Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son tagged along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. We’ve taken two trips by airplane, but are much happier when we’re the ones behind the wheel — charting our own course, making unplanned stops anytime we want, availing ourselves of slightly better meal options, and keeping or ruining our own schedule as dictated by circumstances or whims. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
For years we’ve been telling friends in other states that we’d one day do Atlanta’s Dragon Con, one of the largest conventions in America that isn’t in California or New York. We’d been in Atlanta, but we hadn’t really done Atlanta. Hence this year’s vacation, in which we aimed for a double proficiency in Atlanta tourism and over-the-top Dragon Con goodness. Before we went to D*C, there was the road trip to get there, and the good times to be had before the great times at the big show.
Before we left Georgia, Anne wanted to see one more mountain. We’d already seen a mountain, but it wasn’t enough. It had a historical significance, a Visitors Center, and a road leading relatively close to the top, presumably for a scenic vantage point and for some value-added historical markers or whatever. Best of all, unlike that other mountain, access appeared to be free. We figured why not. We wouldn’t have time to explore the entire park or the surrounding tie-ins, but a drive to the mountain and possibly a jaunt up its access road seemed doable. How hard can it be to go up a mountain these days?
After a stop for donuts, our final planned Georgia attraction wasn’t far away — Kennesaw Mountain, slightly northwest of Atlanta. Apparently it comprises a Big Kennesaw and a Little Kennesaw Mountain, though we weren’t really given reason to distinguish the two. Once upon a time in June 1864 it was the scene of the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s final frontal assault against the Confederate forces before he and the Union’s Military Division of the Mississippi worked their way around and onward toward their headlining march through Atlanta and beyond into the rest of Georgia. As Sherman himself would write three months earlier, “All that has gone before is mere Skirmishing — The War now begins…”
The route was simple enough, though we found it odd that their Visitors Center had an overflow lot, according to a sign preceding it. Also curious to us were the many walkers and joggers heading up and down the sidewalks. Not merely tourists, but clearly exercisers wearing the appropriate gear, not so many in frumpy road-trip wear like us. We’re used to seeing a few joggers at parks of all kinds, but here the health-conscious appeared to be the overwhelming majority. To be fair, it made fiscal sense — if you’re in a position to avail yourself of the workout advantages of long trails and heights, Kennesaw Mountain’s free admission and zero super-sized Confederate monuments versus Stone Mountain State Park’s $20 admission and one super-sized Confederate monument seems like no contest, except perhaps to the minority of joggers we’d seen around Stone Mountain for their own reasons.
We pressed on and found the Visitors Center as well as a cordoned side road next to it. We did a full lap around the parking lot. All 82 of their standard parking spaces were full, thanks presumably in no small part to all the locals who’d driven up and hogged them all for their morning constitutionals, at the expense of convenience to any actual tourists on their first visit to the area.
A bit put off but trying not to let it upset us yet, we resigned ourselves to backtracking to the overflow lot, passing more joggers on the way — some working out alone, several traveling in social packs.
A couple hundred other cars were already in the overflow, therefore relegating us toward the way, way back. We parked, walked back to the entrance, walked back up the road we’d just driven, and reached the Visitors Center a few blocks away. Their website lists the overflow lot as being 1/10 of a mile away, which is accurate from the as-the-crow-flies measurement standard, but the footpaths were more than triple that. Inside the Center, the extremely friendly gentleman at the front desk gave us a copy of the park’s official brochure map and touted Kennesaw as the busiest park in all of Georgia. And that’s all he offered, which offhand seemed plenty. Also inside, a series of exhibits offered a small Civil War museum of sorts for value-added context.
The mini-museum was fine, but the mountain would be our feature presentation. We dutifully walked the blocks back to the car, sweating more than we’d expected to on this theoretically short stop, and drove toward the Visitors Center and the mountain access road that should’ve been not far down the street from it.
A few blocks later, no road. I allowed that perhaps the map wasn’t to scale and kept going.
A few miles later, we started seeing stoplights and strip malls. At last the curtains of denial lifted from my eyes and I agreed with the now-hectoring voices in my head that I’d gone too far.
We drove back toward the Visitors Center, closely examining every turnoff on the correct side of the road in hopes of identifying Kennesaw Mountain Drive as labeled on the map.
Soon we were all the way back at the Visitors Center. We pulled up into its still-packed lot. We looked more closely at the previously noted “side road” and realized that was, in fact, Kennesaw Mountain Drive — i.e., the only way up. Metal gates in front of it were shut, with a minimal sign indicating the road was closed this day. The signage offered no explanation why. We gnashed our teeth, groused about the time wasted, and made our way to the interstate that would take us out of Georgia.
Not until later, by which I mean “the very night I’m compiling this entry”, did I happen to delve more deeply into the brochure map and find the fine print. Kennesaw Mountain Drive is open to all cars on weekdays. On weekends, travelers are required to take a shuttle up the Drive for a nominal fee. The happy helper at the front desk hadn’t mentioned any of that to us, not a single attempt to upsell us on that service or make us aware of its existence or necessity. It wasn’t the first time we missed out on key sightseeing because nobody told us in advance about a mandatory tour bus, but that doesn’t make the letdown any less aggravating in the moment or less disappointing in hindsight.
If nothing else, at least our limited Kennesaw experience gave us an excuse to exercise more and work off our donut calories, thanks to all those privileged joggers.
To be continued!
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