Friday, September 6, 2013

Bad Happenings for the Good Girls

Beautiful Blue Ridge and Mercier Orchards
Photo@ Debi Lander

Lynda Thompson in front of her coffee shop, L & L Beanery. 

The next to last morning of our trip began as usual, this time with a divine breakfast at L & L Beanery, a cutesy renovated bank building complete with vault and the most fabulous scones. We sipped cappuccinos' with owner, Lynda Thompson, as she recounted her tale of moving to Blue Ridge.

Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad

The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad Engine

Then we walked over to the 1905 Depot before boarding the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. We browsed around and were up to our typical antics -- posing in engineer and conductor hats. We met the real conductor and an adorable little boy dressed up for his ride on the rails.

Good Girls wear hats.

Judy had been having trouble with swelling in her recently recovered (but formerly broken foot), so once on the train we extended out feet up on the side of the railcar like a lot of other folks.  Except... when Judy's leg slipped down, it popped her hip replacement out of place!  Ouch- she was in trouble, real trouble.

An ambulance had to be called and Judy was assisted off the train. She was in amazingly good spirits throughout the ordeal. Goodness! Off she went to the hospital and I tried not to worry.  I knew she was in expert hands, but this event wasn't on our carefully planned itinerary. We had not included a visit to a hospital.

Decisions were made that I would still ride the train and would catch up with Judy later.

Detour: View from the gurney

EMT's help Judy off the train and to a waiting ambulance. 

Trouble is putting it lightly. Pain too. However, the folks of Blue Ridge Scenic Railway were great as were the EMTs who arrived. Between them, they carried me off the train in a chair and onto the gurney with care.

As they wheeled me along the track to the street, I looked up and saw a full train worth of people hanging out the windows on one side to see what was happening to the woman who had been carried off. It’s a wonder the train didn’t just dump over. It didn’t, though, so I managed a queen wave and rolled on.

A short drive later, I was in the emergency room at Fannin Regional Hospital. X-rays, IV, anesthesia and a lot of TLC later, I came to with no pain and hip back in place. When enough of the meds had worn off, I was allowed to stand up and walk around then leave.

Imagine, two hours after being in agony and unable to stand on both legs I was walking and on my way to lunch at Mercier. Truly miraculous. Consequences could be dealt with later but for now I was back on the road. Hooray.

Back aboard the train

Conductor and Helper
The engine began the chug down 13-miles of rails, a project started by volunteers in 1998. The 45-minute (each way) excursion becomes a generation-bonding adventure. I chose to ride in an open air car along with many grandparents and kids, but could have picked a vintage climate controlled car.
Scenic Views along the train ride. 

Each year more than 70,000 passengers ride the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway alongside the Toccoa River peeking at the waterway and people swimming and drifting along in tubes. The train stops in the twin border towns of McCaysville, Georgia, and Copperhill, Tennessee. Copperhill/McCaysville is one town with two names because it is split by the Georgia/Tennessee State Line. Naturally, I had to have a photo snapped with one foot in each state. Funny how our Georgia road trip ventured into bordering Alabama and Tennessee, too.
Open air car is enjoyed by children- and photographers. 

Most riders spend the two-hour layover eating lunch, shopping for crafts and antiques, snacking on ice cream, or walking around. But, I was met by Jode Hanson from the Convention and Visitor's Bureau and driven to Mercier Orchards for lunch at their restaurant and a tour.
Debi in both Georgia and Tennessee.

Once I was in range of a cell tower, I was relieved to find a text message stating that Judy's hip had been popped back into place- hooray- and she was going to be able to rejoin me. Simply amazing.

Into the Hills and Apple Orchards

Mercier (Mur-SEAR) Orchards was started back in 1943 by Bill and Adele Mercier, and the business is now celebrating its 70th harvest.

Note: Sadly, shortly after our visit, matriarch Miss Adele passed away.

Beyond apples and fresh produce, their onsite store serves up a variety of farm fresh items like jellies and jams, sauces and salsas, kitchen and home paraphernalia, cider, fruit wine, meat and cheese. The bakery, in my opinion, is the best part -- renown for selling over a million and a half of fried hand pies. You can choose among 27 varieties, but I picked a traditional apple pie that tasted like a donut with pie filling in the middle. Too darn good for words!  They also sell a lot of cider donuts.

Fried Hand Pies from Mercier Orchard Bakery

Judy says fresh peaches were used in the outstanding fried peach pie.

After lunch I met up with Tim Mercier, the second generation and current owner, who gave me a jeep tour. Tim explained that he must keep up with the latest methods and technology to produce the best apples and remain competitive. Mercier is now able to grow 1,200 dwarf apple trees per acre. This methodology promotes the most efficient use of sunlight and water, employing trickle tube irrigation when needed.

The farm covers about 300 acres and approximately 200 of those acres are used for fruit production.  About 90 percent of the crop is apples including more than 50 varieties, but their individual picking times vary.  All apples are picked by hand, so it helps that some varieties don't mature until late fall or December.
Tim Mercier in his orchards

I was introduced to the Ginger Gold variety, the first apple of the season. This particular apple is non-browning.  How amazing is that? You can cut them up for pies or applesauce and they won't brown.

The fall is the busiest time of year with "U Pick" your own fruit being a favorite activity.  Busloads of visitors fill the parking lots in October. However, during the spring customers can pick their own strawberries, then cherries or blueberries.

Fruit Wines & Cider
Be sure to visit the farm winery tasting room. Tim explained, “We are now a farm winery and make a hard cider with alcohol content about 5-7 percent. Being a farm winery we can do all kinds of fruit wines like peach wine, blueberry wine and different varieties of apples.

“We also make a sparkling cider. We entered it into ‘The Flavors of Georgia’ contest and won in our category.  We made 150,000 gallons of private-label cider last year."

Picturesque Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Georgia
Photo@Debi Lander

Lots of apples and lots of fun around this family owned operation in the mountains.

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