Mint juleps, fried chicken and horse races; that was about the extent of my knowledge on Kentucky before our Thanksgiving adventure.
Turns out, Kentucky is pretty. Really pretty. That was a delightful surprise. Southern Kentucky is teaming with rolling green hills capped by hundred year-old farmhouses and rustic barns that reminded me of a Grant Wood painting. A few hours into our drive the landscape switched from provincial towns in a sea of farmland to the Daniel Boone National Forest. White fences and old churches were traded for Beech Trees and Kudzu vines as we drove further and further east toward Appalachia. About six hour after crossing the Kentucky border, we were approaching Hyden.
Five Fun Facts about Hyden:
∙ Hyden is part of Leslie County and sits along the middle fork of the Kentucky River.
∙ It was originally settled in 1817 and the population has since grown to a whopping 350.
∙ It’s primarily a coal mining town, but also produces a healthy amount of timber.
∙ Hyden is the birthplace of the Tim Couch, the overall first round draft pick in the NFL in 1999. (There is a road named after him, appropriately called Tim Couch Pass, yuck it up.)
∙ In 1978 Richard Nixon made his first post-resignation public appearance in Hyden, a place he knew he would still have support—he did.
It may seem odd that the former Austin dwellers, live music patrons, rock climbing enthusiasts, and Mrs. Pac Man aficionados would end up in a tiny coal mining town east of the Mississippi, but Laura and Casey seemed in their element in their cabin in the woods. Their home is the stuff of children’s dreams: a tree house on the mountain side, complete with moat and filled with knick knacks they’ve either acquired in their travels or been gifted to them by the locals. Old carousel horses, a massive assortment of VHS classics and deer antlers all had their place in the Gregory/Papendieck domain.
Our hosts were gracious and gave us a brief glimpse into their Kentucky lifestyle. Laura, as captain of the kitchen, treated us to meals fit for kings, making everything from macaroni and cheese to breakfast tacos from scratch. Casey would entertain with his the uplifting twang of his mandolin and both acted as tour guides through the mountains where he spent several hours climbing rock playgrounds, trekking along the ridgeline and falling clumsily into massive piles of leaves.
[Laura is a talented crafter. Check out some of her art here.]
Kentucky was a delightful departure from the holiday hustle and fast-paced flow to which we are accustomed. We cooked without a microwave, soaked up the warmth of a wood-burning stove and drank moonshine brewed in a bathtub. Backwoods behavior? Maybe. Refreshing retreat? Probably. Triumphant trip? No question.