Home, Sweet Home: A Return to the Southeast at Red River Gorge

Home, Sweet Home: A Return to the Southeast at Red River GorgeRight now, I’m sitting outside to write, and the air in my lungs is so thick I could drink it. Everything smells like wet grass, and the scenery surrounding my picnic table consists of rolling hills carpeted with trees, old wooden crates stacked with empty Ale-8 bottles, and folks milling about while saying things like “thank you ma’am,” and “pleased to meet ya.” For dinner, we’re cooking black eyed peas and collard greens – and all of this can only mean one thing:

I’m back home – in the southeast.

We drove 20+ hours from Colorado to get to Kentucky, and every moment since our arrival at Red River Gorge has been a whirlwind of me thinking “man, I am so happy to be back in the south.” Climbers here always say hello at the crag (unheard of in Colorado, yeah, I’m calling you out on that), people speak with slow drawls at the grocery store, and I can finally ask for corn nuggets at a restaurant without getting funny looks.  To say I am content would be an understatement – I am elated, overjoyed, impossibly satisfied with where I am at this very moment.

The Red River Gorge is a particularly special place for climbers. We were torn between here and Tennessee as our official “return to the south” destinations, but I’m glad we chose Kentucky. This picnic table I’m writing from is situated under a pavilion at Miguel’s – a legendary pizza and camping spot where climbers from around the world gather. In the parking lot, there are cars from Oregon, California, Tennessee, New York, Washington, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Florida.

When I haven’t been inhaling fat slices of Miguel’s pizza or chasing pups around the campground, I’ve been reintroducing myself to the stone that sparked my love for climbing: southern sandstone. Oh how I missed these exquisitely exposed chunks of pristinely composed sediment, all spritely colored and begging to be gripped. Even when I’m on the verge of tears trying to will my body to move up to the next bolt, my love for this sandstone is unwavering. Southern sandstone is just the best damn rock in the world.

Niko crushing Scar Tissue (5.12a) at The Zoo in Red River Gorge, Kentucky.We’ve spent the past few days revisiting familiar crags and climbing new lines with old friends. My first climb of the trip was at the wall in Muir Valley where I first climbed at Red River Gorge a few years ago – it truly felt like a homecoming. The last time I was attached to a rope on that wall, I was trembling, shaking, hysterically crying on my first big-girl lead climb (I still flashed the route, which almost makes the scene even more shameful). This time, I pulled on the holds with confidence, I clipped the bolts with ease, and not a single tear was shed. It felt good.

As usual, Niko has been crushing and his psyche is sky-high as he climbs old projects and explores new lines. It was great to watch him work Scar Tissue (5.12a) and relive the memories of our last trip out here in May 2012.

Niko and I have been saying the same thing for the past seven months since we left the southeast, and now that we’re back after touring the country, it rings as loudly as ever: We belong in the southeast, and there is nowhere else we’d rather be. 

The Big Yellow Van has a Plan: We’re Heading to Kentucky Today!

After a month in Colorado’s tri-city area, Niko and I are elated to depart from the mountains of the west in favor of our most beloved part of the country: the southeast. But honestly, we had no solid plans about where exactly in the southeast we were heading – which occurred to us last night while we were trying to figure out a driving plan for the next few days. Oops!

But now we have a plan: We’re heading to Red River Gorge in Kentucky!Climbing one of my favorite routes at Red River Gorge, Plate Tectonics (5.10a).

We’ve got about 20 hours of driving ahead of us, but by Friday evening we’ll be in one of the most beautiful gorges I have ever seen, stuffing our faces with pizza from Miguel’s, climbing aesthetic sandstone lines all day, trying not to pee on copperheads, and drinking a LOT of Ale-8. I can’t wait to get back to the southeast, and The Red is a perfect spot to begin our homecoming tour.

Also on the agenda: our first Cracker Barrel stop since we left the southeast seven months ago. We’ve been hoarding gift cards waiting for the right moment to feast on chicken ‘n dumplins and savory breakfast platters – and the time is now! What better way to celebrate our return to the southeast than with a comfort meal, rocking chairs, and good ‘ole southern hospitality?

I cannot wait to get back to the southeast. These next few months are going to be full of climbing on sandstone (my favorite!), stuffing my face with corn nuggets, reuniting with old friends, and soaking up all the southern scenery. I hear it’s still blazing hot down there, but fall is on the way – and there is no better place to watch the leaves change than in the rolling hills of the south!

So, what does this mean for the blog? Well, Red River Gorge is a notorious pit of bad cell service and spotty wi-fi, so I might not have any updates until Monday. Keep an eye on my Instagram and Twitter for more frequent updates whenever I get into a decent service zone. Cheers!

Inspiring climbing and a gnarly whipper on Amarillo Sunset at Red River Gorge

While every climb, boulder, and cliff line is undoubtedly beautiful, certain routes offer an aesthetic that sets it apart from neighboring sheets of exposed rock. At Red River Gorge, one of these climbs unrivaled in its glory is “Amarillo Sunset,” a 5.11b that sits in solitude along a secluded area deep in the woods.

The approach to the climb begins with an approach by car. Our first attempts at reaching the back areas of Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve were thwarted by muddy roads with deep ditches carved out in them – no match for my low-profile hatchback. On the second day, we returned with some beta for a better way to get to the crags, and were successful in reaching our pursuit.

Our crew was comprised of the usual Tally Rock Gym suspects, plus two friends-of-friends from New Jersey who were out on their first sport climbing trip. When we made it to the base of Amarillo Sunset, we were greeted by a group who were wrapping up and removing their gear from the bolts. They gushed about what a blast the climb was, and set an atmosphere of charged anticipation amongst my cohorts.

Finally, our crew began to rope up. One by one, the boys crushed through the moves on this stunning line. I had been debating with my lady friend Rachel whether I felt confident enough to lead it, and ultimately settled on top-roping during my first attempt, with the possibility of a second go on lead if I felt strong enough.

I busied myself by clamoring through a thicket thick with poison ivy to a perfectly situated boulder that provided a great vantage point for capturing the impressive stature of Amarillo Sunset. I was joined on my perch by a group of Canadians who humored me with square-shaped Reeses cups and gushing adoration for Niko’s back muscles. We munched on chocolate and watched in awe from our spectacular viewing spot.

When Rachel got on Amarillo Sunset, she instantly squashed my thought of top-roping it as she led it like a true bad ass. Seriously, this girl is 10x the woman I will ever be; she knows no fear, and doesn’t understand the concept of personal limits. For Rachel, the only purpose for limits is to push them.

I snapped photos of Rachel as she powered through the first, second, and third bolts. My own confidence skyrocketed as I watched how effortlessly she seemed to be tackling the route. As she moved to clip the fourth, she hit a tricky spot and didn’t feel comfortable clipping from the appropriate hold – so she continued climbing a bit to gain better footing.

And then she fell.

As all climbers do – and with her legs properly positioned between the rope. Everything was gravy for a split second.

And then she flipped. 

Upon impact with the wall, the rope somehow wrapped itself around her bare legs, and plummeted her into one of those upside-down positions that have you cringing when you watch it happen on Dead Point Mag videos.

There was a round of gasps, and a collective “holy shit” rang throughout our ranks before Rachel quipped down to us with a shaky “I’m okay!” She quickly followed that up with, “I think you should lower me now,” and Niko gently lowered her to the ground then rushed to her side.

After the shock of the moment subsided, I was truly taken by the way my beau tended to my fallen ladyfriend. He was so delicate and concerned, and touched every part of her knee, asking where it hurt. He tenderly flexed her leg and poked at the swollen bits to make sure nothing was broken, and it was apparent that his thorough care for Rachel instantly calmed her.

But enough of my awwww moment. Back to Rachel.

Once the swelling in her knee subsided, she realized that the source of her throbbing pain was actually in her heel – that’s the body part that first made impact with the wall. Someone whipped out a comically sized bottle of Ibuprofen, Rachel downed a couple, and within a few minutes, it was like nothing had ever happened. Like I said, the girl is a bad ass.

I’m a fairly impressionable gal, and Rachel’s experience totally intimidated me – so I got right back to my plan of top-roping the route. Unfortunately, thunder and rain bore down upon us soon after, and that coupled with a whiny European who came up on our group and impatiently mused about how it was a “waste” to hike “all the way” out to the crag to have to wait for this one climb caused me to lose the opportunity to get on the route myself.

Amarillo Sunset taught me a great lesson about regret. If you see a line you want to climb, and you don’t make an effort to climb it (despite weather conditions and rude dudes with snobby accents) – you will regret it.

But now, I have a reason to get back to Red River Gorge as soon as possible. Amarillo Sunset will be mine – and not on top-rope.

Five Ways to Piss Off Your Campmates

First of all, my time spent at Land of the Arches Campground was an overall phenomenal experience. The site was a mecca for climbers seeking to avoid the chaos of Miguel’s, and my buddies were big fans of the foos ball table located inside the main bunker.

Unfortunately, our camping was not without a few hiccups – thanks to a family of loud hillbillies with no concept of hushed voices, delicate footsteps, or playing by the rules. We had set up our camp in a quiet, unoccupied corner of the campground, satisfied by our wide-open surroundings, and content with our little plot of land. Look how perfect it was:

So, you want to piss off your campmates? Here are five steps to a guaranteed grumpy neighbor.

  1. Begin by arriving at to the campground at 2:30, in the morning. Lights out at camp is 11 PM? Silly campers, this group is just getting started. Forget a quickly pitched tent and instant snoozefest – this collection of inconsiderate campers went right to town setting up their gaudy tented empire. Blow up a giant air mattress with the noisiest pump you can find, hammer in your tent stakes with the mightiest banging possible, and be sure to step on your neighbor’s tent a few times in the process.
  2. During your boisterous twilight set-up process, bicker with your spouse as much as possible. “I wasn’t being nasty, you were being nasty.” – You know what’s nasty? My attitude in the morning after listening to the woes of your finicky relationship all night.
  3. Show total disregard for the concept of shared space. Sure, there’s an enormous amount of grassy sprawl across this campground, but why claim your own area when you can pitch your tent just inches away from another group? Who wouldn’t want to hear the sounds of your quarrels, complaining children, and assorted ruckus? Hog the fire pit, and for bonus points, keep your headlights on for as long as possible when pulling into the site – shining directly upon someone else’s tent, of course.
  4. Let your kids run amok. I know we’re outside, but that doesn’t excuse your excessive use of your outside voice during an hour when everyone else at camp is trying to snooze. I’m not sure which constantly repeated phrase was more obnoxious, “When are we going to Cracker Barrel?” in the middle of the night; or “Who threw away the last frosted Pop Tart?” all morning. Kid, your Pop Tart is in the trash – fish it out and eat it, or shut up and munch on something else.
  5. Don’t forget to rival your entrance spectacle with your exit strategy. Quiet hours run from 11 PM to 7 AM? Perfect, let’s wake up at 6. Since your annoyed campmates moved their tents away from your infuriating mess of a site, ensure that your noisy departure is loud enough to still reach their ears. Rev your truck’s engine a few times for good measure, let the kids haphazardly attempt taking down the tents, and loudly shout “It’s time to wake up!” in a pitch that can awaken everyone else at the campground too.

Thankfully, these rude campers only remained as our camp neighbors for two nights before heading out to infect other parts of Kentucky with their obnoxious disregard for others – but fear not, a few days later, a field trip of 30 middle schoolers descended upon the campground. Thankfully, this time we were wise enough to move ourselves to the most secluded spot in the area.

Moral of the story? Don’t be that guy. 

Do you have any sour experiences with not-so-awesome campmates? I’d love to hear ‘em!

Video of Niko crushing Hippocrite (5.12a) at Red River Gorge

Red River Gorge. What a destination. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bummed to see a climbing trip end, particularly because I’ve got about a dozen climbing buddies who are still out there right now. Gorgeous crags, overhangs that stay dry even in downpours, phenomenal pizza, and a beautiful camping experience. A lady truly couldn’t have asked for a better trip.

I have about 800 photos and a dozen or so video clips to edit before the full trip report, but I couldn’t resist posting a quick littleteaser to give you a taste of Kentucky.

This video features Niko climbing “Hippocrite,” an aesthetic 5.12a line that sits towards the left side of a crag called “The Zoo.” We visited this area on Cinco de Mayo, which I declared a rest day. Armed with a six-pack of Coronas, a juicy lime, and a little salt shaker, I spent the afternoon sipping on cold beer while the boys went to town crushing some gnarly routes. Check it out:

Note: This video was shot with my iPhone 4s – and I was about three beers deep when I decided to film the climb, so please excuse the lack of my usual standards, ha. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajhbj4OR-Ts]

Here’s a fun little bonus photo/story: After shooting Niko on Hippocrite, I was overcome with the urge to break the seal – so I tromped down into the woods and found a nice little spot to relieve myself. In my tipsy stupor, I was totally ignorant to what was going on right in front of me – I didn’t even notice the snake that my stream had narrowly missed.

I literally almost squatted on the slithery creature, and upon noticing it, I immediately whipped out my phone to take some pictures of the cute little guy. Here’s the best one – I reckon it might just be the best picture I’ve ever taken on my iPhone:

It wasn’t until I returned to the group and showed off my shots that I was jolted to be informed that my little friend was actually a copperhead. Oops.

Stay tuned for plenty more updates from my trip to Red River Gorge!

Where am I now? Crushin’ rock at Red River Gorge in Kentucky!

Greetings, from a nearly empty Panera Bread in a very, very small town outside of Lexington, Kentucky. After a day of driving that began at 5:00 AM, I’m taking a dinnertime break to co-host the weekly ATQA Adventure Travel chat – and update my lovely readers on my ever-changing whereabouts.

As all my hype on Twitter and Facebook has given away, I am beginning a week-long adventure to Red River Gorge near Slade, Kentucky. Armed with a guidebook, my trusty La Sportiva climbing shoes, and all the appropriate gear, I’m finally putting my endurance training to the test with a crush-fest at this iconic crag. I’m joined by my wonderful co-pilot (in travel and life), Niko, and the owner of Tally Rock Gym, Rich.

Never been to the glorious sandstone wonderland that is Red River Gorge? Give yourself a taste of the adventure with this great video I found while pouring over every bit of Red River Gorge information I could get my hands on prior to the trip:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nm-k2Exp_Wk&feature=related]

I’ve got my eye on more routes than I’ll ever be able to tackle in just a week, but my most beloved project is Amarillo Sunset, a gorgeous 5.11b that is calling my name. I’ll be shacked up at a campsite with wi-fi since I’m not taking any time off work for this trip (LivingSocial, I love you for giving me a job that lets me work while on climbing trips!) – so stay tuned for updates live from Red River Gorge!

For now, enjoy this shot of Amarillo Sunset, compliments of Ben Cassedy, who submitted this photo to the Mountain Project collection. Seriously, how could anyone NOT want to get their hands all sweaty and chalky on this beautiful line?

An adventurous road-tripper’s top 10 travel moments of 2011

What travel blog would be complete without a year-end review of the best travel experiences from 2011? As I begin to daydream of all the amazing adventures that 2012 has waiting around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the outrageous and memorable times I had on the road this year. Every moment spent road tripping across America is held dearly, but these ten moments stick out above the rest.

10. Escaping for a week of relaxation in the mountains around Hendersonville, North Carolina

My seven-week September solo trip deserves a big mention, but the leg of my adventure that deserves the biggest accolades is the week I spent lounging around Hendersonville, North Carolina. My ex-girlfriend’s mother invited me to stay at her charming country home, and I spent the week sampling the area’s best cuisine, picking apples at an orchard, dancing the night away at a climbing buddy’s wedding in Flat Rock, and exploring the mountainous region of Brevard.

My solo trip commenced with a rough patch of personal heartache, so this miniature escape truly assisted in establishing up the positive vibes that I carried throughout the remainder of my travels.

9. Celebrating my 23rd birthday boating on Lake Dillon in Frisco, Colorado

My solo trip ended just days before my 23rd birthday, and in true girly fashion, I was determined to make my celebration one to remember. Having freshly transplanted myself and my belongings to Denver, Colorado, I wanted to capitalize on my new surroundings. After browsing potential ideas like a pedal-yourself beer wagon, we settled on renting a pontoon boat on Lake Dillon. The drive out to Frisco was absolutely gorgeous, as was the entire day of mountainside boating. I discovered my new favorite whiskey, vanilla-infused Phillips Union, and our crew downed countless cans of beer while we cruised around the frigid lake.

Having been raised boating on the warm waters in Miami, this Colorado lake experience introduced me to a whole new style of waterfront fun – no sandy beaches around, this day was all about mountain peaks and snow forest landscapes.

8. A wild hike up a muddy cliffside during a rainy day at Boulder Canyon in Colorado

This was one of those totally unplanned, totally unpredicted experiences that taught me the value of relinquishing control and embracing the idea of getting very, very dirty. On our way to what we thought was a sport climbing area, a group of cohorts and I scrambled up a steep, chossy cliff that led to frequent falling rock calls, one very bloody knee, and more dirt caked underneath my fingernails that I could ever imagine – but it was too much fun.

I was skeptical about the messy scramble at first, since I was carrying my beloved Nikon camera and equipment in my pack, but after a sprinkle of rain turned our dirty hike into slushy chaos, all bets were off. I returned to the car slathered in mud, and spent the evening picking sticky burrs out of my hair – but again, too much fun.

7. Watching the sunrise over the Grand Canyon in Arizona

As the final ‘big’ stop on my post-graduation road trip with Niko in May, we made a pit stop at Grand Canyon National Park – but our original intentions didn’t involve a sunrise. Niko had been dying to see the sunset, so we raced our way along barren roads to catch the sun before it dipped beyond the rim of the canyon. Literally missing the sunset by three minutes, we decided to spend the night in the nearby tourist town so we could watch the sunrise.

After spending a very uncomfortable night sleeping in a hotel parking lot, Niko roused me from my catatonic state and we returned to the park. This time we made sure to arrive well before the sun, and were pleasantly surprised to find the area was nearly deserted – I guess the 5 AM wakeup call for the sunrise is reserved for only the most diehard adventurers. I was cranky and cold, but I ended up with one of my favorite Niko photos of all time.

6. Pitching my tent at Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park

This campground, located inside Yosemite Valley, is one of the most legendary watering holes for famous climbers. It was inspiring to camp at the same spot that housed icons like Lynne Hill and Ron Kauk – Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia even used to sell homemade gear from the camp’s parking lot.

Everything from waking up at 6:00 in the morning to queue in line for camp registration to the rusty bear-proof food lockers and name tags we had to tie on our tents for the ranger check-ins combined to create this inspiring air of climbing confidence and community vibes that spread throughout the grounds. I woke up in the morning pumped to climb some Yosemite granite.

5. My first sport climb at Sandrock in Alabama

An avid climber from the moment my fingertips first grazed the plastic holds at Tallahassee Rock Gym, it was a damn shame that I had never sport climbed until August 2011. Two years into my climbing obsession, I finally embarked on a sport climbing trip to a beautiful crag called Sandrock near Steele, Alabama.

The exhilaration of clipping into the anchors at the top of my first lead was only rivaled by the experience of sleeping out beneath the stars atop the rock formations at the mountain summit, and waking up to explosive hues of sunrise. It was one of the moments that cemented my adoration for the outdoors and living in nature – although the chiggers that infested my bellybutton on this trip weren’t the best reminder of why I love living in nature.

4. Getting a taste of desert life in Moab, Utah

Anyone who has asked me about my travels in 2011 has heard an earful about my infatuation with Moab. Niko and I spent a week living in the desert in May, when we came to visit our two buddies who spent the summer working as river guides in Moab. I became enthralled with the lifestyle of these dirty, leather-skinned desert people.

Over the course of a very short week, I photographed beautiful roadside climbs at Potash, hiked through Devil’s Garden in Arches National Park, ate sandy campfire food alongside my fellow tent-dwellers at the Lazy Lizard Hostel, and met some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered while traveling – Josephine, Paul, Chelsey, and Mike, I’m talkin’ to you.

Seriously, you must visit Moab. It is my most highly recommended destination.

3. A weekend at Still Mountain Retreat in Willits, California

After weeks of vagabonding throughout Moab and Yosemite, Niko and I readily accepted an invitation to join some friends for a relaxing weekend retreat at family cabins tucked high in the mountains near Willits, California. The entire weekend was a fantastic blur of great homemade food, excursions into the woods and nearby waterfall, and peaceful time spent in great company.

Niko and I stayed in a small cabin with an attic-like entrance to the second-story sleeping area – which inspired notions of simple living and small spaces.  It was so refreshing to experience this place tucked away from civilization, where all that mattered was when the next shuffleboard tournament would take place.

2. Driving into the mountains on I-25 on my way to Denver, Colorado

My September solo trip concluded with a final haul down to Miami to load up my hatchback with my belongings before returning to Denver to move-in. The push back to Colorado from Florida was grueling with a jam-packed car, but as I finally hit the Rockies after driving through hours of flatlands, I was overwhelmed by the most intense feeling of pure joy I have ever felt. My music was blasted at full volume, all windows were rolled down, and I literally burst out with ecstatic squeals as I wound my way through the beautiful mountains that would soon become home.

1. Camping solo for the first time at Lake Barkley State Park in Cadiz, Kentucky

Of all my travels throughout 2011, there is one experience that shines above the rest. My first night spent camping solo was a huge milestone for me as an independent traveler. While I spent seven weeks on a solo road trip, the first night of successfully pitching my tent, building a fire, and surviving the wilderness through daybreak was easily my biggest accomplishment.

My evening was spent at Lake Barkley State Park, a tranquil slice of outdoors paradise sitting near the town of Cadiz in rural Kentucky. Family and fans of my adventures had been dreading this day since the beginning of my trip, but I approached the evening with a calm attitude and wound up having a great night tending to my fire and basking in the peace of solitude. My first experience camping solo left me with overwhelming sentiments that I can handle anything my travels throw my way – and I don’t need anyone’s help to do it.

What are your top travel moments from 2011?
If you’ve got a link to your own blog post, I’d love for you to share it below in the comments section! You can also tweet pics and links to @themorningfresh, or share your experiences on The Morning Fresh Facebook page.

How I survived my first night camping alone in Kentucky’s Lake Barkley State Park

Embarking on a solo trip implies a certain degree of, well, solitude. While my well-wishers gushed endlessly of their anticipation for all my adventures, one reoccurring issue continually arose from friends and family: “You’re going to be camping alone, Katie? I don’t like that, I’ll help you pay for a hotel instead.”

For me, the idea of camping alone for the first time wasn’t a necessity to save money – it became a right of passage in my mind. The idea of successfully building camp, starting a fire, and not getting eaten by a bear became the ultimate idea of accomplishment. During the first week of my trip, my host in North Carolina made damn sure I didn’t even think about trying to camp while she was around. Eventually, time pressed on and I had to continue westward. I chose Kentucky as my first overnight stop during the haul to Colorado, purely because I had never visited the state before.

I drove northwest through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the rolling hills of Tennessee, then eagerly crossed into Kentucky. My path took me past Fort Campbell North, and I had a great moment of patriotism watching military trucks and planes amid an enormous American flag. Finally, I reached my destination for the evening: Lake Barkley State Park, near Cadiz, KY.


I checked out the lakefront area and campsites while the day was still bright, then drove a few miles up the road to a gas station. As I watched an adorable old man filling his green tractor at one of the pump station, I stocked up on all the necessities: firewood (which turned out to be entirely moldy), a ‘KENTUCKY’ lighter, two cans of Coors Light, and lighter fluid that hillbillies convinced me to purchase upon hearing that I was planning on building my own fire.

When I returned to camp, I scoped out a site that faced the lake and was moderately close to the small handful of other campers. I found a soft spot in the grass, and pitched my tent – which was the only tent at camp, a little minnow in a pond of RVs and impressive trailers. The only evidence remaining of my site’s fire pit was a charred circle in the grass, so I combed the surrounding wooded area for rocks and rebuilt the pit. A large log sitting next to a fallen tree became the perfect fireside bench. Then I became a woman, and built a fire – without using any lighter fluid, mind you.

The rest of my evening was spent cooking up some pasta, reading a bit of my book, and feverishly tending to the fire. After the nightfall halted my reading, I focused all my attention on the needy flames. I must have spent a total of at least three hours scouring the spooky wooded area behind me for thick branches and bits of dry logs. This was the night I conquered my fear of the dark, and regained a slice of confidence. Aside from my little raccoon buddy who kept creeping up on me while I was absentmindedly poking at embers, there was nothing but hooting owls and a gentle lake breeze to alarm me. All that fuss and worrying, for absolutely nothing.

With two beers and a pot full of pasta resting in my belly, I finally decided it was time to retreat to my tent for some rest. I threw the last remaining leg of firewood into the flames, and zipped myself snugly into my sleeping bag. I had been anticipating a long night spent awake listening to the random sounds of the forest in fear, but instead drifted swiftly to sleep while my camp neighbor’s little dog howled at the raccoons.

The next morning, I awoke at the crack of dawn, and swiftly packed up camp. I was eager to make good time during my leg from Lake Barkley to Kansas City, so I quickly hit the road. On the winding road out of the park, I hit a huge blanket of fog that covered the fields sitting below the guardrails. The sun was just beginning to shine on the day, and everything was sprinkled with cold dew.

I experienced the best mood of my entire trip after I left Kentucky. I drove over the state lines of Illinois and Missouri reflecting on my sense of self-satisfaction. Shamelessly, I felt like a bad ass. At first, I felt accomplished for being one of the only ladies I know who have camped alone, and then my thoughts expanded to realize that the majority of my male friends hadn’t either. I had doubted my ability to enjoy camping solo because I had always gone with a boyfriend or climbing buddies, but really, all I needed was myself.

Check out my campground review, area information, and more at the
Lake Barkley State Resort Park page on MyCampingRoadTrip.com

Oh, you didn’t already know? I’m on the road again – on a solo adventure.

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. I set off on a new journey, and hardly gave you warning before I crossed four state lines. In any event, greetings from Hendersonville, North Carolina. This morning you find me sipping on piping hot tea, and writing out on a breezy porch while hummingbirds fight over a sugary feeder – but back to the bigger picture. Where am I headed? Check it out:

The starting point was good ole Tallahassee, Florida. After botched Alabama climbing plans, one final bout of fleeting romance, and an amazing evening dancing with a local band, Catfish Alliance, I headed out on Sunday evening and forged a rainy path to Hendersonville, North Carolina. I have been blessed with amazing hospitality from Dena, who is tolerantly letting me crash in her guestroom for the week.

So what have I been up to since my arrival? A bevy of posts will dive into deeper details, but here’s the condensed plot: Tropical Storm Lee left me with a few days of rain, but my time was filled with hours of playing board games with the sweet little girls who live next door, dinners and drinks in downtown Hendersonville, touring Eagle’s Nest outdoor academy in Pisgah Forest, stuffing my face in Brevard with an old friend Marlin, banjo music and slam poetry, visiting a brewery in Asheville, meeting so many unexpected friends and storytellers, my first foray into yoga, a fifth grade talent show, and snagging Dena’s famous chicken pot pie recipe. Phew, talk about a run-on sentence.

I have absolutely fallen in love with western North Carolina, and could easily see myself spending a few years living here. It has all the outdoorsy vibes of Colorado, but it’s comfortably nestled in my beloved “South.” It unsettles me sometimes to admit it, but I love being a southern girl.

So what’s next? As smitten as I am with this area, I am itching to hit the road again. I will be arriving in Denver by the 15th, so I’ve given myself about four days of 6-8 hours worth of driving each day. From here, I’ll be making my first overnight stop in Kentucky – and then it all becomes a mystery. If you’re interested in my daily musings, check out my Twitter @themorningfresh – which you can also enjoy on the right hand side of the blog.

Trust me, you’re going to want to keep in touch as I experience my first evenings camping solo. There is simply no way that my first night pitching my tent, building a fire, and cooking a meal in the woods will go over without some ridiculous mishap – and you might as well get some entertainment from my inevitable disasters.

Until then, readers!