A person’s experience in Gatlinburg depends on who they are with and what time of year they go. You can have vastly different trips based upon these two factors.
Wait. There is a third factor. Your Gatlinburg vacation can also depend on how much money you are willing to spend. Or not spend. There can be a great deal of difference between $0 and $5….MUCH greater than the literal five dollars. Don’t get tripped up in this math. Move on.
I was nine. We were going to travel to Gatlinburg the week after Christmas and we would be there on my ninth birthday. I was naive enough to think the planning of the trip had something to do with my birthday when in fact it did not. It was Christmas break, Missy. Get over yourself.
We drove up in a 1980 Buick Century. It was a 9 hour drive from Tallahassee. Unlike today’s spoiled brats (I’m including my own offspring in this…let’s not judge each other), the greatest technology we had was to twist the knob on the radio until a non-country station tuned in. The two songs I remember hearing over and over AND OVER were Sara by Fleetwood Mac and Longer by Dan Fogelberg. Longer was Number 1 on the charts. Fortunately, I loved both of these tunes and was pleased as punch to listen to them 159 times in 5 days. When that got old, we could try to make gassy noises with our arm pits. That was always a blast.
We stayed in a Best Western in downtown, located right above a quaint little babbling brook. I thought I was in the best place on earth. Truly. And as if it weren’t perfect enough, God sent snow. And one gangly little girl with hair like a worn-out Brillo pad was ecstatic beyond words.
Actually, we did manage to find words. They were deep and meaningful words. It’s snowing! It’s snowing! Can we go play in it? It’s snowing! Can we go? Please? Can we sled? We drove our parents crazy begging to get out on this beautiful snow while it was fresh and clean. And we begged them for some equipment. We needed something to slide down a mountain on.
How about a snow disc? Or a sled? A toboggan? Even a cookie sheet?
The parents on this story…shall we call them Spike and Fran…convinced us that there was a much better way to experience a snowy mountain.
A free way.
It was called pull discarded cardboard boxes out of the dumpster and make your own sleds. My brother and I were too dumb to know all the reasons why this was a scientific FAIL. We were too inexperienced to successfully argue for anything else. And we were too broke to step in and buy our own snow disc. We had no choice but to accept Plan B.
We drove around the outskirts of Gatlinburg looking for a hill that was clear enough for sledding but that wouldn’t empty out onto a road. There are a lot of spots that would be nothing shy of an Instant Death by Sledding. We didn’t want that. When we found our hill, we parked our car, pulled our Dumpster Board out of the trunk and began the long trek up a steep, snowy hill.
The farther from the road we got, the quieter it became. The trees and snow formed a silent blanket around us as we climbed. Our shoes and voices clamored against this hush that somehow it seemed we were violating.
Finally, we were at what we declared to be the top.
This was it.
We were going to sled to the bottom from here. Standing at the top, peering down on our path to glory, was my 9-year-old self, my brother, and my dad. My mother was waiting at the bottom. For what, I didn’t know.
Because it was my birthday, I was “allowed” to go first. At the time, I deemed this to be a winning lottery ticket. Now I believe it was a devious setup. Either way, it was my turn. I was first. And it was time.
I placed my Dumpster Board about 10 feet from where I planned to begin and then I climbed back up to the starting block. This was going to be T-O-T-A-L-L-Y awesome (insert strange accent). I had it pictured in my head as something that would someday wind up on Extreme Sports on the someday ESPN.
It was going to be that good.
I flashed a confident grin at my dad and brother. They smiled back at me and gave me the thumbs-up. Did they know? And then I took a running start. I whizzed toward that cardboard like I was being chased by hungry vampires…vampires that have never heard of Twilight and don’t have babies with shirtless werewolves. And at just the right moment, I leapt–sailing past birch trees, maple trees, and maybe even a couple of chestnuts–to land on the Dumpster Board.
My angle and velocity were stellar.
My landing was flawless.
I had decided at the last possible second to go for a head-first landing, so I could careen through the trees on my belly, directing the cardboard with my outstretched arms.
So I landed there on my belly.
And I went down that mountain–on my belly.
And as you might have already predicted, if your scientific prowess is greater than a 9-year-old’s, the cardboard stayed behind. It didn’t move even a little tiny bit. It sustained the blow of my scrawny little body and promptly sent me on my way.
Because wet cardboard doesn’t slide.
So I went all the way down that mountain on my stomach gathering snow in my pants as I went. Well, Stinkadoodle. Who’s brilliant idea was THIS? I’m pretty sure it wasn’t mine. When I arrived at the bottom, my mother greeted me by clapping with joy. Somehow she didn’t read the expression on my face. This wasn’t a lack of fiber in my diet. I was mad. And I stood up and threw the rowdiest temper tantrum I could possibly muster with the energy I had left.
Completely soaked, I had so much snow in my pants I looked like I was waiting in line for gastric bypass surgery. It was horrifying.
I don’t remember anything else about that day except that fateful trip down SnowPants Mountain. I don’t remember if my dad and brother braved their way down, too, or if I ever went back up. I do remember crying. A lot. Over cardboard. And my wet underpants.
There’s a reason they don’t make snow discs out of paper products.
And I remember we went pretty much straight to a store to spend $5 on a snow disc.
Made of plastic.
That one worked a whole lot better.
$5 made all the difference between Kill me and ROCK ON. Think about that the next time you pull an old UPS box out of the trash while on vacation.