This month I had the amazing opportunity to embark on my first ever trip to the Smoky Mountains with my family– all planned within the week prior. It was one of those “It’s time to get away, let’s go do this,” moments. Plus it checked off a box on my bucket list to visit all the national parks in the United States (barely started).
So I looked up cabin rentals on Google – found a solid one with American Patriot Getaways (highly recommend them, can’t praise them enough), booked it, and off we went.
The game plan was to break up the trip by spending the night in Birmingham on the way to Gatlinburg. This was about a 5 hour journey and approximately half way for us. Instead, we made it to Meridian, Mississippi – a whopping hour and a half away.
To be fair, we got a pretty late start. Then we decided to stop and eat dinner at Olive Garden – which took way longer than expected and spiraled downhill quickly with three toddlers (one of them kept trying to poke the lady in the booth behind us). Then we had some sort of inexplicable oil-like film all over our windshield that resisted all our efforts to clean it off with water so we had to stop and buy some Windex. All the while, my son fell deeper and deeper into the clutches of a vicious stomach bug.
I had a minor stomach bug the prior week which consisted of a little bit of an upset stomach and a mild fever that passed pretty quickly. He hadn’t got it yet, so I thought hey no big deal, he’ll be fine by morning.
Instead, he woke up in the hotel pasty white and covered with sweat from fever. We immediately laid hands on him in prayer, doled out the Tylenol, and decided to book it to Birmingham – where they’ve got fantastic hospitals. He fell asleep in the car, only to shoot up like a spring a couple of hours later, smiling, talking, and ready to go without a hint of illness on his face.
We were all very relieved. “He must’ve had it a little worse than I did,” thought I in a bout of foolish naivety.
In any case, after hours and hours in a dreadfully looooong journey, we finally made it to Gatlinburg. I suddenly found myself having to drive up very steep hills in heavily wooded territory, in a terrifying quest for a cabin that our GPS wouldn’t register. At night. In the rain. And fog. Keep in mind that we were coming from South Louisiana, where a speed bump is about the biggest incline we ever have to drive over.
The view of our cabin slipping into sight through the haze must’ve have been at least a slight taste of what the Israelites felt when they first laid eyes on the Promised Land. Wearily trekking inside, we were met by a radio blaring Christian worship music. How’s that for faithful deliverance through a long journey?
We set off bright and early for a breakfast of pancakes and a trip to Smoky Mountain National Park. About this time, my wife started mentioned that she wasn’t feeling well. “Uh oh, not good,” I thought, remembering that she had the previous stomach bug. The sneaky suspicion that we were dealing with something new entirely crossed my mind, though I did my best to surpass it.
Anyhow, we headed into the park and were immediately met by God’s glory. It was absolutely stunning – even in February. All the rain magnified the streams and runoffs, so that there were dozens of extra water falls tumbling over the protruding rock faces. Every yard we went produced more and more beauty.
In stark contrast to this, however, my pregnant wife’s health rapidly deteriorated by the minute. When it was time to stop for a break and go check out a little stream, all she could do was feebly watch from the car – the color drained from her face. I offered to take her back but she (amazing trooper that she is), insisted we at least drive to Newfound Gap – the shorter of the two main routes and a beautiful highpoint view.
The whole time she kept saying to me, “I’m scared for you. You always get sickness worse than we do. You’re gonna die.”
“Meh, I’ll be fine.” I thought.
We went back to the cabin early and she slept most of the afternoon. The next day she woke up and declared, “I’ve been healed!”
“Did the baby come out?” Asked Sawyer.
That day we decided to set out to see Cave’s Cove – which has got to be one of the most beautiful drives in the country, as you meander along a rushing stream before you’re kicked out into a valley which is riddled with wildlife in the surrounding woods.
“Deer butt!” yelled Vivi when she looked out the window and spotted a fluffy tail.
The day culminated in an evening with the Grandparents – who had coincidentally and quite separately planned a camping trip the same week in North Carolina and were only an hour and a half away. They treated us all to a special rodeo show at “Dolly Partin’s Stampede.” It was the final touch one of the greatest days of my life – until about 4 o’clock in the morning.
“Oooouuuuagggghhh!!” I barely made it to the toilet in time before the powerful eruption of vomit spewed out of my mouth, propelled by a violent force that sucked in my ribs and pulled the contents of my gut up and out in a steady stream. Again, and again it struck, till I collapsed over the toilet seat, panting and pale.
My stomach churned with searing pain. My temperature skyrocketed up to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This was the day that we were supposed to drive home. It soon became quite apparent that this was not going to happen.
I promptly called the cabins and informed them that we loved their place so much that we would need to stay an extra night.
My wife (trooper) then went for a day in the park with the Grandparents while I curled up in bed to wait the thing out. I drifted in and out of a restless coma, praying for healing and reflecting on the trip so far.
I thought about all the stops in the restaurants on the way, regretting how aggravated I had gotten attempting to chase my toddlers around, expecting them to behave like adults. Now don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important for them to learn how to act in a restaurant. But that’s just it – they aren’t born with good table manners – they need to learn them. Anyhow, all I could think of now, was how badly I wanted them all there beside me.
Thankfully, the worst of the virus was gone by morning and we somehow made the entire trip back to Gatlinburg in one day, thus ending a very eventful camping trip. Not only did I get to check something off the bucket list, but we built important family memories along the way. On top of that, I got to experience God’s beauty first hand while learning a little something about patience and endurance.
“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” (Eccleasiastes 7:8-9 ESV)
– Nicolas C. Day