Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kentucky, October 22 - 25, 2010

Occasionally a destination isn’t so much a place, but a connection. And sometimes that connection isn’t earthly or present, but a place in my heart and mind. Four and a half days, 1,000 miles, and hundreds of dollars later, I realized that I didn’t have to travel anywhere to visit my father after all.

The plan, which was only vaguely set, was to drive to Natural Bridge State Park, in Slade, KY, camp, and visit the grave of my father and my ancestors in Caney, KY. It was a good idea and something I felt compelled to do because the peace I expected from it was essential for me.

I left the packing of the car to B.E. when I went to work Monday, as we were going to depart immediately after I returned home that night, and he did a fantastic job of getting everything we needed into the car safely and securely. I, however, totally blew it when I got home and packed up only half the food we needed in the cooler and completely forgot to bring pots and pans.

We drove through the night to Lafayette, IN, where we arrived around 2 am. At least I thought it was 2 am, so I asked the desk clerk if we were on Eastern Time or Central Time. She had no idea. Who doesn’t know what time zone they’re in? So, to solve the mystery, I asked what time it was, and yes, we were in Eastern Time at 2 am. We didn’t even bring anything in with us, just crashed for the night and were asleep shortly after our heads hit the pillow.

The next morning I almost had a fit when I went to the breakfast room and found it had been cleared completely of all food evidence before the end of breakfast. They had only 3 customers and I guess they weren’t willing to wait for me to get my lazy self out of bed and some eager beaver took away my bagels before they were supposed to! So, instead we went to Bob Evans and I had biscuits and gravy, which wasn’t that good, but at least it was heavy, country food to keep me going for a while.

Driving through Indiana, down across Cincinnati, and through Kentucky is mostly boring. The view doesn’t get really nice until you’re into the foothills on Mountain Parkway, and by then you’ve been driving almost 7 hours, so it’s a long trip of trying to stay awake and entertained.

Snack foods keep us going on long car drives. What caffeine can't cure, sugar can.

We arrived at the campground shortly before sunset and there was some confusion about how to register and where to go, but I chose the Whittleton Campground due to proximity to the bathhouse and let B.E. choose the site.

Having experience trying to hustle to the washroom for my early morning call when the washroom is 100 yards away and I have to bundle up and find my shoes, it just isn’t worth it, so proximity to the washroom is essential. B.E. needed to drive around the campsites multiple times in order to finally settle on A-16, after we’d driven through the area twice, up the road, and through that camp area twice, so once he chose our site and I had to return to the other campground to pay up, I was already irritated. Then we had to figure out where to put the tent, on a bed of fallen, crunchy leaves, atop gravely, rocky ground with tree roots everywhere. Once B.E. chose the spot, I began erecting the tent and he eventually helped me finish it off. By the time we were all set up, I was exhausted and hungry, then discovered we had no pans to cook dinner. We struggled making soup and sandwiches with the mess kit I had shoved in the bottom of the camping box, and the pans smelled horrific as they heated up, but we had hot food and that was all I cared about.

A lovely campfire, a hot free shower, and a blown up air mattress: the night was complete.

Until the Rad Dudes showed up around 11.

It took them no less than three hours to set up their 4 tents, and the racket they made was enough to rub me completely raw, but I kept thinking as soon as the tents were done, they’d pass out and shut the heck up. No such luck. There was alcohol. There was screaming. There was loud laughter, trips to the washroom, four pairs of headlights on, and partying going on until I was just too exhausted to be irritated anymore and I finally fell asleep. I hate the Rad Dudes.

I woke up the next morning sore from sleeping on the rocky ground most of the night and exhausted from listening to a night of Rad Dude partying, but I had to get ready for the drive to Caney.

We got to West Liberty and drove through town before pulling into Pattie’s Place for brunch.

Pattie’s Place is the only restaurant in town other than McDonalds and Pizza Hut, I believe, and it’s also the place we went 6 years ago, when Mom took all the relatives to eat after Dad’s burial.

Pattie’s a nice Southern lady, and her daughters help her run the place. I got a burger with cornbread, coleslaw and PINTO BEANS!!! (I <3 pinto beans and miss them a lot.) B.E. got a grilled cheese and fries, but I don’t think he loved them quite as much as I loved my pintos. Pattie said they were making potato soup for dinner and I almost cried. I don’t know what I love more: pinto beans or potato soup. Thanks, Dad, for raising me on these foods.

Stores in West Liberty are rare, though there were at least 3 or 4 Dollar Store type establishments that we saw and one thrift store. One grocery store had closed, but an IGA seemed to be doing okay for now. We picked up an extra heavy blanket at the thrift store for insulation on top of the air mattress with a leak, and we picked up some fake flowers at one of the Dollar Stores and headed to Caney.

I found my way there by memory, and as soon as I turned onto Rt. 1000 off of 191, a flood of emotions came rushing back to me. I drove slowly, passing the road to the cemetery, pausing in front of my dad’s Aunt Myrtle’s house and found myself sobbing. I went further up the road to where Dad’s Uncle Jack had been living before he died and the property was sold. Someone in the house has horses now, and chickens. Farther up the road I could see where their homestead once was, where my father grew up. The old house was razed by a fire and Uncle Jack turned that area into a pond. Not much had changed since I was there last, but what had changed since my dad was a child living there was tremendous, and I was overcome with sadness over how little remains of what was represented in his life.

We returned to the cemetery road and ascended the steep climb, up passed the modern portion and to the top of the hill where many older graves are, and descendants not closely connected to my line have been buried. There were a few names I recognized. Two of my great-great-great grandfather’s brothers and one wife; my great-great grandparents. B.E. wandered around and gave me my space. It’s hard to pinpoint moments of exact emotion, as it’s all kind of a flood of waves of varying sensations being on top of the remains of people related to me, going back hundreds of years. What I was struck by the most was a feeling of belonging, a birthright, an inheritance, and a tradition that has withstood the test of time, no matter how much the land and the people have changed.


For some reason, it seemed really creepy for B.E. to flop on the grassy area in the cemetery.

I travel many places and am always aware of how alien I feel wherever I go. Though the accents and way of life in Kentucky still felt foreign to me, I certainly felt comfortable and welcome in the family cemetery, and not in a creepy way. Like no others on earth, these are my people and I belong here. It is my ultimate destination on life-long road I’m currently traveling. That’s an odd and yet pleasant knowledge. One day I will take my place among them, forever at rest with strangers who are more a part of me than anyone else I knew in life. It’s peaceful.

There is a gigantic, ancient oak tree in the cemetery, and I can’t help but wonder if it predates the earliest graves, which I think it does. Judging by the size, it’s certainly been around hundreds of years, and I’m guessing the network of roots run all down the side of the hill. This, of course, causes me to consider how much of the remains of those buried in this cemetery are actually a part of the tree. This tree lives with my relatives all around it and inside it. If ever there was a family tree, this is it. I love this tree. We took home some acorns that had fallen from the tree and I have one planted in a pot on the windowsill at work with the hopes that I’ve done everything right to encourage it to sprout. To have offspring from this tree feels like a huge honor and also a gift to give back to the tree that lives through my family, and vice versa.

We spent quite a bit of time at the cemetery, and though I felt much closer to my distant relatives, I felt no closer to my father. The cold stone slab that bore his name was not much of a representation of the man he was -- and how could it be, in all fairness -- but I really had to experience this in order to find my way into the next phase of my life. Losing him is a pain I carry with me each day, and some days it is agony, and others I can find comfort in the happier times and smile while thinking of him. However, he was not simply a box of ashes buried there. Not to me. And while it’s good to see that his remains rest amongst his kin, on the land he loved, where he grew up, and a permanent marker of the “so-and-so was here” variety staked in his name there, where it belongs, I didn’t feel his presence any stronger or weaker than I do anywhere else on earth. The trip was certainly not a waste, but the closure I was looking for obviously can only come from within, and knowing that gives me a little more resolve to let go of some things and hold on to others.

Leaving Caney, a bit of weight had been lifted off of me and I was able to enjoy the ride through the small towns, appreciating the whimsy and beauty of the people and landscape more.



Back at the campsite, we decided to hike up the trail at the far end of our campground to see where it would take us. We mistakenly thought that it would lead to the Natural Bridge, but if we’d read the sign, we would’ve seen that it was to something called Henson’s Arch instead.

Kentucky in the fall is really gorgeous. There are trees in this area that are not common in my neck of the woods, like the pawpaw tree, sweet gum, and wild rhododendrons. Everything was changing color and the view was simply gorgeous.

But it was all uphill. Way uphill. Over fallen trees, watch out for tree roots, under low branches, and finally we got to the end of the trail and found...

A ladder going down.

Here there was a raised area of rock, holed out by running water, and you could descend the ladder into this small chasm where water and debris fell from overhead and drained somewhere into the earth. On one side was the trickle of a waterfall over the edge of the rock, and on the other side was a perfectly carved out hole, which from the bottom of the well, you could look straight out and see nothing but treetops and sky. Cool spot, but highly anticlimactic.

Having worked up an appetite and also having no pans to prepare our planned out meals with, nor any butter (GAH!), we decided to go to Subway for dinner. I hate Subway. I hate Subway food for all the reasons why I love Jimmy Johns something fierce -- they are simply opposites, though they make similar products. This doesn’t even take into consideration how many times I’ve gotten food poisoning from Subway food, at a variety of locations. To go there means desperation to me.

We returned to the campsite and it was time for a fire and shower, as it was already dark and starting to get really cold. The fire was wonderful, the shower was hot, and all was well until the Rad Dudes showed up and began their second night of partying. This ruckus lasted well into the wee hours again, this time ending with a concert of amateur guitar playing. My hatred for the Rad Dudes was expanding exponentially.

The morning of day 3, having survived two nights of little sleep from Rad Dude noise, allergies gone haywire, 40º temps, and an air mattress that would only stay pumped for about the first three hours of the night, I was exhausted. I managed to scrape together a roast beef sandwich and pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs for a meal for myself, and B.E. made the most of leftovers, toast with no butter, tomatoes and cheese.

These are some of the things we found around our campsite that morning.


There were two scenic drives in the Red River Gorge area and around Cave Run Lake that I wanted to take, and so that’s where we headed.

The Red River, though not very voluminous, could surely have been in the right conditions. The riverbed was large and the canopy of trees around it quite dramatic. Rising on either side of the river were towering limestone cliffs, and we drove on a road that hugged the hillside and wound along through the colorful woods with the ever-changing landscape. What struck me first was what a cool ride it would be on a motorcycle. Then I opened up the moonroof, lowered the windows, and enjoyed the clean, cool mountain air as best I could. Also, the road was so twisty, so turny, so uphill and downhilll, that you couldn’t see much of what was in front of you. The sharp turns, the dramatic drops, the steep inclines, kept me, as a drive, hyper alert. With a speed limit that ranged from 35 to 55 mph, I found myself struggling to keep the pace, spending all my effort concentrating on keeping on the road. While this made for an awesome ride, the drive itself left the driver missing out on a majority of the views.

We also noticed many parked cars on the sides of the roads, but we had no idea where those drivers were. There weren’t any trails, no access to the river (which had very little water), and no campsites around. I still want to know where all these people went -- it bugged me!

Cave Run Lake was absolutely stunning!

We got out and walked around the first area where you could access the water. The beach was made up mostly of sand and shale, fascinating and gorgeous.

Apparently, in KY, you can bring your horse to the lake for a stroll as well.



At some point we stopped at an IGA, where we picked up snacks and a local favorite, a ginger ale called Ale8-1, “a late one.” B.E. was fonder of Ale 8-1 than me, but it wasn’t bad.

Another odd thing we noticed along the drive was the abundance of barns that had a gigantic quilt square affixed to a wall, and each barn had a different quilt square. We later discovered that we were traveling along part of the Kentucky Quilt Trails.

There were some other oddities on the scenic roads.


A famous landmark in the area is the Nada Tunnel.

On the way back through the tunnel the second time, B.E. was shooting a video of the drive through the tunnel, holding the camera through the moonroof of the car, and trying to be helpful (but also being a dunce) I went to turn on the high-beams to better illuminate the tunnel walls. However, I hit the wiper spray instead and shot the camera dead-on with a healthy squirt of wiper fluid. This made me laugh so hard it hurt. I don't think I ever managed to convince him that I did it on accident -- he still thinks I tried to sabotage his video -- and that made it funnier, too.

For dinner that night, we headed to the Natural Bridge State Park Lodge. We got a nice little table by the window, where we watched the birds in the birdfeeder.

I tried something new: corncakes. Oh man, those were good! Cornbread pancakes! It was brilliant! And more pinto beans! Yummy!

Back at the campsite, we had a bunch of new neighbors. The family next to us on the left seemed entirely too irritated with their two girls, and the young couple on the other side seemed wonderfully quiet. Then the Rad Dudes showed up.

Around 11, an hour after quiet hours were supposed to have started, the mom in the tent to our left of us had had enough with the Rad Dudes, and I heard her bundle up, put on shoes, trip on everyone else in the tent, manage to somehow get out in the dark, and walk over to nicely tell the Rad Dudes to keep the noise down. They completely ignored her and she walked back to her tent and never came back out.

Sometime after that the quiet couple on our left started loudly having sex, which only made the Rad Dudes get more boisterous as well.

I'm not sure when I finally fell asleep, but my last clock check said 1:30 and the Rad Dudes were still partying loudly. No one did a damn thing about it. Eventually they got out the guitar and things actually got quieter when they were concentrated on playing. I'm guessing it was about an hour or so before they finally shut up and went to sleep.

The next morning I got up even crankier, got dressed, and began barking at B.E. to help dismantle the tent stuff, but he'd already done the entire inside of the tent so I felt badly. We tore stuff down, packed the car, and left the campsite. B.E. was sad to leave; I couldn't get out of there soon enough.

The drive home was long, but Kentucky offers a nice, scenic drive.

We arrived home sometime after dark on Friday. It was a trip that I needed to take, but one I probably won't ever need to repeat, and that's pretty nice to know.


Travelin' Tracy said...

Okay so it has been a long while since I wrote anything on one of your blogs...I'm a bit self absorbed with being a mom and stuff...but I love Slade, KY...there is great climbing there! Did you happen to see a place called Miguel's Pizza while driving to the park? I can't remember if it was on the way or just near the climbing spots, but that is where all the climbers camp out! Isn't it beautiful there! Oh, and I like Ale 8 1. Anyhow, I also hope you are doing well. I have always appreciated your comments and online support. I was thinking about you today so I'm glad I came across this post!

Doggie Extraordinaire's Mom said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for clearing up the mystery of the hundreds of hippy-like campers at the pizza place! We could not figure it out, drove by it numerous times and meant to ask someone but always forgot. I'm amazed to finally have an answer, but so grateful. Yes, it was absolutely beautiful there, and clearly a climber's dream. :) So good to hear from you!