We desperately needed a vacation! My husband and I had spent three and a half years apart while he served in the Army and the last year was especially stressful. Unfortunately, he lost his team in Afghanistan due to an IED and just a few short months later his mother passed away unexpectedly. Due to these difficult times I had to quit my job because my employer just didn’t understand how completely impossible it would have been for me to work while my husband was home on an emergency leave for a death in the family. As you can probably imagine, by the time he returned home for good in December we were beyond ready for a relaxing vacation.
Originally, my heart was set on a cruise. It was so cold at our home in Kentucky and a beautiful, tropical trip sounded like the perfect cup of tea. The more we thought about it, the cruise just seemed like a bad idea. We figured it would be loud and full of people and just not the type of relaxation we needed at the time. So, instead we both agreed on finding a secluded cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee and enjoy finally being together…quietly.
I searched for days trying to find the perfect cabin for us. One with a Smoky Mountain view, but not too far from town. A cabin secluded, but not miles from the nearest neighbor. After many days of researching I found a beautiful cabin through Cabins USA just a mile or two off of the parkway but still in the actual mountains. I immediately booked the first five day spot that I saw available in late December and was so relieved to have gotten that out of the way. I figured the hard part was over and all that was left was to pack the bags. Well, God laughed at that and decided the hardest part was yet to come.
On December 31 our tires rolled out of the driveway early in the morning southbound towards Tennessee for our first and much needed vacation. It was beautiful and the forecast was sunny all week; it was going to be great. The seven hour drive there was smooth sailing. We took our time and made a long stop in Nashville and was able to check in at the Cabins USA office in Pigeon Forge around seven o’clock that evening. Upon check-in the grumpy teenager smacking on her gum behind the desk handed us directions to the cabin, which I noticed included a completely different address than what I had entered into the GPS based upon the address that their website had given me. I am terrible at reading directions, so I drove distracted by all the pretty flashing signs and gaudy still-displayed Christmas lights while my husband is pointing and giving commands from a piece of paper on where to turn.
We finally get to our road off the parkway and start driving up this mountain to our cabin that is supposedly a couple miles from the parkway. Yeah, right. The directions were absolutely awful, it is pitch black outside, the road is narrow and looks like it was paved by a snake, and huge trucks are flying towards us down the mountain causing quite a few close calls and pee-in-your-pants moments. So, how was I handling all of this? Oh, just great, and by great I mean I had stopped the car and was on the borderline of a panic attack while crying and yelling at my husband for reading off the worst written directions I have ever seen.
Somehow or another I was able to pull myself together and find our cabin that was probably a good ten or twelve miles from the parkway. The outside of the cabin was exactly as pictured on the website, except they didn’t include in the photograph the drunk neighbors fifty feet away blaring Latino music and clearly having a fiesta. Thankfully, we were unable to hear the crazy locals from inside. Again, the inside was just as pictured and was absolutely beautiful. It did smell slightly like sausage, but we weren’t complaining. However, the smell did make us hungry.
We ventured back out into the darkness to head into town and prayed some restaurant was still open so close to midnight. By the time we reached town, traffic was getting heavier and roads were blocked off. Police were everywhere. What in the heck is going on. now? I’ll tell you what was going on. My genius self didn’t even realize that it was New Year’s Eve and we just drove into a full blown parade. The good news is, there were definitely plenty of restaurants still open! We ordered take out from Texas Roadhouse and high-tailed it back to our cabin. Did I mention that we are not crowd-type people?
I felt so bad. We thought for sure that it being Winter and cold out nobody in their right mind would be out walking the strip of Gatlinburg and we would be able to comfortably enjoy the city. Evidently, there were a whole slew of people besides us not in their right minds. After seeing the huge crowd of tourists we decided that staying in the cabin with the hot tub and jacuzzi was what we needed to do for the next few days, anyways.
The next day we went to the nearest Kroger in Pigeon Forge and got some groceries just in case we didn’t feel like getting out to go eat or shop on some days. We brought the groceries back to the cabin and felt like braving it in town to get lunch. We went to a restaurant that looked fun and laid back called Dick’s Last Resort. It was a little busy and loud in there, but where wasn’t busy? We were seated in just a matter of minutes to quickly discover this was not your typical family friendly restaurant. We were seated at a table with complete strangers who happened to be a recently married couple that could not have been any weirder if they tried. We were also unaware of the fact that the staff at this eatery were paid to harass and be mean to their customers. At first, it was a little unsettling, but we soon realized it was acceptable to blow off some of our steam by being rude to our waiter who thought we were just joking about his creepy beard and ugly hippie pants. In fact, it was encouraged! All the while we were forced to wear hats that looked like condoms with a personalized message from our waiter that we weren’t allowed to see. I laughed all throughout lunch as my husband’s hat read “Beer makes my farts wet” and he had no idea! On the other hand, he was laughing at me because I unknowingly had “I strip dance at Walmart for food stamps” displayed on my hat.
We stayed in Gatlinburg after lunch until later in the evening forcing through the crowds and mumbling obscenities under our breath until we couldn’t bare it anymore. We found a local gym so that my husband could relax the best way he knew how before heading back to the cabin. Then, out of nowhere before his workout was over… snow. I’m not talking about a flurry here in there. I am talking I can’t see ten feet in front of me. We wrapped up gym time early to try to make it back before the roads got bad.
Just getting to our road off the parkway probably took an hour because the visibility was, well, there was no visibility. A Suburban was in front of our car going up towards our cabin, so I thought it was a good thing in case we got stuck they could maybe use their four wheel drive to get us out. The further we get up the mountain, the harder it starts snowing. The ground is covered and we were sliding everywhere. Finally, the Suburban struggled to get up a large incline. A convoy of vehicles has formed at this point, and we all know that everybody is just trying to get back to their cabins before it gets any worse. Little known fact: just because you have four wheel drive in your Suburban, does NOT mean you know how to use it. These poor people in the truck are from Florida and speak absolutely no English whatsoever. So they just stop, and everybody behind them had no choice but to stop and turn our cars off, too because they are blocking the narrow road.
At this point, we are just confused about what to do. There was nothing we could do. Luckily, a lady that lived in one of the houses on the road came and informed us that if we could move our cars to the side of the road, then a snow plow would be coming through shortly and hopefully it would help us. This was music to our ears. Everybody except the Suburban (they couldn’t understand they were being asked to move) managed to move their vehicles so that the snow plow could make it through. All we had to do was wait. And wait. And wait. After a couple hours of waiting this sweet lady had come back to give at least ten or more vehicles hot chocolate while we waited. Some people decided they weren’t waiting anymore and tried to make it on their own up the mountain in what has turned into a blizzard. Sure enough, vehicles were in ditches and the Suburban had been slammed into more times than they could count. The snow plow comes through after hours of my husband and I singing karaoke in the car and wrongfully laughing (and admittedly video taping for YouTube) the insane amount of people piling out of this Suburban acting fools and making a spectacle of themselves.
Did the snow plow work the first time it came through? Of course not. It didn’t help the roads the second or third time it came through, either. After six hours in our car on the side of the road, we were getting kind of hungry. Buying groceries to take to the cabin was a super brilliant idea in the event of this ‘mostly sunny with a high of 45 degrees’ out-of-nowhere snow storm, except we can’t get to our dang groceries! We considered walking to the cabin, but the snow wasn’t letting up and it was dark and about three miles away. We couldn’t turn around and go back down the mountain to find a hotel because of all the other vehicles backed up. We accepted the fact we were sleeping in the car just like everybody else was beginning to do.
Once I stopped crying and being beyond disappointed that our first vacation had gone horribly wrong in a matter of hours, we were able to get as comfortable as two people six foot and six foot five inches tall are able to get in a compact car. After an hour or so of trying to sleep and failing miserably, a truck with snow chains on the tires that had been driving up and down the mountain had stopped at our car and asked if we wanted to leave our car parked and them take us to our cabin. Any other time I would be a crazy, paranoid lady assuming they were psycho serial killers, but there was a bottle of wine, a frozen pizza, and a jacuzzi calling my name at the cabin! Thank goodness these were genuinely nice people just trying to help us all out, and not trying to kidnap me. They were able to get us to our cabin in just a few minutes and I don’t know if I’ve ever told somebody thank you so many times in my life.
The bad part about parking the car three miles from our cabin, was having to wake up the next morning and walk down the mountain in the freezing cold and snow to get back to the car and just hope that the roads were clear enough to make it back to park. I thought it would be fun to walk in the pretty snow with my husband (remember, he’s a physically fit soldier) to go get the car. My poor husband had to hear me complain and slip and fall for three miles to our car. We barely got the car back to the cabin and right then and there we decided we were staying in the cabin until the snow melted or our vacation was over, whichever came first. We spent the next few days snowed in our cabin driving each other absolutely crazy and loving every bit of it.
We had never been so ready to return to our boring, sleepy town in Kentucky. We had a wonderful road trip back home with no problems at all and even stopped in Nashville again for a nice lunch. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful, but I must say if we go again it will have to be in the summer where we can enjoy the outdoors instead of what felt like a winter apocalypse. After that trip we hoped we never saw snow again. But, God laughed at that, too and we had a snow storm back home in Kentucky the day after we returned from vacation. Hey, when it snows…it pours.