Red River Gorge

As a third year master's student, this could be my last spring break as a student. I probably would have been better off just staying at home and working over the break, but my wandering fever caught a hold of me and I took a trip to Red River Gorge, Kentucky with my buddy Andy.

I went here the previous spring break and knew of a nice area to do some hiking and camping. We got a bit of a late start on St. Patricks Day and didn't make it down there until 7:30 at night. Last year I was introduced to a nice little pizza and rock climbing shop named Miguel's. I took Andy here to get some pizza for dinner. We decided that we would also camp here the first night, as it was already getting dark (and camping is only $2 a person. The atmosphere at Miguel's is very chill, with outdoor lovers and social bonfires abound. I was enjoying a peaceful vacation in a welcoming setting.

Then everything changed...They didn't call our pizza and after 45 minutes and complaining they refired it. So it was twice baked and not very fresh. Then the kicker: apparently only climbers are allowed to camp there. When we inquired about camping they asked us what we were down here for. The response "To do a little hiking" was enough to be refused permission to camp at Miguels. As if owning a rope and some climbing shoes makes people "better" or more deserving to be around. I am not often discriminated against this blatantly. It's not like we were going to be a nuisance or start fights with the climbers. We were just running late and needed a place to camp. I feel greatly offended by the snobby attitude displayed by Miguel's Pizza and the climbing community. If you really are this elitist and judgmental, I can promise I'll never be a social climber. In my mind, any person with a love and appreciation for nature is just as good as any climber.

So at 10 o'clock at night with bellies full of overpriced asshole-made twice-baked pizza, we went to the gas station to purchase a backcountry camping tag. Turns out it is even cheaper than staying at Miguel's. And there is no discrimination in the wilderness. We reach camp on top of a narrow ridge surrounded by cliffs at 12:30 am. Here are a few pictures from this night.

The first night was clear so we both set up tents and I slept without a rainfly. The breeze was cold and swift and the moon shone brightly through the pine trees casting shadows on my face. Despite trouble getting used to the slight slope and hard ground, it was one of the most restful nights of sleep I've had in a long time. The next morning came and we did some day hiking to get water and to explore around the area. The best water source was in a trickle waterfall. It took a few minutes to fill a bottle but the scenery was so grand that it didn't matter.

After a day of hiking around and getting views, we returned to camp just in time to beat a thunderstorm. Andy was using a cheap and non-waterproof tent, so we tore it down and stuffed it under the rainfly of my tent. Being gone all day, we were both hungry, so we took dinner supplies and portable speakers into a small cave near our campsite. As the thunderstorm blew through, mix vegetables and beans were cooked to a backbeat of Joanna Newsom newest album.

A few rounds of cosmic wimpout and whiskey made for a distraction while the last of the storm passed through. How wonderful of an adventure this trip turned out to be. Being in the wilderness provides an infinite number of opportunities for exploration, discovery, appreciation, and unpredictability. You never know what is around the next bend in the trail. And with so many things to see, you can't help but to be sucked into a constant meditation brought on by the density and variety of textures and forms in every direction. Instead of being in a confined room of walls with geometric objects and simplicity, you are inundated by vastness and complexity and randomness and variety. Like roads there are trails but you don't have to follow them. Ultimately your path and destination are hardly limited. It is easy to convince yourself that you're seeing things nobody else has ever noticed. Even if this is far from the truth, the sense of discovery is yours to hold.

After a rainy night next to a snoring friend, I awoke with a spring. My muscles were getting used to sleeping on the ground. In a couple more days I would probably have my stride again. The acclimation period for backpacking is usually a few days for me, but after that I feel like I could continue indefinitely. I know in my soul that hiking will always be an essential part of my life. I'm starting to think pretty seriously about doing the Appalachian Trail in 2012. Better get it under my belt before the world ends, right? And before I am too old or professional to have the energy or time.

When we got to the car, we were packing things up and changing into driving clothes. A girl that we had passed on the trails the day before approached us and asked where we were headed. We ended up giving her a ride to her car and having a conversation. After a little smalltalk, we discover that she was childhood friends with the wife of my boss. What are the chances? It really is a small world... The trip back went a little quicker than the trip down, with lots of reflection and optimism for the future. I hope this trip is just what I needed to help me move on to the next phase of my life...whatever it is.

Oh, and if for some reason you want to support a discriminating place like Miguel's Pizza in Slade, Kentucky and aren't a climber, make sure you lie to them and say you are. Or if you want to boycott them and help to expose the truth about their unfair treatment of paying customers, please join me!


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