Pick a destination and go.
Basically, that’s how our trip to Kentucky came about. In telling people of our pending travel plans, I was a little amazed of how many times I was asked a slightly surprised “Why?” Did we have family there? Friends there? A specific event planned?
Nope. Bucket list item.
And anyway, since when does one need a specific reason to travel, other than a simple general curiosity about the world surrounding us? I don’t know about you but…that’s good enough for me!
Perhaps the roots of my curiosity started from a suppressed passion that I’ve possessed since being knee-high to a grasshopper – horses. I don’t know what it is with little girls and horses, but I was not immune. My aunt taught me to ride a little black pony named Shadow when I was rather small and I’ve been hooked ever since. Through the years, I’ve (involuntarily) grown more distant with horses, never being able to actually own one, but they still hold a place in my heart. Any chance to interact with them directly or indirectly I’m not usually far behind. So how could I not plan a visit to one of the most beautiful batches of horse country in the U.S?
Aside from that, it’s kind of fun to just pick a somewhat random destination that you don’t know too much about and immerse yourself in it. You never know where it will take you.
We started our trip out in Louisville, KY, flying in early in the morning to make the most of our travel time there. In an attempt to save some money, we decided to camp most of the trip instead of booking hotel rooms. That was a little bit of an experience itself. Trying to find a way to pack our tent, two sleeping bags, and two pillows into a checked bag while not exceeding the size and weight limit was a little nerve-wracking. But after a few bag jumping sessions, we were able to finally close the bag and it made it through its flight no problem.
Of course, being quite limited in what we could bring, our camping experience was very much stripped down and much less “glamped up” than what has started to become the norm these days. I had to chuckle to myself as I walked through one of our packed campgrounds, right in the midst of Labor Day weekend. Most sites were decked out to the nines, some seeming to only be missing the kitchen sink – party lights, lawn chairs, humongous tents, air mattresses, grills, food stacked to the sky on picnic tables. Aaaaaand then there was ours. Mmm…tent. And a small stack of firewood. It was a little sad looking, admittedly. But it was all good. In the Army, you learn to make do with what you’ve got and to sleep literally anywhere. It provided us with our basic need of shelter, and saved us at least $80 a night on lodging.
So, Louisville. We made a beeline to Churchill Downs after hopping into our rental car. It seemed an appropriate place to start. For those who don’t know, Churchill Downs is where the famed Kentucky Derby horse race is held every year in the spring. Aside from the very cool racing museum they have there, you can also tour the grounds and kind of get a backstage view of it all. We easily spent a few hours there. Perhaps just as mesmerizing as actually being on such hallowed ground where so many great racehorses have set foot is to think of all the money that is going around that place on race day….
The rest of the day was spent toodling around Louisville, indulging in a lot of eats (Gralehaus, Quills Coffee, Feast, The Comfy Cow). A pitstop to Orvis helped give D a little bit of a fly fishing fix and me a little bit of the gimme-wanties.
Day two was a classic road trip day. We stopped around Lexington to take in the Kentucky Horse Park, where I finally got to say I went horseback riding in Kentucky, as we embarked on their trail ride.
After that, there was a lot of driving and exploring. I could have driven on the outskirts of Lexington all day, the country is so beautifully green and rolling and filled with equines. Not to mention the luxurious homes and farms that reside there. But we continued heading east to the skirts of the Appalachians.
Again, gorgeous country to travel through. My only regret is not stopping to take more pictures. We stopped off in the Daniel Boone National Forest to see the Natural Bridge – a natural rock formation that truly looks like a man-made bridge. It was a bit of a steep little hike up to it, but with all the BBQ and southern cooking, it was probably good for us. It did lead us to quite a sight to see.
My next sights were set to around Paintsville. Well, Van Lear and Butcher Holler, to be exact. Loretta Lynn’s birthplace. We got into the town just before the sun started going down. It was too late to take an actual tour of the house, but I was determined to set eyes on the place anyway, so D and I tried to use our not-so-specific address to find it. It took a little minute, but after much winding down a narrow little road, we finally happened upon it, tucked away in the backwoods. I found the surrounding area both beautiful and eerie, for some reason, especially with the sun setting in the mountains. It was wonderful.
One thing I was starting to get the impression of driving through Kentucky, especially up around Loretta Lynn’s house, was that there was a lot of wealth but also a lot of poverty and not as much in between. It was just a bit of an eye opener compared to where we are in the Midwest – there’s some wealth and some poverty, but more so just a lot of middle class just living and getting by. It seems more of an even keel. Of course, I don’t have any specific stats for either area, but just an outsider’s observation.
Day three was supposed to be fly fishing day. Well, it didn’t go quite as I had envisioned. We were now in the southern end of the state, around the huge Lake Cumberland and Cumberland Rivers. After a particularly unflattering hangry episode that morning (no breakfast and no coffee apparently turns me into an epically unpleasant person, if we’re putting it very lightly. Sorry D :l), we spent most of the day driving up and down very windy roads, trying to find a good fly fishing spot. Or the spot I had for some reason envisioned in my head. We did finally stop for a few hours on one branch of the Cumberland. The river was relatively shallow and pleasantly warm to walk in, but the fishing wasn’t phenomenal. D caught a very tiny trout and a sunfish, while I eventually just resigned to working on my casting.
Day four: Nashville! Another bucket list item to cross off the list. Only a couple of hours away from our last campsite, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bounce down into Tennessee and see it. It was blisteringly hot that day, especially in the city, and because of the holiday weekend it was that much more busy. We checked out the Country Music Hall of the Fame, took backstage tours of both the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry House, drove around house goggling in the very wealthy district of Belle Meade, and walked around a bit in the 12 South district, where I indulged on some delicious Cap’n Crunch Ice Cream (right??) at Sprinkles Cupcakes and Ice Cream. We also had a bit of a star run in when we happened upon Chaley Rose and Sam Palladio (who play Zoe and Gunnar on the show Nashville) hanging out at the Frothy Monkey coffee shop. I’ll credit D’s knack for people watching on that one, as I’m most oblivious when it comes to that sort of thing.
I enjoyed Nashville, though having only one day there left me a bit overwhelmed. Visiting it to get the full feel of the town definitely requires a few full days. D was not a fan, but he will always pick the open, secluded outdoors hands down to cities, whereas I enjoy it all. Perhaps one day it will make for a good sister getaway 🙂
Sitting backstage at the Opry, where so many of the greats have sat…
It probably won’t go down as one of our more epic trips, but we enjoyed the getaway and really making the most of exploring a totally new place. Not only does it fill a hole of curiosity, but it also never fails to leave you wanting for more, which is a good thing when it comes to travel. We weren’t an hour or two off the airplane and I was already devising plans for our next adventure 😉
Near, far, expensive, or on the cheap, keep finding ways to explore the world around you. Keep that wanderlust burning!