The first time I went to Atlanta, I didn’t stray outside the city limits except for an eventful stint in Smyrna 30 minutes away. My goal for the 4th of July weekend was to explore some of Georgia’s national parks and bodies of water. I heard that Sweetwater Creek State Park, Vickery Creek and the Chattahoochee River were gorgeous, but it was nice to confirm that myself. You don’t have to journey for hours to see them; thirty minutes to an hour at most. You definitely need to drive, which is foreign to a New Yorker who walks most places. Fortunately, my friend Stephanie has a car, and we set aside two days to vibe in nature.

I stayed in an Air B n B on Vedado Way close to Midtown. It was a black house that was hard to spot on the rainy evening I arrived. The entrance was at the end of a driveway that looked ominous, but was completely safe. I worried about a washout based on the forecast, but the sun was out most of the five days. The Air B n B, with its tasteful decor and stylish furniture, allowed me to walk to Piedmont Park, The Beltline and shops, bars and restaurants. I couldn’t have chosen a better location.

Photo by Spencer Jones

Even as a visitor, I could see how much Atlanta changed. Gentrification was pervasive and unmistakable. The existing houses and other structures that were once dilapidated underwent extensive renovation. New apartment complexes overlooking The Beltline and Piedmont Park would surely be out of the price range of most when completed. The only way to shoulder the cost of living would be to get roommates or look outside the Atlanta metro area. This is a common narrative in just about every major US city.

All that aside, Atlanta is proud to be Black. There are nods to The Culture everywhere you look. Martin Luther King Jr’s childhood home is on Auburn Avenue. Clark, Morehouse and Spelman are celebrated HBCUs. There are murals of George Floyd, DMX and Colin Kaepernick. A wall along The Beltline says “Black Lives Matter” with names of police brutality victims written between the letters. For me, supporting Black-owned businesses was a priority. I took a spin class at Vibe Ride in Midtown one morning, and pole danced at The Secret Garden in West Atlanta. I enjoyed a “Hollywood Hooker,” a vegan spin on the Philly cheesesteak from Slutty Vegan. And I was so impressed by Fin and Feather with its tasty food, strong drinks and trap music that I patronized them twice.

Photo by Spencer Jones

The energy of Atlanta is infectious, but it was nice to offset that with a trek through nature. We changed our original plan because it can be dangerous being out in the wilderness if the sky opens up. But we still got a great sweat. The thigh-burning inclines recalled Gros Piton in St. Lucia, which Stephanie and I climbed in May. The foliage blocked out most of the sun, but did little to counter the humidity, so staying hydrated was very important. Whenever I tripped on an exposed tree root, Stephanie, who is an EMT said, “Careful. I’m not working today!”

It wasn’t just go, go, go. We couldn’t abide that. The woods were the perfect space for peaceful contemplation and observation without commentary. The long periods of silence might be strange for others, but it was normal for us. At Vickery Creek and Sweetwater, I reclined on the rocky shoals as the rushing water nearly lulled me to sleep. Stephanie was having her own Zen moment nearby, and I tried not to bother her, except to take photos. I needed proof that I was actually out and about!

The Chattahoochee is a magnificent river and the flow was calm the day we went. This time it was three of us. Stephanie’s friend brought a kayak, tubes and ropes to tie them together. Lazily we floated along, sipping wine spritzers, snacking and singing (at least, I was trying to). People in other tubes drank beer and played music, and a kind man sitting on a deck nearby gave out free hot dogs. There were rare alligator sightings in the past, but they avoided our section of the river, thankfully. The only wildlife we saw were birds, fish and a few turtles.

As for the actual 4th of July? Well, that’s not my independence day, but I didn’t pass up the chance to chow down on some Southern food. I hadn’t eaten meat in two weeks, but I had to make one exception. I don’t know who exactly did the cooking, but they put their whole foot in that beef brisket, the greens and that pecan pie. And the fried pickles? Pure decadence. A glass of sweet tea, which I have yet to try, would have been a bonus. I’ll have it next time.