The Day After Turkey Day

It’s another cold, rainy, fall day in Kentucky and the grass has become dormant and the leaves have all fallen from the trees.  Thanksgiving is tomorrow and the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday.  Black Friday is day where all the shopaholics get up at the crack of dawn and wait in line in the freezing cold weather for their favorite store to open so they can get that special deal a computer or television or something they want.  To me, Black Friday is the one day of the year where I stay as far away from the crowds as possible.  I find no pleasure in fighting for a parking place, nor do I enjoy waiting in line for an hour to pay for something that would have just one week ago taken me five minutes to purchase.  Typically, I either stay home or visit family or friends on the day after Thanksgiving.  One Black Friday I went hiking with my friend Lynn and her mother, Rosemary.

It was about five years ago and after I had Thanksgiving dinner with my family, I went to visit Lynn and her family.  They had a house full of people and we were all talking about what we were going to do the next day.  Of course, many of them were going shopping to get in on some of the great deals the stores were offering.  I told them, “You could not pay me to go shopping on Black Friday.”  Lynn said she didn’t care anything about going shopping either, so she suggested that we go to Mammoth Cave to the cemetery where her great-great grandfather, Charles, was buried.   I told Lynn that I would be willing to go with her, and then Rosemary said she wanted to go too.  So, we made plans to leave town about nine o’clock the next morning.

Like I said, Lynn’s great-great grandfather, Charles, is buried in Mammoth Cave National Park.  During his life-time, the park had not been bought out by the government and his entire family lived in the area.  They had a homestead and there is a family cemetery with a generation of Lynn’s family buried there.  After Charles died, the government decided to take over the land, and all the people who lived there were paid a sum of money and forced to move.  The only traces of civilization left in the area are a few bricks that remain from the chimney and four cornerstones from the foundation of the house.

The park has several hiking trails and horse trails, but in order to find the homestead and the cemetery you have to get off one of the horse trails and go deep into the woods.  The first time I went to the cemetery with Lynn, there were several of her family members with us.  Lynn’s uncle, Dan, was our guide, and he told us a few stories that had been passed down from generation to generation.  One story was about Charles’ moonshine still that he had hidden about a mile from the homestead, and another story was about a cave where Charles and his buddies played poker.

After we had been hiking for about two hours, Dan’s knee started hurting so he walked off the trail and sat down on a big rock.  He gathered all of us around him and said, “This is as far as I go.”  He pointed into the dense woods that was filled with limbs and leaves and tall sage grass and said, “Follow that wagon trail for about an hour and you will come to a small creek.  Cross the creek and on the other side is a steep hill.  Climb that hill to the top; then walk north-west for another fifteen minutes and you will see a railroad tie sticking out of the ground.  When you find the railroad tie, you will be within two hundred feet of the cemetery.”

After Dan provided us detailed directions, we all just stood there with this, “What the hell did he just say?” look on our faces.  I finally spoke up and said, “What wagon trail?  I don’t see a wagon trail. I don’t see anything that even looks like a trail.”  A couple of the guys said they could see the wagon trail, but as hard as I looked, I just couldn’t see it.  I looked over at Lynn and asked her, “Do you see a wagon trail?”  Lynn replied, “Not really, but they say they can see it.  So, I guess we’ll follow them.”  Then we all headed off into the thickly brushed, deep woods.  We spent about two hours bushwhacking through the woods, and then we reached one of the park’s horse trails.  At first we thought we were lost, but when we walked down the hiking trail, we saw the creek.  And, once the creek was crossed and the steep hill was climbed, the cemetery was located at the top.  After a brief visit to the cemetery, we bushwhacked back through the woods.  On the way back to the spot where we left Dan, I kept trying to see the wagon trail, but I never could.

After we hiked back to our cars, we sat around and talked for a while, and then we said our goodbyes and headed off in different directions.  Lynn had ridden with me that day, and on the way back home I was telling her that I thought that we could use one of the park’s horse trails to get to the creek.  I continued by saying, “I think using a real trail would be safer and probably faster.”  Then I asked, “Did you ever see a wagon trail?”  Lynn said that she thought that she could, but she wasn’t really sure if it was a wagon trail or if it was just a gully.   That day, Lynn and I decided that we would get a topographical map of Mammoth Cave National Park and try to figure out a way to use the park’s horse trails to get us to the creek.  That way we would only have to be off the trail to cross the creek, climb the steep hill and to find the cemetery.

After our visit to the cemetery, Lynn had bought a topographical map of the park and we had studied it.  We had chosen a horse trail that would take us exactly to the location of the creek where it needed to be crossed.   We had pinpointed the steep hill on the map and we determined the name of the area where the cemetery was located was called Chicken Hollow.  We had also estimated the time to get to the cemetery and back to our car would be approximately four hours.  Since that time with Lynn’s uncle Dan, we had not been back to the cemetery.  But that Thanksgiving night, Lynn, Rosemary and I decided we would go the next day.  So, on Black Friday at nine o’clock in the morning, we drove to Mammoth Cave.

We arrived at the park at almost ten that morning and we found the horse trail and set out for our hike.  It had been raining all night and all morning, and the horse trails were very muddy and very slick, which made some areas on the trail hard to walk on.  Lynn and I had our hiking sticks with us, but Rosemary had nothing to help her balance on the slick trail.  After almost falling a couple of times, Rosemary went off the trail to find her a stick.  When Rosemary came out of the woods and I saw the stick she had chosen, I started laughing and said, “Rosemary, you look like Moses!”  And then Lynn started laughing and said, “Momma, do you think you could have found a bigger stick?”  This stick Rosemary had brought out of the woods to use as a hiking stick was about six feet tall and three inches in diameter and probably weighed almost as much as she did.  She told us not to worry about the stick she had picked out, and then she looked at me and said, “CJ, with all this rain, I am may have to part the sea.”  We all laughed about this, and then we continued down the muddy horse trail.

The last time we had gone to the cemetery, we only had to cross the creek once, so we were a bit surprised when came upon the creek so soon.  We got the map out and we were sure we were going the correct way, so we all took off our socks and shoes and rolled up our pants and crossed the creek.  After we were across, we put our socks and shoes back on and continued down the trail.  In thirty more minutes, we came upon the creek again.  We took off our socks and shoes; rolled up our pants and crossed the creek.  After about two hours of being on the trail, we had to cross that creek not once, not twice, but eight times.  After the fourth time of crossing it, we finally said “the hell with it” and we just left our socks and shoes on.   It was about one o’clock when we finally made it to the steep hill that would take us to our destination.  We crossed the creek and up the hill we went.

This hill was about a hundred feet high and it was almost straight up, so climbing to the top with the ground covered in wet leaves made it extremely difficult.  Every other step I took, my foot would slide out from under me and I had to keep grabbing tree limbs and small trees to help pull myself up to the top of the hill.  When I finally did reach the top, I looked down and thought, “We’re going to have fun going down.”  We proceeded to find the railroad tie and soon after we found the cemetery.  Once we reached the cemetery and looked around and talked for a few minutes, we all sat down on a dead tree lying on the ground.  As we sat there and rested, we each pulled out our snacks that we had brought and sat there and ate and talked for about thirty minutes.  Then it started raining again, so we decided that we had better start back.

By this time it was a little after three o’clock and we were all getting tired and we were getting soaked from the rain.  As we were leaving the cemetery, I looked around and I felt that something was wrong.  I did a quick inventory check:  I’ve got my phone, I’ve got my water; I’ve got my backpack and I’ve got my hiking stick.  So, what could be wrong?  I looked back in the direction of the cemetery and I could no longer see it.  I thought, “We have only walked about fifty feet away and it’s like the cemetery doesn’t even exist.  I shrugged it off and shook my head, and then started walking to catch up with Lynn and Rosemary.  And, as soon I saw Lynn and Rosemary stop walking, I knew something was wrong.  They had stopped right on the edge of a cliff and come to find out, we were heading the wrong way.  Typically if you are going in the wrong direction, you simply turn around and go the other way.  Now, I’m not sure if you have ever been in the deep woods or not, but believe me, when you look around, everything looks exactly the same.  Look to left all woods; look to right all woods.  North, east, south, west –  looks all the same.

We stood on the side of the cliff for a couple of minutes and we had no idea where we were or where we were going.  It started raining harder and it would be dark in a couple of hours, so we decided to move on.  We followed the edge of the cliff until we found a slope where we could start our descent down.  We were all losing our footing and grabbing onto branches and bushes and small trees to keep us from falling.  At the end of the slope was an eighteen foot wide gully that was about seven feet deep.  We took turns scooting down the side of the gully.  Lynn went first and stood at the bottom waiting on me and Rosemary.  She helped Rosemary down to the bottom of the gully and then they both helped me to the bottom of the gully.  And then we followed the gully as far as we could.  And, after a little over an hour, and by some miracle, we reached the creek.  We crossed the creek several times again and we finally made it back to our car right before it got dark.

The entire time we were lost, none of us said a word about being scared and we never criticized one another, nor did we place blame.  Nope; we made the best of our situation; we encouraged each other and we helped each other.  That day we formed a special bond that will never be broken.  I will never forget how happy we all were to get back to the vehicle.  We all got in the car to get out of the rain, and we took off our soaked socks and shoes and sat there and talked about our day.  Lynn said, “I kept checking my phone to see if I could get a signal.”  Rosemary said, “I was afraid that it was going to get dark and we would be stuck in the woods all night.”  The only thing I said was, “Maybe we should just go shopping next Black Friday.”  And then we all died laughing.  😛


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