I stepped out of the car, inhaled the fresh mountain air, and experienced the tingly joy of the crisp molecules filling each tiny alveoli in my lungs. I surveyed the autumn colors on the trees surrounding the cabin and I heard the unexpectedly loud roar of the water from the creek behind the cabin.
In this moment, despite the global pandemic, a tense election, and depressing news each night, all was right in the world.
When we first drove down to Florida last year, we were surprised and inspired by the beauty of the Appalachian mountains running through Tennessee. I vowed we would return with the girls.
We found a breathtaking spot in the mountains of Northern Georgia; a little town by the name of Helen. This trip was a risk. We decided to make the drive with the girls, which was 10 hours from Florida with good traffic.
I’ve learned from parenting to go into things, especially vacations, with really low expectations. There will be whining. Someone will get carsick and puke. Despite perfect planning, someone won’t be pleased with our choice of activity for the day. And it’s a guaranteed fact that despite being labeled a vacation, it will not be relaxing.
But for some reason, the stars aligned and the girls traveled perfectly. I guess I packed enough stickers. And Benadryl.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed a love for road tripping. Which is always surprising to me, probably because when we were younger, 3 hour car rides felt like an eternal hell.
Road trips carry with them a serenity that the hustle and bustle of the airport does not. When you fly, you are literally catapulted through the air at 500 mph and come to a screeching halt when you reach your destination. Driving on the other hand is much slower, but allows you to take in the views and stop when you feel inspired. It has a calming, almost meditative impact.
My breathing slowed as I took in the giant loblolly pine trees lining the road, occasionally dotted by bright red sumacs. We drove through cotton fields which were stunningly beautiful, and I wondered, if that land could talk, what it would say.
The town of Helen, Georgia is quaint. There are no fast food places or chain stores. The internet sucks. I was delighted to find myself free from the pull of my phone, the news, and social media happenings.
We stayed at a little cabin about 5 minutes from downtown Helen. It was everything we needed for the trip. It had a fireplace, at which, I taught the girls the Minnesotan skill of sitting close to warm your back. There were bunk beds: an extremely exciting fact for Avery and Alice. Out back, there was a fire pit overlooking the river.
Coming from a gated community of perfectly manicured lawns, this cabin was a great reminder that things don’t need to be perfect to bring joy. Unruly bushes, un-raked leaves, dirty windows, moss covered deck; none took away from the charm, or the breath of fresh air that this cabin held.
We drank endless cups of hot chocolate with marshmallows, warmed ourselves by the fireplace, had bonfires, struggled to get thumbs into mittens, explored, ate s’mores, got marshmallow stuck in our hair (Chad didn’t have this problem), and took in the vast beauty of the mountains.
We let our guards down and giggled as a family as picky eater, Alice, shocked us all and ate a dried cricket that I had purchased for my Dad as a gag gift. She then went on to eat two more, as Chad stared at me in horror, wondering what sort of mother would let her child eat crickets. They are a great source of protein, okay?
I faced my fear of heights and went on the “Mountain Coaster”, that took Avery and I screaming down the side of the mountain. For Avery, the screams were of pure joy. For me; pure terror as I saw my life flash before my eyes.
On the last night of our trip, I dreamed I was a high school senior, coming to terms with the fact that I had to leave my cross country team. “But all that I know and love is over. How can my life move on?” I asked, with tears in my eyes.
It was a familiar scene that comes into play at most major life changes. Most recently, I commiserated to Chad that life couldn’t get better than holding a fresh baby in my arms. I wouldn’t be able to top it. I was going to get old, become a grandparent, and die. The best parts of life were over, I concluded.
Little did I know what was ahead.
As Chad reminded me as we drove through the mountains to visit a nearby town, “You gotta drive up the mountain to get the good views.”
And I think this perfectly summarizes life.
Mountain driving is terrifying, especially if you have a fear of heights. There are plenty of places you could easily die. There are some stretches of road that you have to pray your car up, and other stretches that you too easily careen down, giving your car’s brakes the workout of a lifetime.
2020 certainly hasn’t been easy. The pandemic has changed a whole lot. We know a couple people who died of COVID. We know many people who lost a family member during COVID times and were unable to say goodbye, or attend a funeral for closure.
The holidays are going to be different this year. It feels weird and uncomfortable; sad and strange.
And yet, time will continue to pass. Eventually there will be a vaccine that comes out. Hopefully it will be effective, and life will go back to some semblance of normal.
For now, we just need to focus on getting up the mountain. And while the view on the journey up can’t compete with that of the top, there is plenty of surrounding beauty.
So wherever you are on your mountain, stop for a second to take in the view. To soak in the great miracle that is life. Things aren’t perfect, but as the cabin reminded us: things don’t need to be perfect to bring joy.
Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving,