Summer Guide - Summer Road Trip: Hitting the outdoors on MARTA

Camping, kayaking, and hiking with a few rides on Atlanta public transit

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Photo credit: Clay Duda
NEARLY REMOTE: At times floating the Chattahoochee River can feel like wilderness … minus the skyscraper in the distance.

It took nearly as long for the green-line train to pick us up at the King Memorial MARTA station as it did to drop us at the Bankhead station out west. This is where Noah and I would start, spending most of the afternoon trekking the oft-overlooked and partially overgrown southwest segment of the Beltline. Over the next day and a half we would walk more than the length of downtown, kayak down the Chattahoochee in rough waters, camp behind a 100-year-old house, and rub elbows on the rooftop of a high-end hotel — and we’d do it all using public transit.

After a minor detour (we got lost trying to shortcut down some active railroad tracks) we finally found the Beltline crossing Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. During our roughly three-hour hike we only saw one person, a homeless man sitting on top of a red shopping cart.

The path dead-ended on the edge of Adair Park a few blocks from where we’d be spending the night. We had a spot in the yard at a hostel we’d reserved through Tim Ogletree, the 39-year-old owner, started renting rooms in his house after leaving a job in IT last year. Now he has three houses, and managing them is a full-time job.

We grabbed a bag of buns and some hot dogs from the Save-A-Lot on Metropolitan Parkway and starting poking around nearby yards for firewood. Luckily, a house just up the street had a heft of bundled yard debris that proved ample fodder until the Tecates took their toll late that night.

“You guys are actually camping?” Maran Banta, 59, asked. Her and her husband, Dave, were in the process of transitioning back to city life after a stint in Kennesaw. “I swear, when we lived in the suburbs I don’t think I had a single conversation with a person I didn’t know that wasn’t paid to talk to me.”

City camping has some benefits. In the morning we were afforded a hot shower and sink to brush our teeth. An idling freight train had crossed our path to get back to the West End station from our campsite. This being an adventure, we climbed over it and, by 10 a.m., were headed north on MARTA.

Atlanta’s public transit doesn’t always make things easy. To get to one of the Shoot the Hooch locations, a company that rents river gear, you have two choices — both by bus. During the week you can catch Route 148 from the Medical Center station and get dropped within spitting distance of Powers Island, one of the “put in” locations. But on the weekend, the only viable option is to hop on Route 12 out of the Midtown station. This drops you on Cobb Parkway near the finishing point of Paces Mill. From there, provided you have reservations, you can climb aboard one of the Shoot the Hooch shuttle buses to any of the launch points up stream.

You never realize the girth of I-285 until you float beneath. But for slices of time on the Chattahoochee you can almost forget you’re floating along the edge of one of the countries biggest metropolises. Mallards waded in calm water near the shore, a crane pecked for fish, and logs marred with the marks of beaver teeth collected in inlets and side streams.

If you’re brave enough to bring your backpacking gear along you can catch the bus straight back to Midtown when you finish, or opt to take shuttle back to the start and fetch your things. Back in town I stepped off the train at Peachtree Center and headed west toward Centennial Olympic Park. After a night on the ground, drinking my weight in beer, and spending the better part of the day paddling down stream, I was utterly exhausted. Using my pack as a pillow, I kicked back on a grassy knoll amid wandering bands of tourists and read a long-winded account of a writer’s attempt to hitchhike to Texas and join Black Flag. Rested, there’s just one more stop to make along Marietta Street.

I don’t think backpackers are the Glenn Hotel’s core demographic, but its rooftop bar is worth the scornful glares hiding behind martini glasses. As I looked out over the skyline, I was reminded how often I take this city for granted. In the past 36 hours I had managed to transverse the spectrum, from roughneck camping to imbibing at a ritzy hotel. Now all that was left to make it back home. As I crossed the expanse of I-20, humanity’s footprint again gleaned its beastly head, but at least I can take solace in knowing my next outdoor adventure is just a train ride away.

Editor’s note: Shoot the Hooch doesn’t open to the public until Memorial Day weekend, so we had to call in a favor to make this happen by press time.