Belles on Location

Kentucky Road Trip and Some Unexpected Weather

A Kentucky road trip and the randomness of tornados and tourist attractions

The Olde General Store on Mammoth Cave Road near Cave City,  Kentucky, would have been a great place to shoot a foreshadowing scene in a movie about tornadoes. Single gusts of wind alternate with eerie stillness, blowing dust through the parking lot. With each slice of it, wind chimes and disorderly and loosely held bric-a-brac slowly work into a deep and avant garde sounding percussion sequence, increasingly more disturbing and furious.

Soft adventure found in a general store and on a road trip

The definition of “soft adventure” varies from person to person. For me the ghoulish oversized statuary of hound dogs dressed up like the James gang and a taxidermied pit viper that greets us at the Olde General Store (or Gener’l Store, according to the sign) about covers it. The  hollowed eyed gun toting dogs seem ready to pull their weapons on us as we wander around the deserted parking lot taking pictures. (I would bet a bucket of fried chicken that at some point in time they were repainted to look this terrifying for the purpose of scaring the daylights out of small children at Halloween.) The rattlesnake, frozen in time, coiled and mid hiss, appears to be poised for attack from behind glass as we enter the building.

I guess I like my adventure to have an element of the unknown.

I think it smelled “rusty” at the General Store.  According to my hair, it was most definitely “humid”

My nose is stuffy from being inside Mammoth Cave for most of the morning. I can’t smell very well, but I know it smells like something fitting inside this space. (Later I asked Andy, my traveling companion and he said it “smelled like dust, old cologne, dried paint and rusty metal that had been wet recently.”)

We wander up and down the aisles for a few minutes, quickly, too quickly for me to really notice much in a place packed with so much junk. According to the signs there are supposedly Kentucky hams somewhere, but I never see them. Everything seems wrecked, hinting of colorful histories played out here in the middle of nowhere.

Like archaeology, but without the dirt digging part

I’m not sure if it is because I couldn’t mentally catalogue so many things in a few minutes time, but most striking to me are the massive number of empty drinking containers scattered throughout the premises: bottles that once held Coke, Fresca and other long forgotten soda brands; cans of PBR tall boys, rusted and empty, the kind that had the old fashioned peel back tabs that people used to choke on; and mini-bottles that once held bourbon, their honey colored contents consumed eons ago. To me these inanimate objects seem misguidedly hopeful and expectant, as if  waiting to be bought and refilled.

As we observe these vestiges of Kentucky and family histories of people  we will never know, I note that the sound of wind chimes has given way to the sound of a weather report on a television hung high above the cash register. A man and a woman sit on stools behind the counter, arms crossed, serious and staring at the screen. We can’t see the screen but can hear snippets of what is being said. A Kentucky accented weather forecaster says “dangerous,” “level ten warning,” “prime conditions for development of tornados,” “center room of house.” Tornados, tornados, tornados.  He mentions counties, and we don’t even know what county we’re in, much less the name of the one where we are headed.

I crane my neck to catch a glimpse of the television screen, and ask the couple behind the counter, “Where are they?”

“All over,” the man says. “All over the entire state.”

The urge to drive towards our next destination, two hours away hits us hard. We get in our little  rental car where we can’t really feel the wind, but can see the tree tops bend to and fro, and large trucks on Interstate 65 sway out of their lanes every now and then under its force. We pass pastoral scenes of long and graceful Kentucky fences, containing horses and cows and bluegrass. Enticing signs for places offering Bourbon tastings along the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway would just have to wait.

I knew that if it started to look “green” outside or started to hail that a bad storm was imminent.

In Harrodsburg, giant raindrops, few and far between, began to splat the windshield. As we approach the entrance to Shaker Village, where we would spend the night, I look ahead and see the strange sight of a herd of cows running across a pasture. A storm warning siren, deep and as if rising from my gut, waxes and wanes and finally stops. We wonder if it was real, and besides, being from somewhere else, we don’t know exactly what the siren means. Does it stop because it is over? Or does it stop because we are waiting?

Raining harder, we run to the check in area and back to car. We drive around lost on the sprawling property; we are lost even though we are there. There are u-turns and k-turns in the now pouring rain. We park and go to rooms; we go back to car and get suitcases. On the way back to our rooms I glance back behind us several times at the ridiculously dark sky. We get to our rooms. Whether we should  or not, for now, anyway, we feel safe.

It never looked “green” and it did not hail where we were. When all was said and done last Friday,March 2, the worst of last week’s tornados hit in Indiana, just north of Louisville. One tornado in Kentucky hit a ways (whatever that means)  south and east of Harrodsburg.  What strikes me looking back,  is that the most frightening thing about tornados of all natural disasters is their extreme randomness.

Shaker Village, Harrodsburg, KY, sunset

Sunset at Shaker Village after the storms

In this extremely random world of tornados, as visitors to the area, we didn’t know what a “level 10” day or a storm siren meant. Perhaps knowing more would have given us a  comfort level to understand at the time what was unfolding. But once this part of our Kentucky road trip was over, I’m not so sure it mattered.  Whether we are at home,  jumping out of an airplane, driving through a line of thunderstorms, or simply crossing a street, I guess we should always remember we are just lucky to be there at the end of any given day.

Have you had a moment of extreme randomness while traveling? Or what’s your idea of soft adventure?

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at www.MargoMillure.com.

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