth Saturdays. My favorite part of attending this breakfast was that I always left with a newly made pair of socks.
On this road trip, I wanted to explore some of the trails in the Little River Canyon National Preserve that is just outside of town and is part of the beautiful green plateaus we love to fly over in that part of northwest Georgia and northeastern Alabama, and then take the 11-mile scenic drive through the canyon after enjoying a nice lunch in the town. We did just that.
The barbeque was good. Little River Falls was cascading at full flow after recent rains, and we were privileged to watch young fearless kayakers take on the challenge of the falls. The trails we hiked were excellent, and the drive was beautiful. It was a very successful reversed adventure!
I am planning more of those. We have finally driven Cherohala Skyway that winds between Tellico Plains, Tenn., and Robbinsville, N.C., after flying over it and near it for years. It is a beautiful drive and the trail at Huckleberry Overlook leads to one of those grassy balds that I love so much. Pack a lunch and make sure you have fuel because there is nothing but beautiful wilderness for miles (kind of like many of our Luscombe adventures).
In my fantasies, I long for the best of both worlds. An hour’s flight in the Luscombe to an airport near our favorite drives and hikes with a courtesy car available to carry me to the day’s adventures. That is not going to happen and I realize it is selfish, but it’s my fantasy after all.
Which got me thinking and scheming…
Blairsville, Ga., is a quaint mountain town just 33 nm from JZP as the crow flies. I typically don’t follow the flight of the crow. Instead, I follow the four-lane (I Follow Roads) between these two towns because the way of the crow is over some less than hospitable territory.
Blairsville has several attractions for us. The first is Jim’s Smokin’ ‘Que. This is some of the best barbeque I’ve ever had the privilege to savor, and the sides are just as good. Next is Vogel State Park with a beautiful mountain lake and great trails. Third is Blood Mountain. The hike from Neely’s Gap to Blood Mountain is the most hiked part of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.
My fantasy would be that Blairsville Airport (DZL) would finally get a courtesy car that we can take to Jim’s Smokin’ ‘Que. We could fill our gullets with pork and sweet potato fries, then hike the flat trail around the lake at Vogel. It’s so convenient that the restaurant is on the way to the park, and the easy trail won’t disrupt our digestion.
Another scenario is that we go to Blood Mountain first, which is a four-mile round trip hike with some serious climbing for older folks, eat to our heart’s content afterward and then have a leisurely 30 minute flight home instead of the hour and a half drive. Either one sounds fine except too many yahoos like me have lusted for a courtesy car at Blairsville for just such a purpose.
While we are on a budget, I’m not cheap and do not wish to take advantage of hospitality except in my fantasies, so I researched the local rental car rates and found that we can have an economy car for a day for around $30 a day. (What luck! Some of these small towns don’t have rentals.) So for $30 of avgas in a Luscombe 8A, and as much for a rental car, add an awesome lunch for less than $15, we can get a day’s adventure that covers the activities these two retired aviators like best.
Flying, driving, eating and hiking. It doesn’t get better than this!