Last year I persuaded my family to hike to the top of the Smoky Mountains and stay at LeConte Lodge. (That's a photo my daughter Ava took from the top last year—over the clouds—pictured.) There are no roads going up to the lodge. The only way to the top is by foot. And this is no stroll. Depending on the trail you choose, it's anywhere from a steep six hours to an almost-as-steep eight hours. All the food for the lodge is carried up by llamas. So we only have to carry our essentials and make it to the lodge, where food and shelter await us. My crew agreed, somewhat reluctantly, especially when they learned about the lack of technology—no power and our cell phones would likely get no service—at the lodge.
We used a lot of technology to get there, though. And last year I explained how we survive a long road trip with two bickering teens in my column. But when we arrive to our destination, we lock it all in the trunk and go completely off the grid.
When we got there last year, my teenage boy trotted to the top, taking the six-hour hike in about three. The rest of us staggered along after him, dragging ourselves into camp hours later. And there we found him changed. No longer bored or sullen, he was happy, helpful, chatting with strangers, and standing up straighter. He had checked us in and thoughtfully turned the heat on in our cabin. (There was still snow on the ground in March.) He even walked partway back down the trail when he got word we’d been sited to carry my pack the last mile for me.
While sprinting up that mountain, Cole had discovered something about himself: He is young, strong, likes a challenge, and is willing to rise to it. Finally all that male energy felt necessary.
The rest of us felt it, too, of course. But for him this was an important moment.
This year, when I asked my two teens if they wanted to go again, both of their hands shot up without hesitation. And when we all sat down to discuss which trail to take, Cole lobbied for the hardest one. “We choose to do this not because it is easy,” he said, paraphrasing JFK’s famous speech about the decision to go to the moon, when my husband suggested a trail that might be easier. “We do it because it is hard.”
There was no reluctance to leave the technology behind either this year. In fact, both kids told me that the complete vacation from all technology—texting, Facebook, video games, electricity—is part of what's great about this trip.
So we are going again. This is a long road trip for us. So, rather ironically since this trip is about going off the grid for us, I plan to share here the technology we will use to find the best deal on accommodations along the way, capture and share memories, and some in-car tech for keeping two bickering teens from driving us insane on a long car trip.
So stay tuned!