We had to leave the NE Georgia Mountains today and head back to Texas. I'll miss the mountains. They are quiet and peaceful and I feel very much at ease in their presence. The air is fresh and clean, filtered through the trees, and washed by the afternoon showers. I spent about seven summers in the north Georgia mountains when I was a kid. Back then, before video games, computers, cell phones, and television (as we know it today) many kids were sent off to summer camps (if their parents could afford it). I went to Camp Dixie for Boys in Wiley, GA for 8 weeks each summer from age 10 to 16 years old (my first summer was for only 4 weeks). I also spent the summer after I graduated from high school as a counselor at Camp Dixie for Boys. Years later, my son and daughter would both attend Camp Dixie for several summers.
The sister camp, Camp Dixie for Girls, was located just outside of Clayton, GA. Each of the camps would have approximately 125 or so campers. In that same area, near Tallulah Falls, was the Athens Y Camp (boys) and Camp Chattooga (girls), both of which are still in operation.
When I was 15 years old I was one of about 10 or 12 older boys that inaugurated Pine Valley, a roughing-it camp a couple of miles up into the mountains from the main camp. When we arrived that first summer, there were only four large tents at a site that had been hacked out of the thick hardwood forest. The tents had wooden floors about a foot off the ground with the top and two sides covered with canvas. Canvas could also be lowered over the two open ends when it rained. Two of the tents were for the campers, one for the counselors and cook, and the fourth was the cook tent and mess hall. We had to dig a latrine and erect an outhouse over it, build a foot-bridge across a creek that ran through the camp, build a wooden platform for an outdoor shower, and lay PVC pipe to provide water from a spring that was about a hundred yards further up the mountain. There was no hot water, only the cold mountain spring water that we piped down the mountain. Talk about a cold shower!
Once we completed the camp, a lot of our time was spent hiking or riding horses through the mountains and going on canoe trips. We came across more than one moonshine still while hiking in the mountains. Either they were not in use at the time or the moonshiners heard or saw us coming and hid until we passed on by. We just pretended that we hadn't seen anything and kept on walking.
One day we used a compass to hike across the mountains to the girls' camp. It was only about 8 miles "as the crow flies" but took most of the day. We were quite disappointed after successfully making it there to be immediately loaded into a truck and taken back to the boys' camp.
We canoed the "Chain of Lakes" (Lakes Burton, Seed, and Rabun - about 20 miles total length) and Fontana Lake (about 17 miles long) in western North Carolina. Our canoes were made of wood and canvas. We portaged (canoe-speak for "toted") the canoes over two dams and shot the rapids below them on the Chain of Lakes trip. The canoe that I was in hit a rock and broke right in half. The other guys had to retrieve our gear as it floated past them (everything was in water-proof bags, thank goodness).
We also hiked 55 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and North Carolina over a week's time, carrying everything we needed in army surplus WWII ski patrol packs. Mine weighed approximately 45 pounds. I weighed about 115 pounds. We didn't carry water, which would have been much too heavy. We carried empty canteens that we filled at the many springs along the trail. I'm not sure it would be wise to do that now. The worse part was the first day because it was all up hill. After that, we hiked along the ridges with minimal up and down hiking. When it rained we just covered ourselves and packs with a poncho and kept on truckin'.
Bears were encountered much more frequently on the Trail 50 years ago. We usually had an entourage just out of sight behind us. When we stopped for a break we would watch the bears coming around the last bend in the trail behind us. As soon as they saw us they would stop suddenly, usually bumping into each other like Keystone Cops. Then they would turn around and haul ass the other way. When we stopped for lunch or for the night, the bears would move in a circle around us and the smell of our food would cause them to gradually move in closer and closer. We would keep a small supply of golf-ball size rocks on hand to throw towards them when they began to get too close. That would startle them and they would move back a ways.
One night I woke up to see a bear standing beside one of the campers who was snuggled up in his sleeping bag sound asleep. I yelled at the bear, the boy woke up, and the bear turned and ran off. The boy probably had to clean out his sleeping bag! One morning we awoke to find that another boy's aluminum mess kit, which he had wrapped in a towel and used as a pillow, had been removed from under his head as he slept, ripped open, and disposed of several feet away. No one heard or saw the night time intruder. The funny thing is, I don't remember any of us being afraid of the bears. Maybe we were just too young to be afraid.
Today Camp Dixie is co-ed and operated in what was once the girls' camp in Clayton. The boys' camp closed years ago and the land is now a planned community. Campers now total about 70 girls and boys each summer. Camp Dixie will celebrate its centennial in 2014. My grandson will be 6 years old then and plans are for him to start attending Camp Dixie that year. I intend on participating in the centennial celebration myself. I wish more kids were able to attend summer camps.
This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have
- Robert & Carol Ann Martin
- Nacogdoches, TX, United States
- I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (http://rbmartiniv.smugmug.com).