It has become somewhat of an annual tradition to make the run up to the Smokies for Labor Day weekend. It's a pilgrimage I've historically taken alone. It's not that I don't want to spend time with my family, but they understand I need some "alone time" every now and then to just recalibrate my head. I appreciate that tremendously. I don't even reach out to fishing friends that are somewhat local in the area. It's time I get to enjoy doing things on my own terms.
The dynamic for this Labor Day weekend changed a bit, as my wife had to leave town for a few weeks. Rather than a solo Smokies trip, my daughter Lilly decided to come along, surprisingly not against her will. See, Lilly didn't grow up to share my interest in fishing as I had hoped. Now 17, theatre and arts are her passions, which I support wholeheartedly. But the great outdoors... well, let's just say she can handle it in doses.
While camping, bugs, and lack of Wi-Fi are non-starters, Lilly has enjoyed our prior trips to other National Parks over the years. She does seem enjoy being around water and wildlife, (and expressed an interest in some of the quirkier things that the Smokies had to offer). Oh, and just like me, she welcomed a chance to escape the hellfire temperatures of Florida for a few days.
The Friday Drive
I took Lilly out of school around lunchtime (she had a test she wanted to take) and we started the 8ish hour drive up to our airbnb in Bryson City, North Carolina. I reserved a tiny house cabin for us that literally had the Tuckasegee River in its "backyard." It seemed to be the perfect spot for our weekend base camp, and just the right amount of room for the two of us.
The drive through Georgia was generally uneventful, but once we hit South Carolina... Ugh. There were just accidents galore. Guess that's bound to happen on a holday weekend. With the concept of making "good time" and arriving before dark out the window, we just stopped at an exit, ate an early dinner, and waited for the cars to clear out.
Eventually we got into North Carolina finding smooth sailing for a bit, but we did hit more traffic the closer we got to the Smokies. More fender benders, and people gawking at them slowed us down, but we finally got to the cabin around 10PM. Just enough time to settle in for the night, we had a few big days in front of us!
Being a teenager, Lilly is one of those kids that will sleep until 2 in the afternoon if you let her. Taking advantage of that, we agreed the night before that I'd go out early, spend the morning fishing, and come back to the cabin around 1PM where we could go into town and get lunch. After that, I was going to take her over to the National Park for some light sightseeing and then end the day by heading over to the Seven Clans Rodeo in Cherokee (one of the aforementioned quirky things to do in the Smokies), so the day was pretty well laid out.
Fishing... and Much, Much More!
When I rolled up to the trailhead, it was around 7:30am and I was one of only 2 or 3 cars there. It's a pretty prominent trailhead, right along Newfound Gap Road. I geared up and went fishing.
The fishing was great. Caught a trout on like my 3rd cast, and it continued pretty steadily for the next 4 or so hours. A bunch of rainbows and a brown trout or two all came to hand. Beautiful little fish and gorgeous weather. The morning to this point was perfect.
When I arrived back to my car I immediately went to the tailgate to take off my wading boots and stow my fishing gear. Nothing seemed odd or out of place at all. However, once that task was completed, I walked toward the driver's side door and oh...crap... somebody smashed out the passenger door window.
At that point, a lot of things run through your mind. First is "What the fuck?"... Second is "Did they take anything?" Third is "Can I even get this fixed over Labor Day weekend - I'm 8 hours from home?" Fourth is "What the fuck?"
Fortuntately, the only thing that was taken was a shopping bag of random supplies that was sitting right beneath the broken window. This was clearly a quick smash & grab. Nothing in the front seats and nothing in the back cargo space were touched. I sort of wondered if it was possibly a bear, but the job was too clean. No smudges on the window frame or door, no dirt or debris on the inside.
And as I learned once I got back to the tiny house and made some phone calls, no, it was not getting fixed this weekend.
Time to Recalibrate Plans
When I got back to the cabin, woke the still slumbering Lilly and told her what happened, she immediately said "What the fuck?" (Yes, she is daddy's daughter) and thought it would be awesome to take pictures for her Instagram. LOL.
Anyway, lunch plans got pushed back a bit as I had to run into town and get some plastic sheeting and duct tape to MacGyver a temporary fix. Shout out to the folks at Elder's Ace Hardware for hooking me up with the right supplies.
The Rest of the Day
I'll be honest, the rest of the day went by pretty fast. I had one half of my mind on keeping Lilly entertained... while the other half was just drained from the morning's follies. A nice conversation over a late lunch at Jimmy Mac's (a BLT for me and chicken tenders for the kid), kind of brought the stress levels back down to Earth.
After that, we actually were able to do everything we said we would... First a quick spin through the park near the Oconoluftee Visitor's Center. We even got to see some elk!
Then on to an evening of rodeo. I go to this every year, almost as much for the people-watching as the cowboy activites, and it did not disappoint. Lilly was particularly fond of the mutton-busting, which for those not in the know are little kids riding sheep as if they were bulls. Good stuff.
Sunday's Train Ride
Being on the tired side from everything that was Saturday, we both decided to sleep in a bit on Sunday morning. I just sort of lounged on the back deck of the cabin and enjoyed the sights of the river. It was a bit overcast, foggy, and on the cool side. It was glorious.
That afternoon we took the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad for a scenic ride along the river from Bryson City to Dillsboro and back. It was yet another quirky thing Lilly was looking forward to.
By that point the fog had burned off, the sun was out, and the train ride was pretty fun for both of us. We sat in one of those open air cars with the seats facing the windows and got to see people down on the river in rafts and kayaks, all sorts of scenery, and even went through a tunnel. We enjoyed our late lunch/early dinner at the R&R Tavern in Dillsboro as well.
Once back in Bryson City, Lilly & I decided we'd head over to Deep Creek and look at some of the waterfalls. Two of the three waterfalls are really close to the trailhead, so out of respect to Lilly's less than tolerance for hiking, it was a pretty easy in and out.
Along our hike we saw posted signs for preserving the Smoky Madtom's river habitat, which sparked a conversation about ocean oddities. If you couldn't tell, Lilly takes interest in some of the more uncommon things in life. While she probably couldn't tell the difference between a rainbow and brown trout, she was quick to tell me about several weird looking sea creatures she wanted to create an art project around, such as the barreleye fish, which happens to have a transparent head.
She seemed to have a good time (or at least humored her Dad for an hour and a half), which was a nice way to more or less end our activities this trip.
A welcomed evening back on the deck with an RC Cola and some Goldfish was a great way to unwind...
Mondays are for Travels
Labor Day itself was without much labor. We packed up the SUV and drove home, leaving early to make sure we got home in time to have a few hours of decompression before the real world of our work & school weeks started the next day. I will say that we were far more fortunate in the traffic department on the drive home, and that the plastic tarp and duct tape patch job held up all eight hours. Big win!
I'm really happy the weekend went like it did. And by that I mean that I'm so happy I didn't go alone this year. It was great to have some legitimate father/daughter time alone with Lilly. I mean she's a high school senior... she's growing up. And while she's not one of those kids who can't stand being around their parents, memory making opporutnities like this are rapidly getting fewer and far between.
Looking back ten years from now the broken window will no longer be an inconvenience, but something to laugh about. And we'll certainly remember the tiny house... the river... the elk... the rodeo... the train... and the waterfalls. And maybe even the Smoky Madtoms.