Day 6: Kayaks and black bears #KentuckyTour2014

Two things I remember about this day.

The first was Kayaking towards Cumberland Falls.

The second was the bear.

Joe and Kate had left shortly after dinner, as Joe wanted to get back to Lexington for some pre-wedding Best Man duties. Whilst having a few drinks on the balcony and reviewing the great day we’d had, came the call from Kev.

“We’ve got company” Kev shouted from the kitchen.

black bear, cumberland, daniel boone, kentuckyAnd right we did. Right outside the kitchen window, a giant black bear was going through the bin. He quickly scrambled and raced across to one of the other cabins when he heard us fumbling around for our cameras.

To be honest, bears are nothing but scavengers. And the state of California decided to put one on their flag. Bloody liberals.

We rang Du Pont lodge, as instructed, and they sent out a Ranger to track the bear’s movements. It’s actually quite mad how wild they actually are; they’re not electronically tagged, and only manually recorded when sighted.

One regular visitor said there could be as many as 11,000 bears in the region (Kentucky and surrounding states). That’s mental. That’s the equivalent of the population of Henley-on-Thames. This same visitor had never actually seen a bear in the 30 years they’d been coming here.

The population is actually believed to be much lower, at around 500 black bears in Kentucky. That’s like a whole Lenwade in Norfolk populated by bears. Or a decent turn out for an early FA Cup preliminary round.

We later headed into the nearest town for some dinner. On our return, driving through the darkness towards our cabin we noticed what assumedly was a stray dog lurking around in the trees. It looked scared, as if it was hiding out.

We parked up and that’s when we saw the bin had been smashed to bits. The bear had ripped off the thick wooden slates, removed the metal container from inside and flattened it. Needless to say we didn’t waste any time getting in.

Nothing was going to beat that. So we watched a documentary about the life of Pat Tillman, a former NFL footballer who retired to enlist in the US army following the 9/11 attacks. He was killed in friendly fire. The programme sought to reunite the man who may’ve been responsible with one of Tillman’s fellow soldiers.

If you don’t particular appreciate the wit of Bill Hicks you may still be aware of his stance on advertising and marketing. Essentially, if you work in advertising, kill yourself. That’s literally it. Like too many things, his style of comedy is applied to our stages via your ‘alternative comedians’ and others who grew up with Hicks as an inspiration. But having sat through my 8th or 9th TV commercial break in one sitting, I can kind of empathize. If they’re not manipulative (Quick Buck Solutions Ltd) they’re undignified (Place4Mum.com).

We all awoke at different stages of the night by the apparent movement lurking outside our bedrooms. If the bear could smash that bin, there was no reason he couldn’t break the wooden bannister and kick through the glass sliding door of our rooms. We knew he wasn’t too happy with us.

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Day 5: Nashville to Cumberland Falls #KentuckyTour2014

cumberland falls, black bears, kentucky,  Daniel Boone, Despite being the last one back, I’m the first up and make use of my time by having a coffee on the little veranda that overlooks Downtown. Again it’s a beautiful day and amongst the chirpy birdsong I can make out the light and dissipating thunder of a rolling freight train somewhere in the distance.

Right about now, Luke’s friends and family from London are beginning to touch down at various US ports for the wedding; Atlanta, New York, Chicago. Myself and cousin Elizabeth had been uploading photos to Instagram using #Colliver to track each others whereabouts (a rare justification for the hashtag). She was travelling with my other cousins, Simone and George, and had just picked up their hire car after a night at the baseball watching the Atlanta Braves.

Once the others were up, and we’d made a half decent effort of drying our laundry on the outside porch, we headed to where Joe and Kate were staying. A bowl of granola later at the Sky Blue Café and we were on the road to Cumberland Falls.

I jumped back in with Joe and Kate, whose trusty yet exhausted playlist via USB stick provided ample respite from the world of tin riffs and questionable innuendo’s that come with a life of solid country music. The radio was on repeat with the new Keith Urban song Cop Car. Quite fitting, as I wasn’t the only one who’d had a brush with the law last night. Joe and Kate had accidentally set off the alarm of their house and the cops were round in a shot.

There’s something quite unenviable about Keith Urban. For a guy who makes million of pounds doing what he loves and is married to a Hollywood superstar, I just couldn’t imagine anyone actually wanting to trade places with him. It’s no indicator of my contentment with life. Offer me the life of a semi-professional footballer, a bit part in Eastenders or a place on the next series of Castaway in lieu of my own existence and I’d bite your hand off. But Keith Urban? Nah, you’re alright mate.

I dropped Jim from last night an email, just to send him my best wishes. He managed to get back in the flat but isn’t speaking to his flatmate.

Once we’re about 10miles from Cumberland Falls National Park, we notice several houses displaying campaign posters championing those seeking election for a number of roles.

“Jerry Hoake for Mayor”

“Susan Knoxville for Magistrate”

“Bob Yardley for Jailer”

One can only assume these are for positions of power, and not simply for roles in a play put on by the local amateur dramatics society.

Our log cabin is huge, and about a 5 minute walk from the central Du Pont Lodge where Joe and Kate will be staying. There are 6 other log cabins in our area. With two king-size twin rooms down below and a huge kitchen and lounge area up above. We have two balconies that overlook the forest below. Though obscured by the thick woodland, the roar of the river down in the valley can be heard easily enough.

There’s been a number of bear sightings in the area recently. At Du Pont we were given some tips on what to do if we came face to face with one. From Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods I know that black bears can be dealt with using techniques such as making yourself big while not looking threatening. Running only makes you look like prey and odds are they’re better at running, climbing and swimming than you.

Whereas if a brown bear wants to rip your throat out, he’s going to rip your throat out.

“So, the bloke at reception said if you see a bear, you need to walk backwards, keep calm and clap your hands” I called out to the group up ahead, as we walked through the woods and down towards Cumberland Falls.

“Clap? What if he isn’t any good” came Dad’s sharp reply as he listened out for laughter, paying no attention to my safety advice.

We continued down into woods towards the falls, where instead of the breathtaking scenery, we took in some good puns and bear-related material.

The falls themselves were incredibly impressive. The weight and power running through them could be felt from our viewpoint. Like most able-bodied men, Joe and myself couldn’t resist the urge of jumping over the viewpoint to climb a large rock below for a better view. Never, ever be content with the safety of a viewpoint.

We stayed for a good 20 minutes taking in the powerful medium of nature, before making our way back through the woods.

“Rob, I just seen saw paw prints” Kev called up ahead, “then I saw some good prints and then I saw some excellent prints”.

Back on the balcony of our log cabin the champagne was popped and the jokes continued. The trees were occasionally lit up by the inhabitant glowworms, which reminded Kev of his last trip to the US back in 1974. While visiting cousins in Pennsylvania, they were introduced to some kids who’d go into the woods to crunch up glowworms to give the impression they had fluorescent rings on their fingers. But the glowworms were okay though, right?

“Nah, they were fucked”

kev, oliver, tuxedo, cumberland fallsKev goes out to the car to surprise us with one of his many new outfits for the wedding, returning in a T-Shirt with a Tuxedo printed on the front of it.

“I must be the only person in the country with a Tuxedo folded up in the glove compartment”.