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.
While most of our peers traveled north Texas way for the holiday that celebrates all things food, Heath and I took on a separate adventure; namely, traveling to Kentucky to visit blue grass music phenoms Laura Gregory & Casey Papendieck of The Bloodroots Barter. Laura is a high school friend, turned college roommate and Casey is her partner in crime who also presided over our wedding ceremony. They’ve made a nice burrow for themselves in Eastern Kentucky and now seemed as good a time as ever to pay the handsome pair a visit.
The drive to Hyden, Kentucky is a hefty 20 hours. Clearly, this road trip called for a scenic stop or two to a) relieve the puppies who joined us on the Appalachian adventure and b) stave off insanity.
The drive is actually remarkably pleasant. The majority of the trip afforded us with traffic-free roads winding through transforming deciduous trees.
Our first stop: Texarkana. We had a pleasant lunch with Nannie (complete with bread pudding and roast beef sandwiches) and then took a little pit stop down the road for a visit with Heath’s Aunt Lisa and Uncle Roger, where the puppies had a grand time swimming with catfish, meeting their first horses and making a mess.
[Sparky wonders what’s wrong with those swimming dogs. It’s cold. They are crazy.]
From Texarkana it’s roughly a 4-hour drive to Memphis, which is where we set up the proverbial camp for the night. This stretch of road, while pleasant, caused a fair amount of head scratching as it was laden with imposing bible-oriented billboards that preached biblical versus I was unaware of from my rearing in the church. Towering billboards held messages like “save the child, use the rod.” But that’s neither here or there—yet certainly worth mentioning as we were made aware that Northern Arkansas is indeed far from home where child beating is generally frowned upon.
This was my first time to return to Memphis as an adult and Heath’s first trip period (it should be noted the trip afforded Heath his first glimpse at the Mississippi River; Mark Twain would be so proud).
We stayed in a hotel walking distance from the famous Beale Street where we spent most of our evening. Since my tenure at Community Impact Newspaper taught me that people love bullets, I will summate the highlights of the experience in short hand.
- We explored the city, camera in hand, and came across some preteen acrobats tumbling down Beale street in exchange for dollar donations. Needless to say, we obliged them for their bravery.
- Dinner at Silky O’Sullivan’s included what the server told us was a traditional Memphis meal of locally brewed beer, dry rub ribs, sausage and sharp cheddar and oysters on a half shell. (This was also a first for both Heath and me. To quote my favorite warthog, they were “slimy yet satisfying.”)
- From Silky’s we crossed the street to the Rum Boogie Cafe which drew us in with the soulful Joe Cockeresque band whose reverberations could be heard from the street. Autographed guitars of some of the bar/music venue’s more famous patrons were suspended from the ceiling, which was cool at first until I spotted a James Blunt autograph above a doorway. Womp.
Memphis was indeed a success with it’s bitter beers, mellow night life and toe tapping tunes, but the trip was still young. Details of the second half will be revealed in time. Until then, enjoy these titillating images.