“Woody! Where are you son?”
At the sound of my name I opened my eyes. I was cold and my neck hurt.
“Up here,” I said, wondering why I sounded like a bullfrog.
“Did you sleep up in the tree?” Dad asked. I looked down and saw Mom, Dad, and Chloe all looking up at me.
“Yes, sir,” I croaked, as Dad pulled me down. “I left our tent to get a marshmallow and the bear was eating them. He saw me and walked toward me. I climbed the tree to hide. I must have fallen asleep.”
“Didn’t I ask you to put the marshmallows away before bed?” Mom asked, after kissing me. I nodded. “We can’t leave food out. It attracts bears.”
“Sorry, Mom. I’ll be more careful next time.”
Mom wrapped a blanket around me and we sat at the picnic table and ate breakfast. The hot oatmeal and warm milk warmed my bones. After breakfast, we cleaned up, disposed of our trash, and headed west toward the Kentucky River. I cat napped along the way but suddenly something caught my attention.
“Call 911,” I said, frantically.
“Why?” Dad asked as he pulled in a gravel lot.
“Look” I pointed up high to five people climbing up the side of a mountain.
“They’re rock climbing, son,” Dad confirmed. “While we’re here, let’s stretch our legs.” We got out of the car and walked over to watch the climbers.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Red River Gorge,” Mom answered. The climbers held on to a rope and descended the mountain.
“They should call it Red River Gorgeous,” Chloe said, making us smile. “It’s beautiful.”
“You guys going up?” We turned and saw a girl wearing gloves and carrying a rope. She talked different from anyone I’d ever heard.
“No ma’am,” I answered. “Are you?”
“You bet! My friends and I come from Boston every year to climb The Red.”
“Dad’s from Boston too. But he calls it Bos-ton instead of Bah-stan. Have you ever climbed this mountain, Dad?”
“I think she means Boston, Massachusetts, Woody. I’m from Boston, Kentucky. And the only thing I’ve ever climbed are trees along the banks of the Rolling Fork River,” Dad said, making us laugh.
“What’s a gorge?” Chloe asked.
The climber thought for a second before answering. “Centuries ago this was a huge cliff, but over time weather, storms, and the Red River, caused erosion – or the rock to wear away. Over time, that erosion caused a deep cleft – or hole – between the cliffs and formed the gorge. Right here in The Red, as we climbers call it, we have waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, the Red River, and Natural Bridge. Oh, and you can see so much wildlife.”
“Have you seen any snakes?” I asked the climber.
“I’ve seen one timber rattlesnake and a few copperheads. I’ve also seen deer, woodpeckers, and even a black bear.” Mom, Dad, Chloe and I looked at each and smiled. “Oh, and I just found out there’s a type of goldenrod that doesn’t grow any other place in the United States except here in this gorge.”
“That’s our state flower,” I exclaimed, hoping to see one.
“It was nice talking to you guys,” the climber said, walking toward the cliff. “You really should climb this one day.”
“Did you really climb trees along the river?” I asked Dad once we were driving again.
“My buddies and I spent many a day on the Rolling Fork and Beech Fork,” Dad answered. “We fished, swam, canoed, picnicked, and played on those rivers. We had a rope swing that went across the Beech Fork. We would hold on, swing across, let go and fall in.”
I was thinking about how much fun that would be when Dad said, “If you look out the window you can see the Kentucky River.”
“I read that the Kentucky River is 260 miles long and is a tributary of the Ohio River,” Chloe exclaimed, holding up a book she’d brought on the trip.
“That means it flows into the Ohio River,” I added, remembering what Frankie had said.
“It says the Kentucky River has three forks,” Chloe added. “What does that mean?”
“It has three smaller forks – or branches,” Mom explained. “On their own, each fork is a small, separate river. There’s the North Fork of the Kentucky River, the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, and the South Fork of the Kentucky River. Those three branches – or forks- join around Beattyville to form the Kentucky River as a whole.”
“I never knew rivers could be so complicated,” Chloe replied. I silently agreed.
As I listened to Mom and Chloe, I looked out the side window. We were surrounded by water. I raised up so I could look out the front window. I gasped! Dad was driving right into the river.