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amily vacations are meant to bring everlasting memories.
I’d say a near-death experience qualifies as a memory I will not soon forget.
As my wife and I loaded up our new mini-van recently with our two boys, my father-in-law and sister-in-law, our first official vacation as a family had promise.
It also had the potential for disaster.
In the end, it had a little bit of both, but it definitely was fairly successful for a first try.
The destination was Gatlinburg, Tenn.
We were not crazy enough to attempt a drive any longer than around four hours.
Surprisingly, the trip there went fairly smoothly, except for one minor hiccup.
With a 2-year-old who is still pretty freshly trained on the potty-training circuit, an accident was, if not expected, at least not a surprise.
The shock came when the accident came from our 6-year-old.
As everyone in the car tried their best to sleep while I drove, my eldest son woke from his slumber to announce loudly that he had to go to the bathroom.
I explained that I would happily get off the next exit to oblige his request.
He then forcefully told me in a whiny voice that harkened back to his toddler years that he needed to go that instant.
As I tried to decide whether to pull the car over on the busy, dangerous interstate so he could relieve himself or put the pedal to floor even further to reach a bathroom, my son stunningly said, ‘Never mind.’
After I picked my jaw up from the floor, I asked him, ‘What does that mean?”
“I don’t have to go anymore,” he replied in a tone that worried me.
Yes, he had decided the back seat of our new to us minivan would be his urinal.
Thirty minutes later, after a change of clothes and stripping the cover from his booster seat, we were back on the road.
As we arrived in Pigeon Forge, everything looked like it was going to be great.
Mother Nature had different plans.
A torrential downpour came down the like I have never seen.
Traffic was at a standstill.
We eventually made it to the rental office where we had reserved a cabin for the extended weekend.
It was almost comical where we had to drive to get to this cabin.
I believe from the porch we could actually look down onto clouds.
The steep hills and the terrifying drops we had to drive up and around made it a miracle everytime we made it to the driveway.
Fortunately, my wife did the honor of driving so I did not plunge us all to our deaths before we could play mini-golf.
Our first night, we did not do much besides get a bite to eat in Gatlinburg.
With six exhausted people, we could not wait to get back to the cabin to bed.
Of course, one wrong turn, even after asking directions, led us on a 20-mile detour in a darkened, twisty road.
Being late, nothing we passed seemed to be open so we could get back on course.
But, at the end of the road, we came to a rickety building that had a few cars parked outside and an open sign.
Being unarmed, I decided to let my father-in-law venture into what we learned was a local pool hall, that no tourist had ever visited, to get directions.
Sure enough, we were told to go the 20 miles back way we came from and make a right instead of a left.
While I don’t want to bore you with every detail of our trip, (Take a second to breathe a sigh of relief.) I do want to give you a couple more highlights or lowlights, whatever the case may be.
On our first full day, my wife was determined that we go tubing in a creek, an adventure we did together many years ago.
Of course, we opted to go for the wimpier course since we had two youngsters with us.
The plan was for my wife to hold our 2-year-old in her lap during the tube ride while our 6-year-old would ride solo but his tube would be tethered to my father-in-law.
We were informed as we arrived at the creek that we would have to walk about half way into the water before getting on our tubes because of some obstacles in the way.
Well, it turns out we had to walk more like two-thirds of the way into the creek on the slipperiest rocks in the world.
My wife battled the terrain while holding a toddler in a life jacket.
I held onto to two tubes while trying not to slip or get washed away by the rapids.
I was the last one to finally get on my tube after my wife tethered our tubes together.
My luck, I started the adventure going backward.
By the time I was facing forward, I was introduced to a large boulder coming out of the water.
My tube overturned as I went face first under the water.
My forehead hit a rock, both legs scrapped roughly against multiple sharp objects and my sunglasses went rushing downstream.
I struggled to get above water for a second, panicking that I either had a concussion or was going to pass out and drown.
As I jumped up from the water, the first thing I see is my wife yelling to me.
Was it worlds of concern about my almost untimely death?
No, she shouted, “Unhook us!”
If I was going down, she wasn’t going too!
I ended up with bloody legs and a pretty deep knee bruise, but I survived.
The rest of the 90-minute journey down the creek was no picnic.
I was certain that every rapid we got to much going to be my demise.
My father-in-law lovingly said that I looked like a drunken sailor paddling away from any immediate danger.
At least I can laugh about it now.
I don’t want to make it sound like the trip was all bad.
The cabin we stayed at was nice, even if it was on the top of the Smoky Mountains.
It was amazing to sit in a hot tub under a full moon with my wife and sons.
I once again proclaimed my superiority in miniature golf.
We ran into my mom, my cousin and three of my aunts in downtown Gatlinburg among all the tourists.
We even saw a bear upclose while going through the Smokies.
The pictures alone will make this first family vacation a lifetime of memories.
To bring everything full circle, my 6-year-old once again screamed out suddenly on the way home that he had to pee.
Having already learned our lesson, this time he crouched down on one knee and relieved himself into a jumbo fountain drink container held by my sister-in-law.
We didn’t even have to pull over.
(Bryan Marshall is the staff writer of the Grant County News. He can be reached at email@example.com.)