I had decided to take this trip almost a month ago – basically on a weekend I spent in Red River Gorge. The leaves had started to change already at that point so I thought what better peak weekend than this one. Though, this prediction was incorrect (*cue the ridiculous summer heat wave that hit the pause button on foliage*), at least the weather cooled down for a real fall experience.
On this trip, I tried some new things. Investigated into some new places I had not yet ventured. I always feel like I end up in the same places. The gorge is also part of the larger Daniel Boone National Forest so I knew there was way more to be uncovered. I wanted to break the mold a bit.
I’ll be honest, over the past few trips, I’ve fallen in love with our little vehicle set-up. On the past few trips, we have been doing more living out of the car and parking on an off-road parking lot or trailhead and just exploring from our little base. Basing life around where can we park with a picnic table and enjoy dinner with a view. This little freedom has allowed me to explore more spaces and cover more ground in ways I never experienced from just hiking through the RRG. Now, we were weaving a tangled web of back roads and trails as we explored a more intricate cross-section through our lackadaisical road trip style.
This led me to the discovery of a few future favorite things. A beautiful place I can pull into and just park my car and live life with the back hatch open. Hop on a nearby trail for a couple of miles and set up a hammock. Or run out a ridgeline before dinner. Pull into a creek bed at midnight and fall asleep staring at the beautifully, crystal clear night sky, a million stars on full display. Maybe sleeping at Walmart can be pretty, too. Possibly finding state parks on a back forest road in Pennsylvania at 2 a.m. which leads you down forest roads at dawn to a lake of solitude that culminates with a rainy hike with a rainy view. These little moments are the things I didn’t know were my favorites until they happened. My list of favorite things is now basically a journal of my adventures in life, or, just life in general.
I have to stray here for a recurring thought from my reflections on my trips. Sometimes, I am in a place and something is happening at that moment and I realize it is something I could not have fathomed going without. Something “bucket list” worthy. But, it wasn’t on my bucket list before it happened. Those moments, those unplanned “Should have been on my bucket list” moments, those are my favorite. This topic is a whole separate blog for another time however.
And so it goes..
I left work early Thursday because my brain had already switched modes. I ran some errands I knew I would never have time to do Friday morning. I run late. I’m not stupid. Anything that can be completed ahead of time, should be. I basically converted Eowyn the Escape the night before. True shieldmaiden fashion. Putting on her gear for another weekend road trip battle. (If you get all of those references, you have instantly earned like 500 bonus points)
All I needed to do in order to leave Friday morning was put me, a pup and a thermos of coffee into the vehicle. Basically, just add coffee. I wanted to arrive early to find a place to park and just relax the day away near Indian Creek. Thanks to relentless exploring of the Daniel Boone NF web page, I discovered the area. A road just to the north of the main area. It is a national forest road, and like many others, a place you may park as long as you have a backcountry pass and camp, basically car camp in most situations. So, I knew I would be able to find a spot to simply park and enjoy.
I arrived around 1 p.m. to the coffee shop. Stopping at Daniel Boone Coffee Shop was an absolute must before I headed into camp for the weekend. I topped off gas and purchased a 3 day pass and headed towards the RRG. First thing first however, I pulled off at the spring right before you hit Nada Tunnel and filled up all the gallon jugs I brought for that sole purpose. It’s an unwritten rule if you travel to the RRG with me that you are required to stop here every single time you pass it. Every. Single. Time. And always once before you head home for good. ALWAYS.
Stocked up on the essentials – an iced Shot in the Dark and delightful water from the earth – through the tunnel I go into the land of the Red River Gorge. I always feel like this. In all of the times I have traveled through the Nada Tunnel, when I head into the Gorge for that first initial time each trip, I feel like I am being transported into a fairy land. The protruding rock outcropping as you first come out of the tunnel and around the corner. Just always makes me have this fairytale-like feeling. Like Fern Gully. (*and even though she isn’t with me, every time I reference FernGully in my head, I can hear my wife’s voice start counting. I reference FernGully a lot. A lot. I cannot help I compare paradise to that movie in a lot of cases.)
Once into dream land, the sun is directly overhead so things are much brighter than my usual time on the roads there. I always seem to be on the trail in the middle of the day when the sun is beaming down. The dust from the gravel roads combined with that much light is something to be seen. As I mentioned earlier, I had already decided I was not hiking but just allowing myself to have a relaxing rest day. I also thought since I was so early in my quest for a space on what was sure to be a very busy weekend, I might luck out and find a spot before everyone got off work on Friday.
I surely hit a mini-jackpot — A nice little spot across from Indian Creek, though the creek also wrapped back behind at a distance. Directly across gave way to the restoration area closed to camping so I thought I might have the area all to myself minus a car parked in the gravel at the very end of the pull off. I must say I passed so many great spots on the drive in that it was hard to make a decision. Though, once I backed up to the little site, I looked straight ahead and realized the amazing view I had and that was the final decision. Bonus: A couple of bear-proof trash cans and some pit toilets. Grateful for the little things, especially when you have to go #2 without a door on the toilet while holding a dog leash. Yup. Sometimes that’s when I am more thankful for finding some semi-seclusion. Was that too much? Sorry. Abby the Adventure Dog and I are getting pretty damn good at this dual bathroom time.
There were only 2 other primitive spots nearby. All others had been closed for the restoration that began last year. No one at the spot behind or the one beside. Perfect. It was just what I needed. I set up a mini-camp. I fully intended on sleeping in the back of the car as the setup is pretty sweet but I decided to pop the tent up anyways in case I wanted to take an afternoon nap or later changed my mind about the car. I hadn’t seen a very good spot for my hammock and I didn’t know if I would find one later so I had to allow myself nap options. That was my main mission for the day – Find somewhere beautiful to fall asleep reading a book. That’s my favorite kind of deadline for a day.
Luckily for me, I had previously borrowed by mom’s ENO Billow she purchased in Washington for places that might not lend themselves for a hammock. And as more luck would have it, I have failed in attempts of returning it to her. J I PROMISE I’ll give it back. Okay. Saying it out loud is half the battle.
Anyways. No hammock spot was found despite exploring a little of the creek. Back at camp I set up the billow, which IS NOT AS EASY as they make it look on any commercial or directions, and found the place with the best light. Hoping the pup and I could finally enjoy some afternoon sunlight and shuteye, I began to read my latest book and used it as my sleepyland sheep.
A side note for the reading– I have currently restarted reading Women Who Run with the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It is a deeper read. Took up more time than I expected to process all the information the first time, I got caught up in a Tiny House book, and the copy I got from the library was insanely large and heavy. I had been taking it on trips but the extra weight in the pack always ended up getting axed. I stumbled upon a “normal”-sized version in Yellow Springs a few weekends so now it’s travel-ready.
The book was doing its job. I was getting closer to sleep. The Billow was comfortable, but, it isn’t very conducive to puppy cuddles and I needed to remedy that. We headed to the back of the adventure mobile, hatch open of course. Abby jumped right in and I used my backpacking sleeping bag as a nice way to prop myself up and read. This gave an amazing view of the sun beginning its descent through the trees. It didn’t take long for the pup to find her way to snuggle up against me and within minutes, I was out.
A solid 2 hours later, I woke up to the sound of another vehicle headed down the gravel road, this time on its way out from the end of the road which was no more than a mile or so away. This was about the time I regretted not buying firewood. I’ve debated on and off the past few trips. When I travel without a plan or reservation for a night, I sometimes regret buying firewood. I end up sleeping somewhere in the back of the car or something where I never have an opportunity that lends itself to being able to build a fire. This usually also means stuff taking up more space I could be using for sleeping or other things in the vehicle. So, I decided on none because I was expecting I would just be parked on a pull off-living tailgate life. I didn’t think I’d stumble on to one of the off-road sites with a legit fire pit. Oh well. I didn’t need a fire. I actually found another one of things that you don’t know you need and love because of it. I’ll mark it as a win, but make a side bar for the next time I plan on going that direction.
I ended up getting neighbors at both camps around me. The one behind was far enough away I could only faintly hear them. The same cannot be said for their chainsaw. They obviously opted for wood. The couple adjacent to me had a dog as well. Abby was at first not thrilled then later rather surprised (as was I) when he wandered his way into our camp as I was making dinner on the camp stove. He finally departed and only came to visit us very minimally and usually from a distance now. We didn’t pass his inspection or first impression to be buddies I guess.
I enjoyed watching the sun fall lower through the trees and less on the mountain behind us. I spent the rest of the evening propped up on that other sleeping bag, lying on top of the other sleeping bags and various sleep-pad-type things. I had the back hatch open with the 5 dollar battery-powered lights strung up randomly to wherever I could get them to attach. I spent the rest of the evening until bed time in this spot. Only a minimal change to the setup right before bed, closing the main hatch but leaving the window section open. Stinky feet out the window of course. One last potty break for both the dog and I and back to our little home on wheels we went.
Once I turned off the string lights and my eyes adjusted, the night crept in so beautifully through the windows and the moonroof. That might be my favorite feature on my car. Watching the moon and stars out in the blackness. Being able to actually see them. I am in love with the moon, the stars, the sun, and all of the colors the previous bring. I take value in all my moments with them.
I like to be up before sunrise, or preferably at the break of dawn. The moment when you can still see the stars and moon shining brightly, but the light at the edge of the earth is just breaking. I love watching it unfold and the way it changes and the way the world comes alive around it as the other part goes to sleep. I also prefer it with coffee. I refuse to rush on road trip weekends unless it is an early morning hike somewhere to relax and watch the world awaken. If that isn’t involved, I like to take at least an hour or two with the world to wake up. It seems only natural that way. I was on no schedule. This was a weekend to slow down and really enjoy my time. Not try to cram as much in as possible. I’m very lucky to have such an amazing place to visit within 4 hours. This allows for truly taking time somewhere to practice it and really get to know all the parts involved. This is what this trip was for. Exploration and creation and relaxation. Top priorities. And puppy snuggles. Always puppy snuggles.
I really took my time that morning. I slowly and systematically got ready for the rest of our day. Breakfast, which was actually delicious. Bean and egg burritos. Thanks to my trip essential tortillas and some leftover bean dip from dinner. I tried the new Hiker’s Brew Coffee I ordered. Dark Roast as usual. It was perfect to use with the mug mate in the big silver thermos that I could then pour into my Trail Seek mug of course. It was much more efficient than some past coffee methods and the Hiker’s Brew was already pre-measured perfectly. 2 packets were perfect to fill the whole thermos which literally stays hot all day. When I recap my Smokies trip, I will sing, in-depth, the praises of the silver thermos of sweet sanity. The mug mate and doing a pour over makes great coffee, still takes a little more time than I had planned but I have increased efficiency already.
The plan for that might was unknown as well. I had thought about leaving the tent. Claiming the spot both nights. I decided against it. I wanted to have no restrictions in my traveling and my plan. I wanted to keep my options open. What if I found the perfect ridge camping spot to pack into? I would be S.O.L. So, I packed up the tent, threw it over some open doors on the car to allow it to dry a bit. This was of course after I used the tent finally. I used it to change because it allows me more room for movement and privacy when changing and taking a baby wipe bath. Something the car does not come in handy for unless I take the time to block alllll the windows out. It was worth the setup. I only travel with my 3 person backpacking tent anyways so it’s quick and easy to set up and take down, even just for one person. (Still working on trying to train the dog to help somehow.)
After one last dual bathroom break, we were loaded back up and prepared to hit the road. We had already prepared the rest of our hiking gear so that no matter what we encountered, whether it be a short day hike, a short hike to set up a hammock camp, or full-blown backpacking in, we were ready. Both packs and essential items for the dog and for me were ready to go no matter where the wind blew us. We waved goodbye to our spot and headed back down the road, winding with each turn of the creek. Windows and moonroof open with Brand New playing faintly in the background.
I realized I should have turned left at the end of Indian Creek Rd. about 6 miles down the road to the right. It at least intersected with KY 11 and from there I can basically get anywhere. I made a note of this direction issue for later use. Added it my Rolodex of information and directional acclimation I will call it.
This led me back to the head of Nada Tunnel Rd./KY 77. I wasn’t really complaining about the directional issue now, it was just my sweet spring wanting me to fill up again J Working hard to focus on all the positives of situations 😉 haha
Back through into fairyland I went yet again. I wasn’t sure at all where I wanted to go. So, on a trailhead parking mission I embarked. I just knew I wanted some reading/writing time with a nice view and to scout a place to sleep. I was very much enjoying the drive around. I picked a direction and finally ended up heading towards Chimney Top recreation area and Princess Arch. There was a possible campsite location here and, though I knew it was prime and probably gone, it was worth the short scouting trip from the parking area.
As soon as we hit the lookout for Chimney Top Rock, I realized the spot was taken but that was okay. We headed to Princess Arch to do a little off trail hiking for a nice spot to sit and watch the world pass by. After dodging a group of college kids, I finally found that spot. I took down a few notes in my journal, snapped a few photos, and we were back on our way. Now it was time to figure out where to eat lunch. I decided to explore a few side trails from the parking area that lead to some good camp spots and, eventually, Half Moon Arch, but after roaming about for 20 or so minutes, I had already moved on in my head.
Back to the car we headed. I had decided on the rest of the day. Last visit, I had watched the sunrise from part of the Auxier Ridge Trail. I had decided that I needed the opposite golden hour in my life this time. Auxier Ridge is my favorite trail in RRG. The views are just so perfect any time of day, any weather. I just love it. I have seen it in many weathers too, like a pop-up thunderstorm as you are exposed on the ridge but hey. From Chimney Top area, it’s a little bit of a drive to Auxier Ridge and the trailhead. A wonderful mix of gravel and 1 ½ lane paved forest roadway. Chimney Top trailhead is at one complete dead-end of a gravel road that you have to travel back down to the road to follow to get to the road that eventually leads to Tunnel Ridge Rd. which is also another gravel road down which are many trailheads, Auxier Ridge being the culmination. The mobile gets dirty in the RRG – really, really dirty.
I decided this meant it was lunch time. My usual road trip lunch is simple. Goober Strawberry and a pack of wheat tortillas. My versatile, essential tortillas. Spoon in one hand, tortilla in the other and lunch was served. I think Abby was jealous of my peanut butter, though she didn’t bat an eye at wolfing down her lunch time food ration. After a bathroom run and a doggy potty break, we took the opportunity to empty any small bits of trash, and clean up the parking area a bit too, and then we were headed for a 4-5 mile sunset hike.
We arrived at Auxier Ridge and decided to do a quick camping scout of some spaces I know that aren’t too far from the trailhead while again taking advantage of a rest room and some extra grassy room for the dog. No such luck there. I packed my day pack with the hammock, my notebook and a book and we set off in search of a place to hang out or sit and relax. Either way, some quality time with just my dog and the world, and what I expected to be an extremely high number of backpackers and various other campers since it was Public Lands day and the overnight passes were not required that evening. (This is where I kicked myself for not thinking when I purchased my permit, I could have totally gotten a one day instead of a 3! Boooo!)
Off we set on the trail. I wasn’t trying to hit the end of the trail in the Courthouse Rock area, I wanted to be on the 360 ridge to soak up the last of the days setting sun. We passed the last of the few campsites still up for grabs, though they would all be gone by our trip back through. One was basically in the middle of the trail so that made for some slightly awkward conversation as I hiked back through the now-established camp later.
I was glad I was behind the others headed out the ridge. Most were packing into deeper sites, or like me, sunset chasing on a beautiful evening. Some people had already grabbed the little hideaway spots but, when we reached our destination, we had it all to ourselves. I mean for almost 30 minutes alone. Yes, I could hear and sometimes see the others camped on the opposing ridge but it was peaceful. The perfect breeze blew over top the tree-less open sandstone ridge. We took in the views and had a much-needed puppy cuddle session on the warm rock in the setting sun. Took out my book and escaped for a while. I knew I wanted to get back to the car before dusk though. I had realized about halfway out the ridge I forgot one of 4 different headlamps I have in the car/packs/etc. I’m still not sure how that one happened but I’m glad I realized it before having to try to traverse back without one.
We speed raced back out of the trail as if we were actually running after the sun. We have a tendency to do this on road trips. We hike out a couple of miles and relax and then end up hoofing it at double time the second half of our hikes, triple-time if it is an out and back route. We just hit the zone and go. It is rather invigorating though, even more so on sunrise hikes I have found. Gets the blood and body going I guess J
It was almost dusk now. Thankful we had reached the car. The parking lot was clearing. It was almost completely emptied of day hikers. I had lucked into a spot near the picnic table and restrooms. This was the perfect place to start winding down our evening. A picnic table with a view of the colors of dusk over the ridgeline, this was a great place to enjoy a quick dinner of Goober and tortillas and a bathroom. Always happy about a bathroom.
I had decided within the last mile of our return trip that I was going to try to head to Indian Creek again. I just really enjoyed the morning vibe of the area. I also knew I could literally just pull over and sleep in the first acceptable place along the way! I was tired and I was ready for bed. Abby was already asleep when we finally exited off Tunnel Ridge Rd. This also meant I got to drive by the Citgo again. So I added on to my dinner with a much-needed bag of Cheddar and Horseradish Grippos and a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Headed back through the tunnel at dark which gives it a creepy feeling of the storybook fairyland aspect, and worked my way through those national forest roads on my way to Indian Creek.
I really had no chance at scoring my awesome spot from the night before but there was a little voice in my head telling me I might be lucky. Just a little glimmer of hope. I merely just needed enough room to park and be able to open the hatch. I didn’t require much that night. Though I only saw 2 decently suitable spots on my way towards the previous camp, I decided to still listen to the little hope, only to not see a car at the spot, but to quickly be deflated because it was just a camouflage truck, no seriously. It was camouflaged into the surroundings lol
I headed down the road to the dead-end just around the bend. Since much of this area is in restoration, no one was camped out. Just a few trucks littered the parking around the edges and they were nowhere to be found. I turned around and backed in to level out the sleeping situation and crawled around back to go on one last potty trip into the wilderness with the pup before bed time. The headlamp didn’t do nearly as much as the moon was doing, shining brightly though barely half full. The stars amplified the light. I was expecting the bear to eat me about the time I realized I was lost in the moment, no longer aware of my surroundings. One day that will be how it ends for me. Lost into moment, staring at the stars or a landscape and then WHAM!. I just know it.
We crawled safely back into our little nook with the hatch window open. Letting the temperatures get acclimated to help reduce moisture etc. More so because I love chilly weather but there are other benefits as well. Most importantly, because there is something about sleeping with the chill that makes me feel more alive. Always crucial to crack the moonroof for optimum sleeping. I was out in mere minutes.
Up just before the sun again, I took in some quality puppy snuggle time while shaking off the haze. Finally rolled out of the car just after sunrise for morning bathroom rituals. We waddled our way around to about the spot we found in the dark the night before. I realized as morning rolled on that none of the trucks were occupied or would be before we left. Ah, a little bit of morning solitude. I rigged up the pup to our little tie out rig and began to make coffee. We had plans to stop and visit my stepdad’s family on the way home around lunch time. They just live up the road in Stanton, so I try to at least stop and say hello when I visit RRG.
This was a nice loose outline, as it was only 8:15 a.m. at this point. I wanted to get a few more miles in before we headed back north so I skipped breakfast, just choosing coffee as my fuel for the tank. It helps when you pretty much sleep and function in the same clothes for 3-4 days at a time. It makes getting ready pretty efficient and speedy. It was 8:45 on Sunday morning and we were already on the road headed back out of the area we had called home the last two nights.
Adding to the long and quickly growing list of things I didn’t know I loved, driving on national forest roads in the morning is easily in the top 5. I keep finding myself in that scenario on many different occasions on our trips. I will surely never complain because there is just something about the way the light creeps through the trees and the morning dew and dust combine to just give an absolutely unique aura that is capable of transporting your mind to an even more beautiful place. Those little moments once again.
I took my time enjoying my drive out, but today I made sure I turned the right direction and didn’t add the extra 20-30 minutes to my drive. We headed back to the Tunnel Ridge Road area but I opted for one of the first trailhead parking lots away from some of the hustle and bustle of the big pulls like Gray’s Arch etc. I opted for part of the Pinch Em Tight ridge and then doubled back to head down my second favorite ridge, Rush Ridge. I mainly wanted to do Rush Ridge to prove to myself I could go down that trail and not hear and/or see extremely large cat prints. I keep telling myself it’s a crazy backwoods stray on steroids. I will keep convincing myself of that.
We took our time, exchanged pleasantries with a few backpackers on their way out. Pup and I managed to weasel by the only family headed in the same direction. We did so just in time. Otherwise, I would have never made it to the spot. I allowed myself to unwind for a moment and really take in the last views of the trip from the end of Rush Ridge, it’s one of my favorites to sit around the corner from the trail and, in a lot of times, be able to hide from people. You can hear them but they usually can’t see you and vice versa. Like with the family I passed early. I’ll take it. It also lends to a beautiful view of Double Arch and just a killer view all around.
As we lounged, Abby stretched out across the warm rock and fell asleep. My daypack was doubling as a pillow but there were no clouds to watch pass by so instead I studied all the colors of the trees. All the reds, the golds, the still very greens.
There are always 2 bittersweet moments for me when I go on these road trips or any trip. This was one of them, the first of the two. The moment of cognition when I find myself deep into the last truly relaxing moment before the trip is “over” is the first, like this, and the second comes the moment my wheels hit the driveway and I pull in and stare at my garage door. I’ve been known to prolong the space between those moments. Extra pit stops to walk the dog, maybe a random park I pass on a new route home. Sometimes the route home becomes its own separate adventure but that is worthy of its own words.
Anyways, I enjoyed my moment in the sun and, in our usual fashion, high-tailed it back to the car in no time. That was it. Once we reached the car, it was time to prepare to journey home. Though we would be making a quick pit stop for some family, the time came to start converting the adventure mobile to “end of trip’ mode.
I always put stuff away as I go. That is the only way you can live out of your car and keep your sanity, but there are still things that you make easily accessible but might need to be situated before you head out. It also makes everything much easier when arriving back at home.
So with all the packs emptied and everything back into its appropriate place, we headed out of the gorge and on our way back to the weekly reality, but first, topped off spring water, grabbed a bag of Grippos and another Shot in the Dark.
We spent an hour with family and then headed for home. I get no cell phone service 80% of my trip so my GPS was obviously out of its mind when it came back on and took me home a way I have never, ever traveled. I’ve taken like 5 different routes there and back before but this one, oh boy this was a new one but my GPS insisted it was the quickest. Okay Google Maps. I followed it anyways, trying to glance at my hardcopy map beside me. I found myself in a town called Kinniconick. For those that don’t know, I live in Kinnikinnick. Yeah. So weird. Good one Google Maps.
Unfortunately, it too is also a mere blink of an eye on a two-lane highway so no photos were obtained. There will be photos now that I know it exists J From here, I was almost there. I could see the Ohio River nearing on the map. I ran parallel to the river on the Kentucky side, but from the opposite direction as usual so it was nice to have a different vantage point of the mountains that line the river.
Once back in Ohio, my autopilot comes on, especially up route 23. Its monotony is too much sometimes. Luckily, I was being rewarded with the beginnings of a beautiful sunset. A little sunset pit stop was in order so Abby could potty, so why not one with a view. Scioto Trails SP is on the way and happens to have one of the prettiest overlook pull offs, especially this me of year. It also has been one of my favorite places to watch the day end since before I can remember.
Abby did her duty and we relaxed for a few moments as the sun went lower and lower. I knew real life needed me back, so, we climbed in the car and in 15 minutes, one of my favorite trips was paused. I can’t wait to press record on the ones that follow.
Enjoy A few shots from the trip!
Thanks for reading!
And remember, Every adventure requires a first step!❤
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