When my children were young finances were much tighter than at this time of my life. One of the priorities agreed upon between my wife and me was vacation time with our boys. One of those vacations was a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. Being from Georgia we booked a room in Cherokee, North Carolina. After having spent a day or so seeing the sights in Cherokee we set out on a trip over the mountain through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
What should have only been a scenic drive of only an hour or so turned out to be a trying journey that my sons love to recall and laugh about to this day.
Our car had begun to have overheating problems after arriving in Cherokee. After having it checked at a local service center we decided to try to cross the mountain in order to see the mountain vistas and eat and shop in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Things seemed to be going fine and soon we were making turn after curving turn and began to make the ascent up the Cherokee side of the mountain.
Traveling up the mountain, singing along with our young sons to the cassette tape of Disney tunes was simplistic family fun. Matt, our younger son of about five years age, had picked out the tape and we started playing it as we set off on our day trip. Soon we were singing along with silly songs like “I’m My Own Grandpa” and “Little Bonnie Foo Foo” and laughing with childish joy. Then the overheating warning light came on.
As the engine in our car began overheating, we sought out every overlook pull-off that we could find. We would read the signs with information at each splendid vista; walk the trails and look out over the beautiful valleys below trying to identify landmarks from earlier trips we had made. This would allow the engine to cool down and then we were off again hoping to reach the mountain’s peak so we would be able to make it down to the other side of the park.
After numerous stops and worsening auto conditions as the mountainous road became more and more steep, we eventually had to abandon plans and turn around. Going back down the mountain was no problem. Before long we all began laughing at the several hours long journey we had made and had only gone a little more than half way up the mountain. Our oldest son, Marc, about eleven at that time, said we had seen more on our ill-fated trip than we usually got to see due to having to stop so often. This caused us to laugh even more.
A trip that had started with great excitement that turned to frustration ended as a laughing, happy time for our family of four. Now a quarter of a century later they remember and laugh about the trip when we were unable to cross the mountain.
-Donald R. Sansbury, 2013