Those of us who live here in the Keys certainly know how to deal with the “receiving” end of tourism. We’re expert (for the most part) at showing visitors a good time and helping them enjoy our local environment and attractions.

I believe that this makes us knowledgeable about how to be good visitors as well. And with the COVID pandemic still simmering, there’s never been a better time than now to be both a socially responsible host and traveler. I’ve always loved traveling, but since the shutdown, there’s been precious little of that. We decided it was possible to take our lessons of isolation and social distancing on the road. 

Sarah and I decided to get off the rock for a change of scenery. Seeing as we wanted to travel and be socially distant, a drive-to location made the most sense. Although it’s a 15-hour-plus trip, a mountainside cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia fit the bill. We could drive, fuel and remain socially distant while enjoying totally different scenery.

An added attraction was the ability to get together with old friends who have remained socially distant in their homes since the shutdown began. It was so good to see Regina and Matamba Austin … as well as old Keys friends Dusty and Linda Durst (Key of Sea Music, Marathon, back in the 1980s). And if we’d known beforehand just how close Glenn and Connie and Patty and Joe were … that’s going to happen on the next visit!

I’m not sure there’s a better getaway for island folk than a summer mountain destination. The temperatures were blissfully cool without ever venturing into cold territory. Humidity was perfect. We had a mountain view from our cabin’s deck — that deck was the site of everything from morning coffee to afternoon cribbage to evening cocktails. It’s a bit amusing — Sarah and I play cribbage on our porch in the Keys looking out at palm trees. We just drove to a new porch and looked at some different trees!

Human neighbors were few, isolated and quiet. The deer were even more silent, although we did see a few of them. The bears stayed invisible, although I hear they do things in the woods. Night birds and coyotes particularly liked our evening singing, at times joining in.

We all only went out for one meal, a breakfast at a great country diner in Blairsville. Between the well-equipped kitchen and our charcoal grill, we (mostly me) were able to cook and keep our crew fat and happy. 

Daytime attractions included experiencing the local scenery by hiking some beautiful trails. Nature trails deep in the mountain woods are about as socially distant as a person can get. One afternoon, Dusty and Linda took all of us in their luxurious conversion van on a trip up an old Forest Service road alongside a really picturesque mountain stream. We would occasionally run into others enjoying the great outdoors … way more than six feet away! Whether hiking, trout fishing, or just enjoying the mountain air, everyone was just happy to be out in the mountains. 

Anyway, our trip was proof that travel in the COVID era can be successfully accomplished. Wherever we went, people were nearly always courteous and mindful of social distancing requirements. Even in areas where they weren’t mandated, most people wore masks. And more importantly, everyone’s attitude was great. It made for easy and safe traveling.

No matter how wonderful and beautiful a vacation destination is, there is still nothing better than returning home to the Keys. We live in one of the finest places on the planet, and every time I cross the Jewfish Creek Bridge (even the new one) in the southbound lane and touch down in the islands, I know I’m home. And there really is no place like home. 

– Catch John Wednesdays at Herbie’s, Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing, this Friday and Saturday at Boondocks (Friday still on Facebook Live, 7:30 p.m.)! Music on Amazon, Apple, iTunes, Spotify, and more. www.facebook.com/john.bartus

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