Thanksgiving is an incredible holiday intended to be spent with family and friends.  We travel from near and far to spend a day gathered together around a dinner table, expressing our gratitude for the people in our lives and our various blessings.  That night, with stomach’s full of turkey and fixin’s, many Americans hit the hay early so they can be up at the crack of dawn to participate in Mortal Kombat down the aisles of their local Walmart in search of cheap pants and DVD players.  For some of us though, the idea of crowded aisles and stranger’s bickering over the last waffle maker seems more like a nightmare than a time-honored tradition.  Black Friday, for many of us, is a day of hiding.

For years now, my best friend from my days in the Corps has spent Thanksgiving with my wife and me.  What started out of convenience because none of us could afford the trip home for Turkey has become tradition, and although we’ve both gained some weight, grown beards, and pursued different careers, only one thing really has changed.  In our twenties, we would get together in whatever state we were living in at the time, put on our best duds and hit the bars for some serious drinking.  Now that we’re solidly in our thirties, we do most of our drinking in sweat pants, standing around my kitchen.  Believe me when I tell you, it’s much, much better.

I live in a small town in Georgia, just off highway 400 and as far into the woods as the internet will reach.  I have one neighbor, named Grizzly (I’m genuinely not kidding) and I’ve only seen my landlord once since February when I moved in.  For a guy like me, with few expenses and a wife that thankfully keeps me from needing to date, it’s a great situation.  So, imagine my surprise this morning when I came to learn that Black Friday traffic for the outlet malls further up the highway was backed up all the way to my quiet stretch of road.  With our hangovers still buzzing and my wife off to work, we were left with a choice.  We could shelter in place, watch all six Rocky movies again and wait for Black Friday to blow over, or we could head out, turn in the opposite direction of traffic and seek what he and I have both come to consider one of our favorite things of all: a quiet place to have a beer.  I won’t lie to you, we did watch a bit of Rocky, but ultimately we chose what we thought would be the road less traveled… we were wrong.

Amicolola Falls State Park is a thirty-minute drive from my house, so we laced up our old boots, threw some supplies and a six-pack of beer in our packs, and made a break for the tree line.  We knew plenty of people had the day off, but we assumed they would all be busy at Georgia’s many retail outlets, malls and plazas.  We thought Americans were too lazy, too comfortable, and probably still too full from Thanksgiving to be out on the trails.  When we arrived, this is what we found instead:

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Honestly, I’ve never been happier to be disappointed in my life.  Everywhere we went inside the park we were met with droves of parents helping their children charge their way up the countless steps alongside the waterfalls, or teenaged couples holding hands and rolling their eyes as their extended family members, obviously in town for Turkey Day, doted over how cute they were being.  A mile or so into the trail, we ran into an elderly couple, gingerly navigating the rough terrain with walking sticks and wearing fanny packs that likely had more miles on them than my worn out old boots.

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Americans, young and old, were outside on Black Friday enjoying the beauty of Georgia’s state parks.  Moms with toddlers in tow, dads with babies on their shoulders, kids chasing Pokemon, and grandparents snapping pictures.  Amid all the beauty and splendor of Georgia’s woods, the most beautiful part was what I had come to avoid.  I love being wrong about how bad things have gotten.

But we didn’t drive out there for me to wax on idealistic about the state of our nation, and we certainly hadn’t earned our beers yet, so we found the approach for the Appalachian trail that was about fifteen miles north of us and set out in search of the solitude we promised ourselves.

The crowds continued for a few miles, but eventually the trail got a bit too strenuous for a pleasant walk, the parking lot got a bit too far away, and the casual hikers began to taper off.  Eventually we found ourselves surrounded by leafless trees, in utter silence, free from the sounds of the highway, the crowds, and the bargains.  We kept going a bit further until we found a downed tree that would make a good bench, dropped our packs and pulled out three beers.

He and I each drank our beers in silence, with the third left on the log.  Neither of us discussed it, but we knew it was for friends that couldn’t be there.  I’m sure that, in each of our minds, the names attached to that Bud Light were different, but the gratitude, respect, and even regret were understood.

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Neither of us even like Bud Light.

After the break, we put the cans back in our bags and headed back toward civilization.  Tired as I’d become, the hike back was infinitely easier.  All I needed was a that bit of solitude to recharge my batteries.

If you choose to participate in the Black Friday madness, I’m not judging.  We each make our own traditions, and if that’s yours, you have every right to it.  But for my part, I think I’ve found my own Black Friday tradition.  There’s less traffic, more beer, and you can’t beat the soundtrack.