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A solo drive to Rocky Top

A climb down Chimney Tops in Smoky Mountain National Park.
A climb down Chimney Tops in Smoky Mountain National Park.
Sally Boyce

Although I feared the spontaneous combustion of any vehicle with my name in the title, I wanted to really live during my one-week vacation.

Without a single friend being available the same week, I knew the solution: a solo drive to East Tennessee, a 3.5-hour trek.

I logically considered how many road trips I had survived in my earthy green Outback. The answer did not take long; "two successful trips, zero failures." I had the authority from my mechanic that my car, Seze I named it, would "get me to East Tennessee."

Thus, armed with six new CDs to drown the frightening rattles and creaks any 1998 vehicle makes at 70 miles per hour, I was ready to go.

After about five miles on I-65 South, however, the car shook so violently that I thought, "It must be a low tire!" Now, I had gone to a gas station and gauged each individual tire myself the prior evening. It's a simple matter of self-distrust, I suppose.

I pulled off the interstate at Trinity Lane, my hands shaking with adrenaline. I pulled into a Pilot gas station and eyeballed all four tires; they were as round and full as new tires.

I chuckled to myself, glad the chattering young girls cleaning the family van next to me did not know why I had stopped. I shook my head at myself, got in the car, and gave myself a loud pep talk.

As I eased back up to 65 miles per hour, the shaking resumed. This time I blamed it on a need to balance my tires and and tried to ignore it. 

A first-time road trip in any car can be scary if the driver has never done it before. You have no one to rely on but yourself; and if that self knows very little about car maintenance, you keenly feel the insecurity of your position. It is wise to invest in AAA emergency roadside service, as I did when prompted by my parents before my "unbridled Subaru" experience in Kentucky this past April.

Knowing that I had AAA, God, and my mechanic on my side, I pressed on down I-40 East, guided by the trusty family GPS, Jeeves. That snappy British accent helped me feel like I knew where I was going. It helped me believe Seze would not overheat despite temperatures soaring through the 90s.

At five p.m. (I had once again lost an hour. This is one of the hardest things to remember when road tripping across Tennessee!), I pulled up in front of a gorgeous Smoky Mountain cabin.

After I had sighed relief and thanksgiving at the front door, my friend Jen and I returned to Seze to find smoke--or was it just mist?--fairly billowing from the engine. 

I wanted to cry, but Jen smiled and told me I didn't have to face this particular challenge today.

I went in with her, praying hard and promising myself I would call Daddy the next day.

But...later that evening, when I checked all the fluids, I could find nothing wrong. I started dropping the automatic transmission into 3rd and 2nd gears when traversing the steep Smoky Mountains, and the Subaru never smoked again the rest of the trip.

In fact, I made it home three days later without even so much as the heat indicator rising above normal.

My conclusion? Rocky Top is a safe place to drive to by yourself!


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