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Times reporter takes her first trip through a favorite North Georgia pastime
Times reporter Brandee A. Thomas experienced a North Georgia corn maze for the first time. Despite a few panicky moments and a bit of disorientation, she managed to make it through the maze without running straight through the stalks. - photo by John Preston

I’m from South Georgia where fall is far less exciting than it is here.

Back home, the only "leaf" watching that I did was noting with disdain when the pine needles turned from green to brown, which meant it was time to pull out the rake.

And it wasn’t until I moved to this area in 2008 that I ever heard of a corn maze. Although they never crossed my radar growing up, I’ve discovered that in North Georgia, these things are a pretty big deal.

After writing a few stories about them, I decided that it was time to check one out for myself.

Here’s something else you may not know about me — I get lost very easily. Even with a set of written directions, somehow I still end up making a wrong turn or two.

Knowing how poor my navigational skills are, I decided it would be wise to not go it alone, so I talked my friend John Preston into going with me up to the corn maze at Jaemor Farms in Alto.

John was a strategic choice. He’s done a corn maze before and he has the added advantage of being taller than me, so he could see over some of the towering stalks of corn.

Although some folks like the challenge of wandering through the maze at night with a flashlight, that wasn’t going to work for me. I freak out easily, so I needed as much light as possible.

We arrived at around 5 p.m. Saturday with plenty of sunshine to spare.

Ordinarily, I detest pulling up to places and seeing the parking lot spilling over with cars, but not that day. I was more than happy to pull into the overflow parking area on the grass. More cars equals more bodies and more people to ask for help in the very likely scenario that I got lost.

Since John had never eaten boiled peanuts before — his west Georgia childhood was apparently even more deprived than my Southern one — we made a side trip into the farmer’s market to pick up a steaming bag of the salty treats.

After a pit stop to pick up our wristbands and activity booklet — Jaemor’s corn maze has hidden trivia stations — we were on our way.

"Don’t worry, in an honest to God emergency, you could just run through the corn to get out," John said jokingly, but I stored that tidbit away as good advice.

At first, things were good. There were peanuts to eat and jokes to crack. Then it happened.

We came to a fork in the maze and I could no longer see through the corn. Suddenly it felt like the walls were closing in on me and my heart started racing.

Although I was feeling slightly panicked, I didn’t want it to show on my face because I knew that John would never let me live it down. Just before the beads of sweat escaped my hairline and started streaming down my forehead, a family of four approached the fork from our left.

"Heads we go left, tails we go right," the dad said before flipping a coin.

"Genius," I thought.

Why hadn’t I thought of such a low-stress strategy? Despite not having a plan of action other than bulldozing the thick patches of corn to find my way to freedom, seeing other folks helped to soothe my nerves and we continued on our maize-shadowed path.

"I want to go this way because it feels counter-intuitive," John said as we reached another fork, "so it’s probably right."

Clearly he was a man with a plan, which made me happy since I was so turned around it wasn’t even funny.

Some kids near the observation deck in the middle of the maze helped to lighten the mood when one of them said, "Red Robin" and the others correctly and humorously replied with, "Yum."

About 20 minutes into the maze I noticed that the sun was starting to dip down again and you guessed it. I panicked.

In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t handle suspense, or scenarios that remotely remind me of scary movie plots, very well.

"Don’t worry. There’s plenty of sunlight left," John, the apparent voice of reason, said.

"We’re going to hang on to this right wall until it breaks. Then we’re going to go left."

And just like that, I saw the big, red barn where we’d gotten our tickets. A kid behind us summed up my feelings perfectly, "I never thought we were gonna get out of there."

Victory never felt so good. Take that you 8-acre corn maze with your dead-end fake outs and sneaky twists and turns.

"Oh wow, they’re shooting apples at a bus," John said when he noticed the apple cannon to our left as we exited the maze.

While he was excited about smashing apples on a big, yellow bus that carried children to and from school in a former life, I was more enthusiastic about the scent that tickled my nose. Funnel cake.

Those oversized, fried treats have been my favorite ever since I got my first taste as a kid at the Blessing of the Fleet in Darien, which is about 20 minutes north of my hometown.

Although the powdered sugar that’s dusted liberally on top of the fried cake creates a heck of a mess, the crispy goodness is more than worth it. As we sat down to recap our experience in the maze, John said something that almost made me leave him right there in Alto.

"When you said, ‘I think we’re going the wrong way,’ I knew we were headed in the right direction," he said smugly.

If he hadn’t been right, he would’ve gotten left. The only thing I could do was roll my eyes and steal the last bite of the funnel cake we were splitting.

After taking our turn at the apple cannon, which I admit was a great way to relieve stress, we decided to end our day with a hay ride.

Despite my mini-panic attacks, the corn maze was good times. There was tasty food, random fun and I may have even learned a thing or two.

Slowly but surely, I’m becoming a true-blue North Georgian. I can’t wait to see what adventure comes across my path next.