Move over Mickey; behold the magic and mist of the Smokies

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The last time I was in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I witnessed an accident that resulted in the deaths of a man and woman who were broad-sided by an out-of-control SUV as they were touring the park on their motorcycle.

That horrible scene flashed across my mind when my wife proposed that we hook up with some friends and take a trip to the Smokies this summer. Having learned the hard way that driving along twisting, winding, sloping, narrow, roller-coaster mountain roads is about as treacherous for the uninitiated as a Cajun driving in a snowstorm, I was hesitant.

Besides, the summer wasn’t going so well to that point. The season seemed to be shaping up as a time of loss and disappointment instead of delivering some much-needed rest and relaxation.

First, the United Methodist Conference unilaterally decided against the stated will of our local congregation that the best thing for our fledgling body of believers would be to transfer the pastor who planted the church a few years back. There have been fits and starts and a plethora of pitfalls impeding our progress along the way, and I believed it was premature to send the pastor packing before our roots had grown sufficiently deep to sustain and support the new ministry over the long term. But I guess that was just me.

It didn’t help my mood that our pastor was a young woman who was a member of a youth group I helped lead 20 years ago. Bright, ebullient, and not afraid to get her hands dirty, she had gone through seminary training and associate appointments and had a family of her own when our paths crossed and we became members of the same congregation once again.

It’s a little odd when someone you’ve known as a goofy teenage kid is now dispensing spiritual advice and wisdom to both you and the masses, but it was also in some way a point of pride even though I’m certain she succeeded in spite of any guidance I had to offer during her developmental years.

Then, the actual recordable losses really began piling up when my son’s star-crossed all-star baseball team took the field. Though he was part of a stellar one-loss squad during league play and feeling all all-starry about himself, his good fortune soon faded. A string of character-building post-season setbacks came to an inglorious end when the team slogged through back-to-back, mercy-rule losses at the 9-and-under state finale in Lutcher. Our lads were outscored a collective 33-9 in their last two games – at least we think that was the tally because the overstressed scoreboard light bulbs started burning out.

For my part, I became the baseball parent I abhor the most – a sniveling, second-guessing, gossiping, unsupportive, constantly complaining, conspiracy-conceiving, loud-mouthed, frustrated, self-centered, pool-poisoning wretch. It got so bad that for everyone’s sake I ended up banishing myself to the Siberian plains beyond the outfield fence to watch the bloodbaths.

On top of all this, I was also apprehensive about the Smoky Mountain travel plans because venturing northbound instead of eastbound from our Denham Springs driveway for summer vacation would be far outside my family’s comfort zone. The list of our most recent vacation destinations reads a little something like this:

Gulf Shores beach. Check.

Dauphin Island beach. Check.

Destin beach. Check.

Bass Pro shooting sports department. Check.

Disney. Check. Check. Check. If I could find the symbol for infinity on my keyboard, I’d hit it.

To my surprise and relief, my unease drifted away after we made our trip to east Tennessee with the Lowrey family and everyone in our party of seven returned present or accounted for. Well, there was this one incident, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy about that – okay, the truth is I’m holding it in my back pocket in case I need to cook up an extortion plot down the road.

While vacationing in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area was an exercise in discovery for the Gibsons, since we returned I’m having a hard time conversing with anyone who hasn’t been there. Apparently, I was the only person on the planet who’d never heard of Cade’s Cove.

At any rate, we made the rounds of Dollywood and Splash Country and the National Park and even beheld the beauty of Chattanooga’s Rock City on the way to the mountains. We went white-water rafting and dropped buckets of cash at some of the entertainment attractions and spent some chill time watching the sunset perched on the back porch of our bucolic cabin nestled along the foothills several miles away from the tourist strip.

But I’d say my personal highlight was the ziplining experience. I’ve piloted airplanes, jumped out of airplanes, flown in hot-air balloons and hurtled across the sky in other ways, but ziplining ranks right up there.

Our resident trip planner and friend Jodi Lowrey arranged for us to fly the friendly skies with an outfit called Legacy Mountain. The only ziplining I’d ever done was in someone’s backyard, and there’s a local service near my home. But this wasn’t that.

This was whipping through the winds 400 feet above the ground, from mountaintop to mountaintop over the forest canopy below at speeds of 50 mph and covering 4.5 miles in seven stations. Pretty cool stuff for a south Louisiana flatlander.

After a week in Pigeon Forge, we realized we had barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. Looks like I’ll soon be searching for that infinity key on my computer again.

Much of our family adventure was captured by my Go Pro video cam. If you’d like to see a few highlights, including the ziplining, rafting and a drop down a seven-story water plume, visit http://vimeo.com/101538719.

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