I swear I was only in search of a waterfall to sit beside and write—a blog post of my continuing journey to my off-the-grid mountain home, and some poetry from a few inspiring prompts. I’d been in search of these allusive waterfalls for days. Thursday, I stopped at the Blue Ridge Chamber of Commerce and picked up maps that promised to get me to a waterfall. Any would do. I opted for Jacks River Falls because it was close, or so it looked on the map. I put my little Yankee self in my 4x4 GMC pickup, and headed off down Old Highway 2 looking for the turnoff onto Highway 22 where it looked like Jacks River Falls was located. I never found the falls but I did find a bit of myself up on that mountain.
It started as a relaxing scenic drive over winding paved road, looking wistfully at the cozy homes nestled in the cool forest. I was glad I was the only one on the road. I was still traversing the mountains roads at a novice pace. I passed Jacks River Falls Diner so I figured I must be close to the falls itself. To be perfectly honest, I did see the sign that read, “Paved road ends in one mile,” but I kept on anyway. There is something inside that relishes fear, thrives on pushing my comfort level beyond the boundaries of sanity. So when the paved road ended and the pickup bumped, bounced and rattled on the washboard-rutted road, I pushed forward—and forward—and forward.
I have to admit, the road smoothed out and it was fairly wide enough that I didn’t really worry about going over the side. But it was a very long way down if I did. And it was a hard wall on the other side. It was another white-knuckled drive for me. To my credit though—or at least I convinced myself so—I only kept going because there were intermittent US Dept. of Forestry signs posted—overgrown with vines and dust-coated, but visible—that identified the different areas. Cohutta Wilderness area, Lake Conasauga, East Cowpens Trail and even a sign that specified “natural lures only”. It’s understandable that I concluded this was a safe road and was supposed to be traveled. So, travel I did.
On one of the maps I’d seen Big Frog Mountain, elevation 4k+, and when I looked out the window, it felt every bit of 4000 miles in the air. Often I wandered what exactly was I doing here? Why was I driving this road? Obviously, it was no longer about finding a waterfall to write beside. Particularly as the road became more gutted and scarred with deep winding ruts scattered with riverbed rocks. It was here that I told myself I could do it. I can make it. I just need to follow the road and it will lead out. At some point, I relaxed enough within myself to drive one-handed, and do very well.
I passed a parked SUV—which comforted me to know people were out and about—covered in dust. On the back window someone had fingered “Help! Kidnapped by a bald man…” I kept driving. Moments later I thought I should’ve taken a picture, just in case it wasn’t a joke, but by then it was too late. I certainly wasn’t going to park and walk back. Later, I passed a pickup on with a shovel leaning against it and a t-shirt drying in the window. I kept driving there as well. I did stop to take a picture of Dyer Mountain Cemetery.
Finally, I came to a crossroads. Conasauga Lake straight ahead, Jacks River Falls behind me—yeah, right—and Highway 55 to the left 9 miles. It really was a moment of decision to continue or to head for the highway. I opted for the out. Two cars and a squad passed me heading in the direction I’d just come, and I thought about the kidnapped vehicle and the shovel. I wished I’d taken pictures. A newer pickup stopped in the road ahead and as I was driving around him—slowly because he’d not moved over very much—the driver got out and walked towards me. I nodded as I’ve seen others do on this journey but he put his hand out in the stop gesture.
“Do you have any idea where you are up here?”
That was hilarious, and I laughed heartily.
“NO. Do you?”
Even though I told him I didn’t know anymore than he did, he still asked about Conasauga Lake and I was proud that I was able to direct him. Thanks to the US Dept. of Forestry signs, this little Yankee girl was able to direct the big, bad Yankee boy. And we went on our separate ways.
I saw a “Welcome to Boatwrights Cabin” ranch sign where the road led through a creek to a house. Then I spotted a tent in the trees on the other side of the creek. I parked the truck and waded in the creek, cooling my feet. I waved at the campers and told them that was a damn nice campsite. One of the young men came down to the creek and told me all about how to find the site—and others—and how to park—he was up a path and in under the trees. When I said that he must be from around here, he confirmed, “Just up at Eton.” We wished each other a good day and I was back on the road.
As the road winded down and ran along the creek, there were more and more cars parked along the side. Couples and families with kids were in the creek, lying on tubes, forking under rocks with big sticks, and just enjoying life—an easy, slow life. I couldn’t wait to find my home and bring my grand-boys down to do the same. We’d camp in that perfect spot and play in the creek all day. I never did find Jacks River Falls but I sat on a rock in the middle of the creek and was happy. I was strong, self-sufficient, able, and I was happy.
When I finally exited, I was on Highway 411/61/2. It took me a minute to find Highway 411 in Eton, GA on the map, and then to decide which way to go. There didn’t seem to be a highway back across those mountains, and I needed to go back east to Blue Ridge. On the map, I saw Highway 411 connected to Highway 2. I figured I’d probably gotten off Highway 2 somewhere on the mountain, so I should get back on it and end up right where I started. When 411 hit 2, I turned and it wasn’t a ½ mile before the road was gravel again. I stopped in the middle of the road. Do I want to do that again? Is there a reason I need to do that again? Both answers were no, so I backed up to turn around and promptly got stuck in the ditch. Rather than get angry or frustrated, I was just very thankful that didn’t happen when the ditch dropped 4000 feet.
I unstuck the truck by dropping it in low and rocking back and forth—Yankees know about getting stuck—and I headed on north to 64 East. I took the long, easy way back and driving the paved mountain roads was a piece of shortcake after the gravel. Yes, I’d found a peaceful, quite, acceptance of Donna on that mountain, even if I had missed Jacks River Falls.
And as you can see, I carried a bit of the mountain down with me.