The words no one wants to hear from one’s GPS: “In a quarter of a mile, prepare to park your car and walk to your destination.” Especially not when you know you’re a good hike away from your destination.
And yet, those were our instructions after we’d driven over six hours to our cabin destination in the Smoky Mountains. Few trips come without challenges, and this would be the primary one we faced on this particular trip. Fortunately, our experienced rental agent anticipated this. She had forwarded personalized directions from where the main road ended and where the side road and driveway to our elusive cabin began. We’d printed them at her request and packed them along with us.
The color-coded directions, typed in 14-point text of black, bold black, blue, red and with portions highlighted in yellow, covered two-and-one half pages and read like the instructions of the classic Candyland board game. Challenge accepted.
Instead of passing through Candy Hearts and the Peppermint Stick Forest, though, we were on the lookout for a “meadow with a tan wooden fence on the left.” Then, “At the end of the fence, pass House #895 with stone pillars and a gate. There are bamboo trees just past the driveway.”
The directions cautioned that we would, in .2 miles, reach a fork in the road, which will have turned to gravel by this point. No Gingerbread Plum Trees or Crooked Old Peanut Brittle Houses. Instead, a warning that if we traveled straight, then, “You will come to a fork with two ‘No Trespassing’ signs.’ This is not the right way.”
Guess we can forget about the Rainbow Trail shortcuts and Mountain Passes through Gumdrop Mountains, we thought. No Lollipop Woods or Ice Cream Floats for us. Instead, our instructions alluded to yellow caution signs, a Christmas tree and a green power box.
Our Home Sweet Home for the long weekend was aptly dubbed, “The Hilltop,” and by following the specific instructions, we made it. Sort of. We made it to within a few yards of the home before our vehicle succumbed to the ridiculously steep, soft-sand-and-fine-gravel driveway.
In all fairness, the directions warned of the challenges of mountain driving: “IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are not used to driving mountain roads, you will find this to be a new experience.” Why, yes, that does stand to reason. But, I can think of so many more appropriate phrases to describe the act of driving on mountain roads other than “a new experience.” A daunting experience, perhaps. A frightening experience. An unpleasurable necessity to reaching the cabin. Challenging, but you can do it. Anything but “a new experience.”
Another suggestion hinted at the benefits of arriving during the day: “If possible, try to arrive before dark as there are no street lights. It is much easier to find the cabin in the daylight.” This was not necessarily an issue for us, as once we were stuck in the driveway, our headlights were at an angle that perfectly illuminated the cabin.
Tired and spent from the drive, we decided to haul our luggage from there and to deal with the situation in the morning, assuming the vehicle’s tires were in deep enough to keep it from sliding off the hill through the night.
The following morning, we awoke to the payoff for our struggle to reach the cabin: breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains. Also, the vehicle remained where we’d abandoned it the previous evening, and we were able to slowly back it down the hill to a makeshift landing that allowed us to turn around and to safely return to the main road. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled about having to travel up and down that challenging hillside every time we went into town, we were, at least, much more successful on each subsequent attempt at reaching “The Hilltop.”
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)