Friday, March 30, 2007

A Good Samaritan Fest in North Georgia


All Photos by Doug Boyle

I am not a real outdoorsy person. During my twice-per-decade overnight camping outings, I always choose a campsite near the bathroom. I usually decide where to hike based on some other aspect of the area, such as easy driving distance, historical buildings nearby, or the food and drink I will have after the hike. Last weekend I embarked on a hike based on the last criteria.


Two of my friends and I decided to go hiking in White county, just north of Helen, Georgia. The seventh highest peak in Georgia was intriguing, as was hiking a portion of the Appalachian Trail. But, I had not been to Helen in a couple of years and that was the dominant determining factor. For those of you who are not familiar with Helen, it a strange little town in the North Georgia Mountains that looks like a Bavarian Village. More than three decades ago, in an effort to revitalize the economy of this logging town, they decided to give the town the appearance of an alpine village. My battle cry became “ I am just here for the beer!” as our day descended into chaos and uncertainty.

Our plan was to park at the Andrews Cove recreation area and hike to the top of Tray Mountain. The hike is seven miles round trip and the trail head is just north of Helen. But much to our chagrin, the Andrews Cove recreation area was closed. So continued up the road looking for another trail access. We came upon a parking lot were the Appalachian Trail crosses route 75. There were serious hikers here, the kind that hike to Maine. One of our group, naturally the female, asked a seasoned looking hiker about the trail. He informed us that Tray Mountain was 5 ½ to 6 miles away, making the round trip nearly 12 miles. As I was only there for the beer, this seemed like much too large of an investment. Another option was to hike to the top of Rocky Mountain, which was much closer. On the return trip we could come straight back or we could choose the Blue Trail, which would loop us around back to where we started. At least this was what our seasoned hiker-friend told us. The trail was beautiful and the hike was strenuous enough to feel like work. We reached the top of the mountain and rested while taking in the vast beauty of the mountains. Other than my new boots causing me some discomfort, all was beautiful until this point. Our trek back to the Blue Trail was easy enough. We ran into other hikers, both casual and die hard, and chatted a bit. One guy was headed to Maine and would arrive there in August. And I thought a Greyhound bus was slow.


We then embarked on Blue Trail. It was more pleasant than the way up, with gentler slopes and easier footing. Our conversation turned to the seasoned hiker, and the fact that we did not ask how long the trail was. Surely, I reasoned, it cannot be outrageously long because the hiker knew we had no interest in hiking the 12 miles back and forth to Tray Mountain. Certainly, he would not suggest a trail that is just as long. And we walked. Then we walked some more. By now the irritancy of the new boots was progressing into pain. We finally came upon a gravel road that was mentioned by our now disparaged hiker-guide. At least we should not be too far from our car.

As I sat to try to alleviate the discomfort caused by my boots, an old two-door Nissan with a young twenty-something couple stopped to chat. As it turns out, we were still some distance from our car. We were not sure how far, but it was clear that we were not close. They offered me a ride in their small car, so I grabbed the car keys from my friend and jumped in the car. And we drove down the gravel road. Then we drove some more, and then some more. We traversed a shallow stream in the old Nissan, causing steam to pour out from under the hood. And then we drove some more. Finally, we came to the road. We took a left and headed up the mountain. After about two more miles, I finally arrived at the car. I thanked the young couple profusely. I also mentioned how thankful my friends would be. They had no idea of how far they still had to go.

Limping towards the car, I became concerned when the remote wouldn’t unlock the car. My concern heightened when the car would not start. It seemed to be locked out by some security function. I called my friends, but they had no signal. I found the manual and read about a security feature that could cause the car not to start. I followed the instructions to overcome this feature, but to no avail. I called the dealership for guidance but the service department was closed. I continued to call my friends. A hiker was hanging out waiting for a friend and we chatted a bit. Finally, he could wait no more and disappeared up the trail to find his friend. “Hopefully you won’t be here when I get back,” he said as he left.

I was sure it was a security feature and not a dead battery. A dead battery usually gives some sign of life. Besides, why would my friend have the lights on during the day? While that question was never really answered, the lights were left on and the battery was dead. It was getting very cold and my left foot and ankle hurt quite a bit. And I could still not get in touch with my friends.

A short while later a car pulled up and out jump my friends. I informed them of our car dilemma. We had no jumper cables. I wrote on a piece of paper “JUMPER CABLES?” with lipstick and stood on the side of the road. The hiker had returned with his buddy. We asked the buddy if he had cables the response was “in Alabama.” There was a sign that listed phone numbers for the Ranger’s office and the Sheriff’s office. The Ranger’s office is closed on the weekend. That makes sense because probably no one hikes here on the weekends; it is mostly a Monday through Friday hobby. After overcoming my disbelief, I called the Sheriff’s office. The number was invalid, another fine example of our tax dollars hard at work!

The Alabamian hikers were on the other side of the road, hitchhiking. As one of them was snapping a picture of me with my little sign, I asked them to mention our predicament to their Good Samaritan, when someone stopped to give them a ride. A short while later, an SUV stopped to pick them up. Fortunately, they had cables. Long story short, the cables were short, the car was large, and we could not move our car because we could not get it out of park. I started to pull cash out of my pocket, to buy the cables from the man so at least we could get a jump later, as another car pulled into the parking lot. I approached the new car and explained the predicament. They were nice enough to pull into the space next to our car. The battery was on the closer side, and the car was much smaller than the SUV. Problem solved. The car started and everyone went on his or her way.

The lessons here are many, but the primary two are basic. Just like the scouts say, be prepared. Do not go out without maps. We had a compass with us but it was not consulted until we were very far into our journey. Wear boots you know to be comfortable. Secondly, people are good. Four carloads of people and a hitchhiker came to our rescue. Even our seasoned hiker-guide was probably well intentioned.



All is well that ends well. The Altst├Ądter Weinstube & Biergarten had opened since my last visit. The food was authentic and delicious. The beer list was nearly all German. There are few stresses in life that can not be solved by good food and drink. We even stopped by their sister restaurant, Edelweiss, and stocked up on German sausages.

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