Car Books – First Gear

I have posted numerous times of one type of book I enjoy reading which I refer to as my Building Books—books about building things. But until recently, I realized I had never written about another genre I especially enjoy reading, books about cars. The more I thought about it, the more I recognized it was long over due.

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I have been a lifelong car lover, a Miata owner for over 20 years, and now that I have more time to do so, an avid reader.

I can still remember from when I was a toddler that my favorite picture book with all of its colorful cars and dog drivers was Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. And when I was in grade school, I can recall with delight when I discovered my first book about cars at the Scholastic Book Fair, a book about buying and taking care of your first car. In high school, my mother suggested I read Wheels by Arthur Hailey, a fictional novel that explored the auto industry from the perspective of the dealer, the manufacturer, the line worker, and the consumer. This was my first exposure to the complexity and politics of manufacturing cars and probably dampened my naïve desire up to that point to work in the automobile manufacturing industry.

As an adult, I read with fascination a number of different books about the development of specific cars, in particular Corvettes, Mustangs, Muscle Cars and Miatas.

I absolutely fell in love with the Mazda Miata when first seeing this car ad in 1989 since convertibles had all but disappeared from our US roads, especially small sports cars. After purchasing a Miata, I bought this book by Jay Lamm. It was with fascination that I read how three different development teams within Mazda vied for creating the car and then once the winner was declared, how the final car was brought to market and all the changes that occurred over its first seven years of production. This could have been a thick 1,000-page book rather than the slim 140 pages it was and I still would have read and poured over every page. The entire development story was an enjoyable read with a most happy outcome.

However, not until I read The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts did I got an inside look into how unpleasant it could be to live in that world. This book covered the history of Ford as it spanned over its founder’s lifetime. I found absolutely shocking some of the things that occurred within the Ford Motor Company that confirmed my wise choice to enter the field of science rather than automobiles as my career.

Knowing that Lee Iacocca was a part of that troubled history under Ford’s grandson, Henry Ford II, I wanted to get Iacocca’s side of the Ford story so I purchased his autobiography and gained further insight into those difficult years at Ford. In addition, this book covered Iacocca’s successful turnaround of Chrysler after he was fired from Ford.

A much more upbeat story about Ford that I read was American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company by Bryce G. Hoffman. I was already familiar with Alan Mulally having seen the PBS documentary many years ago on the building of the Boeing 777 jet airplane, a development program spear-headed by then Boeing executive Mulally. And I recalled from 2008/2009 when the other big automakers were getting bailout loans from the federal government as they were entering bankruptcy; Ford had gone it alone and survived without government loans and without enduring bankruptcy. While he seemed to be quite a likeable person in the PBS series, it was only through reading this book that I gained tremendous respect for his executive office prowess.

This book covers the period from when Alan became CEO of Ford when the great grandson to Henry Ford, CEO Bill Ford stepped aside. It tells the story of the struggle between the changes Alan wanted to make and the wishes of the Ford family, which to this day as a block, owns a controlling interest in Ford. To Bill Ford’s credit, he recognized that dramatic change was necessary to save Ford and so mediated with the family to help Alan make the changes. This story is so intriguing and came so close to failing that it might well become a case study for others to learn from in business school. Particularly since Ford still enjoys today the successes that Mulally forged under his leadership.

But it is this most recent book that I read by David Halberstam that has given me the most comprehensive look into the modern automobile industry.

To be continued…

Puzzling Anticipation

Now that the autumnal equinox has past, I have really been looking forward to getting back to puzzling—assembling puzzles that is. Earlier this year, I wrote about how I had taken this up as a wintertime hobby and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What I didn’t write about was that no sooner had I finished my last puzzle in January that I already wanted to purchase my puzzles for next winter. I even wondered if maybe was there was such a thing as a puzzle club or a puzzle exchange where avid puzzlers shared puzzles with each other.

Within days of completing my last puzzle last winter, I was perusing my favorite online retailer, Amazon looking for puzzles I would want. I focused predominately on my favorite topics—cars and beer. But then I ran across a puzzle of  Keukenhof gardens, a beautiful park just outside of Amsterdam.

I had visited this large, beautiful garden numerous times on my teaching trips to Amsterdam whenever the scheduling of my course coincided with the brief two-month period of it being open. If you are a fan of tulips, hyacinths or flowers in general, this is an incredible place to explore with an estimated 7 million bulbs in bloom over their season.

When I saw this puzzle online, I knew it had to be one of mine to work. What better way to end the cold winter break than assembling a beautiful prelude to spring?

For my second puzzle, I explored more car and beer puzzles and selected this one of beer labels.

I thought this was would be a fun one to work on while actually enjoying a delicous beer on a cold winter night.

I finalized my purchase and waited for the package to arrive.

As Amazon does so well after making a purchase by suggesting additional items of potential interest, I was “notified” of this puzzle.

It was a Christmas version of a Midcentury Modern puzzle that I also enjoyed assembling last winter.

For this puzzle I had not only enjoyed the scenes depicted, but it was like assembling multiple puzzles within a puzzle with the many individual frames, giving me a sense of accomplishment each time I completed one section.

Colorfully bedecked with Christmas décor, I thought this would be a festive one to kick off my puzzling season in December, not long before Christmas.

Then for my birthday, my sister surprised me with a puzzle gift, one that I had actually debated getting myself when I was exploring potential puzzles in January.

She knows me well; naturally it was of cars.

I stashed my “war chest” of puzzles in our upstairs playroom closet to await cold weather. Never before have I wished for winter since I do not like cold weather but every time I went in that closet for something, there the puzzles sat as if taunting me to break down and open one up. But each time, I suppressed the urge and left them for another time.

Then as if calling for reinforcements to let them out of their caged boxes, my wife bought a used puzzle for me.

Amazingly, this was a puzzle design similar to another puzzle I almost bought. My only concern about working a used puzzle is what if one of the pieces is missing? I hate investing all the time into a puzzle if I can never see it completed. So before I work this one, I will likely take on the tedious task of counting to make sure it has all 1,000 pieces.

These five puzzles are still tucked away in that closet awaiting the day when they can come out and play. Since I will be retired at the time of the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, I know I will have more time available to work on them. I suspect with the extra time, I may not have enough puzzles with these five to keep me puzzling throughout January, the national puzzle month. In that case due to the “puzzle addiction” I am willing to admit I am afflicted, I will just have to go in search for another “fix.”

Retirement – Week 1

Me on my last workday

The last weekend in October, following my last workday on Friday 27 October, I thought a lot about what my first week of retirement would be like. Even knowing that I would not be working this week impacted my weekend schedule—in a positive way. Normally, I would feel rushed and pressured to try to get all the things done over the limited time I had on the weekend. But the weekend before my first full day of retirement felt much more relaxed.

Usually by Sunday afternoon, I am feeling a bit frustrated that I am running out of time and will have to postpone until the following weekend the things I didn’t get done.

This feeling has roots dating back to early in our marriage when on Saturday morning, I would make a long list of things I needed to do over the weekend and then by Sunday night, feel a sense of depression that I only got 28 of the 31 items done on the list. This used to drive my wife crazy. Fortunately I got over that phase of my life and while I am still a perpetual list maker, I got out of the habit of making weekend lists long ago.

Sunday morning is normally a running day for me followed by a trip to the grocery store to get a week’s worth of groceries. Both of these activities I skipped knowing that I no longer had to do those on Sunday. My Sunday instead felt quite relaxed and my wife and I even went to an art festival downtown in the afternoon, something we normally might not find time to do.

When I went to bed on Sunday night, I consciously did not set an alarm knowing I could sleep as late as I felt on Monday.

Maybe it was due to an excited anticipation of this significant life change but I woke up in the middle of the night and started thinking about what I would do first. After lying awake for quite some time thinking about all these things, I realized the first thing I really needed to do was just make a list so I wouldn’t forget them all.

In spite of remaining awake for probably an hour, I woke up refreshed and glancing at the clock, saw that I had slept in until 6:30! (Normally on a Monday I would be awakened with an alarm at 4:45.) I did my usual stretching and then went to the gym to run indoors since it was too cold outside. By the time I left the gym around 8:30, I was feeling a bit lazy and thinking my day was getting away from me. But then I remembered, it was OK, as I was not going to work.

When I got home, I had my delicious Peet’s coffee and typical breakfast—“concrete”—a concoction I create of dry oats, Grapenuts cereal, sliced almonds, and fruit Greek yogurt that I have been eating for years.

However, rather than gobbling this down while I would normally be getting ready for work, I sat down and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. It was after 9:00 AM before I was shaving and showering, something unheard of even on the weekends.

After getting cleaned up, I went grocery shopping. As I wandered the aisles, I realized that if I continued to shop on Monday morning rather than Sunday, I would see a whole different crowd than whom I normally saw, shoppers like me now who could shop during the week. Driving home, it felt like I was on a holiday since all of these things were so foreign to me during the week.

Returning home, I could even participate in my daughter’s and grandson’s daily FaceTime with my wife, a treat I normally only get to join in on weekend mornings.

After lunch, I decided it was time to make my lists. I decided to make a short-term list and a long-term list. In my mind, my short-term items would be anything I wanted to be sure and get done within three months or less. I reflected back to my many thoughts in the middle of the night and quickly jotted down 18 items on the short-term list and four items on the long-term list.

When I shared these lists with my wife later in the day, she commented that these were all things that I needed to do but none of them were necessarily things that I might want to do. I realized that I had gone back and done the same thing I used to do many years ago when I made those weekend lists. My list was filled with chores not fun activities, which usually meant I didn’t have much fun on weekends in those days. This was not a way to start off retirement.

So on Tuesday, I made a third list, a list of things I wanted to do.

It was actually a year ago that I wrote a post of the fun things I would do after retiring. I remembered seven of them before deciding to reread that post to make sure I didn’t forget any. I only missed two.

Over the week, several people asked me how it felt to be retired and I typically responded either weird or different. Reflecting back, it seemed that both Monday and Tuesday felt quite different, at times like it was a holiday or vacation day since I was not at work. Wednesday and Friday did not seem that different, as I have been working from home ½ day on Wednesday and all day on Friday for quite some time. The difference was I did what I wanted to. Thursday was very different as I worked out at the gym in the morning and then got to go to Kinder Music with my wife and granddaughter, something I have not gotten to ever do since Thursday was typically a busy day at work.

Someone who retired two years ago recently told me one of the things he had gotten to do was catch up on his sleep. I guess I must have done that sleeping in on Monday and Tuesday as on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, I slipped back into my work habit of waking up around 5:00 AM. Each morning I lay there a while thinking I should go back to sleep but since I was not tired, decided I could get up not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

After just one week, I can’t say that I fell into a new routine but I did definitely identify some additional things I might want to consider making a part of a new routine. Over the week, in my old list making fashion, I did manage to strike several items off that short-term list and only occasionally did I feel I needed to be more productive thinking my “vacation time” was almost over. But then I remembered that next week I would again be free and the week after that, and so on for many weeks ahead as I am no longer working full time. Having achieved one of life’s major milestones and only being one week into it, I think I am really going to like this retirement thing!

Retired!

After years and years of anticipation and months and months of planning, I retired last week. This is a self-photo I took of myself in my office on my last full workday. While my last official day was the 27th of October, I was actually on vacation for seven days before that so my last real work day, the day I took this photo was the 17th of October.

So what was it like on my last day? Well it was a day mixed with emotions of happiness but also sadness. After 35 years working in the same location and even in the same building, it should not come as a surprise.

The day before, I had sent out a mass e-mail saying goodbye to all of my work colleagues—those who were remaining behind as well as those who were moving on to other activities (some of which were also retiring). Part of my last day was spent reading the very touching responses I received from many reflecting on our productive and instructive work life together and wishing me well in retirement.

Another part of my day, I spent touring other floors of the building I had worked in all of these years. I decided to go by all my old offices that were on the four different floors I had worked on. Some still looked the same but others were no longer there having been torn down to make space for an expansion of our laboratory operations. Touring the labs was a bit sad as all of the equipment had been boxed up and relocated to other company sites. This was a part of the process of closing down our work site, the main reason I was retiring at this particular time.

But the most distressing sight I saw on my tour was when I came to our stability chamber area. When I rounded the corner of the second large room where many of these chambers were located, I was met with a gutted room. What previously had been our first chamber expansion area that housed four walk-in chambers and four large reach-in chambers were all gone. All that remained were the water, air handling, and electrical utility connections dangling from the ceiling, like bloody tendrils from savagely excised appendages. For 25 of my 35 years, I had responsibility for our stability program and these chambers had incubated the thousands upon thousands of samples at a multitude of environmental conditions. It nearly brought tears to my eyes.

One bright spot though was an unexpected visit by my youngest son who lives in town. He stopped by to ask me some questions about a research project he was working on and after his questions were answered, I gave him a tour of the two remaining floors that were still occupied. It was his first visit to my place of work in many years and he was amazed at the changes that had occurred. As we ended our tour, he suggested we get a selfie, which thanks to his rather long arms, hardly even looks like one.

After calling into my last teleconference of the day, I began to box up my few remaining personal items. After more than 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry, I had accumulated a number of reference documents and texts that I planned to use in my “retirement.” Many of these I had taken home the previous day so that when I walked out for the last time, it would only be a single trip with the one box.

My Bose speaker that I continuously played jazz music and my two phone chairs, where my work and personal phones reclined while I was sitting at my desk, mostly took up the box. I know my daughter will recognize the thermal mug on the left; the one I drank ice water from all day long at work for at least 15 years. I got this mug one year in the early 2000s when I picked her up from college after the close of a semester.

Over my 35-year career at this location, I spent 32 years in management. My first three years, years that I absolutely had had a ball, were the years I worked in an analytical laboratory. When I was cleaning out my desk, I found this spatula that I had used many years ago to weigh out milligram quantities of samples and standards.

Knowing that I had used this tool on a daily basis whenever I was working in the lab, I decided to take it with me as a memento of those really fun days in the lab.

I carefully placed my box on the passenger seat and put down the top for one last fun workday commute. As I pulled out of the parking space, I realized this was the last time I would be driving out of this parking lot and the last time I would be waving my ID badge at the security gate to exit.

Tomorrow starts the first full day of my retirement, a period of my life I have been looking forward to for some time—a time of freedom, a time of relaxation, a time of adventure, and a time of unexpected pleasures. But none of this was I thinking of that last day. No, my thoughts as I drove away were about the three phases of my life. The first phase was the years of educational preparation for work; the second phase was my professional career; and the third phase being my retirement years. All of us spend a different number of years in each of these depending on our level of education, our career, and ultimately our life expectancy.

As I zoomed down the road on my way home, I thought this was indeed the end of an era. But at the same time, it was just the beginning of a whole new exciting phase of my life.

As a view of my office building receded in the passenger’s side mirror, in spite of the iconic phrase that “OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR”, I shifted my gaze forward through my windshield to the next phase of my life—retirement—which was now closer than anything in my rearview mirror.

First Road Trip

For some time now, I have been thinking about what should be my first road trip after I retire. Just to be clear, I am not talking about a road trip where the destination is the main purpose of the journey. No what I am talking about is a trip where the drive itself is the purpose. I’ve done a few of these over the 20+ years that I have had fun little cars to drive but I have always been limited by the number of vacation days I could take from work.

One of the first of these road trips was my inaugural excursion on the Tail of the Dragon in Eastern Tennessee. My wife was not interested in a trip where the main purpose was to experience a road but when I mentioned the idea to my sister, she readily agreed to come along. We did combine it with a final destination to one of our favorite places in the world, Montreat, but experiencing that fun road with 318 curves in 11 miles was as close to a roller coaster ride in a car as you can get, one that I would repeat multiple times over the years.

Probably the granddaddy of all these road trips was in 2010 when I drove the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) together, another trip my wife was not interested in going on.

Over a five day period, I drove by myself about 2,000 miles, almost 600 of the total being just the two roads for which I took the trip. For the most part, the weather was perfect and allowed for all day top-down driving in my little red convertible. The only negative of the trip was on the last day when I encountered construction that had the last 75 miles or so of the BRP closed to traffic. 2010 was the 75th anniversary for the BRP and I was most surprised during its Diamond Jubilee year that part of it would be closed to traffic.

While I had driven the part that was closed many times before, it still irked me that I couldn’t say I had driven the whole road all in one trip.

So what will my first trip be?

Ever since I found out that I would be retiring this year, I have had this question in the back of my mind knowing that I would no longer be limited by the number of vacation days I had. Frequently as I would be driving to work or running errands, the question would come to the forefront of my thoughts. I know to interest my wife in coming with me that it has to be more about the destination and the things we may see along the way than the road itself. With two of our kids living on the west coast, I’ve thought a cross country trip would be fun as there are many things along the way that we would both want to see.

In fact, an opportunity presented itself for just such a trip this year when my nephew (the one that made me an uncle for the first time), announced that he was getting married in Pasadena in November. But a cross country trip at this time just wasn’t in the cards so that won’t be the first.

I also have been toying with the idea of trying to drive as much of the historic Route 66 that still exists. This trip would afford the opportunity to see many sites I have never seen and would end up also in Los Angeles where a fun drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) would allow a visit to San Francisco where our oldest son and his family lives.

I’ve also thought of doing the BRP again to complete the whole 469 miles in one trip. And I’ve considered that maybe I need to research another fun road to drive in the US and experience that.

My most recent idea is to just stay closer to home and head over to Nashville and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway, not as long or likely as scenic as the BRP but a road that I have never done.

But with road conditions and open-air driving not conducive to the cold weather starting to creep into the forecast, it will probably be spring before I actually decide on a specific trip to take. However, this gives me the winter to research other roads that may be my first post-retirement road trip. And when I do, I’ll be sure and report all about it here so you can enjoy part of the trip too.

Because for someone who loves car and loves to drive, what’s better than a fun road trip!

Sideways in Georgia

Unless you’ve seen the movie, Sideways, or read the book by the same name, this blog post title may not make sense to you.

But as unlikely as it may seem for those of you who are familiar with this fictional tale of California wine experience, one that single handedly reduced the sale of Merlot wine once it was released, this was the theme that kept running through my mind during my recent vacation to North Georgia with my wife. As I explained in that post, one of the reasons we went to this location was to experience the wine country set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an industry we had no idea even existed in Georgia.

In years past, we have made numerous wine excursions to Napa and Sonoma counties in California. These trips gave us our experience as to what to expect at a winery. But this would be our first chance to visit multiple wineries in a state much closer to home.

Reviewing Trip Advisor, we found that a number of the wineries were only open on weekends. While this prevented us from visiting some of the ones we had considered, going during the week meant much smaller crowds and no waiting. Montaluce was one of the highest rated wineries and since it was open seven days a week, we chose it first.

In some of the review comments, it had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany. Although we have never been to Tuscany, this winery certainly looked like the images I had seen in photographs. And set on a hill, it reminded me of one of the first California wineries we had visited, Sterling.

We immediately found a seat at the tasting bar and began our experience.

Looking through the doors of the tasting room, we saw an expansive porch overlooking the vineyards and learned we could take our glasses there. The weather was perfect and the view most pleasurable.

Once we had found our favorite wine, we decided to have our lunch there. Montaluce has a large and elegantly styled restaurant with outdoor seating on the porch as well. We dined alfresco on a delicious lunch prepared with many ingredients grown on the property. Although their wine prices were on the higher end of our price range, the wine we chose was delicious and the remainder became our starting wine for dinner that night.

Our second winery was Frogtown, claiming to be the most award winning US winery not in California. We got there about an hour before closing and almost had the place to ourselves.

It too was elegantly decorated and had an even better view of the mountains from the porch outside the tasting room/dining room.

So close to closing and during the week, we had the sommelier to ourselves and so received special treatment.   One of the wines included in our tasting was the only grape indigenous to the United States, Norton. While it was not one of our favorite wines, it was interesting to try the one varietal native to the US.

When it came time to make our purchase decision, we asked our sommelier what her favorite wine was. She gave us a complimentary tasting and we agreed with her, it was very good and so added a bottle of it to our purchase.

Their grounds were very nicely landscaped and I thought a photo with their wine and Koi would make a nice reminder of our visit there.

For our third winery, we traveled about 20 miles away from our home base of Dahlenago (pronounced “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”) to Helen, GA to Habersham Winery which is just outside of town. We had read that Helen was a bit like Gatlinburg, TN, only smaller so we knew we would encounter more tourists. When we pulled into the city, we were met with a quaint little German town but with no free parking anywhere and lots of pedestrians. Thankfully we were there during the week so the crowds were smaller.

We made our way to the winery and went inside. This was the smallest of the wineries we visited with a tasting bar that could accommodate only about 12 to 16 people at a time. There were no chairs for tasting but the nice thing about their reasonably priced tasting was that you got to pick your own wines. And their wines were the most inexpensive we’d seen ($14 to $20 range).

We even found a nice Rose’ for our daughter-in-law.

With the lower prices, we opted for a half case garnering the discounted price.

Our fourth and final winery was Kaya, back near our cottage. This winery had previously been Blackstock (closed in 2012) and with the new owners, big plans had been developed for an on-property hotel and cabins. They had two separate tasting rooms, one small and one large as well as an outdoor tasting area.

The view from their outdoor area offered the best view we had seen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since this was our second winery of the day, we chose to split a tasting and they generously poured us a larger portion of each wine since we were sharing.

We found a favorite red here also and so had to take a bottle of it home as well.

Sadly this was all the time we had for wineries on our trip. But since the main purpose of our 3-day vacation was not just to visit wineries, we felt we had done a good job of introducing ourselves to North Georgia wineries. And we had purchased a nice collection of wines to take home and enjoy…

…although some of them ended up as “fallen soldiers” (with a couple of CA wines thrown in for comparison) before we’d left town.

With nearly 30 wineries in the area, we felt we should definitely make a return trip to sample more of what this area had to offer. And with a newfound appreciation for their wines, I will certainly look for some of them on my next stop at our local wine store.

Finally, a Vacation!

The last weekend in July/first week in August my wife and I finally took a long overdue vacation. With me still working full time, most of my vacation days each year get spent teaching and visiting family leaving little time off for just the two of us. But that certainly got remedied with this trip.

My wife wanted to pick a place that we had never been before and one that was not too far away so we would not end up using a lot of my vacation time just driving there and back. Since she no longer works full time, she did the research and made our arrangements to travel to Dahlonega in the mountains of North Georgia, a place neither of us had ever heard of but an area which had a flourishing wine country.

At the last minute, our vacation got combined with a quick trip to visit my wife’s dear sister in North Carolina for a celebratory party so we did not get to our rental cabin until late Sunday afternoon. Getting there was an adventure in and of it self.

Relying on the trusty GPS in my wife’s Subaru Outback, we had no trouble getting to our remote destination until the very end when our GPS directed us to basically follow what appeared to be nothing more than a footpath and fjord a creek. Fortunately our contact at the rental agency was available by phone that Sunday afternoon to reroute us to a less treacherous path. We had been told the last mile was a rough dirt road but this partially washed out road was actually an improvement over the one we were faithfully following on the GPS.

Our cottage could not have been more perfect. With a quant and cozy interior,…

…a deck overlooking the river,…

…a screened in porch for if the bugs started biting,…

…and a dock right on the river where we could enjoy breakfast each morning.

We could not have asked for more.

Our first night we drove into Dahlonega to eat dinner. When we pulled into the historic downtown square, we found that the old courthouse had been turned into a Gold Mining museum. This got me thinking way back to a time when our young family of five had vacationed in Atlanta and went to Six Flags over Georgia. I recalled a roller coater ride we all thoroughly enjoyed, the Dahlonega Runaway Mine Train (my kids were most impressed I had remembered the name of the ride).

A little research on my part confirmed that this ride was based on the old gold rush days that started in 1829 in North Georgia, the first gold rush in the US predating the one in California by over twenty years. It felt really satisfying to be staying in a place that we thought we had never heard of before but which turned out to have had a fun family connection many years ago.

After wandering around the historic square for a while, we settled on an Irish pub for a hearty dinner.

The next day, we hit our first winery, Montaluce, which had been described as a winery right out of Tuscany (more information about wineries in next post).

Our next stop was back in Dahlonega since many of the shops had been closed the day before. We took in the Mine Museum first where we finally learned the correct pronunciation of the town’s name (I recalled pronouncing the Six Flags ride as De Longa which was totally wrong, the correct pronunciation is “Dah-lahn’-e-ga”, native Cherokee for yellow or gold color). Having had a late lunch after our wine tasting, we decided to pick up groceries to cook out a nice dinner to have on our river deck.

Our second full day was to take in one of my wife’s main objectives, getting to hike on part of the Appalachian Trail (AT), the southern trailhead for which, is less than 25 miles away. My wife found a portion of the AT that also had a fabulous overlook of a falls near by. We had attempted to hike a portion of the AT on a previous trip but had been foiled by blisters which developed on my wife’s feet on the three mile uphill hike just to get to the AT. This time we could drive the whole way to the AT path crossing, although the Forestry Service dirt road was described as “rough in spots”.

At times, I felt I was trying to drive our car on a washed out footpath with stretches where we could not exceed five miles per hour due to the rocky and washboard contour. Thank goodness for my wife’s all-wheel drive Outback! And when we came across an owl just sitting in the road (a special bird to my wife), we knew we would make it.

In spite of getting treacherously low on fuel, we found the AT crossing and hopped out for our adventure. The mile hike up to the falls was not too steep and when we found a sign along the way; we knew we had to get my wife’s photo.

And the falls were fabulous, being some of the tallest in the state.

After returning to our cottage to get cleaned up, we made it to our second winery, Frogtown, with a very large tasting room that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

On our third and final full day, we drove a short distance to Helen, GA, a cute little German town but probably a bit too touristy. My wife thoroughly enjoyed going through an antique store in a historic three-story house. It was a multi-level maze of displays, one that left me so overwhelmed, I had to just sit outside and read while my wife thoroughly explored it. Then it was off to our third winery next door.

Right across the road was an old gristmill, which on Saturdays, the old stone mill is water driven to grind the various grains. They had containers of cooked porridge and Southern grits for sampling, both delicious and of course we had to purchase.

At an old grocer in town, we had a quick lunch and then picked out some nice ingredients to have with our wine for dinner.

Returning to Dahlonega, we found our fourth winery and enjoyed another tasting overlooking the mountains.

That night we cooked our dinner to have on the porch of our cottage overlooking the river.

While dining, it gave us a chance to reflect on what fun our vacation had been. We both commented that it had not been one of those vacations of just sitting around and relaxing. Knowing that our days were limited, we tried to do as much as we could in the time we had. We agreed that it was not tiring at all but actually very enjoyable getting to see and do all these things in a locale neither of us had been to before.

We couldn’t say any one particular activity was our favorite as there were so many we had enjoyed. But for my wife, I know deep down one of her most pleasurable was getting on the AT, a goal she has had for quite some time of getting to hike.

At over 2,100 miles long, we only got a small taste on our short AT excursion but it will probably be motivation for her to take the next step (no pun intended). And since there were many more wineries we did not get to, I know we will plan another trip here sometime in the future.