Back to Nature with the Boys at the Gorge

For us city folks, getting out into nature is a beautiful thing. It teaches us to appreciate the majesty of mountains, to understand how harsh the environment can be, and it challenges us physically to climb and cross terrain.

During an adventurous weekend with my three sons at Red River Gorge, we hiked a few miles into the woods and set up camp on the top of a ridge, where there were no other people, and the stars shone brighter than usual. It wasn’t lost on me, however, that there were dozens of emergency vehicles at the trailhead, all on a search and rescue mission for a 31-year-old man who’d disappeared in the woods a week ago.

2015-08-08 16.45.26 2015-08-08 16.45.12 Sure, there’s some danger. To get the beauty of the Gorge’s interior, you have to walk along the edges of some cliffs.  Signs warn you about bears. It’s not a safe place for those who fear heights. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how you could tumble off the edge and plunge hundreds of feet into an abyss.

This was the first time I’d camped more than a few steps from a car. My son Josh, 23, has adopted hiking as a primary interest, and has gone on a lengthy trip out West, to a spot so majestic and romantic that he felt unable to resist proposing to his fiancee there at the perfect place.

Since they see me as being so old, the boys allowed me the lightest load, but it still pushed me physically to hike the few miles to our campsite with a backpack. While Nick, 25 and Luke, 17 joined Josh in climbing to the top of Gray’s Arch, I chose a spot on a rock to marvel at the scenery, and the opportunity I had been presented to spend these 48 hours alone with these remarkable young men. It’s an opportunity I likely won’t have for several years.

That’s because Nick, the wandering, independent one, is leaving next week to study Theatre in Italy. He was previously living in New Orleans, and learned about the opportunity through a Mississippi university, applied for the scholarship, and figured out a way to make it happen. It’s likely he won’t be back in the U.S. until 2018. I’ll miss him.

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Luke, Josh and Nick on a spot I couldn’t get to.

We found a camp around six, and settled in. When you camp this way, there are conveniences that are missing. I would have killed for an ice cold beer, but you don’t carry that in. Water would have been nice, but what little we gathered from a stream wasn’t for guzzling. Nick, who brought his guitar and little else, started a fire, and coaxed it to life despite most of the available wood being damp. We listened in on Josh’s solar-powered speaker to some music, and talked.  And drank moonshine and whiskey. It was awesome.

I don’t think this story of nature would be complete without also mentioning our step back in time, to a family restaurant in Stanton where the four of us, starving, stumbled in on Sunday morning. It was called Bruen’s, located just off the Mountain Parkway. The first thing we noticed was that the guy next to us, not three feet away, with his two toddlers, was chain-smoking at his table.

There was no “smoking or non-smoking” sections, and in fact nearly every one of the dozen or so customers was smoking. I was taken back to 1970, when I had to wait for my parents to finish cigarettes on the rare occasions when we ate at a restaurant, like the old Hunt’s on Southside Drive. Here at Bruen’s, of course, no one was in a hurry, especially the waitress, a rather grumpy 50-something woman missing a smile.

2015-08-08 14.41.27While we were waiting, another woman customer, who came in to smoke, and not eat, busied herself with a flyswatter chasing insects around the dining room.

We were ready when our breakfast food arrived, and it was what a home-cooked meal is all about. Eggs, bacon, french toast – a real feast. I paid cash, about $22, for a meal that might have cost double that at Cracker Barrel. At the counter, I noticed a flyer for next week’s Southern Brothers picnic, adorned with a couple of Confederate flags and the promise of good times. It’s next Saturday, if any of you want to go.

We had great plans to canoe on the Red River, but no one in our group is very good at planning, so when we arrived at the canoe rental spot, there were none for us. Exhausted, it seemed just as well, and time to get back to civilization.