I’m back! Back from vacation that is. Yes, for the first time in too many years, my husband and I packed up more clothes than we could possibly wear in seven days, purchased a new cooler for some soft drinks, loaded up the van with a new atlas and headed out for the open road.
We have realized throughout the years, we are the kind of travelers who must have some sort of destination, or we will just drive and drive and drive — never stopping to enjoy what we come upon along the way. We need somewhere that we have planned to be. Because of this admitted tendency, we made Gatlinburg, Tenn., as our first destination.
Have you been there and to the Great Smoky Mountains? I had not been in that area since I was about 9 years old on a trip with my parents and sister. Then, we packed a tent, food and clothes into my parents’ 1957 Rambler with the fold-down seats and drove to the mountains. Driving in the mountains then was much different than now. Thanks to the wisdom of President Dwight Eisenhower and the fulfillment of his dream of an interstate highway system, in 2014 we buzzed along at 70-plus miles per hour and passed trucks and slow traffic easily.
In 1959, on that family vacation, my dad struggled to pass vehicles, and I am sure, suppressed his annoyance as his travel-mates expressed their need for “pitstops” on a frequent basis. I only remember him mentioning that he had just passed all of those slow vehicles and now he had to make another stop and start the process all over again.
My parents slept on the fold-down seats of that Rambler, and my sister and I braved the elements and slept in the tent. That trip may have contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for camping. Did you now that even in the Smoky Mountains, it gets very chilly at night? And, did you know, that even now, there are black bears in those mountains? We made the discovery of both of those things during that trip.
Gatlinburg and its surrounding area is very beautiful. Dolly Parton and her Dollywood theme park have put the small town of Pigeon Forge on the map as a popular spot for vacationers, too. The Smokies and the friendly atmosphere make this area a special place.
Somewhere in my brain, I may have known that “moonshine” had, through accredited breweries, become legal. I wasn’t prepared for the number of those breweries or the wine-tasting-esk places allowing those over 21 to taste a myriad of flavors of this former home brew. Tasting and sales were brisk.
As I said before, we are the type of travelers who need a destination. We discussed several options and settled on our second destination of Myrtle Beach, S.C. That was a location that neither of us had ever visited and one that had always appealed to us. All of those golf courses advertised in that area may have influenced our decision. Unfortunately our tee time was rained out, but we plan to visit again.
I mentioned that we packed an atlas in our vehicle before the trip. I am a map person. I like the feel of a map in my hands and like studying the map to see what is down the road. I know, these days, maps are becoming a thing of the past, but I am still “old school” when it comes to mapping my way.
Because of my map interest, we make it a point to stop at the visitor center of each new state we enter. We are so fortunate to live in a country where entering a new state is just a sign along the road, no checkpoints required. We happened into Virginia on our travels and a very nice employee explained the coupon books available to us and let us in on the difference in gas prices between Virginia and West Virginia. She was right — the price difference was significant!! Such a sweet lady, full of Southern charm and hospitality.
So, I enjoyed our driving vacation. If you travel southeast, here’s a few travel tips: If you stop in Corbin, Ky., try Bubby’s BBQ for dinner — you’ll be glad you did; if you make it to Gatlinburg, be sure to take the tram up the mountain (your ticket is good for two days); if you are in Pigeon Forge, don’t miss the Old Mill District, it’s a little slice of peace, quiet and the best handmade ice cream you will ever taste; if you visit Myrtle Beach in your travels, be sure your hotel or condo has an ocean view and a balcony; if you drive through the state of Ohio, stop at Canton, the Football Hall of Fame is an interactive experience for both young and old; and finally, pick up a few maps along your way, you’ll be glad you did.
Nita Wyatt of Wyanet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.