As you may know, Rita and I came back from six years in Ecuador with the plan of setting up a home base in eastern Tennessee, and then starting out on a roving retirement lifestyle. We had planned to spend two to three months in a different country, then try out another, and so on – only breaking to come back to the States and visit family.

Well, the Days of Wine and Covid put a hold on those plans. At this point, is is hard to imagine safe foreign travel before late 2021/early 2022.

Early last year, when it became obvious air travel was out for a while, we planned a couple of short domestic vacations. We thought in June we would use some vacation share weeks we own to spend a week in Historic Williamsburg, then on to Virginia Beach, and stop to visit family in West Virginia on the way home.

Shortly after we made those plans, the lockdown began, and Virginia actually decided to close all resort areas during our travel window. As a consequence, we ended up with a vacation week we had to use by April of this year, or lose it forever.

Rita already had both of her Pfizer shots, and I had the first of mine (now fully vaccinated as of 4/7/21), so we began to look for a good place to visit under the current circumstances. After being at home for most of the last 13 months, we were ready for a vaccine-safe vacation – a Vaccication if you will.

Our criteria were pretty simple: it had to be a place within a four-hour drive so that we did not need to stop at any Rest Areas or restaurants along the way, an area with outdoor activities, and a place without public areas or elevators where people congregate.

I jumped on the RCI website, and found the perfect spot pretty quickly. We could book a Villa at the Petit Crest in the Big Canoe development in Georgia, in the foothills of the Chattahoochie National Forest.

Big Canoe is only a three hour drive from our home. These would be free-standing villas, so no public areas. I could pre-register online, so when we arrived we would just need to get our envelope out of a box – contact free check-in. The Villa would be cleaned and sanitized when we arrived, and since it had a full kitchen, we could bring our own supplies and not have to rely on small grocery stores and restaurants. Better yet, there were miles of hiking trails onsite, and we would be a short drive from the city of Helen and just minutes from Amicalola State Park.

The cherry on top was that since the Villas have two bedrooms and a loft and sleep eight, we could invite a couple of friends we know from the Atlanta area who have also been bubble-bound for a year and were both fully vaccinated to join us.

So with much anticipation we set off on a beautiful sunny day to make the drive to Big Canoe. We arrived right on time, and we were amazed at the size of the development. Petite Crest is just one “community” of 36 Villas. Big Canoe itself has over 50 communities and can house upwards of 2650 families. There is a golf course, racketball/tennis/pickleball courts (indoor and outdoor), indoor pool, outdoor pools, three lakes, a marina, and 20 miles of hiking trails. Eventually, we threaded our way over and around the hills and found our home for the next seven days.

A picture containing text, tree, outdoor  Description automatically generatedMarina

Turned out to be a pretty nice place. The two bedrooms were in opposite corners of the house, and each had its own bath so it was very private. There were two small balconies that overlooked Lake Petit. Although a little old fashioned, the kitchen was well-equipped. I knew I would miss my kitchen toys, but it was at least functional. We’re roughing it, after all.

A living room with a fireplace  Description automatically generated with medium confidenceHome sweet mountain home

During our stay, we only had two days where the weather was good enough for a day trip and a local hike – it turned very wet for a few days and then very cold. However, we still considered the trip a tremendous success, even though we mostly did what we normally do at home. We read, ate, did crossword puzzles and Sudoku, streamed some TV, played with Oculus 2, etc.

But with two big differences! First, we had another couple to talk to, which was huge. Second, WE WERE SOMEPLACE DIFFERENT! I mean, we love our house and I missed my musical instruments, but man! How great to be somewhere new after 13 months!

Our day trip was to Helen, GA. This is a small town on the Chattahoochie River that was about to dry up and blow away after the logging companies left. However, in the late sixties the town council adopted new zoning and building laws, transforming the town into a Bavarian-styled tourist attraction. Today there are a host of activities that take place there throughout the year (we just missed a trout tournament) including a three-month long Octoberfest celebration.

A street sign in front of a building  Description automatically generated with low confidenceWelcome to Helen, GA

We were happy to see that for the most part, people were wearing masks and maintaining distances. Most of the shops had signs up stating you must wear a mask to enter. So we felt pretty good about walking around the town in the fresh air and sunshine.

A picture containing text, sky, outdoor, street  Description automatically generatedGoing all out on the Bavarian thing

When lunch time came around, we decided there was no point in going to a Bavarian-themed town and not having a Bavarian-themed meal. So we went to the northern edge of town and dined at the Hofbräuhaus Restaurant. Once again, COVID-19 precautions were in place with the staff and diners. We were able to get a picnic table outdoors next to the Chattahoochie and have lunch al fresco. Although in keeping with the theme, I suppose we dined im Freien.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, bench, ground  Description automatically generatedSunny spot for lunch

Since it was turning out to be a beautiful day weather-wise, on the way back to our Villa we stopped off to check out the Amicalola State Park and waterfall. We have been researching hiking at least parts of the Appalachian Trail once the world is back to near-normal, so we were familiar with the park. Although not part of the AT, many hikers begin at the top of the falls with the 8 mile or so “Appalachian Approach Trail”. After all, if you are going to hike 2,190 miles, what’s another eight?

Even better, you can start your hike at the bottom of the falls, and take the 430 stairs up to the top of the 729 foot waterfall as a warm up. We would have been game to give that part a try (slowly), but the stairs were closed for repairs.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, plant, people  Description automatically generatedAt the base of the Amicalola Falls

Instead we drove to the top, and got out to look down from the top of the falls. In the picture below, you can see some of the stairs and the stream heading off in the distance.

Looking down from the falls

After ooh-ing and ahh-ing a bit, we continued on uphill to the Amicalola Lodge. Beautiful place in a beautiful setting, but rooms start at just under $200/night.

A picture containing grass, outdoor, sky, tree  Description automatically generatedAmicalola Lodge

A picture containing indoor  Description automatically generatedInside the Lobby

A picture containing living, indoor, room, floor  Description automatically generatedLobby Fireplace

A picture containing sky, outdoor, mountain, grass  Description automatically generatedTerrific view, if you can afford it.

With that, it was back to our little virus-free Villa in the woods. As I said, rain and cold limited our outings to just a little local hike and a drive through nearby Dawsonville, but we still had a terrific time. I know we have a long way to go, but it was great to be able to have a little getaway and still feel like we were doing our part to limit spread during the pandemic.

By the third week of April I will be about as inoculated as I’m going to get, so we are now hopefull we’ll be able to spend a few weeks at the end of May and beginning of June visiting our kids and grandkids in person instead of on video chat.

Baby steps, but it is nice to finally feel like we are going forward!

A stream in the woods  Description automatically generated with low confidenceHiking at Big Canoe