8 October: Reflections on our trip

Author: Mr A

Location: Atlanta, Georgia & Dallas, Texas, USA

I like to believe a holiday should change you in some way. For Catherine and I, this trip across the US has certainly had an impact on us. We have made some new friends, learnt some new things (like that gravy isn’t always brown, and kettles are not a universally recognised essential item for your kitchen), and decided to review our plans for next year (more mountains less scrubby desert).The America we have met on this trip is one full of kind, respectful people (no..we didn’t meet any politicians). We had so many instances of people (friends and strangers) go out of their way to be thoughtful and courteous. When you read the headlines focusing on the negative headlines from here, as elsewhere, its easy to forget a country is made up of individuals. It’s hard not to generalise about the “behaviour” of groups of people from the same geography, race, religion or sex. As humans, we want the simple truths, but really we will find as much variation as commonality.We have so many highlights it would be unfair to call them out, but I will. Thank you to all the people who went out of their way to help make our trip here go so well. Those who had us stay (may your livers recover), those who helped us settle in (Deborah of the care package extraordinaire), those who gave us tips on specific things to do in their patch, and most importantly to the doctors who provided a “just in case” safety net for Catherine (who can’t get medical travel insurance for her breathing disease).

We saw so much beauty in this country. The mid coast hinterland of California, then the giant sequoia trees and the soaring peaks of the Yosemite. Then over to Chicago’s downtown area along the lake front, then the much smaller scale lakefront community of Cicero, then on to the unique geological area of the Red River Gorge and finally the majesty of the Smoky Mountains.We have eaten some fabulous food, cooked by friends or out and about, the choice of cuisine is almost endless. The option to not have sugar or dairy in it…a little harder. We sampled some amazing wines in California (Dave and SJ, Susan and Joe – you have such great taste!), and mind bending cocktails and bourbon courtesy of the Chases in Cicero.Thank you for your hospitality America. It’s time to return to Sydney, and the life and friends we have there, but we are certain we shall return.

3 October: Kentucky wanderings

Author: Mr A

Location: Red River Gorge National Park, Kentucky, USA

It was a hot a steamy morning down here in Kentucky – 87% humidity and 30 degrees – sticky as…but off we went unfettered to bag us some more walks.The Auxier Ridge trail took us 8km out and back along a …wait for it…ridge…which was excellent for Catherine’s current breathing capacity and my old bones. It was another great recommendation from our mate Tom, although I think we only managed two of the five trails he suggested!

Check out these views though…Bird life was a bit sparse, a couple of eagles graced us with their soaring presence briefly, then haughtily exited stage right when even Catherine looked too big a morsel for lunch.

We had to make do with the blue bellied Eastern Fence lizards and butterflies instead.

It looks as though a lot of people camp out on the end of the trail, despite the signs forbidding it. Pity they can’t manage to carry a few extra grams and take a trowel to bury their waste. Some things are universal unfortunately, we experience the same in Australia.We staggered back to the car severely feeling the humidity, and retreated by mid afternoon to the wonderful AC cooled Cliffview Lodge. However, we had a bit of strange experience on the drive back, all of sudden really weird noises came out of the phone and car audio system while I was negotiating a tight bend. What the heck was that? A message came on the phone screen – it was a presidential alert testing the national emergency wireless system.I’m surprised Trump didn’t use it to send a personal message to us all..something self-effacing, well thought through and fact based no doubt.

1-2 October: Heading south to Red River Gorge

Author: Mrs A

Location: Natural Bridge State Park, Kentucky, USA

Monday: We farewelled our friends in Cicero and took the Interstate south, heading away from the flat cornfields of Indiana, briefly through Ohio and up into the rolling forested hills of Kentucky.

The changing scenery was quite beautiful, and the temperature climbed too, up to 30 degrees celsius by the time we nearly reached our destination at 3pm.

We’d booked in at a lodge in Natural Bridge State Park, but on arrival we soon found it was not ideal. Built in the early 1960s, we suspect the rooms have never been upgraded, with a strong smell of damp, every surface slightly sticky and swollen doors we cannot open…or then close. We were checked in for three nights! Ugh!Mr A did some careful negotiating, using my breathing as an excuse, managed to get them to agree to refund us the next two nights…we’ll be checking out in the morning and moving to a better rated hotel.

We had a short stroll around the area – it’s very pretty and extremely quiet, a lakeside walk surrounded by oak trees filled with birds and chirping insects. We’re excited to look around over the next couple of days.

Natural Bridge State Park is famous for several weathered sandstone archways, often over watercourses. It is also home to numerous other unique weathered sandstone formations. Very close by is the Red River Gorge and the Clifty Wilderness Area – all in all an area with much natural beauty.

Tuesday: The day dawned overcast and misty but that didn’t stop us heading out for our first hike to Henson’s Cave Arch. This was not a particularly exciting walk, but got us warmed up for a day of potentially hiking in the rain as the heavens opened as soon as we left the car! The arch is more of a cave, and the downpour livened up the waterfall which is often a trickle through here. We could see the area was not a stranger to damp conditions, however, with moss, lichens and a wide variety of fungi growing in the forests.

We checked out of our damp and smelly Hemlock Lodge and headed across to our new accomodation at Cliffview Lodge. So much nicer! A large, clean room with a sliding door leading to a wraparound veranda with rocking chairs and swing benches overlooking a beautiful view.

The rain started to die off around midday, so we headed out again to our next hike. This time we followed the recommendations from our friend Tom in Indiana, as he had selected some highlights for us which fit our criteria – not too steep or strenuous!

First of all was the Rock Bridge Trail, a very pretty hike through the forest with not only a stunning rock bridge, but the picturesque Creation Falls on the way. We were unable to get to a couple of the other walks he recommended due to bogginess of the road – we really missed our Landcruiser here. But after this walk headed to Gray’s Arch.More spectacular scenery awaited us there with just the very beginnings of autumn beginning to show in the foliage. We’re just loving being among these deciduous trees, reminding us of our lives in England, and the scenery and walks otherwise quite reminiscent of the Blue Mountains, just outside Sydney.

Our final walk for the day took us to Natural Bridge. As this is a long way up, we decided to take the chair lift to the top and hike back down. Thankfully by this time, the rain had really dried up and it was a beautiful afternoon.Once up, it was a spectacular view as we walked over this bridge, and then climbed under it to begin the walk back down.To reach the underside of the bridge we had to squeeze through a narrow crack in the rock, but the view was worth it. The geology sure is impressive here!Our hike down took us through more narrow, low and extremely steep and slippery pathways – we were so grateful Tom had loaned us two hiking poles.Before long we were back at the car, ready to head back for showers and food.

We’ve clocked up 11.5km (7.2 miles) and climbed 64 floors today…our fish and salad burritos were much appreciated, enjoyed with cups of herbal tea (still drying out after the weekend!). Fabulous – and another day exploring tomorrow, too!