It’s Time for Sunrise Road Trips, Quixotic Quests and Overdue Reunions

THE FLORAL CLOCK on the grounds of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort says the time is ten ’til three on Friday, June 28th.


Anyone who knows me sees the irony in my 730-mile road trip for a bottle of bourbon. I’m not a big drinker of anything stronger than Mountain Dew, and even that is off-limits now due to its sweetness.

But there we were last Friday at 4:15 a.m. — oh-dark-thirty, as Timberley called it — backing the Gray Goose, our trusty minivan, out of the driveway and onto the first leg of Siri’s 365-mile route to historic Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

We were headed northwest on Interstate 40 in the east Tennessee mountains when the sun rose about two hours later. We had already stopped at the all-business Haywood County (N.C.) I-40 Rest Area and, therefore, didn’t need to be officially welcomed to the Volunteer State at its fancier facility up the road.

THE TRAVEL MAGAZINE ARTICLE about our first quest through Kentucky almost 20 years ago. It appeared in the now-defunct “On the Road with Hampton” magazine.

We were retracing the same basic route that we had traveled through Tennessee and Kentucky some 19 years ago when we drove from our home in Boone, N.C., to two towns in Illinois — one near Peoria, the other near Chicago — where my father had pastored churches and I had spent the first seven years of my life. It was the first time I had visited both childhood homes since the late 1960s.

As our magazine article notes, that road trip in the summer of 2000 had been undertaken as a quest to find a 1960s roadside attraction called Cudjo’s Cave, where my family had stopped several times on trips between Illinois and North Carolina. Timberley and I had intended to camp there for a few days near the Cumberland Gap, a national historic park where the borders of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet.

I mean, Daniel Boone did something like that back in the 1770s, right?

What “ol’ bar-cillin’ D Boon” [sic] didn’t do, though, was refuse to unload the pickup truck and then keep driving when the National Weather Service forecast called for three days of rain and Cudjo’s Cave turned out to be closed for renovations. (According to its National Park Service website, the renamed Gap Cave is open now, though visitors are warned about the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats there.)

Last Friday’s weather was beautiful all day long, and our journey to Frankfort was thankfully uneventful. We encountered no true traffic jams due to wrecks or road construction, just an inexplicable slowdown now and then. Our biggest annoyance during the whole trip involved refueling in London, Ky., near Dog Patch Trading Post on Friday evening. If you’re familiar with Dogpatch as a concept or the satirical Li’l Abner comic strip as cultural statement, then you can imagine the “fun” [sic] we encountered there.

Once we decided to pass through the Cumberland Gap on that 2000 road trip, we knew a visit to Daniel Boone’s grave in Frankfort was required before we could continue into northern lands beyond the Ohio River, a region of our nation that Boone’s Wilderness Road opened to white migration. On that day almost two decades ago, we visited two tourist attractions in Frankfort, on opposite banks of the Kentucky River — Boone’s final resting place in Frankfort Cemetery and the impressive Kentucky State Capitol grounds with its tree-shaded lanes, lush lawns (of either bluegrass or tall fescue, I couldn’t tell which in the bright sunshine), colorful flower beds, fragrant rose gardens and 34-foot-wide floral clock.

We had no idea back then — and couldn’t have cared less — that Buffalo Trace Distillery sat just minutes away at its own historic site on the Kentucky River, where spirits had been distilled by one or another of bourbon’s forefathers for over 200 years, according to the distillery’s website.

We also hadn’t known that one of Timberley’s best friends from college — an Alpha Delta Pi sister from the same pledge class at App State — lived only a few blocks from the capitol grounds, as she still does.

In many respects, it’s the usual tale of a group of college friends slowly losing track of one another in the years after graduation due to careers and families, then reconnecting through social media. This story also is a reminder that the “sisterly” ties that bind are truly blessed, especially when virtual contact leads to flesh-and-blood, in-person visits like our return trip to Frankfort last week and like our Kentucky friend Melissa’s own sojourn to Boone in May for a reunion with North Carolina friends and family members.

Melissa’s visit two months ago was when I heard about Buffalo Trace Straight Kentucky Bourbon for the first time. She mentioned that she had wanted to bring me a sample of the award-winning bourbon because its distillery is a Frankfort institution, but that it wasn’t available where she had looked for it. That got me reading about bourbon in general and Buffalo Trace in particular, and I quickly decided that a sacred quest — not to the local ABC store, but to the Frankfort distillery — was in order.

In my own college days, I was anything but a Greek, as members of sororities and fraternities are called. I wasn’t even a GDI, if you know what that means. I’m not sure what I was back then, but my senior English thesis dealt with the Fisher King and the Holy Grail in Arthurian literature, if that helps label me. Maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed collecting souvenir coffee mugs and shot glasses so much, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just Monty Python’s fault.

Anyway, after six hours on the road last Friday morning, I found a nice bottle of Kentucky straight bourbon and a Glencairn-style whiskey glass in the Buffalo Trace gift shop. A few minutes after making those purchases, Timberley and I were greeted at Melissa’s house at the start of our too-brief visit, a get-together we should have had 19 years ago and already plan to have again.

It was a great visit. Perhaps the best part — besides the great conversation and the great food and the great tour of the verdant capitol grounds and the great World Cup soccer game we watched together — was the great memory we all made of taking the time and effort to be together.

Long after the bourbon bottle is empty, we will have the Glencairn glass to remember a great day, and to refill with the spirits of days to come.

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