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By Nancy Clanton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Madison Grey for (CNT) City News and Talk #atlanta-ga

Not everyone headed to the beaches during the pandemic, however

It was a long summer.

Technically, the season lasted the three months it always has; but for many people it felt like years because of coronavirus isolation.

Cabin fever affects many people, whether their “cabin” is a two bedroom condo in Midtown or a five bedroom house in Milton. So the longing to get out and do something — anything — is natural.

ExploreGeorgians hit the road for a ‘sense of normalcy’ during the pandemic

Although many metro Atlantans headed to the beach, not everyone dreamed of sand and sea.

“We don’t do birthday parties,” Ashley Altman said, “but we usually take vacation trips for our kids’ birthdays.”

The coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on three excursions, however, “so we decided to take the leap and did an all-in-one trip for all the kids’ birthdays,” she said.

So Altman and her husband, James, loaded daughter Lilliana and sons Blaze and Gauge into the car and headed from North Georgia to Alabama.

Alabama Safari Park is just 3½ hours from Atlanta and gave the Altmans an opportunity to interact with nature while staying socially distanced from others.

Although much of the safari was feeding the animals from the car, the Altmans exited their metal cocoon to get the most out of their adventure.

“We went through the park two times,” Ashley Altman said. “You can get out and pet the giraffes, goats, kangaroos — all the animals. You can be right there, face to face with the zebras, ostrich and so many.”

Although they aren’t as worried about the coronavirus as they once were, she said, “we avoided people and used sanitizer. We brought our own food and were pretty self-sufficient.”

Renye Newman Finch said she felt the same when she took son Chase Todd to the Georgia mountains for the first time.

“I wasn’t really worried about the coronavirus, considering we were going in the mountains,” she said. “We were unplugged, just enjoying life, nature, and mom and son memories made for a lifetime.”

That doesn’t mean they weren’t aware and taking precautions when necessary.

“We never once went out to eat,” she said, “but when we did go out in public we wore masks and I wore gloves. And the moment we got in the car — hand sanitizer. And after we got back to the cabin — hand washing. I also sprayed Lysol on the car seats, steering wheel and door handles, just trying to be safe as possible without scaring my son,” who has Down syndrome.

Finch said she usually took Chase to Disney World for vacation, but recently moved to Griffin from Daytona Beach and “wanted him to see the beauty Georgia has to offer.”

“We had such an amazing time in the mountains,” she said. “My son got to see things he’s never seen — even a friendly bear walked up to the porch, and his face was priceless. He went horse riding for the first time in his life, and although he’s never been around them before he walked right up got on that horse like he’d done it his entire life. The beauty of the fresh air and views every morning and evening — again priceless.”

While in Blairsville, Finch and Chase dropped in on the fairies at Sleepy Hollow. “He loved it because of Disney; it’s something he knew, and we felt very comfortable,” Finch said.

They then took their adventure to Helen, where they walked around town, and to Blood Mountain, which is the highest peak on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and the sixth tallest mountain in Georgia.

“I honestly wish we could have stayed longer,” Finch said, “but we’re going back in October so he can see the fall leaves in the mountains. I can’t wait to see his face on the next trip.”

The Bavaria-inspired town of Helen was also the destination for Lori Matthews and her family.

The Lawrenceville residents had planned to rent a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains, but decided to stay in the state instead.

Matthews and her husband, Jeff, are essential workers and are used to dealing with the pandemic, but they still took precautions.

“I made sure to bring Clorox wipes, masks, gloves, etc. with us,” Lori Matthews said. “We wore masks while in crowded places (indoors), and some of the restaurants performed temperature checks prior to entering. One restaurant sprayed us with sanitizer after we passed the temp checks.”

Most of their activities were outside, she said, so she, her husband, son Jeff Matthews Jr., daughter Alexandria Welch, and granddaughters Teagan and Harper Welch could let down their guard a bit.

“We hiked to the highest point in Georgia (Brasstown Bald), and the kids went down the Chattahoochee (tubing) and rode the alpine roller coaster (at Georgia Mountain Coaster),” said Lori Matthews, who spent some time swimming and shopping. “I was never uncomfortable, although I was quite shocked at how crowded Helen was during the weekend during a pandemic.”

The coronavirus situation is ever-changing and not likely to be resolved soon, experts say. As the weather turns colder, people will be forced inside, which could lead to greater cabin fever.

If you decide to get away, the best practice is to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently and maintain a safe distance from people not in your household. It’s also a good idea to call ahead to confirm openings and other information when planning a trip.

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