In the past, I-75 has played a crucial role in almost all of my road trips. It took my family all the way down to Florida on our trips to Disney World, it connected my hometown with Cincinnati, and it makes up most of the route between my old home in Ohio and my family’s new home in Alabama.
But this story isn’t about I-75. This is the story of a new path and an unexpected adventure.
It didn’t occur to me until the very last minute to veer from my normal route when I drove from Ohio to Alabama last fall. I didn’t realize when I merged onto 75 that I would only be following it until I-71 split from it and went its own direction. But Josh and I knew that we would have an adventure if we explored new roads, so we took a chance as we merged into new territory. We just didn’t expect that we would fall so hard in love with Kentucky.
My time in Kentucky had always been limited, and as an Ohioan, my opinion of the state had been slightly prejudiced. Kentucky doesn’t often get rave reviews from the people I know, and so I never thought that there was much reason to spend time there.
When I moved to Cincinnati, though, I found that I really enjoyed my trips to the Kentucky cities just across the Ohio River. Just look at this view in Covington, and you’ll see why!
At some point, I realized that every experience I have had in Kentucky defied the stereotypes that I’d heard about the state. Yet it took years for me to finally dig into more of the gems that the Bluegrass State had to offer.
During the few October days that Josh and I drove across the state, we encountered hailstorms, torrential downpours, chilly mornings, ominous thunderclouds, and a swarm of bugs. (I’m not making that last one up: I thought I was driving through a whole bunch of falling leaves until the “leaves” hit my windshield and I realized that I had somehow summoned a plague upon us.)
Yet none of the harsh weather diminished how much I genuinely enjoyed Kentucky. I still get chills when I remember how it felt to stand under the storm clouds that were rolling into La Grange as the rumble of thunder and a train mingled in the distance.
I think back fondly to the morning in Elizabethtown that Josh and I started our exploration during the frosty dawn, desperately clutching our coffee cups for heat as we walked around town, waiting for the sun to rise and warm us.
And even when the storms forced us to pull off the road among all the other drivers who admitted defeat, I managed to keep my spirits up and patiently wait until visibility returned and we could get on with our journey.
So much of what I loved about Kentucky was how much there was to learn. Carrollton was where Josh and I first noticed that trend of old buildings always being accompanied by plaques or signs that detailed their history. La Grange was eager to share its unique train history.
Louisville and Hodgenville taught us about Abraham Lincoln’s Kentucky roots.
It goes without saying that Mammoth Cave National Park was very much geared toward educating its visitors. And Elizabethtown did a great job chronicling its role in the Civil War.
At no point did I feel overwhelmed by too many facts. The information we learned was always relevant and interesting, and it was usually imparted by a friendly local. Most of the Kentuckians that we met seemed to love their state and were pleased that Josh and I loved it so much too.
Kentucky was a wonderful place. There are so many ways I’ll remember Kentucky. I’ll remember it by the sunsets and sunrises that seared themselves into my memory.
I’ll remember it by all the quirky details that stood out–the Civil War cannonball lodged into a building in Elizabethtown, the bourbon fudge we sampled (and spat out) at the local sweet shop and a store window full of schoolchildren’s drawings of Lincoln in Hodgenville, the plaque that depicted a stoic (shirtless) Abe at Louisville’s riverfront park, and my hair whipping against my face in La Grange as I stood just feet away from the train that was zooming down Main Street.
I’ll think of Kentucky every time I use the bat bookmark I got at Mammoth Caves, where I came face-to-face with my fear of going underground but made it out unscathed. I’ll think of it as I sip tea from my Kentucky mug with a goofy ceramic horse glued to the side.
I’ll think of it whenever I double-tap a new product that Shop Local Kentucky posts on their Instagram account. (I swear I’m not being paid to advertise for them–I just love all of their products! I really do plan to get a “Keep the Grass Blue” shirt or hoodie! And if anybody wants some local Kentucky clothing or jewelry, here’s your answer!)
In my opinion, being eager and genuine are some of the best traits that a person can have, but with my Kentucky road trip, I discovered that those traits work just as well in a state. At every turn, I found myself describing my experiences using one or both of those words, and I’m not sure if there’s any greater compliment I could give than that.
Kentucky, this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I’m genuinely excited for whenever I may find myself there again, and I’m eager to share in detail more of my experiences there. Y’all can look forward to a post about the first stop of my Kentucky road trip in just a few days.
I think it’s safe to say that though I’ll always be an Ohioan, and Florida has stolen my heart recently, I am a firm Kentucky convert, and I urge everybody to give the Bluegrass State a chance to steal your heart.