Red River Gorge and Kentucky backroads

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
-John Muir 

Sunrise at the Red
Sunrise at the Red

After two and a half weeks in the big cities of the East Coast, I was more than ready for some peace and quiet. Being a rock climber provides a ready-made excuse for exploring the woods and mountains, as well as a community of people with whom to do so. There are, as I’ve been told, only a few top climbing destinations in the Eastern states: The Gunks in New York, New River Gorge in West Virginia, Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and somewhere in North Carolina. Since I’ve not had much opportunity to climb this summer (I only went a couple times in Maine), I decided to take a detour to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge en route to Nashville.

Miguel’s, the camping/gear/pizza/connection place for climber at the Red River Gorge

The 9-hour drive from D.C. was largely uneventful, except that I accidentally ran over a copperhead snake (sorry, pal). I finished listening to Middlesex on audio CD; audio books are a godsend to the cross-country road tripper. Excellent story, engaging writing. Recommended. I rolled in at my destination at about 9:00 p.m. Just enough time to pay my camping fee, make a bed in the back of my Subaru, and get some sleep. As I drifted off to the sounds of crickets, I already felt the stresses of city life melting away. Ahhhh, the boonies.

Red River Gorge is a world-class climbing destination known for its steep, physically demanding sport routes. The sandstone has eroded into various shelves, protrusions, flakes and plates, providing lots of positive holds. Being accustomed to the balanced, technical moves required on granite and many of the volcanic formations in the West, this type of climbing was very hard for me. Beyond being out of general climbing shape, my arms just couldn’t hold up under the constant strain of the overhung climbing style at the Red. But I had fun anyway! I met some folks at Miguel’s, the pizza/gear/camping/meetup spot for the Red River climbing scene. Climbing sort of forces socialization with random people; a nice side benefit that leads to a network of “climbing buddies” all over the country. We climbed for two days in Muir Valley, and I struggled to toprope 5.10s. Ha. I led only two routes, and only could climb 5 per day before my arms gave up on me.

Climbing at the Red
Steep climbing typical at the Red

With throbbing forearms and aching rhomboids, I decided to leave the Red on Thursday, bound for Nashville. After enjoying a cup of coffee at Miguel’s and trying to avoid conversing with the local crazy, I hit the road. I realized after 30 minutes that I had taken a wrong turn. Without a strict agenda and being opposed on principle to backtracking, I continued winding through the backwoods hills of Kentucky for another hour, adding about an hour to my total drive time for the day. But sometimes a straight line is not the best way to get from point A to point B. I passed endless rolling green hills dotted with pastures and cornfields. Decaying clapboard barns fight gravity, the forms of their sagging roofs mirroring those of swaybacked horses grazing nearby. Dogs roamed the narrow winding roads, sometimes running alongside my car, other times hopping nimbly to the side. I passed towns with names like Booneville and Beattyville, but mostly the scenery consisted of verdant hills and dense deciduous woods. The trees this time of year are tinged with just a hint of the color explosion to come, the bright greens of summer giving way to the burnt orange hues of early autumn.

Nice to have some doggie love in Nashville. Nola and Billy.

I arrived in Nashville Thursday evening. Here I am staying with my long-time friend Alesha, her husband Will, and their two sweet dogs. I’m taking the opportunity over the next few days to catch up on work, laundry, and car maintenance. I’ll poke around a bit and see some Nashville sights, enjoy some BBQ, then head off to Atlanta later in the week.



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