The leisurely tourist pace is easily balanced with all the outdoors activities in Helen. If you’re a parent, you might just need to get out at sunrise to have some rise and grind time to yourself. Maybe amidst all the German leisure you need some physical challenge. Here are some ready-made challenges that you could turn into friendly competition, even if you aren’t an expert in the respective areas.
Encounter the Element (Cold)
Swimming in ice-cold water is a northern European tradition. Lately, the idea of cold exposure as a means of improving the circulatory system—resting heart rate, stress, blood pressure, etc.—has become popular. Maybe you’ve heard of the Ice Man, Wim Hof?
Every year, the Friends of Unicoi host a Polar Plunge into the lake at the end of December to raise money and have fun. Participants take a dip in Smith Lake, a test of will to see who can withstand the cold.
The Polar Plunge will be Saturday, Dec. 29 at 10 p.m. followed by hot chocolate, chili, and other soul-warming treats. It’s just $10 to benefit the park and you’ll feel great . . . afterwards. Won’t those warm fires and shops in Helen be a comfortable anew?
Go to Helenback
The Helenback 5k is another formal challenge you can give yourself. This April race is designed for those seeking extreme challenge, but in a manageable distance (there is also a half marathon and marathon in this race series). Here’s the course description:
“The race begins at the staging area and heads north with 400 feet of vertical climb up a gravel service road into Unicoi State Park. From the top, you’ll see panoramic views of Helen, the Sautee Valley and Yonah Mountain. Follow the Unicoi trail system as it winds its way through the pine, rhododendron and hardwood forest. Parallel the lower section of Smith Creek and get a glimpse of fishermen fly fishing for trout. Continue back down into the valley to the finish for a victory beer and cheer on the marathoners and half marathoners.”
If you are more of a loner, there are too many trails to mention where you can grind out trail miles year round. Try Raven Cliff Falls Trail for around 5 miles total. It would be a great “race you to the falls” then relax and walk back together challenge: the majority of the trail is slightly downhill to the falls and uphill back.
Traction and Reaction
Rent some mountain bikes at Woody’s and visit the specially designed trails at Yonah Preserve. Just 9 miles from downtown Helen, it’s a great place for beginners and intermediates to spin out:
· 1,000 acre of preserve with a lake
· 7 miles of multi-directional trail
· 2 different 3+ mile loops
· More downhill than uphill focused (254’ ascent and 270’ descent on the Creek loop)
· Enough grade, but not too much—2 degree average and 8 degree maximum inclines
· Free access
A Tourist Paddles Through It
You probably see the lazy loungers in their tubes on the Chattahoochee. There is another side to the river and its tributaries. Many whitewater rafters and kayakers got their start at the progressively more exciting rapids between Sautee Creek Bridge and Belton Bridge, as seen here. Charter a paddling trip of your choice out of Cleveland’s Wildwood Outfitters. A beginner will survive any of the sections where they offer trips, but you can certainly find your skill limits and trigger some fight or flight responses.
These are some options for finding your physical challenge in Helen year-round, so now all you need to push yourself to new realms while you’re in town is a little get-up-and-go!