If you wanted to bribe the 10-year-old me, all it required was baseball cards. And I remember taking that bribe from my parents to keep my whiny mouth shut as we got in the car and headed to a mountain cabin.
Pretty soon, I had a mouth full of stale, chalky gum that accompanied the packs of Topps cards. I pulled each card slowly out of the pack, trying to draw out the surprise as long as possible. But then we were there. And I remember the boredom of those cabin days exceeding my expectations. I hurled rock after rock at a knob on a tree, pretending the other trees overhead formed the upper deck of a stadium and somewhere close by sat Nolan Ryan, who envied my fastball. But that got old, quick. Nolan Ryan was in Houston. The trees couldn’t return the rocks back to the “mound.” And I whined more.
I remember that trip. Because that’s when I decided I hated the mountains. A beach trip, well, that was different. The drive was much longer. We always went to Daytona. But the waves were enough to make every inconvenience worthwhile. I have always felt that way. I love to body surf, particularly if the size of the waves brings squeals from those around me. Of course, I don’t want Hawaii-style waves, the kind that draw silent awe. But my thoughts of the ocean are fond. I love seafood, the smell of the ocean, getting in the pool.
Before children — come to think of it, that’s another pretty significant “B.C.” for many people — my wife and I would go to Folly Beach just outside of Charleston every October and spend about three days, eating a lot of shrimp, visiting some shops and taking some historical tours in the city, but mostly just napping and reading and getting in the water in between. I believe the fall is the best time for a beach trip. The crowds are smaller. It’s still warm enough to get in the water, but not so oppressive that you long to get out of the sun.
But we haven’t been to Charleston in years. A getaway with just the two of us is a rare thing now and I don’t mean that as a complaint in any way. It’s just where we are now. So, when we get an opportunity to go somewhere, just the two of us, we take it. And that happened this past weekend. My wife’s parents kept our children and we headed up to their cabin in Hiawassee for a long day and an evening. I packed my old green travel bag, still heavy with the books I’ve thrown in a pocket but never read. I threw in magazines, some unopened mail that I needed to sort through. I took the work computer, figuring I could at least get some things done on the way back if Jana took the wheel.
On the way, Jana and I listened to CDs of Jack London short stories, where a man was abandoned by his companion in the Arctic and struggled to beat starvation as he staggered through the bleak, wolf-heavy land. The stories put man in the elements, stripped him of all comfort, pulled him back to the primitive.
I thought about those stories as we enjoyed our comforts on the side of the mountain, listening to wind in the trees. Some people go to the mountains to be tested. Some go to relax. And I’d say we are the latter kind of people.
So, I am no longer the rock throwing, 10-year-old fastballer with a whiny mouth about a mountain cabin. I want to go now. Maybe it’s the increasing gray in my hair. I want silence. I want peace and beauty. The mountains have that. When we stopped to get gas on the way, an older woman behind the counter called me “youngster,” which made me feel old. It was the tone. I knew it meant I was no longer a “youngster.”
We rode back the next day through Helen. It was a biker’s paradise. Parked before every Alps-style roof was a Harley. And we passed by a woman on the back of Harley who held up a paperback and read as she rode behind her man, which I thought was both remarkable and silly. But I had put my laptop back in its case by then. I was already green with motion sickness. I love boiled peanuts. They were everywhere, too. But there’d be none of that. And I couldn’t do any work either. Those twisting roads lead to special places, but they can put a hurt on you, too. Motion sickness, well, that’s a major drawback of the mountains.
Still, it’s not enough to keep us away. The beach or the mountains? There’s never been an inner debate with me on that question.
But things change.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.