The Georgia coast might not be the first place that comes to mind for a quick motorcycle ride from Atlanta. But with only a weekend to spare, my husband and I wanted somewhere that we could ride to, within a few hours of our home in North Atlanta. With its rich history, live oaks draped with Spanish moss, and remote barrier islands, the Georgia coast sounded like a perfect ride and destination.
Wanting to avoid the summer vacation crowds, we decide to take this short trip in mid-May, but we quickly realize that there probably aren't any crowds in the remote areas we visit. Very early on a Friday morning, we load up our Harley and take off, skirting Atlanta's crowded expressways and opting instead for side roads to take us toward Savannah. Along the way we pass through many quaint towns, including Braselton, Winder, Watkinsville, Social Circle, and Eatonton, most of which barely have a Main Street and a gas station or two. About 80 miles from Savannah, we hop on I-16 and then take I-95 South, exiting toward Darien. We had decided to avoid the touristy towns of Savannah, Brunswick, and Jekyll Island. Consequently, we encounter very little traffic during the entire trip. But the real bonus of this spring ride is the sweet aroma of the wild honeysuckle - something cycle riders can easily take for granted, but most car riders never even experience.
With only a little pre-planning, we had rented a perfect cottage near Darien - one bedroom, with a fully equipped small kitchen and a back porch. The owners had stocked the kitchen with a variety of lettuce grown in their greenhouse. And if that wasn't enough of a lure, the cottage came with the use of two bicycles, kayaks, a rope swing, and an abundance of hummingbirds sipping from feeders!
We stop to unload the bike and then immediately head to Harris Neck Wildlife Preserve, just about 20 miles north. We travel along quiet two-lane roads bordered by palmetto and huge oaks, their Spanish moss dripping. This Preserve was established in 1962 by transfer of federal lands formerly managed by the Federal Aviation Administration as a WWII Army airfield. Parts of the old airfield are still visible on the ride. In the summer, thousands of egrets and herons nest in the swamps - in the winter, many ducks (especially mallards, gadwall, and teal) gather in the marshland and freshwater pools. Chosen for its accessibility and bird diversity, Harris Neck is one of 18 sites forming the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
Although our expedition starts off a bit cloudy, it clears just as we enter the Preserve. At the first pull-off, a path leads us toward a small lake with a few islands scattered in the still water. The amazing part, though, is not the beauty of the scenery, but rather the sound - hundreds of birds, from the almost extinct wood storks to egrets and herons dot the small islands, hooting and squawking uproariously. There are dozens and dozens of various birds roosting on top of trees out on the islands. This provides an excellent photo op, even for the novice photographer. Near the marshy edge of the pond, lazing in the shallow water, are many small alligators. Ducks and turtles also abound. Watching the great birds soar through the clear blue sky is breathtaking. The four-mile drive around the Preserve is just perfect for a slow cycle ride, observing wildlife and nature in its prime.
Other interesting sights in this area include the Smallest Church in America, just off highway 17. You really can't miss the sign, and it's worth a quick stop to see this little gem that seats only a dozen or so worshipers. Another inriguing sight is Fort King George, in Darien, which is the oldest English fort remaining on the Georgia coast. Based on old records, this fort was reconstructed for public tours.