Updated: May 21
Mothers wept, children cheered, and grown men collapsed from exuberant joy as the entire team of Trailheads assembled to attack the Sope Creek via Cochran Shoals Trail (read about a similar journey we took here). Of course, coordinating the hike was challenging because of our cantankerous crew.
The night before, Brad sounded the alarm. The morning weather forecast looked wet. Roy said being the official rain worrier was his role. Trail Master Guy took the mantle of leadership and responded that we'd make the call in the morning. So in the a.m., Steve, Roy, and Patrick gathered at Guy's house in the drizzling rain––precipitation as light as lizard sweat. Roy didn't like the looks of it.
"Rain is not in my contract," he said. "I have a strict no-rain clause." This is true. When Trailheads drafted free agent Roy, we knew of his 'NO WETNESS' policy, but we were desperate for his keen eye, photo-retouching chops, and acerbic wit to round out our team. Plus, he's a fan favorite––"Everybody f-in loves Roy," as he often reminds us. His stats were impressive, but how could we resolve this weather issue? Would this escalate into a nasty legal battle?
Over the ridge, we spied a Brooks Brothers army approaching, armed with dark leather briefcases, cellphones, and an endless supply of billable hours at the ready.
Thinking fast, Guy yanked his iPhone from his pocket and pulled up the radar maps on The Weather Channel app. He showed Roy the green blobs moving across the map of the Atlanta metro area. As the hours of the day progressed, no green blobs would be over our hiking route.
"But what about the drizzling rain right now?" Roy asked. "It doesn't show up on this magic cartoon map."
"It's an anomaly," Guy said. "A digital glitch."
Roy stroked his beard and contemplated the explanation. Perhaps the drizzling rain wasn't real. If you can't trust the Trail Master, who can you trust? Roy raised his arm and waved off his approaching legal team. Our hike was on, and miraculously, the drizzling stopped.
We assembled in the parking lot of Cochran Shoals Trail. The Hooch was high and spirited, showing crests of white water, signaling she meant business. The six Trailheads wore our new tri-blend "Hike The Hooch" tee shirts, arguably more comfortable than human skin (and requiring no sunscreen or dermatology check-ups).
But here's the good part: ALL profits from shirt sales benefit Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy (CNPC) to help support the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA). Come on, friend, get your attractive, distinctive tees here and announce to the world you're an all-natural hero. Let's not be shy.
The temperature was cool for mid-May and overcast—that's perfect hiking conditions in our book. Elvis, Fio, and Nilla led their six two-legged humans down the wide path. Actually, Nilla pulled us down the trails like an Alaskan Malamute sled dog. Though Nilla is a seven-breed mix, that breed is not one of them.
Many other people and dogs also thought it was a good hiking day, leading to numerous stops for discussing dog breeds, Trailheads' history, and our newfound mission of helping the Hooch. But now we're armed with stickers directing folks to this site so they can read trail and barbecue reviews and hopefully buy some attractive swag. Or maybe our stickers just end up in trashcans. Sniff-sniff, where's the Kleenex?
We stayed on the well-maintained paths in the early parts of the hike, suspiciously eyeballing the tall grasses just off the pathway where we feared hungry chiggers and bloodthirsty ticks were ready to ambush unsuspecting flesh.
Then we saw a young man with his three dogs sitting in the wild vegetation like a ready buffet. As he rose and left for the security of the path, we asked him if he didn't fear the tiny bloodthirsty creatures lurking in tall grasses.
"No," he said. "I'm fine." He walked away.
We imagine that man now in bed, a skeleton dressed in taut skin, with bloated chiggers and ticks, enjoying their after-dinner tiny mentholated cigarettes.
He'll learn his lesson as we did. Be cautious and be safe.
We eventually ventured off the wide easy-hiking paths and into the wooded areas and their narrow trails snaking under a canopy of trees. We minded the exposed roots that can send one a-tumbling and ascended the hills to a small-fenced cemetery. We expected the Grim Reaper may be close by, so we moved at a quickened pace.
Our conversational topics were the usual random potpourri of silliness: a few of us had seen this week's Ted Lasso, but Guy had not and threatened to kill anyone disclosing spoilers––many would later dispute this policy as being unfair––where were the lawyers when you need them?
There was a lengthy discussion about the history of peanut butter, then a spirited debate about the best-tasting mayo. Some folks are in the Hellman's camp, while others prefer the bite of Duke's, and one is partial to Blue Plate. Patrick, the food contrarian, hates mayo, as does his wife. He says their home may be the only one in America with no jar of mayo.
Last week, Patrick mentioned he doesn't eat hot dogs. We are wondering if he is an American citizen or a foreign mole. We're keeping a watchful eye on him.
Brad said he is on the Mediterranean diet and showed us his typical lunch plate. We're not sure Brad understands that it's not all you can eat, but he says it's working for him.
George sticks close to a Keto diet, and as the slimmest among us, he may have something there. Guy is also dieting––but doesn't have a fancy name for it.
There was a discussion about ageism and how it is a real danger in the workplace, especially in advertising. Mention an advertisement retirement party and watch people laugh. Unfortunately, these days, it's a similar story in corporate America. When Roy retired at the ripe old age of 58, the ad agency didn't know how to handle it. "No one retires!" they said. "Can't you just quit or let us fire you?"
George told us he's reading Quentin Tarantino's book on the movies that influenced him. QT's mom was a divorcee who dated a movie-loving bartender. Little boy QT hung out at his bar, and the guy took him to all kinds of films, including the blacksploitation films of the era.
Like Bob Dylan with music, Tarantino absorbed every frame of celluloid he consumed. No wonder he is such a seminal filmmaker.
Patrick mentioned he is an avid fan of HBO's "Barry" and loves watching Stephen Root in it. Root is one of the great American character actors best known as playing Milton Waddams, the red Swingline stapler guy, in the classic comedy "Office Space."
That movie featured another terrific character actor, Gary Cole, as Bill Lumbergh. Stars may offer box office appeal, but character actors are the spice that makes any movie tasty. Do you have a favorite character actor? We'd love to know who. Do tell. Come on, dish!
Time flew by, the dogs scampered to the waters, and we decided to begin heading back to the cars. It was lunchtime, baby, and our destination was Jim' N Nick's Bar-B-Q in Smyrna (we visited this establishment once before; read about it here).
The six hikers and three dogs took a table on the beautiful, covered patio. This barbecue joint is swanky. The inside has many booths and tables with chairs, a full bar with TVs, and even indoor plumbing––with those fancy white swirly bowls and everything.
There is even a display where you can buy all your essential Jim' N Nick's provisions. Cripes–– pouches of their famous cheese muffin mix are available in Publix, or you can pick up a case of the packets, spices, or sauces right here!
Our server on the patio was a cheerful young woman named Katrina.
No, not that one…
or that one…
but this one.
When Katina smiled, we were walking on sunshine, especially since it was the first warm sun we'd seen all day. She immediately placed a basket of the cheesy mini muffins on our table, and even the dieting Trailheads surrendered to their savory seduction. Keto and Mediterranean, be damned! We settled in and reviewed the extensive menu.
Jim' N Nick's offers baby back ribs, classic spare ribs, brisket chili, and all your favorite smoked meats. As we gobbled cheesy muffins, we made our game plans for lunch. Katrina brought our drink orders and stood at the ready as we recited our barbecue wish lists for the kitchen. She is a fan of the turkey, by the way.
We had a dozen smoked wings to share as appetizers, and they flew off the platter. The wings were cooked crispy (a must for us) and dressed in a tangy sauce. There was ranch sauce for dipping, and soon our plates were littered with bones. And somewhere, 12 wingless chickens were running about, wondering what the hell happened to their almost useless wings.
George, our ribs expert, and Roy had the baby back ribs. They were flavorful but not as lean as some other babies we sampled. These ribs looked more like spareribs than baby backs, and perhaps they were since the online menu only lists "JNN classic spareribs."
Maybe the printed list is out of date. The diners weren't complaining though; they were too busy eating as Elvis looked on, anticipating with hoping, hungry eyes for scraps the rib boys may leave behind for him.
Guy had the smoked turkey (Katrina's favorite), which he said was very good, and the brisket, which he loved. Jim' N Nick's does an excellent job with its smoked meats. Every bite has a subtle hint of smoke without overpowering the meat.
For adorning your smoked proteins, a sweetly spiced house sauce and vinegar-based Carolina sauce will kick up the jams on everything they touch. Jim' N Nick sure do know their way around a spice rack.
Patrick and Steve made identical orders of pulled pork sandwiches with sides of brisket chili. The pork was first-rate, tender, flavorful, and served on a toasted Martin's potato bun (the good stuff). This sandwich is a winner. The guys went nuts for their chili. The tender brisket is peppered with kidney beans in a thick, delicious, perfectly spiced tomato base. Spoons were flying, shoveling the fare into their open chew holes.
We were fans of all the sides we sampled. The coleslaw is a heavenly combo of shredded crisp cabbage, carrots, and scallions in a balanced sauce of sugar, vinegar, and spices. Slaw aficionado Roy approved of his decision to double down on the slaw. Guy was cuckoo for his baked beans, and Brad gushed props for the collard greens. "They're perfectly cooked and spiced," said Alabama's son.
Patrick picked up the check because he was trying desperately to work his way into heaven (there's some work to do on that goal). He told his dining mates they could get the tip for Katrina. Trailheads rallied and left our excellent server a nice folding gesture of appreciation.
She smiled her infectious smile, and it made our day. As we rode off, Roy was on the phone with his lawyers, requesting them to strengthen his contract's "no rain" clause.
Rating: Four Ribs*
Jim' N Nick's Community Bar-B-Q
4574 South Cobb Dr.
Smyrna, GA 30080
*About Our Barbecue Rating System
Trailheads do not claim to be food experts, epicureans, or sophisticated palettes. We are hungry hikers who attack a selected barbecue venue and ravage our way through whatever smoked fare and fixings they're dishing.
Our reviews feature what we believe are the highlights of the menu we sampled. So our intent is not to trash talk the saintly folks who tend to smoldering smokers on hot, humid summer days. They are sacrificing themselves in the noble art of smoking meats and feeding the drooling masses. Many are independent entrepreneurs who are the backbone of this humming American economy.
Now that you know our standards, you may wonder why every barbecue place gets a four ribs rating. The answer is easy: our group has acclaimed designers, and they think the ribs graphic looks cool.
Who are we to argue? Enjoy.