Take a hike in the mountains and you run into metaphors everywhere you turn.
Take Tallulah Gorge, for example, on the edge of the Appalachians in northeastern Georgia. The gorge is a two-mile long canyon carved out over millions of years by the Tallulah River. Wide trails around the rim offer easy and scenic walks, but why do that when passes for the more challenging canyon floor are available?
The trek down begins with a lecture in the visitor’s center and an inspection of your footwear before they’ll issue the pass (limited to 100 per day) and turn you loose to clamber down a thousand or so steps, where the real trek begins with a boulder-hopping traverse of the river. From there, the trail is wherever you can find it along the steeply sloped and mostly rocky river’s edge.
Here the reward is at the bottom, where the water roars over a wide shelf aptly known as “Sliding Rock,” where trekkers dare to scoot out to the middle and become one with the cascade on a fast ride down to what’s billed as one of the top ten swimming holes in the country. We hadn’t thought to wear swimsuits, but why should that stop anybody? A couple of slides and a leisurely swim offered a good excuse to relax and dry out on the rocks before beginning the trek out, a rocky climb up the side of the gorge that rises 500 feet over a quarter mile.
If we’d seen all the warning signs on the way in instead of the way out, we might have had second thoughts, but probably not. We were glad, however, that the gully-washing rainstorm hit us on the upper part of the trail, rather than while climbing through the rocks.
Another day and another trail led us on a long scenic hike that meandered along Dodd Creek to Raven Cliff Falls, where the trail got considerably steeper if you wanted to reach the top of the falls. The highlight there wasn’t the waterfall, which is mostly hidden in a cleft of the granite cliff, but the beauty of the rooty path that climbs through a mixed forest of hardwoods and firs with the constant gurgle of the creek a constant companion. Occasional falls and cascades have you stopping to admire the scenery so often that you can spend a couple of hours covering the mostly-easy 2.5 mile trail leading to the dark granite bluff that hides the falls.
Getting back to the routines of daily life could be a bit of a come-down, but household chores and going back to work are also punctuated by moments of delight. Friends or co-workers can brighten the day like an unexpected cascade, and completing a task can feel a bit like drinking from the pool at the end of the trail. Even though you know you have to walk all the way back, and the path will be both up-and-down and down-and-up, it really is true that the life is found in the journey, not the destination.