Georgia’s Underbelly

I have a new job. I start next week, and while anxious about newness in general, I’m psyched and ready for the change of course to come.

I could’ve gone back to Charlotte this week. I could have chilled at my parents’ all week.

Restless for more, I decided to continue #RunningAway with a solitary tour of Georgia’s underbelly.

~ ~ ~

It’s strange, calling a state home for eleven years — my address, my college, my first driver’s license — and feeling no real connection here the entire time. I’ve always felt like some welcomed stranger in Georgia — the clearest Christianese manifestation of living in a world but not living of it.

For years I wrote off the entire state as a redneck- and farm-filled wasteland. Then #RunningTo showed me the charm of Savannah and the breadth of Lake Lanier. Even my new job will introduce me to Georgian portions of that mostly North Carolinian Blue Ridge.

And while I cannot possibly sell the glory that is southern Georgia, I’ve learned to appreciate this entire state for what it is. Simple. Historic. And in some cases — if you look really hard — beautiful.

I kick off my new leg of #RunningAway with a return to Atlanta’s North Point Community Church and coffee with a friend. We gorge on a bountiful breakfast of pancakes and an omelette that looked more mountainous than eggy. I’m wrapping my first draft of that #RunningTo book, and she gives me some invaluable writing insight.

From Atlanta I blaze westward and climb Kennesaw Mountain. I’ve been up and down nearby Stone Mountain a dozen times, but never Kennesaw. I decide this other Atlantan peak needs some love. Along my ascent I find a friend to keep me company.

Kennesaw Mountain

I stay at the summit for a while, admiring faraway Atlanta. I read all the signs about General Sherman ravaging this hapless city.

I descend Kennesaw at sunset, alone, and I pass two shirtless runners before reaching my car — or, rather, they pass me. It is a simple seemingly insignificant moment, but one that burns with me the rest of the night.

It is a snapshot of my heart’s yearning for companionship and how this road trip differs from the last: this road trip of running away from community rather than running to it. I drive into the night.

I fall asleep in my backseat at the rest area on I-20 welcoming me to Alabama.

~ ~ ~

The next day I drive back into Georgia to Carrollton, home to the University of West Georgia and another little school from my past. Each November, Georgia’s state cross-country finals take place here, and I haven’t walked this earth in nearly a decade.

I ran this course three times in my high school career, including my senior year where my team finished third in the entire state. I never garnered much solo accolades as a cross-country runner, never even broke a 20-minute 5K in all the K’s my feet ran in three years.

But standing alongside six teammates to get our bronze medals was memorable. It was special to be part of something when my high school existence was largely spent in shame and seclusion.

I walk the hill that once led me to three finish lines, a hill lined with flags and cheers on all those excitable November Saturdays.

Descending this barren hill today, it is no longer a finish line; now, it’s just another leg in a race that never quite seems to conclude. My breathing grows heavier.

~ ~ ~

I skirt down the Georgia/Alabama border, bouncing between states and time zones, the future and the past. I stop at several parks surrounding West Point Lake, weaving in between the two states and time zones. The water seems to be a general boundary, but sometimes the separating lines on my GPS make no sense, dashing over water and land and dissecting parks and neighborhoods between two states and times.

I had no idea Georgia and Alabama flirted like this. I’d always assumed their connection was straight and easy and not at all convoluted. I’m sure there’s a spiritual/relational lesson about boundaries to be found at West Point. Somewhere.

In any case, that sunset with sailboats was lovely.

West Point Lake

I’m returning to Athens for my 10-year high school reunion this weekend. It’s the last hurrah before I start my job in the Blue Ridge, and I’m certain it will spawn a post or two in the week to come. I have a lot of pre-reunion thoughts and emotions currently pumping through my system. Time to flush it all out soon.

Thanks for a great week, Georgia. It was great seeing this other side of you. It was lonely, but it was needed. A chance to quiet the soul and acquire 97 mosquito bites — one for each sweltering degree Fahrenheit.

  • MLYaksh

    Georgia does seem to have a way of always coming back into one’s life… Welcome back. Again.

  • Marielena

    The photos are breathtaking, Tom, and Georgia eventually DOES have a way of making you like her. I know, having lived there for four years. I’m glad you could take this time to see its beauty and I know you’re going to be wonderful in your new job. Who knows what exciting and beautiful things — or people — are waiting?

  • Rebecka

    Beautiful photos! I’d like to visit Georgia some day, but without getting mosquito bites…

  • Josiah Sobrien