Monday, January 19, 2015

Seeing Stars


I set out to get one photo.  The journey was long and potentially fraught with tribulations galore.  To get myself into position for the photo I proposed to take my eleven year old son and nephew backpacking for the first time.  In the end I produced a photo I liked, but not the one I sought.  In the end I carried a wrecked camera out of the woods but developed some amazing memories along the way.

No lie, I texted the Training Partner, on Powder Mill Trail on the way to --------- ---- we saw twenty people, a dog, and two horses.  I’m not going to share exactly where we went because I didn’t expect to see a soul.  According to the Former Crash Test Librarian the new found popularity of this obscure overlook is likely due to the cursed internet.  So there!

The horses had been a shock.  Ty and I went off trail to check out the arch and Ty commented that someone had taken horses up the drainage just as I looked up and saw two horses tethered to small trees.  We were both shocked.



I'd been bitching over how the horses had torn up yet another mountain bike trail in the area and here were the culprits.  It was a local elderly father and his daughter.  They were nice enough.  That wasn’t potent enough salve for my bruised sensibilities.

The hike was slow going—slow like a middle-schooler cleaning his room.  I knew we were gaining elevation, but again, I thought it was a slow burn.  It was steeper than it looked from below.  Up we crawled the long valley.  At one point we stopped amidst a picturesque boulder field with amazing potential and I considered setting up camp so I could explore.  But Ty and I both wanted to get to the overlook I had promised.  We hauled packs onto tired shoulders and pushed on.

What made it slow going was Boone’s frustratingly slow walking pace.  He’s always been a slow hiker.  And now that he’s approaching his teen years he’s started taking on that obnoxious middle-school aged perspective on life.  He wants to make you laugh…always…and he wants to prove his comedic prowess and command of trivia to the world.  Boone's relentless forced wit finally wore through Ty's and my good spirits.  I wished I'd had some.



I kept warning him.  He kept pushing the boundaries.  When we reached the overlook we all agreed it had been worth the haul getting in.  I'd decided on the location simply because it once was obscure and I had wanted to get out in the woods and see the stars.

Since moving back to Kentucky I've continually marveled at the clear night skies, but at my house where they're so incredible there is still a lot of light pollution.  When I try to stop and take in the soul-wrenching dome of stellar madness I am continually distracted by ignoramuses tearing up and down the road near my house.  Apparently it’s not enough to make nothing but poor life choices, but some people have to do it loudly as well.

I saw taking the boys backpacking as a way to get out beyond the lights of our small town and gaze upon the deepness of the sky.  Finally there was a break in the winter weather.  Saturday of MLK weekend looked promising, so we made our plans.  I was looking forward to introducing impressionable minds to something more than car camping and the superficiality most locals regard the Red River Gorge with.




In my mind I saw us hiking merrily to the overlook, setting up camp nearby and having a nice small campfire, then I’d set up camera on the exposed overlook and get my star shots, and in the morning we’d hike out after a nice breakfast. 

Let’s cut to the chase.  It was forecast to be windy and a distinct chance of rain overnight.  While our destination was once obscure and now is not thankfully there are no obvious campsites, or even good tent sites, near the top of the rock.  And I was adamant we weren’t going to set up on the bare cold stone.

We found a tight pad next to the unofficial trail a couple hundred yards from the rock.  We fired up the camp stove and ate a quick dinner in the cold wind and watched the sun set.  We cleaned up dinner, slung our bear bag, and headed back to wait out the stars.




That’s when I made my money shot.  I told the boys to sit still where they were, snapped a hurried shot, and then turned my camera on the sky.  Orion was rising over the trees of the ridge.  I tried framing my shot.  I finally thought I had it right and promised the boys as soon as the constellation was in clear view I’d get my shot and we could head for the warmth of our sleeping bags.

I fired off an early shot just because, thumbing the remote, and stepping back.  I’d been keeping a hand on the tripod because of the wind, but then Ty asked where Orion was.  I let go of the tripod and leaned in to aim his eyes in the right direction.  Just as he indicated he could see the hunter in the night sky I turned back to release the remote, but a gust of wind slammed the camera down on the flat stone.

It’s a wonder it didn’t go right off the top of the cliff.  But yeah, it’s hopeless.  I managed to get the images I had taken off of it, but there’s no going back.  My camera is dead.

The boys offered their condolences.  I appreciated their sympathy, but assured them it was little more than spilt milk. Time to head to bed.  Snugged into our tent and warm bags we settled in for the night with full bladders.  Two round of peeing later we lay in the tent with Ty and I insisting that Boone just shut the heck up so we could go to sleep.  It took awhile but finally sleep came.  I slept well despite the wind until the rain began early in the morning.  We were staying dry so I managed a couple more hours of fitful—but warm—sleep.  At six o’clock I was up for the day.  The boys roused soon after and we were packing by 6:45.  By daylight we were out of the tent.  The rain had stopped and all but our tent fly was dry.  We were on the trail out by 8am with the promise of breakfast at Joe Bowen’s B&B.  We’d been invited two days before.

It took two hours to get back to the car and another fifteen minutes to get to Joe’s where we laid into the remains of breakfast with gusto.  Coffee, OJ, biscuits, bacon, eggs, and then another round…it all went down while Mandy, Joe, and I talked Rugged Red with Joe’s guests.

Despite my exhaustion and constant berating of my son for his diarrheic monologues of Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Transformers trivia he walked out with a grin on his face and gushing to his mom that he had a great time.  I enjoyed taking him and will do it again…soon, but not without some way to entertain him along the way.


My nephew Ty...he's like another son.  I've not always shown him a lot of attention, but I love the big lug.  He's eleven and as tall as me.  He can wear my clothes but not my shoes.  While I love my own son dearly and want to find things like this to do with him I know Ty appreciates it so much more than Boone and he needs it.

His own father is a slug, and his mother's boyfriend isn't quite the father figure he needs.  So it's me and Tomahawk.  This trip—at least in my eyes—was more about spending time with Ty.

And so, the image I walked away with, stored on a useless DSLR, was the one of Boone and Ty sitting on the edge of the overlook with their headlamps dampening the naked stone as the last light faded from the western sky.



As a bonus I got one good shot of Orion peeking out from behind the ridge...


1 comment:

  1. What an awesome adventure and pictures! Sorry about the camera, but now you have an excuse to get another, maybe better one. Sounds like you've made some memories that will last a lifetime. thanks for sharing!

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