Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Mountaintop Experience

It was a literal mountain. Thought I should mention that up front to clear up any confusion you may have as you picture some ethereal, spiritually symbolic experience. Our journey started in Peoria, IL, as my mother, mother in law, baby girls and I set out to meet up with Ken in South Carolina. He had taken our belonging down to our new home four days earlier and we left on Sunday afternoon to join him. Our hopes with leaving later in the afternoon was so the girls would be tired and sleep most of the first day in the car.
It was a mildly successful thought, the girls were tired and did sleep for a good way of the first day...into the night until around 10:00pm Kalei woke up with all the highway lights shining in her face and was mad. It started with a few frustrated grunts and cries, and then, as she kept having the amber colored roadside lights flashing in on her face, she grew to an outraged scream. Soon, she was so worked up that no amount of soothing words from the 'memas' could comfort her and she was eventually reduced to a coughing, choking, crying mess by the time we found a hotel and pulled into the parking lot.
We ended the first day 45 minutes shy of our goal, not too bad. The hotel room was a welcomed sight and soon we were all asleep.
Map of the Smoky Mountain National Park.
The second day started well enough with breakfast at a Cracker Barrel, and for the whole morning we made great time. Such great time that we decided to take a scenic route through the mountains. As a child my parents had driven through the Smoky Mountains National Park and so my mother and I decided we would like to see it again. So I texted Ken that we would be taking a scenic way and wouldn't make it that night, but would find a hotel after making it through the mountains.
First we drove through the touristy towns of Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg before reaching the park itself. Those three towns stressed me out, there were people and tourist traps everywhere, the streets were packed and I could hardly wait to put them behind me.
Then up, up, and up the mountains. The scenery was beautiful and the sun was shining down through the trees onto the road, making it feel almost magical as we ascended the heights. Then, as we neared the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, I started to notice a bit of smoke coming from our van. No lights were indicating a problem on the dash, but I still stopped at the next pull off area at the side of the narrow mountain roads.
View from Clingman's Dome, we didn't quite reach Clingman's Dome, bummer.
As I looked under the van to see where the smoke was coming from my heart skipped a beat when I saw liquid pouring from under the van. It was red which I knew to be transmission fluid, and that is when I had this really surreal feeling. Stuck at the top of the mountains with car trouble, I could be living in a movie, it was such a predictable scenario.
Then I checked my phone, no reception, no signal, ugh. None of our phones could get reception, and none of the other people at the pull off had reception. At that point I sat in the driver's seat again and my mom took one look at my face. She came over and held me as I had my mini melt down. I cried silently for about 2 minutes and then I pulled it back together. My mother said we needed to pray for a good Samaritan to help us, and a second later two men from Scotland came up and asked if they could help.
Coincidence, I think not.
They offered to take one of us adults to the top of the mountain to get a cell phone signal and call for help, while one of them would stay with the van. I had a new 20 gauge shot gun under the back seat, so I felt fine with the one sticking close to the van. I felt horrible about waiting to see which Grandma would be brave and go up the mountain. My mom volunteered first, but my mother in law talked herself into the role, so my mother in law went up the mountain to call for help. The man who stayed behind with us kept his distance from us and the van to make us feel more at ease and in a bit the SUV came back with the other Scot and the mother in law, safe and sound.
At the top of the mountain she had called 911 and told them our location, just shy of the summit known as Clingman's Dome near the road construction on the Tennessee side of the mountain.
So we waited. More wonderful people stopped and checked on us and offered to help, but for the most part there was nothing anyone could do. One couple stayed with us until help finally came, and another pair of biker couples were so stirred up that no help had come after 2 hrs that they went down the mountain to their camp and raised a stir with the park rangers to get them into action. Soon after that the ranger showed up, was rude, called for a tow truck from Sevierville and then stuck around just long enough to make sure our babies had water and food. Then the biker husbands came back up with their truck to check to see that the rangers had come and waited with us until finally after another hour the tow truck showed up.
From where we were stranded, this was our view
as we watched the sun set.
Despite our circumstances it was beautiful.
As we parted from the wonderful people who had stayed with us to the end I was all tears and thank you's. The sun was almost completely down and my girls were exhausted after having some bread and water for dinner.
As the tow truck driver loaded the van up he said that Ford Windstars are notorious for having this issue with their transmissions. He predicted that it was a bearing on the transmission that went bad and caused a hose in the transmission to leak as it wore out. He said our van was not the first he has towed off the mountain because the wear of the climb on the transmission was too much for one of those bearings that was already going bad. Sigh.
So he towed us down, and the cab of his truck fit all four of us adults and two babies miraculously. On the way down I got motion sick and then finally he took us to a hotel where we unloaded as much as we could out of the van. We rented the biggest room the hotel had and then he towed our van to the repair shop about a half mile from the hotel.
We spent the next three days in that hotel room with no car and two babies. It was a long stay, but thankfully my mother in law had a friend who lived close to where we were stranded and so she came over and stayed with us and kept us company. We also used her car and the local trolley system to run errands and see around the tourist town of Sevierville. I only rode the trolleys once and ended up so car sick I was in bed the rest of the day.
Still, it was a pretty decent stay for having been stranded. We (the memas and me and Sandy the local friend) played a lot of scrabble and meme Kathy bought the girls some legos which kept them mostly happy.
Then finally it was time to go pick up the van and we made the rest of our way to South Carolina, arriving just in time for dinner Thursday night.
Wow, it was the longest scenic route I had ever taken, hahaha! There were plenty of other funny stories from the experience, but that would only be funny if told in person, so ask me about it sometime and you will get the whole thing then.
It is such an amazing thing to me still how it all happened and worked out that day on the mountain. Even now it feels as though it could have been one of those funny scenes from a movie like 'Planes, trains and automobiles', or 'Tommy Boy', involving those road trip mishaps. My very own comedy which I am just now able to laugh about, because at the time, it was not funny.
Since I am able to laugh about it now though, I hope if made you laugh a bit too.

1 comment:

Swires Family said...

Thanks for sharing you version of a mountain top experience:) glad you guys are here