Kentucky Bound

In two weeks, I’ll be taking a road trip. And since I am a man of routine, the idea of doing something that breaks that routine gets me mildly excited about the idea.

On any given normal day, my clock goes off early. I moan at the blaring music and roll over to stare at the red lighted numbers in disbelief. I am not eager to get up, which is why I almost always slap the snooze button for the pleasure of five more minutes.

Then it’s work, supper, clean the kitchen, read, watch my show, and go to bed. Then the clock goes off again. Repeat. That’s my version of Ground Hog Day.

This trip gives me a chance to do something different. I’ll be headed up to Grayson, Kentucky to visit with some friends of mine. What I look forward to the most is the pleasure of a meandering ride through the country. I’ll do a little interstate travel, but mostly I’ll be bird-dogging the back roads.

I pulled out my Rand McNally Road Atlas yesterday. I literally had to wipe the dust off it when I pulled it out from the bottom shelf of a table in my office. Everything indoors at the tree farm is covered in dust. The door stays open eight months out of the year. The roads on the farm are a mixture of dirt and grass and gravel. The wind stirs up dirt devils between the office and the barn and most of the fine particle debris settles over every surface in the room.

My atlas is almost 30 years old now. I have held on to it in the same way I would hold on to a family heirloom. I know all about GPS. I know that there is an entire generation traveling around the country who has never consulted a road map. The thing to do these days is to plug in a destination and follow the little blue line wherever it takes you.

I cringe at the thought. Yeah, I could get to Grayson and back that way. And I’ll probably use GPS now and then to help get past some of the 30-year-old-out-of-date markings on my map. But making the trip by some route that I plan out on the map gives me a sense of knowing where I’m going. I hate following an electronic voice that tells me nothing about what’s ahead of me more than two miles down the road.

“In half a mile turn left,” the lady says.

I have no idea where that will take me. Whereas, if I look at the map and make the decision to leave Grayson and work my way over to US 23, I’ll go through places like Fallsburg and Ulysses and Robinson Creek. If I want, I can pull into the state park and sit a spell over a moon pie. Down through Pikesville and on to East Stone Gap, Virginia. Caney Branch, Tennessee. And spend the night in Franklin, North Carolina.

Now, that’s a road trip that speaks to me. I can’t get that from a handheld device. The GPS wants to get me there on the fastest route. But I’m not about speed anymore. I’m at a point in life where I’m not so concerned about when I get to where I’m going as much as I am set on enjoying the road that takes me there.

This will be only the second such trip I have taken since Beth passed away. It was about this same time last year. I remember because I was concerned about finding a hotel by early evening where I could watch the Braves in the playoffs. Too bad that won’t be an issue on this trip.

If things were different, the two of us would be headed to Ireland about the same time I’ll be headed to Kentucky. We had plans to visit places like Dublin and the Cliffs of Moher with my sister, her husband and about 40 other new friends, all wearing comfortable shoes with arch support and pointing smart phones at each other.

I looked on my map to see if there might be a town called Dublin in Kentucky, and there is, but it’s on the far western side of the state near the Mississippi River. A little out of my way. Besides, I’d bet money they don’t serve Irish coffee and stew in a pub there.

So, I’ll be traveling solo to Grayson instead of flying across the big pond to experience the rolling hills of Ireland. I don’t say that with regret. I don’t mention what could have been in order to gain sympathy. It’s just that I am aware of how much life has changed.

I won’t be completely alone, though. He doesn’t know it yet, but Max will be my traveling companion on this trip. The cottage in Grayson where I’ll be staying belongs to my friends. I asked if it was okay to bring the dog, and they said sure. So, I’m glad for that.

I’ll stay with my daughter north of Atlanta the first night. Max will be fine there. I’ll drive all the way to Grayson the next day. Max will be good for my two nights there. Then, I found a pet-friendly hotel along my lazy two-day route for the return home, which is why I’ll be staying near Franklin, North Carolina.

It has not been unusual over the years for me to seek out times of solitude to break up the full-speed-ahead days of child rearing and work and church and responsibilities. To steal away a few hours for a quiet morning of fishing on a small farm pond is a way to recharge the batteries. Clear the mind. Think through some of the bumps in life.

A road trip does much the same thing, only the solitude stretches out over days and not hours. I have become familiar with my aloneness these last 15 months. Solitude itself more often finds me without me having to go looking for it.

The good thing is that I am at last comfortable in my new-found solitude. For some time, being alone felt lonely, but I have learned over these few months that the physical state of being by myself does not necessarily bring with it feelings of loneliness. In fact, I have often been asked how I’m doing, and my response has been, “I’m good. I’m alone but I’m not lonely anymore.”

My son still lives with me. Max is around. I have plenty of people in my life with work and church and friends. All of which is good. But, by definition, I am alone without Beth, and all I know to say is that I’m getting better at it all the time.

So, I’m Kentucky bound in a couple weeks. An old man and his dog driving the back roads through the hills of the Appalachians. Taking a few trees to my friend Al who is like a Johnny Appleseed of eastern Kentucky.

In the words of Willie Nelson, I look forward to being on the road again.

5 thoughts on “Kentucky Bound

  1. You’ll be headed within a quarter mile of us —coining and going—if/when you come to TN exit 24 on I-26. Safe travels to you and your buddy, Max… and don’t pass by without honking, if you love me! 🥴

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  2. You’ll only be an hour North of us when you hit Franklin, Tn. and you just about have to come through Blairsville on your way south. Our door is always open and we would love to see you!

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