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Getaways For Grownups

By Hope S. Philbrick

Twin City, Georgia is home to a picturesque, otherworldly setting and fun paddling challenge. Plus some sweet cottages. All inside a Georgia State Park.

One of my favorite things about my adopted home state of Georgia is that it’s packed with surprises; there’s rich ecological diversity, which can feel like a surprise is lurking around most every turn.

One of my standard observations—people who know me well may get tired of hearing this—is that in the U.S. Midwest (where I was born and raised) you can drive ten hours in any direction and still be looking at cornfields, but in the Southeast you can drive three hours in any direction and pass through several different environments. Three hours from Atlanta, I can be in the Blue Ridge Mountains or on the Atlantic Coast! Not that there’s anything wrong with corn, but to me peaks and waves are way more exciting reasons for a road trip.

There are also places so unexpected and different the best descriptor is “otherworldly.” George L. Smith State Park has one such spot: Mill Pond. As I stepped onto the boat dock before the planned kayak trip and got my first good look around, it seemed as though I’d stepped onto the Jurassic Park set. I would not have been at all surprised if a dinosaur had lumbered out from behind a tree—oh wait, there are alligators, so yeah, it’s possible.

Wesley Hendley operates Mill Pond Kayak, offering guided paddles through ten miles of black water trails. He has one of the world’s best jobs, especially since his “office” is the Mill Pond which can accurately be described as “serene” and “tranquil.” He makes the trip easy for guests, providing the kayaks, paddles, floatation vests, instructions and leading the way. He also takes outstanding photos throughout the trip that he’ll share with you afterwards; though I’ve never dressed up for kayaking before, his photos are so great that next time I plan to gussy up. [After seeing the photos my husband said, “I want to go there!” We will make that happen!]

Kayaking Mill Pond is simultaneously easy and challenging. The water is smooth, there’s no current or tide to worry about, and almost no other boat traffic. If you’re somehow separated from the group (which is unlikely), it would be hard to actually get lost: “It’s a pond,” says Wesley. “So you can paddle to shore and then along the shoreline in any one direction and eventually will end up back at the dock.” The challenge is maneuvering between all the cypress trees. It feels sort of like pinball-ing around and you’re the ball. Some squeezes are tight; to fit you may need to lift the paddle over your head and swing it parallel with the kayak. As Wesley points out early on, you want to avoid hitting a tree because that may inadvertently anger a swarm of wasps or a wolf spider as big as your hand. I didn’t need to be told twice not to whack a tree with the paddle.

Even within the pond thick with cypress trees, there are niches with different lighting, different moods, different tree density. The pace of the trip is as relaxed as you want it to be, so you can take your time and be careful not to hit a tree as well as appreciate the surrounding natural wonders. To paddle Mill Pond is to glide on smooth black water under towering trees. Turtles line up on fallen branches. A white ibis nests overhead. As we get closer, she scolds and fusses from the nest she’s protecting. Shadows play on water, light juts between branches.

With each passing minute, the list of projects on my to-do list seems less overwhelming. If that’s not the goal of a getaway, what is?