Life is good in the hills, too

  • Monday, May 19, 2014

The camp was a wonder to behold. PROVIDED

Photos

Lord knows I am a sandlapper, both a come ya and a been ya. But when the call for slanted ground comes, I think of my sister Carolina where I lived for over a quarter of a century.

Nestled in the foothills of Stokes County, North Carolina is my beloved mountain, Sauratown Mountain – specifically Hanging Rock. Many a morning, I would head out to run errands only to be distracted by the blue-black shadow at the fork in the road. Minutes later, I would be lying flat on a cliff overhang near the falls.

Hanging Rock State Park hosts waterfalls, hiking trails, vistas and tundra that take the breath away, a pristine lake with sandy “beachfront,” cabins, campground, canoeing and fishing. A stone's throw away and you could be zip lining, Dan River tubing or horseback riding. It is often tag-lined, “The mountain away from the mountains,” in comparison to the looming silhouette of Blue Ridge Parkway in the distance.

A country mile or two down Highway 66, you can taste award-winning wines and view phenomenal art at Germanton Art Gallery and Winery.

Don't leave the area without a step back in time at Priddy's General Store in Danbury. The store has been in operation for nearly a century. Pop a Cheerwine bottle top and rock in the rocking chairs on the porch or pull out the checkerboard for a slow game. Don't miss the laid-back bluegrass picking on Friday nights. Buy yourself an RC Cola and a Moon Pie and drive a quarter mile to the Danbury to watch the old man Dan River slip over the rocks and bends at Danbury State Park.

All this and more hidden in the side-by-side sleepy little towns of Danbury, Germanton and Walnut Cove. All are located off of North Carolina Route 66 – not the infamous 66, but I can't imagine a stretch worthier to be included. Towns where vegetables are left on colored tablecloths by farmers with a sign that says, “Take some, leave some.”

If you want to pick up the pace a tad, a short drive north you have Pilot Mountain and Mount Airy – Andy Griffith's proposed Mayberry and hometown. A 30-minute ride east and you are walking the centuries-old cobblestone streets of Old Salem, the historic Moravian village in Winston-Salem.

Don and I lived in the valley of Walnut Cove 10 minutes from that summit before moving back to Charleston almost four years ago. We returned this past fall to go zip lining at Carolina Zip-Line Canopy tours. It was bittersweet pulling into our old hometown. We fell quiet as both of us dealt with an inconsolable loss of sorts. It subsided as we drove those familiar switchback turns off of Highway 66. Majestic poplars in gold and crimson canopied above and spread petals as a flower girl would for our arrival.

Rubbernecking the beautiful drop-offs and deep vallies, we almost missed the dirt drive at Nickell Farm Road. We were greeted first by the bleating goats and clucking chickens in their barnyard near a centuries-old stable house. A rocky clay path led us to the Welcome Center of Carolina Zip-Lines Canopy Tour. Before we got to the door, we heard a noise that sounded like a huge bee was coming through the trees right at us. Overhead, a zip liner whizzed by to land on the platform.

We were warmly greeted inside by owner Keith Bollman who told me that Barbara would be down in a bit. We went through instructions, harnessing and greetings with the other zippers.

Barbara Bollman came in and welcomed us with a broad beautiful smile and the hug of a neighbor. Keith and Barbara are equally jovial and fun. Their love for each other and the life and lives that they have created in these hills is evident. The Bollmans have 12 children and scores of grands.

Barbara gave me the backyard tour, excitedly telling me of their plans for the zip-line and property.

Lea McQuinn and Seth Boyette were our tour leaders. We felt confident with their expertise and knew we were going to have a good time. The two had a rapport that kept the entire gang giggling with them all morning; they're practical jokers as well.

Safety and instruction were thorough, but not so elongated that you felt you spent your morning in monotonous orientation. In minutes, we were headed to the trees. It was a nice uphill hike through dense leaf paths to our starting point. A couple of the Bollman family dogs guided as well, but their curiosity had them deserting us minutes in. Once in the trees and platforms, we talked with our new friends while awaiting our turn to zip.

What an awesome feeling as we glided through the canopies. Lea tells us that many times they have glided alongside deer in the valley by the creek. It is just beautiful and the zips aren't so fast that you can't enjoy the loveliness of the slide show. The finale of our zip was a two-cabled race to the bottom. Lea radioed in to Keith and he skipped out to come catch. There is always a guide at the other end to keep your face from splatting against a tree. Lea and I raced down on side-by-side cables over the valley. I think she let me win.

We dropped our safety belts and said our goodbyes. As we left, another group was coming in; they searched our faces for gestures of experience – like we do when the crowd lets out of a movie we are going to see.

My husband and I both enjoyed the zip-line tour and the crew immensely. I have new friends there. In Barbara's words, “Zip-lines Canopy Tour was constructed by Universal Zip-line Technologies (UZT) who builds worldwide from the USA, Canada and throughout South America. UZT also inspects, certifies and provides guide safety training. These standards follow ACCT standards and certifications. Our guides are the best in the industry. Not only do they have hours of training and safety, they are also the most enjoyable people to be around. You will feel safe and secure, not to mention having the time of your life with our staff, your friends and family. You will also make new friends on your tour that sometimes go beyond your two-hour experience as you exchange pictures, videos and memories with each other.”

I am excited to say that many of the plans that Keith and Barbara anticipated for the Carolina Zip-Lines Canopy Tour are coming to fruition. There are hiking trails being built and disc golf courses.

Oh, they now have helmets with cameras on them and the SD card is included in your tour! Oh, let's see; new accommodations are coming. Tepees! Yes, stay the night in a tepee on the property or, if the comfort of a bed in a century-old home on site is more your cup of tea, you can saunter right on over after your zip-line tour to the bed and breakfast in their previous home.

Life is good in the trees.

And contrary to popular belief, piddlin' is not always leisure time. Piddlin' can be anything from bush-hogging a field to snapping a bushel basket of green beans on the front porch. Visit Renae Brabham's website at www.renaebrabham.com.

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