The Beginning of the End

The following post was written on the 9th at a coffee shop in Boone. 

Well 4 states, 7 days and 14 sandwiches later we have found ourselves in the great state of North Carolina–home of the first English colony in the Americas, Krispy Kremes and the worlds largest display of the Ten Commandments. This has been our first stop where the internet, phone service  (and showers) are readily available. We are staying with Tim, a good friend from camp in Boone, North Carolina. Boone is quite the happening place as long as you don’t wear any Michigan gear, which surely gives the locals a chance to remind us Wolverines of our inopportune loss to Appalachian State this past fall. We will be here for the next couple of days so now is a great time to get a hold of us and let us know how you are. Here is a recap of our first week spent on the road.

We left Ann Arbor in tears. Having to say goodbye to the family we have made over the past four years was not easy, especially when we are all a little uncertain of when we will meet again. Being the well-prepared people that we are, naturally we began packing the same day as our departure. Thankfully Dave (Elly’s Dad) was two steps ahead and had already figured out what we would need on the road (including an easy to assemble tent, hatchet, dishes and toothpaste) and Kim (Kenny’s Mom) had us covered with gas money and booze for the Derby.  While Kenny ran around packing his jeans and socks, our friends Alex, Petey and Tim helped us pack up the car. We quickly learned how to stuff Kenny’s Rav 4 in such a way that you could still see out the back window, but moving anything around is a bit more than a struggle.

Lucky for us, our friends from Michigan (Caitlin, Matt and Kenny’s cousin Tim) ventured with us for the first leg of our trip–The Kentucky Derby. On the way to the Derby we stopped at Bloomington, Indiana. It just so happen to be Bloomington’s graduation weekend which made this nighttime stop a little blurry. Kenny, Tim, Caitlin and Matt stayed with our friend Ben’s brother and friends, while Elly stayed with Amanda, a friend from Thailand. Thankfully we woke up to our alarms and by 7 am we were out the door, headed straight for Louisville, Kentucky.

After losing our minds in traffic and hollering students (who were waving signs stating “You Honk, I Drink” and “Help Me Pay for College and Booze, Park Here”) we finally found a parking lot where tailgating was a plenty. After socializing with other students bound for the Derby we all made our way to the infield. After standing in line for an hour and a half, we opted to save the three dollars we were going to spend betting on Monba and head straight for where the action was. We quickly made our way past crowds of mud wrestling students and passed out Derby veterans, to the fences on the third turn. Here we again met new friends and watched the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th  (the big one) races enjoying each others company while hooting and hollering for long shot horses. Thankfully we could not see the tragic ending of Eight Belles from our spot on the fences and had no idea of her demise until later in the night.

Louisville bars stay open until 6 am the night of the Derby so after the races were done we grabbed some cheese fries and made our way to some of the local hot spot that were recommended by our friends in the infield. When we awoke the next morning in our cars to the sound of the clean up crews we hurriedly made our way back to Church Hill Downs, to see if we could get a clearer view of the place where so many legends have been made. Regrettably the stands were closed, so after taking some pictures we headed for the Louisville Slugger museum. Did you know that the word “powerize” on some of the major league bat models actually means nothing at all? Shortly after seeing the worlds largest bat and eating at one of the best BBQ spots in the US (Vince Statens) we bid our friends farewell and headed out on our own for the Mammoth Caves.

Well we quickly discovered just how inexperienced we are to camping. While it only took us 30 minutes to set up our “easy to assemble” tent, the fire never really blossomed until a neighboring RV camper showed us the miracle that is Charcoal fluid. The Mammoth area is absolutely beautiful, with lush greenery and deer that come right up to you, no one would guess that underneath our campsite lay 300 miles of dark caverns.

We went on two different spelunking hikes at Mammoth Caves, one which was lit entirely by the lanterns we carried that were used as our guide pointed out 2,000 year old Native American paintings on the walls, and another much more commercial hike which included a stop at the Caves underground restaurant (were $2 got you some of the worst vegetable soup man could make) and was lit to look like a Hollywood set. While the caves were stunning, the highlight of our stay was hanging out with other campers around our campfire that evening. Here is where we met our first interviewee, Jim Raver from Florida, a self-taught biomedical engineer who served in Vietnam and has since spent his time living by his own rules. Jim told us about the importance of making decisions and following through with them. He told us that nothing new has ever been created when people stay within the straight and narrow line, that it takes risks and creativity to ride the edges and this is how inventions and differences are made. Jim has been one of the first, but certainly not the last person we will talk to that will tell us to follow our hearts and take risks.

After two days at Mammoth Caves, we made our way to the bottom of the state and crossed over into Tennessee to see the Smokey Mountains. Here again we took advantage of coming into a campsite later in the evening and managed to sweet talk our way into only paying for one night, instead of two. We consider it a graduation gift from the federal government. Along the campsite there are numerous black bear warnings, which we barely paid attention to until we actually saw a black bear from our car window while driving back from a hike at the Rainbow falls. We sure took this warning seriously thereafter and took extra caution in keeping our food locked in the car.

While getting water from the campsites well (after finding out that we had been drinking the wrong H2O the first day) we ran into Canada’s 2-time wood carving champ, Honky Hawrysio who had recently came 4th in the world competition. Honky and his wife Diane invited us over to their campsite for an evening of conversation and Canadian beer. Quite the character, full of good advise and inspiration, around the campfire we took the opportunity to interview Honky. Honky has been working for Canada’s National Defense team up until his 42nd birthday, when we woke up and declared it was time to retire from his job with the feds and do something he loves. He and his wife quickly moved out of Toronto and into a large country home where their first set of business was to make a garden. Honky warned us about trying to “live up to the Jones’.” He advised us to only spend the money we had and to enjoy it on things that give meaning to life and not material objects like expensive cars. Honky again told us to follow our hearts and not be afraid of change.

After taking a long winding road out of the Smokey’s (where we ran into a older couple from Southern Illinois who raved about seeing the worlds largest monument of the Ten Commandments) we crossed into North Carolina.

Which brings us to today. Exactly one week after leaving Michigan we have already had the opportunity to meet so many inspirational people while seeing parts of this country that few have the opportunity to travel. We can’t believe how lucky we are right now and can only imagine what the coming weeks will hold. True we’ve had limited access to showers and technology, but what we’ve learned is how little we need these resources and how important other people are to our survival. Our adventure has only just begun… so please send us tidbits of advise and information about places and people we should see. Friends and family are what are driving this cross-country adventure so we hope that you can be a part of this journey every truck stop of the way. 


1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Linlee Ziegler said,

    k & k,
    sounds like the derby was fun! so glad you enjoyed my neck of the woods. come to chicago, you can interview me.

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