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Taking “The Road Less Traveled”

Think back on all of the things you set out to do at the
beginning of the year. Think back further to those things you
promised to do by the time you reached thirty or forty or fifty.
Any regrets? How many things on that list have you set out in
full determination to do, but in the end, that devil on your
shoulder warned you against starting, telling you that you’re
too old, too young, too out of shape, too afraid? Too often we
listen to that nagging voice telling us that we “can’t” or we
“shouldn’t.” Too often, that voice leads to opportunities lost.
Now think back on all the times you went with your gut feeling,
not that voice in your ear. I would bet that nine times out of
ten, despite the fear and the doubt, you came out feeling like
you were on top. Pretty remarkable feeling, wouldn’t you say?

It’s so easy to succumb to the “voice of reason,” we hear
screaming inside. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that is the
voice to heed. But I’m talking about dreams here, not those
decisions that bring into question our duties or
responsibilities. I’m talking about that personal something that
you’ve always wanted to accomplish for yourself, but were too
afraid. Those goals we set at the beginning of the year like
running a marathon, losing 15 pounds, taking a trip solo, or
conquering a phobia. When we have a dream or a goal, we mean
well, don’t we? We set out to do it. But something keeps us from
it. There’s that voice, that deafening voice that serves as an
insurmountable barricade, and keeps us from taking that first
step. It whispers, taunting us by saying that we’re not good
enough, not serious enough, not ambitious enough, not smart
enough, and not brave enough. Ironic isn’t it that all too often
that voice echoes in the same timbre of our mother, our father,
our husband or wife, even our children. Imagine your dream; it
could be ambitious, something that will take years to
accomplish, or even something small and personal to bring you a
little happiness. The possibilities abound when you are able to
ignore the voices, and take that first step forward. I did, and
it completely altered my perspective on where I was headed in
life.

My fiancé and I just recently relocated from sunny Florida to
the green and rolling horse farms of central Kentucky. We had
both grown up in the Sunshine State and had little desire to
leave until he was offered a scholarship to attend the
University of Kentucky’s School of Law. It was with heavy hearts
that we said goodbye to friends and family, 100% humidity, and
the tourist-filled streets. Once we arrived in Lexington, we
found that there were more than hurricanes and humidity missing.
People’s accents were different, there was no Cuban food to be
found in any of the ethnic food aisles, and jobs that had been
abundant in the South were not as easily available up in the
bluegrass.

It was after a month of job-hunting (as though it were my job),
that I decided I needed to take myself on an outing. I had been
cooped up in the apartment, sending resumes, sending thank you
letters, desperate for human interaction and even more desperate
for a job. The pressure and the disappointment were mounting.
Yes, it was definitely time for an outing. I consulted my handy
“Welcome to Kentucky” guide that the Kentucky Visitor’s Bureau
had graciously supplied me with, skeptical of what I might find.
I searched for attractions in the area, and one caught my eye
right away: The Raven Run Sanctuary. “A Sanctuary,” I thought to
myself, “Now there’s just the thing I need.” The
description sounded promising, “a 470 acre nature sanctuary with
over 10 miles of hiking trails.”

I was intrigued. But something kept me from walking out the door
just then. That voice, far in the back of my mind whispering “do
you really thing this is a good idea?” I began to doubt myself.
I picked up the phone and called a friend. Single and in her
early twenties, it was practically effortless to get her to side
with my wilder, adventure-seeking half. It only took a few
minutes of conversation to convince me that I needed to change
into a pair of shorts, a tank top and some good walking shoes,
and head out the door. My more cautious side prompted me to grab
a small backpack into which I threw a Swiss army knife, a
sweater, and a bottle of water. I was dressed and out the door
within ten minutes of having spoken to my friend.

The drive to the nature sanctuary was calming and pleasant. I
rolled all of the windows down and turned the radio off,
enjoying the sounds of tractors, the smell of fresh cut grass,
and the feel of the blowing wind along the way. The sanctuary
was about forty minutes from where I live in Lexington, and the
further I drove, the more I was reminded of the film
“Deliverance” and the unforgettable “You ain’t from these parts,
are ya’?” scene, complete with “Dueling Banjos” orchestrating my
imagination. Again, the voice came back warning “this is
foolish, anything could happen out here!” A slight bump in the
road had me worried that my tire had gone flat, a wrong turn
wondering if I might be shot at for having trespassed.

After having unknowingly driven past the entrance to the park
twice, I was almost ready to give up, but I thought “what the
hell, I’ve come this far!” I had finally made it to the parking
lot, and to my horror, there was only one other car parked
there. “Oh lord,” the voice said, “you’re going to be murdered
or worse out here in the woods by yourself, and no one will find
your body for weeks, or even months.” I took some solace in
knowing that at the very least I had told my friend where I was
headed. Even my fiancé had no idea of my intention to go hiking
on a whim.

There was a sign that pointed to the “Nature Center.” I figured
there would be someone there whom I could ask about the safety
of a young girl hiking on her own. I picked up an abandoned
walking stick, and started down a cemented path that lead
through a wood. It was quiet. I looked ahead, and saw nothing
but the path. I looked behind, and saw the same. On either side
were trees, and trees, and more trees. But I kept on, and
eventually came to an opening where there sat a small house with
a sign marking it as the Nature Center. A barn sat behind the
house.

There was not a soul to be seen, although there were four cars
parked near the small building. Employee’s cars I guessed,
although I did not see any employees. At the window there was a
sign in sheet and a pile of maps with a rock laid on top to keep
the wind from blowing them away. I glanced down the list. There
had been six sets of visitors that day, all of which had already
come and gone except for one couple. No one had come on their
own I noticed, and most had remarked that this was not their
first visit to the sanctuary. I carefully wrote in my name. I
wanted to be sure that it was legible in case I was killed or
bitten by a snake or attacked by a bear. I listed the make and
model of my car, the number in my party (one), and stated this
was my first visit to the park. “Maybe I should lie,” I
pondered, just in case some sick bastard chanced a look and
decided to hunt down some ignorant city girl in the woods that
day. I decided I’d take my chances. I opened my map, gripped my
walking stick anxiously, and took my first steps down the path,
starting my journey. It took me about a half hour of walking to
get used to the idea that I would not be running in to other
people.

There was a sign posted that said “Overlook.” “That sounds
nice,” I thought, and headed in the direction it pointed toward.
I came to a fork in the road, and consulted my handy,
Xerox-copied map. Either path would lead me to the overlook, so
which one to take? Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled” came
to mind. Both looked pretty well defined, but feeling inspired,
I took notice that the path to the right led into the woods, the
other through a flowered field, and I made the decision that any
reader of that poem would make, “and I took the road less
traveled by.” It led me deep into a forest. Not a sound could be
heard save for the fall of leaves and my own labored breathing
as I trekked up and down the hillside. Then came the echo of my
fiance’s voice in my head wisely stating “you should not be
doing this by yourself.” I kept on with some trepidation. And
then I stopped dead in my tracks. A doe with her fawn were
lunching on a bush. It was the closest I had ever been to
nature. I stood quite still until my joints felt stiff and I
became eager for a better look. My step forward alerted them to
my presence and they dashed off, leaping further into the
wilderness. I kept on. I was beginning to feel better about
this, until I had a moment of dread recalling scenes from the
“Blair Witch” film. What if the paths were changing continuously
and I ended up lost forever? What if I was reading the map
incorrectly? I took a deep breath, and with great effort, worked
again to quiet these voices of the skeptical city girl.

After about an hour of hiking, I realized that I was walking
quite near a Cliffside. Again fear. Fear of heights this time. I
thought I could see water below, but was too nervous to bend
over the side and take a better look. I decided just to keep on
my path. It wasn’t long until I reached the end. There were
several large boulders in front of me, and I mustered up the
courage and climbed from one down to another. I had not prepared
myself for the spectacular view that surrounded me. It had all
been worth it; all the fear, all the anxiety, all the doubt. I
stood about thirty stories above a river, and across me and on
all sides of me were cliff walls, cutting sharply into the
grey-blue waters below. And for the first time since I had set
out on this outing, on this search for sanctuary, I felt peace.
And more than that, I felt accomplishment. I had conquered all
of my urban fears to venture out into a breathtaking timeless
moment, hidden away from everyone else at that particular point
in time, feeling as though all of the trees and cliffs and the
river below were available only to me. It was as though I had
traveled through Alice’s looking glass into another world,
another time.

I don’t recall how long I sat there, breathing in the fresh air,
exhaling all of the tension I had carried with me from the
start. The voice stopped then, and a new voice chimed in. “You
did it,” it said. “You weren’t bitten by a snake; you weren’t
attacked by bears, or killed or raped by some mad man, or
attacked by poison ivy.” I felt like I could do anything just
then. I had even braved sitting near the edge of the cliff to
get a better look. And then I suddenly felt silly, realizing
that I had spent all this time applying my knowledge and
wariness of the asphalt jungle to this far less dangerous and
far more inviting rural wilderness.

I started my hike back worry free and filled with vigor and
pride and a sense of accomplishment. I thought back over all the
pedicures and shopping sprees I had treated myself with. I
thought back on the safe choices I had made that, in their own
way were rewarding, but lacked any real challenge and therefore
any reaffirming sense of “you can.” I thought back and realized
that this outing, this desperation for sanctuary turned
adventure, was the best thing I had done for myself in years.
And that has made all the difference.

The Road Less Traveled

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear

Though as for that, the passing there

Had worn them really about the same

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet, knowing how way leads onto way

I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence

Two roads diverged in a wood

And I took the one less traveled by

And that has made all the difference

Haley is a graduate from Florida State University’s
Department of Anthropology. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky
with her fiancé, and spent most of her life in Florida.
Interests are Latin American and Caribbean cultures, religion,
symbol and ritual, issues concerned with self and social
identity, and the arts (opera, theatre, and especially musical
theatre).

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