I’m following an old dinged-up Ford along GA. 183, winding past crumbing wood barns, cragged trees and brown open pastures. The trailer bed is filled to overflowing with buns, generic-brand rolls for hotdog and hamburgers. The wind nips at plastic wrap as we follow the gentle curves of the two-lane highway, cross an arching bridge over misty, abandoned Lake Lanier. A turn and a bag is a caught, for a moment aloft, then skidding smoothly at fifty miles an hour. The wrapper shreds, little white disks bouncing, then I’m grinding enriched bread into the road.
There have been hints of a storm, an encroaching nor’easter, promises of snow. Prime-time for driving into the country, playing entire Pink Floyd records, ascending to Appalacia.
Dad snaps photos as the kids tumble down a hill, dragging tobagans and innertubes behind them. It’s two inches of slush, but enough to bring a smile. I take a my own snapshots of Amicolola falls, a cold torrent beneath the wood deck, vanishing off the vista.
At first I’m trudging through muddy slush, head bowed beneath my goretex hood, still hearing laughter and car engines. In half an hour I’m alone, smiling at the nostalgic crunch under my boots. I go higher, the air breathing colder, older and darker. A mist fills the forest, a grey shroud, churning like vertigo far back in the trees.
I stop. There is not yet silence, but a constant hum, the white noise of winter passing through the hoary limbs. The scene is mystical, timeless. I would not be suprised to see a pack of wolves running beneath the laden conifers, or a fur-garbed native stalking with arrow and bow.
An hour passes, mostly alone. The few other travelers are just as dazed as I, hidden under caps and hoods, faces windblown to a hearty red. One woman is even frightened when I stumble into view out of the haze.
Finally the turn-around point, a frozen campsite under old trees. A half-buried grill lines the outskirt, an oddity of hunched black metal. The prints dwindle away, burried under newly-fallen flakes. I pause in the quiet, watch the monotone grey sky, sip some frigid water. Then I turn and trudge back down the mountain.