Friday, October 22, 2010

The Joys and Surprises of Fall Travel

For many people, once the calendar turns to September, sadly, the travel year is over. At least until the highly anticipated winter trips that involve palm trees, patios, and sliding doors without screens. It’s now fall (this side of the world), and in my opinion and from experience, I feel this can be one of the best times of year to travel.

Here’s why:

1. Less crowds
2. Flights and hotels tend to be discounted
3. If you’re traveling by car, there are way less RVs hogging the road
4. Your teacher friends can’t. And that should be good enough of a reason!
5. Sometimes you just find things you can’t with the summer crowds

One other excellent reason to travel in the fall, as silly as it sounds, is to take in some serious fall colour. This is what I did about 7 years ago. I traveled to Atlanta in late October to visit my brother and his family, and then continued on by car with them to a place called Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. As I was told, it’s a place renown for it’s fall colours, displays of pumpkins, outdoor markets, and what I’d find out later, for some famous large breasts. That I should explain. Pigeon Forge is just a few miles away from Dollywood, an amusement park owned by Dolly Parton. One can imagine with some humour as to what the roller coaster experience would be like - Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! Wheeeeeeeeeeeee! and you’re done!

This I found out also had influence on the neighbouring towns, such Pigeon Forge. I was expecting a scene of quaint cabins, babbling brooks, amazing foliage and abundant serenity, but this ‘cultural icon of amusements’ should have been my first clue as to what we were actually going to experience.

After a much longer than expected drive than expected from Atlanta (pre-GPS and a brother who doesn’t quite read maps well), we arrived in the dark to a decent little non-rustic rental property. Next day, up bright and early on a cool and crisp autumn morning, we started to explore. Picture if you will a 4-lane roadway running straight as an arrow through town, lined on both sides with Super-8-type hotels, Perkins-like restaurants, and more gift shops than you’ve ever seen, or ever want to. Just a side note - every single gift shop we entered had fancy scented candles burning and each was playing that same Vivaldi song you hear every time you walk into a gift store, no matter where you are in the world. The royalties for the artist must be staggering.

As it was, I put my movie-watching talents to use (this is my unique ability to lower my standards and enjoy nearly any movie, with the exception of the third and hopefully final Pirates of the Caribbean movie), and forged ahead for a weekend of exploring and experiencing what the town and countryside had to offer.

I have to say, blocking out the town, the area was incredibly beautiful with rolling hills on all sides, babbling brooks, and hiking trails through forests of stunning colour. Although there were still a lot of people around, it was fall, so we hiked a trail or two and just soaked in the surrounding scenes and at times felt like we had the place to ourselves.

This was turning into a good fall trip, but I didn’t realize that the true highlight was still to come.

It was our last full day there and that afternoon we stopped at a roadside farmer’s market. Pumpkins of all sizes were on display along with a variety of colourful fall vegetables and some aged but rustic looking harvesting machinery.

Just as I was about to declare the trip as good, but not fantastic, I saw the one thing, or I should say the one person that made my trip turn from good to fantastic.

Let’s call him Farmer Hatfield, or maybe Farmer McCoy, but this guy was incredible. He looked like he had just crawled out from the hills after decades of living in lonely isolation. Wearing his green cloth hat, plaid shirt, overalls and some complimentary bare feet, he appeared to be skinnier than a bulimic rake during a fasting. What teeth were left pointed in every direction ever explored by man and only resembled teeth in that they hung from gums but I’m sure didn’t function beyond that. Yikes.

And why was this so great? This, you can’t duplicate. This you don’t see in the travel brochures. You can’t dress someone up to look like this, even if you paid them. This was a genuine, true-to-form fall farmer’s market, and this was a true-to-form and authentic Eastern USA hillbilly – true to the area, and something completely unplanned.

At this moment, outside of all the commercialism and traffic and awfully scented candles, I knew I had found my gem of the trip and felt content. My fall travel, with the smaller crowds, the colours of the leaves and beautiful crisp air and quiet roads, my complete surprise included, was just…complete.

No comments: