Riding The Rails Through The Smokies
By: Tom Fletcher, CFP®
At the twilight of summer, my family typically migrates to Asheville, NC for our annual visit with my mother. This usually turns out to be a great excuse to celebrate a small family reunion as my brothers’ families often join us as well while we are down there.
Asheville is a great place to visit because amongst other reasons, there are lots of fun things to do outdoor-wise. On each of our trips there we try to target an activity that we’ve never experienced before. This year we planned a train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad that, as you may have guessed from the name, winds through a scenic portion of the Smoky Mountains while being pulled by a rehabilitated steam locomotive. My son’s always been a train guy, so the concept was certainly a great fit for all of us.
When we made reservations several weeks prior to the actual train trip, we were told by the booking company the most enjoyable way to ride the train was in one of their “open cars”. I didn’t ask a lot of questions about it, but somehow I just assumed an open car meant a lot of extra glass on the train car to take in the scenic vistas. At least that’s what it looked like to me on their website. A couple of days prior to our trip we started to get a little concerned about the weather, as horrible Hurricane Harvey was in the process of devastating Texas and meteorologists were predicting a northerly track towards North Carolina. The booking company clarified to us that there were in fact no windows on the cars, but not to worry because unless there was “hurricane like weather”, there was enough of an overhang on the edges of the train car to keep us dry.
On the day of the trip, the weather did take a turn for the worse. There were tornado warnings and heavy rain predicted. When our families finally boarded the train, we asked the conductor about our weather concerns. He guaranteed us that if it continued to rain, we would most likely be drenched and that the overhang would offer us very little in terms of protection from the elements. Darn good thing we had our rain gear with us!
Despite the dampness, the scenery was indeed breathtaking as we wound along through the mountains, along the Nantahala River and past Fontana Lake. And we fortunate that it didn’t rain the entire day. Since the train was a little tourist oriented, we were also entertained by a mountain story teller, a bluegrass duet complete with fiddle and banjo, and several interesting and knowledgeable conductors. If you ever head down yonder, you might want to consider selecting a sunnier day however!