Great outdoors are a great getaway during the pandemic

Grace Powell, 19, takes in the view during a stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell
Grace Powell, 19, takes in the view during a stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”

This quote by John Muir — the inventor, naturalist, conservationist and “father of the national parks" — likely strikes a chord with many people during the coronavirus pandemic.

During a time when traveling by plane comes with numerous risks and regulations, some Georgians instead answered the call of the mountains.

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“We didn’t want to do a beach because of the crowds, so we opted for the mountains,” said Shirley Powell, whose Marietta family had to go with their backup plan when a trip to Normandy, France, was canceled.

Powell, husband Will, daughter Grace and son Ben had planned the France trip with longtime friends from New Jersey. The two families vacation together every couple of years.

Shirley Powell and her daughter, Grace, 19, stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway to take some photos. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell
Shirley Powell and her daughter, Grace, 19, stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway to take some photos. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

“We have known this family for over 20 years; we were pregnant with our oldest children at the same time,” Shirley Powell said.

And then the pandemic hit, and flying to Europe — or anywhere — was either forbidden or strongly discouraged. The families decided to fall back on their usual plans of renting a house together. But they changed their destination.

Apprehension over the coronavirus “was top of mind in our planning,” the Powell matriarch said. “The beach — and the crowds — felt too risky to us, so we opted for the mountains. The house was pretty remote – at the top of the mountain. We didn’t have to see anyone else unless we wanted to.”

Since they were going to be together for a week, both families agreed to be extra careful the two weeks before the trip to keep one another safe.

“We did pack cleaning wipes, but didn’t really do much ‘extra’ with them except wipe down the kitchen counters,” Shirley Powell said. “The house had been cleaned before our arrival. I also brought hand sanitizer and put it on a table at the front door so we could use it when we walked back into the house. We normally wear masks when we go out of the house, so that continued on vacation.”

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The Powell family enjoyed the views during their trip. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell
The Powell family enjoyed the views during their trip. Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

Credit: Photo courtesy of Shirley Powell

The families spent time in the house, playing board games and admiring the view, but all activities were outside, she said.

“We went for lots of walks, some hiking and a couple of rounds of golf for those who played. The girls all went into Blowing Rock/Boone and walked around the towns and sat outside at a coffee shop and talked,” she added.

They also drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping along the way to take photos.

“Being outside was the only thing we were really comfortable doing,” she said. “Thankfully this area is so beautiful that being outside was easy to do.”

Richard Clark said he and his family weren’t that worried about the coronavirus during their trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

“My feeling is that, if I get sick, so be it,” Clark said. “Until then, I’m going to enjoy my life.”

The Hiram family had originally planned a cruise, but that was canceled because of the pandemic. Since he and his wife, Tanya, already had the time off, they and daughter Stacey headed instead to Pigeon Forge. In the mountains, they visited Dollywood, saw some shows and went to The Apple Barn.

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Richard and Tanya Clark took their daughter, Stacey, to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for four days, stopping by Dollywood for some fun. Photo courtesy of Richard Clark
Richard and Tanya Clark took their daughter, Stacey, to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for four days, stopping by Dollywood for some fun. Photo courtesy of Richard Clark

Credit: Photo courtesy of Richard Clark

Credit: Photo courtesy of Richard Clark

“We ate at the local restaurants every day,” Clark said. “Aside from having to wear that mask upon entry, we were comfortable.”

Because they weren’t that worried about the coronavirus, Clark added, they didn’t take any extraordinary measures to avoid it.

“We had to wear a mask for entry to Dollywood and to the shows,” Clark said, “but as soon as possible, I removed that mask. I kept my distance, but that is my normal habit, not just because of COVID. I have always washed my hands — I didn’t need someone to tell me that it is necessary.”

Pegi Amend and her husband, Bob Buschman, wanted to be as distanced as possible during their getaway, so the Sandy Springs couple answered the call of the North Georgia foothills.

Although they were worried about the coronavirus, “we reviewed the CDC guidelines and potential risks while hiking at the inn,” Amend said, “and determined the risk was low and the benefits to our mental health exceeded any issues.”

The couple headed to Dawsonville and trekked the 5 miles to the Hike Inn.

“We really enjoyed the 5 mile hike into the inn,” Amend said. “We passed people along the way, but everyone gave each other a lot of space.”

Amend and Buschman stayed two nights so they could hike additional trails before heading back to their car.

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Pegi Amend and her husband, Bob Buschman, trekked 5 miles to the Hike Inn in Dawsonville. Amend said it was a perfect way to socially distance during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Pegi Amend
Pegi Amend and her husband, Bob Buschman, trekked 5 miles to the Hike Inn in Dawsonville. Amend said it was a perfect way to socially distance during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Pegi Amend

Credit: Photo courtesy of Pegi Amend

Credit: Photo courtesy of Pegi Amend

To maintain social distancing, the inn replaced its family style seating for breakfast and dinner with family unit seating. “We purchased sack lunches to eat while hiking,” Amend said.

The inn also reduced its occupancy so there were no issues in the bath house, and each family unit was assigned a composting toilet to prevent cross-contamination.

The couple didn’t spend all of their time alone, however.

“It got a bit chilly the first night and they built a fire in the stove where everyone spaced out around it and were able to converse while keeping our distance,” Amend said. “It was the perfect combination of getting away from everything while still having a chance to chat with others.”

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