A Flatlander’s Guide to Vacationing in the Mountains

My husband and I recently returned from spending a few days in a cabin in the mountains of Sevierville, TN. It was our first time visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and renting a cabin. We had a wonderful, relaxing time but there were a couple of things that we’d wished we’d known beforehand.

My husband and I are city slickers who are used to driving on flat roads. To say that I felt out of my element driving on those curvy, mountain roads would be an understatement . I was so stressed out! There were many instances in which we were going up an incline that was so steep that I couldn’t see the road past the top of the hill. I had no idea what was on the other side of the hill, which way the road went,  or if there even was a road. I was truly driving blind.

Which brings me to my first tip.

Take Your Time When Driving in the Mountains

An example of a blind summit.

When you are approaching a blind summit, it’s best to slow down to allow yourself plenty of time to react to whatever is on the other side of that hill. An oncoming car, a sharp turn, a deer. You just don’t know so it’s best to slow down and be cautious.

There is such a thing as driving dangerously slow though (I flunked my second driving test for doing just that!), but don’t feel compelled to go faster than your comfort level will allow. Go as slow as you need to (within reason) in order to feel safe and firmly in control of the vehicle. Pay no attention to the line of cars driving impatiently behind you. You can pull to the side of the road when it’s safe to do so and  let those cars pass you. But don’t feel pressured to drive at a speed that makes you feel uncomfortable in order to appease other people. Those annoyed drivers have probably lived in the area their whole lives and are used to driving those roads. You may not have the same experience and there is no shame in that. Take all the time and care that you need.

My second tip is related to the first.

Learn How to Operate the Lower Gears of Your Car

I should have taken the time to research driving on curvy and hilly roads well before my trip but I put it off until the last minute. Then the day before we were supposed to leave, our power went out for over 12 hours and I was left scrambling trying to get things done. I decided to wing the whole driving in the mountains thing.

We and our 2017 Honda Accord lived to tell the story but things would have gone a lot smoother and I would have put a lot less stress on my car if I had possessed a better understanding of what the “S” and “L” gears were and how to properly use them.  

Take a Screen Shot of Your Check-in Info

When you rent a cabin, the rental company won’t email your cabin address and access code until the day of your arrival. In my case, it wasn’t until 3:00 p.m. on the day of my arrival. This is not particularly ideal as you will most likely be on the road when this happens.  On the morning that we left, we set the GPS to head in the general direction of the cabin. As I drove, my husband watched my email for the cabin info while we made our way to Sevierville. Once we got the email, we pulled to the side of the road, entered the cabin address into the GPS and were on our merry way. This is where we made our 2nd mistake.

After a good 45 minutes of driving with a death-grip on the steering wheel through treacherous terrain, we finally arrived at the cabin. I grabbed my phone to pull up the email that contained the access code to unlock the door and noticed I had absolutely no bars.

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

We had to go back down the mountain until we found a signal that was strong enough to call the rental company (but not strong enough to read an email) and then tempt fate again by taking those dangerous roads back up the mountain to the cabin.

My nerves were shot when we finally arrived for the second time. If we had just taken a screenshot of the email back when we had cell service, it would have saved time and my sanity.

The beautiful fall colors made the crazy drive worth it.

Bring Food to Eat on Your First Night

By the time we had reached the cabin and unloaded the car, it was clear that we weren’t going anywhere else that evening. We had barely made it while it was daylight. There was no way I was going to drive those crazy roads at night in search for food. And we were so remote that none of the restaurants delivered to where we were, and honestly, I don’t blame them.

Fortunately, I had packed a jar of tomato sauce and some pasta. It wasn’t the fanciest meal we’d ever had but it kept us from starving and allowed my nerves to calm down enough to want to tackle grocery shopping in the morning.

Final Thoughts

Renting a secluded cabin in the mountains is a great way to rejuvenate and feed your wanderlust while still maintaining social distancing. But do yourself a favor and don’t make the same rookie mistakes I did. Take the time to do a little bit of preparation and your first trip to the mountains should be a success.

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