It all got started in early October after a meeting between the a few members of the Beattyville/Lee County Tourism Commission and a group leaders of different four wheeling clubs including Aaron Roddey of the Ohio River Four Wheelers, Curtis Caldwell of Eastern KY Offroad, and Jeremy Robbins of Kentucky Krawlers at Hollerwood Park. Together we were able to create a promo video for the upcoming SFWDA 3rd Annual Meet and Greet Ride which was planned on November 3rd. The group leaders invited us to attend the ride the following month.
The event was the same weekend we had planned to have our girls weekend at a cabin called Monkey Business. My friends and I decided it would be so fun if we could join the event and go off roading that weekend. Hollerwood Park Manager, Keith Mason and Curtis Caldwell with Eastern KY Offroad, asked around to see if anyone had space in their vehicles so that we might able to go and take photos, videos, and give a unique outsider's perspective on the ride. A few days before the event Luke Bogner with ECO-OHV came through with a van so that we would not only be able to go on the ride, but also ride together. To be honest, when Luke sent over a photo of the van I was skeptical of its abilities. Talking on the phone with him the night before, I warned him that we are a bunch of loud silly women when we get together and that he was in for a long day. He said he was looking forward to it and would make sure we had a great time!
On Saturday morning, we arrived at the Natural Bridge Campground and looked around. The place was packed! There were all kinds vehicles going through inspections and getting lined up in groups according to their difficulty. The registration looked well organized and efficient. We wondered through the crowd of rigs to the front of the line, where we spotted the van and finally meet our driver Luke. It was still 30 minutes until time to roll out, so we walked around checking out all the rigs. There was a driver's meeting to attend, where we listened as Aaron Roddy talk to everyone about being courteous, respecting landowners, staying on the trail, “Leave No Trace”, no playing around in the creeks and other important items such as no drugs or alcohol. Aaron did a wonderful job of thanking each of the sponsors and everyone for being there.
Once the meeting was dismissed and the drivers head back to their rigs, many stopped to take a look at the van. We all climbed in in the van and other drivers were telling us to be sure and bring back Luke in one piece. It wasn't until we were situated safely in the van that he informed us that it was once a prisoner transport van and the doors could only be opened from the outside! Another drawback is that none of the back windows opened either. We were laughing before the wheels even started rolling.
The first part of the journey was an interrogation of Luke’s personal life (poor guy), the ride and the van. Where did he live? How did he find this van? Were we going to get stuck? Most importantly, where did he find the Sasquatch air fresher hanging proudly from the rear view mirror? He did a great job talking about how there were two hills that he was concerned about, and even managed to show us video on his phone of the hills he was talking about. Once into Estill County we turned up the hill from town toward the furnace loop and then went up and up and up (and up some more). The views were spectacular and the road went from blacktop to gravel to mainly dirt.
The van really did well on climbing up the hills with 7 people in it. We stopped at a beautiful forest road and hiked down to Tucker Cave. The leaves on the trail were slippery, but the morning sunlight coming through the trees, the mossy boulders, and the spectacular views had everyone in a great mood even though it was still a little cool. The hike down to the cave was short and the cave itself was fascinating. A trickle of water came out of the cave and dropped down a solid cliff wall onto the moss covered rocks below. There were natural steps you could climb granting access to the cave entrance and allowing one the opportunity to look around inside.
Once back in the prison van we bumped our way down a steep ridge and up another steep ridge. Over the radio people in the convoy behind us were asking Luke how his "prisoners" were doing. The first obstacle was a rocky, muddy, uphill road with a switchback at the top, followed by a longer uphill climb. Luke radioed Brad, in the Jeep behind us, to take the lead in case we needed a tow. As we started up the hill, I could feel the van's back end slide sideways, loosing traction as it tried but couldn't make it the first go around. Luke put the van in reverse and everyone started laughing. The van had started beeping as it backed up, prompting even more inexplicable laughter. The second try was a success as Luke put the van in second and floored it up the hill. The second part of the hill was rocky and half way up the van got stuck on a rock and wouldn't go any farther. Luke turned the wheel left, then right, then left again, trying to get traction, but it was to no avail. He had to back down the hill a little ways and find a new path. Climbing this hill was like being at a horse race. As the horses turn for the home stretch and the closer the horses came to the finish line, the louder the crowd would cheer. The same was happening in the van, which was christened the White Elephant by this rowdy group of ladies. About a quarter of the way up, then half way up, and again at three quarters the way up, the cheering from the passengers steadily increased until we made it and everyone was praising Luke for this driving skills. We stopped at the top of the hill near an oil well and got out of the van for a photo opportunity. Other drivers were also getting out, and several asked us asking if we had fun, because they could hear us screaming all the way down the hill.
Lunchtime was at Bear Track Grocery in Lee County. The store did a great job of making sandwiches and checking out customers promptly. My friends and I ate lunch on the back porch of the grocery store, which has a covered porch built on the cliff’s edge, overlooking the Daniel Boone National Forest. After lunch we loaded back up and went north on New Virginia Road, then turned southeast on Bald Rock Road. We traveled through the Pendergrass Murray and Bald Rock Recreational Preserves and saw multiple parking areas full of cars belonging to rock climbers from all over the US and Canada. Once back on the black top road, we turned toward HWY 11 and headed north back toward Slade.
One great things about traveling in groups with CB radios is everyone was aware of what was coming. At one point we passed a group of SXS's, dogs in the road, and another group of rigs. Communicating on CB's made people pay more attention to their surroundings, watch for dangerous obstacles or ensured drives would slow down while passing homes along the way. Everywhere we stopped, the group picked up any trash from the sides of the roads, leaving the scenery more beautiful than when we arrived. It was a wonderful trip full of laughs, bumps, mud, and spectacular views. For the local people who live and go off roading around the Lee, Powell, Estill, and Wolfe Counties, being apart of these off roading clubs would, in my view, be a positive thing. There are rides every month and sometimes every weekend. At every event, you would meet new people from all over KY, Indiana, Ohio, and other surrounding states. Getting involved with the trail repair projects and clean ups also help sustain the trails and roads for everyone who would come and enjoy the beauty of what we have to offer in our area.
Here are some quotes from the ladies in the van. Be sure and check out a few photos and video clip of our trip in the big white van.
"Didn't find me a mountain man, but that's ok…found something even better...a prison van that takes you for wild ride!" - Susie, Louisville, KY
"You've never been off-roading until you've done it in a prison van filled with girls and the best driver ever! " - Debbie, Leesburg, FL
"Best way to view Kentucky backroads….with a great guide to show us around and a group to ride with" - Amanda, Orlando, FL
Clubs such as the Ohio River Four Wheelers, Kentucky Krawlers, and Eastern KY Offroad clubs who ride most weekends in the area invited other members of the SFWDA who to come and ride in the Gorge and experience some trails that this area has to offer, also to show appreciation for all the support that the SFWDA has provided to help develop and promote the Daniel Boone Back Country Byway.
Volunteer from several local clubs assisted as guides to different levels of street legal rigs. There were a total of 210 slots available from the easy group which consisted of stock vehicles with all terrain tires to the Extreme group which required 37in tires, two lockers and winch to participate. All rigs must have carried a First Aid Kit and a Fire Extinguisher, also at check in all rigs go through an inspection before being lined up in the riding group they registered for. For the first time this year there were 25 slots made available to SXS’s of the Eastern KY Offroad, a new SXS based group established this year.
In a Facebook announcement a few days before the event it was told that all 210 slots were full for the event. This became evident Saturday morning as group leaders headed out from the Natural Bridge Campground in Slade at 9am leading as many as 25-30 rigs per group. Group leaders took followers to different locations in the Red River Gorge Area including parts of Lee, Estill, Wolfe, and Powell Counties for all day riding along the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway and at Hollerwood Offroad Park.
The Beattyville/Lee County Tourism Director, Dedra Brandenburg and 6 of her friends, from Florida, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, were able to join the Easy/Beginner group on Saturday. ECO-OHV club member, Luke Bogner, came through with a 12 passenger van for the group of girls to ride in. This van was a repurposed prison transport van with four wheel drive and a long wheel base. Bogner also served as group leader to 20 rigs. The group loaded up Saturday morning and headed toward Estill County to do the furnace loop then stopped at Beartrack Grocery in Lee County for lunch before heading down New Virginia Road, through Bald Rock, and back toward Slade.
Learn more about these clubs online through Facebook and the Web. There are rides almost every weekend and club rides such as this promote safety, leave no trace, and tread lightly ethics while also supporting the local economies through the purchase of gas, food, and lodging for the weekend. Economic impact number from this weekend’s ride have not been released but will in the next few days.