This is the only place I like snow – on far off mountaintops. These are the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
This is the only place I like snow – on far off mountaintops. These are the Ruby Mountains in Nevada.
I’ll be a better blogger with the WordPress app for Nerdphone. I’m working on a serirs of states in silver. Keath has a new job. We’re in Golden, CO for races and concerts. Two weeks from last Tuesday we leave for Egypt. All is good and Lewin-y in these parts.
After a dirty martini and some beah. Here’s a photo of a guy throwing up his fist at the Megadeth show last night.
Cumberland Gap has been evading us for five years. We had it on our original itinerary when we were selling the house, but somehow it didn’t work out along the route and got scrapped. We tried planning it a couple of times on successive rounds around the country, but it simply never happened. Earlier this year we’d even planned on stopping en route to or from Asheville, but the excessively brisk Floridian winter urged us otherwise. So went with plan G. Or maybe H … a weekend trip from from Louisville.
And then we were in Louisville. And the weekends were ticking away. Thunder … Marathon … the Oaks and Derby … Mothers Day … Go go go! We planned on this weekend to make it happen. It’s a very reasonable 2-2.5 hour drive from Shepherdsville.
And Friday forecast heavy thunderstorms throughout the night. We quickly changed plans from a weekend of camping to a night in a hotel before a single night of camping. A nice kick back in a hot tub instead of pitching a tent in a downpour with lightning in; really a no brainer.
We got to Cumberland Gap bright and early on Saturday, before the visitor center even opened, had our pick of campsites, evaded a Boy Scout troop from Ohio, and headed out on a hike directly from the campground. Mad props to any and all NPS parks that loop the campground in to the trail system!
We hiked a loop that we didn’t really measure the distance of. Essentially, we hiked up to the ridge trail, learned about several ‘forts’ that changed hands throughout the Civil War, looped through the Pinnacle, and came down to the saddle.
We saw NOBODY until we were within 20 feet of the paved trails near the
Pinnacle parking lot. Which is normal for National Parks, but still sort of eerie. It was our first real hike since North Dakota, so the tried and true was unique and new again… The overlook was cool, but when it got crowded we retreated back to the trails and headed down to the actual Wilderness Trail across the Saddle of the Gap.
We spent a while basking in the historical importance of the gap; early settlers’ first path to western expansion (or invasion, depending on your point of view) before taking a side trip up to the top of Tri-State Peak, the point where Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky meet, and continuing our hike along the
Wilderness Road back to the campground. Ceridwen wrote up a entry on her Wanderlust Bling blog on the historical geek significance of the moment. It was good. We had beautiful, clear views the whole way and the weather was great for hiking, if maybe a bit on the warm side.
When all was said and done, the hike was close to 13 miles, which wiped us out a bit more than we’d expected, so it was a lazy evening around the campsite before settling in to the test to weather the next set of storms that promised to roll in throughout the night. The storms left a nice overcast haze in the morning, so we were glad we enjoyed the hike while the views were good. We harassed the NPS workers at the visitor center and made them show us some historical movies so we could be all learned and stuff.
So now we’ve been to Cumberland Gap. And our original itinerary has been fulfilled, barely five years later. So, I guess that means it’s time to find some new places to explore.
Yup. Pouring rain started at around 3:30 AM, little later than forecast, but certainly as hard as forecast. The outlook was pretty much for rain all day, but the weather pattern was showing the storm just skirting Louisville, so we packed up our DriDucks and headed to Churchill Downs.
In case there was any doubt, Louisville takes it’s Derby seriously. Very seriously. Like, religiously seriously. Aside from the town going all out with Derby-oriented events for the entire month leading up to the Derby, people wish each other a “Happy Derby” like it’s the next holiday coming up this weekend. Whether or not people go to the Downs, chances are they’re doing something to celebrate Derby, even it it’s just renting out their driveway and lawn or selling cold beer and bar-b-cue on the sidewalk to Derby-goers at prices ever so slightly less offensive than the prices they charge inside the track.
Parking patterns had been changed a bit such that we couldn’t figure out how to park at or near Papa John’s Stadium, so we circled back to the jackpot of Derby parking options; Coit Cleaning had a $10 “Park for the Cure” with. $5 shuttle. All for a good cause, plus shelter from the wind and rain and complementary wine, beer, and car air fresheners. Woot.
The rain was light when we got to the track between races 7 and 8, so we got ourselves a tip sheet and got settled in. We placed bets on and handful of races, including the Derby, but only won a few of them.
The rain came pouring down for a while, scaring most people back inside, but we just slipped on our handy aforementioned DriDucks and hung out with the other die hards. The skies cleared up just in time for race 11; the Kentucky Derby, which is quite a production. While our seats were off in left field for most races, the length of the Derby places the starting gate right in front of us. Plus, since it’s a 20 horse field, we had the auxiliary gate assembly action.
The number of people cheering, the number of horses racing, the sun coming out just in time, plus a few mint juleps made for a pretty frickin’ exhilarating two minutes.
None of our Derby bets panned out, but we won on a couple of other races and had a great time. We met a lot of fun people, had a blast with our comrades in the rain, and are very glad we made the stop in Louisville for the Derby. Is it the type of thing that we’ll ever do again? Probably not, but we’re not committing to that. Because we don’t like to commit.
We stuck around for the two races after the Derby, which very few other people did. This allowed us to get right up on the fence and be able to see and hear much more of the action. Quite an awesome little bonus. Plus, no lines to collect our winnings (such that they were; some might consider them “slightly decreased losses.”)
One should start this description of our day at the horse track with an open confession that we have very little clue how horse betting works. Or what statistics matter when making such a bet. Or just picking a horse to root for, for that matter. So, consider yourself disclaimed.
For those that are as clueless as we were before we looked in to it, the Kentucky Oaks, like the Kentucky Derby, is just one race during a day of horse racing. Both days are a part of the larger Spring Meet at Churchill Downs. There are twelve races the day of the Oaks, only open to thoroughbred fillies, whereas the thirteen races on tomorrow’s Derby day is open to any thoroughbred that meets the earnings requirements. And the winner of the Oaks gets a blanket of Lillies instead of a blanket of Roses. Got it?
Unlike most modern day sports stadiums which are built just off a highway in the middle of nowhere and include a ridiculous amount of parking, Churchill Downs is in the middle of a residential neighborhood and has very little parking of its own, which sells out well in advance despite the ridiculous prices they charge for it. Fortunately, Louisvilly has been host to the Oaks and Derby for 136 years (and several other huge events for slightly less time) and has gotten the whole traffic flow thing down pat. Public parking is available at the Kentucky Expo Center and Papa John’s Stadium, as well as just about every other business in the area willing to privatize their lot, all walking distance from the Downs.
We ended up chipping in our $15 to park at a day care center near Papa John’s Stadium and strolled the short
hike to the Downs in time for the third race. (The Oaks is the eleventh race.) We found our seats, got settled in, fetched some mint juleps, and made a very poor attempts at wagering.
Our seats were in the fifth row of the northernmost section, giving us a crap view of the finish line and monitors, but an awesome view of the horses coming around the northern end of the track on the last turn before the spring to the finish. Which is pretty damn cool given that that’s where the breakaways happen. If there’s going to be an exciting change of events, we got to see the action up close and personal.
There’s one other difference in traditions between the Derby and the Oaks that we didn’t know before we got there; instead of mint juleps (bourbon, sugar, water, and mint, or, in the case of the Downs, Early Times pre-mixed sweet watered down bourbon with mint flavoring…) the drink of choice is an Oaks Lilly. Unlike the mint julep which is available from stationary or roaming vendors every twenty feet or so, there’s only one place at Churchill Downs that sells the lilly; Ye Olde Finlandia Tent. We waited in line once to get a round, learned that the reason the line moves so slow is not only the fact that there’s only one place to get them, but that the bar is made of carved ice that everyone needs to make a photo of the bar and/or a photo of their friends and the bartenders. Seriously, people? Get a grip.
(Side note: the official recipe, as far as we can find, for an Oaks Lilly, is one park Finlandia Vodka, one part sour mix, three parts cranberry juice, and a splash of Triple Sec, but we don’t buy it for a moment. The drinks were mixed from only two bottles; one a premix of something resembling fruit punch and the other vodka. They tasted far less “sorta like a Cosmopolitan” as people described them and far more like a nice Hawaiian Punch.)
It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed watching all the races, despite our lack of betting prowess. After the Oaks, we were a couple of dollars shy of breaking even, and the heat was getting a little much given our lack of water consumption, so we called it a day and skipped the last race (along with many others) and moseyed our way home for the night. The overnight forecast called for a very wet Derby day, so we were very glad to have enjoyed the awesome Oaks day while we could.
Technically, Derby season in Louisville kicked off last weekend with the Basketball Classic and a golf tournament. But we’re not big basketball or golf folks, so we planned to start our Personal Derby ExperienceTM with Thunder Over Louisville, the world’s largest fireworks display and first (major) event of the Derby Festival’s primary schedule1.
Thunder Over Louisville essentially amounts to a two-part excuse to spend the day sitting on your butt in the part staring at the sky; first an air show, then a fireworks display. All above the Ohio River, visible from many locations along both the Kentucky and Indiana sides of the river.
We followed online suggestions to park in a garage on a one way street that would send us away in the direction we need to go (south) and as far away as we were willing to walk. (In hindsight, we were more willing than we thought we’d be…) As we got to the waterfront and got a feel for the crowds (read: lots of them, staking out large squares of space, with grills and coolers and family members taking turns guarding the turf), we decided to use our $8 investment ($4 a pop) of Festival “Pegasus Pins” and set ourselves up in the official Fest-A-Ville area; essentially a county fair within a county fair. We became more enamored with this decision as time wore on and it became clear that the open areas were sheer chaos (whereas the enclosed area was moderately reasonable chaos).
The Fest-A-Ville amounts primarily to food and drink stations which only accept tickets that have to be purchased at separate stations, plus a stage where a mediocre country cover artist was doing covers of random songs, some of which you might consider country. There were cowboy hats, though! There was also fried dough, which Ceridwen was quite excited about, but it turned out simply not to hold a candle to proper New England fry dough.
We are far from airshow aficionados, but from what we’ve learned, this was one hell of a show. Some people come to Louisville just for the airshow portion of Thunder. Presumably, they stay for the fireworks, but that’s not the draw for them. For us, the fireworks were the draw, but the air show was an awesome bonus.
The show started up in the early afternoon and went straight on through until sunset. They do a good job mixing in stunt fliers with the military fighters, cargo carriers, and random civilian media copters and the like. With only a couple of lulls, there was nearly always something flying over; sometimes repeatedly until they had to make room for the next guys, sometimes a one time blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flyover.
F-15s, an F-16, a P-51, a C-160, T-38Cs, an FA-18 Hornet, T-34s, a V-22, a C-38, a C-130, and all manner of other things. It was quite dizzying, but in a good way – and much more entertaining than just sitting around all day waiting for fireworks! A full list of acts is available on the Thunder site, here, though I’d imagine at some point in early 2011 it’ll be updated with what’s coming next year…
Those are just some highlights. (Click on any for a 700 pixel wide version.) Hope we got the labels right! Feel free to submit corrections. Plus, if anyone out there is a true blue aviation geek and wants to see more, we’ve got plenty to share.
The fireworks display was pretty much just as awe-inspiring as one could hope. Maybe more so. They kick it off with one last after-dark flyover of a pair of helicopters each flying a ginormous American Flag around as they play the national anthem. The flags were sorta lit by follow spot operators on the ground, which was a cool effect, when they hit them2
The fireworks setup is essentially along the Clark Memorial Bridge plus a floating barge on the river to either side of the bridge. However, when they pulled out the barges for showtime we learned that each barge was actually four (or maybe five) barges strung together. Damn.
The setup was ideal for allowing the maximum number of people to be able to enjoy the show; both sides of the Ohio, parks on either side of bridge, rooftop parties on the large downtown office buildings, riverfront restaurants, and probably every household or business window facing the right direction was able to enjoy at least a portion of the huge show.
Our vantage point allowed a nice close side view of the bridge with west-of-bridge barge fireworks in the background and east-of-the-bridge fireworks just a slight head swivel to the right. And we we close enough to be subjected to the one downside of such an insane fireworks display: showers of charred detritus. Mmmmm, tasty.
Long story short, lots of awesome fireworks everywhere you look. The show started about ten minutes late because something was out of sync and they had to bounce the computer controllers. Once it started, it ran just over twenty minutes before we started the hike back to the car and the long ride home3.