hrs on the road
The adventure for our debut episode began as a collaborative effort to highlight the tourism attractions in eastern Kentucky. We’d made plans to go to some of the coolest places in the state and do things that would help us appreciate this region for what it is. The first day of the trip was going to be spent in the Red River Gorge where we’d zipline through the mountains and kayak underground. The next day we’d head to Harlan to ride some ATVs in the morning and horses in the afternoon.
What We Did
Red River Gorge Zipline
Our first day was spent galavanting around the Red River Gorge. Our first stop was Red River Gorge Zipline to get our adrenaline pumping early. We walked into their lodge to check in. The building was really cool. It had a retro Ale-8 fridge sitting in the corner and a log covered in chalkboard paint that we could make our mark on standing in the middle of the room. We stood around in there discussing the best way to film our experience and admiring the merch before we headed to a nearby barn to get our helmets and harnesses fitted. Our guides strapped us into our gear and we loaded up onto a bus bound for the first zipline platform.
We got a quick do-this-so-you-don’t-get-stuck-or-hurt-yourself-on-the-other-side lesson and they sent us zipping on our way. There were five ziplines total and the first one was pretty tame. It gave us a chance to perfect our “cannonball” form that would make us go as fast as possible. By the time we got to the fourth and longest zipline, we (most of us) had mastered the cannonball and it was time to race each other.
Natalie and Ford took off down the line but the adrenaline must’ve got to their brains ‘cause they forgot their form and ended up getting stuck on the zipline. Fortunately, this wasn’t our guide’s first rodeo. They realized what was happening early so Natalie and Ford weren’t stuck for more than a few seconds. God bless good guides.
The fifth and final zipline featured the best view out of all of them. It essentially ran from one mountain to another so we could look to our left and right and see trees for miles. Afterwards we all talked about how incredible that view must be in the fall when the leaves are changing colors
We loaded back up in the bus and rode back to the barn where we got our harnesses and helmets. We joked around with our guides on the way and they debriefed us when we got back. After we sorted out our helmet hair by the car, we cracked open some Ale-8s to fuel up for the next part of our adventure.
The Gorge Underground
We drove for about 15 minutes before we reached The Gorge Underground. This place was wild. It’s like regular kayaking, but in a cave. After we checked in, we strapped on some more helmets and life jackets and headed toward the mouth of the cave. It was CHILLY (about 52 degrees fahrenheit) in there and the water was even colder. I guess that’s what happens when sunlight can’t get to it. We each hopped into our own kayak and followed our guides away from the entrance of the cave.
The guides explained that we were paddling through an old limestone mine that flooded a few decades ago. Early on in the tour we met some rainbow trout that had no problem swimming right up under our kayaks. We never saw any of the alligators or polar bears that our guides told us lived in there, but maybe that’s because it was dark.
The craziest part of the tour was when we all turned all our headlights off and our guides turned off the lights on their kayaks. Total darkness ensued. It was similar to what you would experience in Mammoth Cave. It was a little scary to not be able to see your hand in front of your face, but it presented the perfect opportunity to pick your nose without anybody seeing.
As we continued through the cave, our guides pointed out some old mining equipment that had been left behind. This was about the time that we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
A few minutes later we could all see each other clearly at the entrance of the cave. We hopped out of our kayaks one-by-one and headed toward the mouth of the cave. After a short debriefing from our guides we were on our way to finish the day off at MIguel’s Pizza.
Black Mountain Offroad Adventure
Day two started off bright and early at Black Mountain Offroad Adventure Area in Harlan. We met Leslie, a Harlan tourism employee, and Ken, manager of Black Mountain Off-Road Adventure Area , at the entrance of the facility and then made our way up to where the side-by-side ATVs were parked.
Each driver needed a crash course in how to drive one of these bad boys, so Ken gave Kevin, Josh, Chase, and Ford a lesson. Once they got back from their test drive, the rest of us piled in with them. Ken fired up his ATV and sped up the mountain with his trusty German Shepherd sidekick, Ghost, riding shotgun. We followed close behind them.
The drive was a ton of fun. We sped through a small section of the 150 mile trail that runs across nearly 8,000 acres of rugged mountain. It had rained the day before we got there so it gave the trails a chance to get nice and muddy.
Each person (who was driving) got to decide how dirty they and their passenger would be by the end of the ride. Josh and Natalie stayed nice and clean for the first part of the ride while she had all the camera gear. Kevin and James, on the other hand, were soaked and muddy by the third puddle. It’s definitely possible to come out of there covered in mud, but you can avoid it if your driver is committed to staying clean.
20 puddles, one hour, and 1.5 stuck ATVs later, we headed back down the mountain. From here we took an easy cruise over to a giant rock stack to watch some “crawlers” attempt to climb them. These modified Jeeps and trucks had tires the size of a small person and they packed some power. Trying to find a path up the rocks was like a puzzle for the drivers. If they were lucky enough to make it to the top of a stack that no one else had traversed before, they got the honor of naming the path.
Once we were sufficiently muddy, it was time to head to lunch. Pizza was on the menu again and we followed Leslie to Portal Pizza in downtown Harlan. We filled our bellies and then it was time to ride some horses.
The Stables at Creekside Glen
The last thing on our agenda for this trip was a horseback ride through the mountains starting at The Stables at Creekside Glen. Drew runs the stables and he gave us a quick lesson on how to hold the reins and steer the horses before we hopped on those bad boys. We each saddled up and rode around the paddock for a bit to get the hang of it before we hit the trail. The thought of controlling a 1,000 pound animal terrified James at first, but he settled into it as we got going.
The ride through the woods was pretty relaxing. The horses marched along single file like they had done it a hundred times before (probably because they had). The most exciting part of the ride was when we had to ascend a pretty steep hill. The horses needed some momentum to get up so they started galloping and climbed all the way to the top without a problem. Chase’s horse, Gunsmoke, struggled a little bit but he made it nonetheless. We later learned that Gunsmoke was a little asthmatic so it was probably tough for the guy.
We strolled along without an issue for the rest of the trip. The coolest view of the ride came when we walked through a cliff-like opening that opened up into a wide open pasture high up in the mountains. It was one of the most peaceful parts of the whole trip. The horses were calm and we breathed in some cool mountain air.
We made our way out of that pasture and then eventually back down to the stables. After we hopped off our horses, we cracked open some Ale8s and stood around talking with Drew and his family. His niece and daughter, who had been helping keep us in line throughout the ride, were getting ready for a rodeo the next day.
We packed up our car, said goodbye to Leslie and Drew, and hit the road. Our drive home was filled with laughs and funny stories about the day’s events. The only thing we were more excited about than what we’d done the past two days were the plans we were making for our next adventure.
Who We Met
Tyler, Mandy, and Dakota, Our Zipline Guides
These three made sure we were safe and secure the whole time we were on the ziplines, but they sure had fun doing it. You could tell that they all love people and love what they do. Tyler liked showing off his skills as he went across each line to be there for us on the other side. He has perfected the upside-down starfish pose. Mandy was never short on jokes and kept our spirits high the whole time while Dakota’s calm and quiet presence kept our nerves at bay.
Justin and Murph, our Gorge Underground Guides
This kayaking tag-team complemented each other nicely. Murph led us through the caverns and made sure we all stayed close while Justin (or “Justo”) kept the dad jokes flowing as he explained to us some of the history and science of the cave. Neither of them took themselves too seriously and they were a ton of fun to be around.
Leslie, Harlan’s Tourism Queen
Leslie graciously took us from destination to destination while we were in Harlan. She was never scared to hop right in on the fun either! She handled Ford’s first time driving an ATV like a champ and she hopped up on a horse like she’d been wrangling cattle all her life. Since she’s a local who works for the tourism department, she was able to fill us in on the best spots to go while we had some time to kill.
Ken and Ghost, Our Offroad Guides
Ken made sure that all our drivers were adequately prepared for our offroad adventure. His dry sense of humor kept Kaitlyn laughing all morning long. (He probably would’ve had the rest of us laughing, but we were too far behind them.) Ghost road in the passenger seat of Ken’s ATV as calm as could be. He was a well-behaved canine companion and he loved a game of fetch. He did go after some sticks that were too big to fit back in the ATV with him, though.
Drew and Annabelle, Our Horseback Guides
Drew has been running the stables for years, and he has all the wisdom that comes along with that level of experience. He’s as friendly as he is wise and he made all of us feel welcome as we arrived at the stable. His knowledge of the landscape and history of the region was impressive and made for an enriching trail ride. His daughter, Annabelle, and his two nieces joined us on the ride to help keep all our horses (and all of us) in check. She was fearless and handled the horses like a pro. It was no big deal for her because she’s been riding horses for the last nine years even though she’s only 11 years old (yeah, that means she started riding horses when she was two).
What We Ate
The first day of our trip concluded with lunch at Miguel’s Pizza. If you couldn’t guess, we all ordered pizza there. We sat at a picnic table outside and waited for our order to be brought out. Miguel’s property also includes some campgrounds for the out-of-town rock climbers that visit the Gorge. The combination of a campground and a pizza restaurant makes for an eclectic experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
A server brought our three pizzas out to us while they were still piping hot. Three pizzas was enough food to leave all seven of us satisfied. We ate one sausage, one pepperoni, one cheese pie and they were delicious. There’s nothing like some hot pizza to fill you up after a long day of exploring. Of course, we had to drink Ale8 with our pizza because nothing says “Red River Gorge” than the best of the Bluegrass in a green glass.
Pizza was on the lunch menu again on the second day of our trip in Harlan. Leslie escorted us to the Portal Pizzeria, a coal mining-themed wood-fired pizza restaurant. The wood firing made this pizza pretty different from what we ate at Miguel’s the day before. Here, we each ordered individual pizzas and Ford got a supreme calzone. The toppings on our individual pizzas ranged from tuscan chicken, to spicy Italian sausage, to buffalo chicken and banana peppers.
After lunch on the second day, Leslie took us to some food trucks for some dessert and coffee to warm us up. Some of us grabbed some specialty lattes from the sweet ladies at Southern Grind Mobile and then we picked up some mini donuts from O Taste and See. The donut truck had multiple icing options that you could smother your donuts in. The coffee and donut combo was a great pick-me-up on a chilly fall day.
What We Saw
Aside from the stunning views that we saw galavanting around in the mountains, there were a couple other cool things we saw. We visited Cumberland, Kentucky which is the black bear capital of Kentucky. It’s not uncommon for residents to see black bears crossing the street on their morning commute. The city commissioned local artists to decorate bear statues that are now located throughout the cities and we stopped to check one out. This particular statue was located right next to a giant roadside chair that reminds visitors of the city’s impressive bear population.