Sunday, June 9
Layover Day at Red River Gorge
Daniel Boone National Forest – Kentucky
Night 64° Day 79° Mostly sunny
A great night of sleep. I awoke at dawn, but didn’t get up and drifted in and out of sleep. Dreams came and went. Eventually I walked over to the shower building. No one else was up. The cold, never to get hot, water was brisk. Exactly as it should be in the woods on a warm morning.
On the way back I went to the bike and uncovered it. The clock said 6:55. Perfect. I dressed for a morning ride and rode out of camp by 7:15. I headed to a convenience store/cafe that told me the day before, they open at 5:30 for breakfast. They were closed. One other small gas station was closed too. The next possible place was in the opposite direction. I headed back past the campground, over the mountain, through some tight twisting turns (I traveled this way yesterday) to a Shell Gas Station. They were open.
I bought a small coffee, which is jumbo size in this place. It was surprisingly very good. A young fellow who sent me into another county yesterday for additional supplies was opening. He remembered me. He now directed me to a town with actual restaurants that he knew were open. This plan caused me to reverse direction on the circular route I was planning around the Geological Area. That was fine by me. So off I went, had breakfast, found some photo ops, and made it onto the large loop road while the weather was still delightful.
The Geological Area is interesting to me as all geology is. However, this is not, knock your socks off Grand Canyon style geology. Over eons of time different sediments were laid down and compressed into massive rock layers. Over millions of years, uplift and erosion occurred. Valleys and gorges formed. The rock layers weathered differently depending on how hard they are. In this area, at the tops of many cliffs, you will find large arching rocks forming bridges over the worn away rock below. Some of these bridges are very large. You can walk across them without any concern for their stability. Underneath the bridge is perfect shelter for hikers caught in a storm or an Indian hunting party.
What makes this geologic area less well known than some others is biology, specifically flora: trees, shrubs, bushes, and undergrowth. The state is covered in greenery. You can’t easily see the geology for the forest. Think about it: if the Grand Canyon was completely covered in trees, would it be as spectacular?
This area of the Daniel Boone National Forest has many hiking trails allowing access to the vast interior and its hidden treasures. As pleasant as it is riding a scooter through its dense woods, experiencing the Red River Gorge Geological Area is best done on foot.
In time I made it around and back out onto the main highway. I was near the convenience store/cafe that was supposed to be open at 5:30. It was open now. I stopped in, bought an ice tea in a can, and sat at their one of three booths without an ashtray. Obviously, the non-smoking booth. This place has wifi. That’s the kicker. It has electrical outlets too, but they are overloaded with plugs to neon beer signs. I eyeballed the lines and decided to unplug one that appeared not to be on. I made sure not to unplug the Open sign. It worked. I answered fan mail, made pithy, astute comments on all the best political sites, refuted a few op-ed pieces in the Times, and generally set the world right.
With the ice tea finished and nothing to do, I headed back over the mountain past the Shell station to Natural Bridge State Park where I would find some good photo opportunities. Things changed.
I stopped at the Shell station for a snack. It started to rain. I pulled Ruby under the large pump overhang near some newspaper dispensers by the front door. I stood next to her for a few minutes and it rained harder. I pushed her closer to the front door and the newspaper dispensers. I was getting splattered. I took my camera and iPad cases inside the station. There is a tall round table with three stools facing the pumps and Ruby. I sat there. I sat there for three hours.
The rain came in three varieties: downpour, heavy downpour, torrential downpour. It came in waves. Lightening blazed, thunder crackled. During this time other motorcyclists arrived, first one to a pump then three, then seven. A big white Honda Gold Wing pulled up facing Ruby. It edged closer and closer. I thought its cowling would open up and consume Ruby. It stopped. Two people all dressed in white cotton oozed off their seats. Motorcyclists on all brands of bikes appeared. Only a few had rain gear. They started crowding the pumps and overhang and front door. At the height of this deluge I estimated 60 bikers were seeking shelter like me. Unlike me, most of them wanted to stand outside and smoke cigarettes near the gas pumps.
Many people in autos were showing up too. It was a mad house at the Shell station. The staff took it in stride. They were great. If a bedraggled and dripping motorcyclist stood at their counter they handed them a big black garbage bag, no charge. One staff member would break into song, a deep religious call unique to the Appalachians. She’d only sing a measure at a time then the clamor of customers would take over. It was an unexpected genuine and authentic anchor to a place and a culture. The Shell gas station, Slade, Kentucky, 2013, who’d have guessed?
The rain lightened again and I decided to make a dash back up the mountain to my campsite. I held off going because what awaited me was time in the tent. That’s it, just sitting in the tent writing this. At the station, I was the first in from the rain and the last one to leave. I thanked the staff for their hospitality and bid them adieu. They thanked me for coming and bringing all my friends. Ya’ll come back now.