I, along with Dish photographer and editor Raeanne Rubenstein, decided to accept the invite, and drive to the wilds of Kentucky where both of us had never been. The plan was to risk our lives doing things like white-water river rafting, all-terrain bike riding, zip-lining and other life-threatening activities that only crazy people would do. But the tempting part was the lure of the luxurious nightly accommadations we were offered, if we could just survive the day’s activities.
So there we were, in the middle of a road trip that started and ended in the lap of luxury, at the historic Beaumont Inn. We’d set out from Nashville, Tennessee, following I-65 and the Bluegrass Parkway to Harrodsburg, a quaint hamlet nestled amidst Central Kentucky’s signature thoroughbred farms. We explored Harrodsburg’s meticulously restored downtown historic district before checking into the internationally renowned Inn, a white-columned antebellum mansion that housed three different colleges before Glave Goddard and his wife, Annie Belle, purchased the property in 1918. Five generations later, the luxurious hostelry remains Kentucky’s oldest family-operated country inn.
We stopped by the Inn’s front desk, picked up our keys---real keys!!---then headed off to our rooms. Both were richly outfitted with remnants of the Old South, a more genteel time when beds were tall four-posters, dressers were topped with marble, heavy draperies outlined the windows, and lady-like chairs sat by the fireplace. It was quiet, comfortable and had an ice bucket. What more could I ask for?
Food, that’s what. Raeanne and I skipped the pub grub at the Inn’s informal Old Owl Tavern and child-free Owl’s Nest Lounge, and made reservations at the dining room in the Main Inn, a place where white tablecloths are in and shorts are not. We sipped fine wine and supped on yummy regional favorites like Kentucky Hot Brown (a sandwich made with turkey that is baked in the oven with a cheese sauce on top), corn pudding and just-picked green beans from the Inn’s organic garden. The perfect end to a beautiful day.
The following day was far from perfect, though. We left the Beaumont Inn, set our compass for West Virginia and hit the road. After five hours of white-knuckle driving through non-stop torrential rain, we resorted to our Plan B and nixed ATVing on the now-very-muddy Hatfield-McCoy nature trails. Raeanne wasn’t up for a mud bath, or losing her life either, as this ATV experience was supposed to be her first. Instead, we followed the signs to Tamarack, a Beckley museum shop stocked with local wines, gourmet food, covet-worthy collections from some of West Virginia’s finest artisans and regional favorites like Maw Maw Mercedes Hot Bologna Sauce and Ordinary Evelyn’s Pickled Beets. We watched demonstrations of glass blowing and quilting, then wandered into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. Amid gold albums and concert posters was a picture of our friend, former CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Kathy Mattea, who was inducted into the Hall last October.
We still had some time on our hands, so Raeanne suggested a tour of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, just off the next exit. By now it was raining so hard we couldn’t see the car’s hood ornament, which meant the rest of the I-77 rush hour commuters were hydroplaning right along with us. Once we made it safely to our destination, we toured the historically accurate, reconstructed coal town, then amused ourselves by “goin’ down, down, down” in a coal mine that operated from 1890 to 1910. We climbed in an authentic “man car” and rode the rails 1,500 feet underground where Leroy, a retired coal miner, taught us more about nineteenth and twentieth century coal extraction methods than we ever wanted to know. Especially the part about the guys whose only job was to burn the methane gas that hugged the ceiling. Suffice it to say, none of them had much hair.
The rain never did stop that day, but our moods turned brighter when we finally arrived at River Expeditions Adventure Resort in “Wild and Wonderful” West Virginia, our “glamping” destination. Located in the more-beautiful-than-you-could-imagine Appalachian Mountains near Lansing, the secluded 100-acre getaway offers a wide range of outdoor activities, including whitewater rafting, paintball, ziplining, mountain biking, ATVing and fishing, all depending on your comfort zone. The same goes for campsites. Depending on how in-touch you want to be with nature, you can choose from truly-roughin’-it tent camping, festive tent and platform camping, RV camping, “rustic” cabin camping, “deluxe” cabin camping, or five-bedroom, two bath “luxury” cabin camping.
Since we’d come to glamp, not suffer, we opted for the latter. And can you blame us? Our log cabin was outfitted with heat and air, satellite TV, gas fireplace and grill, a hot tub, and a dining area with fully furnished kitchen. Linens and thick towels are part of the package, as well. The comfy country rockers on the deck offered a perfect place to enjoy a cocktail and watch the sun sink behind the misty, heavily forested mountains. It’s a marvelous way to de-stress, but then so are the treatments available just up the hill at Ocean’s Massage Therapy.
“Your experience here can be anything you want it to be,” said Heather Johnson, who with her husband, Rick, owns and manages the property. “You have access to luxury accommodations, you can connect to WiFi, you can disconnect and escape all the noise of the city and sleep peacefully, enjoy yourself in the forest or kick back on the river and enjoy nature.”
We dumped our luggage at the cabin, then joined the throng of thirsty campers partying at the Red Dog River Saloon, which inexplicably has a statue of a rooster standing guard. We sauntered over to the bar and bellied up. After one round of drinks and meticulous journalistic observation, we finally asked the bartender to solve a mystery. What the hell were the drink orders she was filling non-stop? “Jägerbombs,” she replied, continuing to pour a shot of Jägermeister into a glass of Red Bull. Off-duty whitewater guides gave the concoction rave reviews, but we passed, even though we suspected that getting “Jägerbombed” might have made us laugh even harder at the four-man bachelor party that was cheering and chugging their way through a raucous game of beer pong.
Following a good night’s sleep, we abandoned our cell phones and charged on to the day’s outdoor challenge: whitewater rafting on the scenic Upper New River, which promised a lazy, day-long trip on a waterway that has more placid pools suitable for swimming (which we did) than it does rapids. Some independent souls opted to nix the big rafts and go it alone in inflated kayaks called “duckys”.
We were outfitted with brilliant yellow helmets and neon-orange lifejackets---“All the better to see you with, my dear”---and looked the part of experienced rafters, or at least tried to when we passed by the videographer. Despite his pleas, none of us waved because we’d each been warned to keep both hands on the paddle so we didn’t wind up with “summer teeth”, i.e. missing central incisors. I’d already witnessed a case of “summer teeth” at the Red Dog River Saloon the previous night, so I took our guide, Derek, at his word. After about six hours rafting, plus an awesome deli lunch on the banks of the scenic river, we docked, let the men drag the rafts ashore (they weigh a whole lot more than you think) and boarded the green shuttle bus for the return trip back to camp.
By the time we got there, my stomach was growling like the MGM lion, but both of us had booked massages with Heather Terrior at Ocean’s Massage Therapy, and weren’t about to cancel. Thirty minutes of deep-tissue kneading later, we hit the dining room where my steak dinner and her salmon feast were waiting. “Preacher Kenny” and his catering crew outdid themselves. Everything was cooked to perfection, including the chewy, gooey brownies we downed for dessert.
The night was still young, so before heading back to the cabin, we sauntered over to the Red Dog River Saloon again, where we squeezed inside and watched the videos of our whitewater adventure. If Raeanne hadn’t been wearing a white t-shirt, we would never have been able to distinguish our group from any of the others. All helmeted rafters look the same.
We didn’t stay long. In fact, we left before the band started playing, calling it a night so we could be rested and alert for our next day’s adventure, the TreeTops Canopy Tour, which seemed far more daunting. Both Raeanne and I had ziplined before, but never like this. We got our first heads-up when we were issued helmets, harnesses and gloves.
Scared? Terrified was more like it. The grand finale of the three-hour TreeTops Canopy Tour turned out to be rappelling from the sturdy wooden platform. I was forced to make a hard choice: rappel to earth or live out the rest of my life in a giant Hemlock tree. I chose the former, only because of the humiliation factor. A brave ten-year-old girl had just made her way down to the ground, leaving me the last one standing.
Now to be honest, there was no way I could fall to my death; it just felt like l might. The sturdy, extra-large carabiner attached to my full-body harness was clipped to a cable, which was then clipped to a major knot in the thick blue rope that would safely lower me to the forest floor. Or so they promised. Experienced guides Megan McCoy and Irisa Kennedy were stationed above and below to rescue me if I freaked out and blew the drop. All I had to do was slide down the rope, using my gloved hands to control the speed of my descent. So what was the big deal? I first had to step into the abyss BACKWARDS. By doing that, I could theoretically use my feet to protect my face from slamming back into the treetop platform from which I’d just jumped. Megan cautioned that if I didn’t push back, I could wind up with “summer teeth”. I was getting tired of doing activities that might leave me singing “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”.
Recognizing my fear, Megan talked me through it and held onto me until I got brave enough to lean back, push off with my feet and ease down the rope. Sliding down was effortless and embarrassingly easy. It was just that first step that was a bitch.
Once on the ground, we all congratulated ourselves for conquering our fears and stepping outside the box, er, platform.
As the Canopy Tour wound down and we trekked back to camp (which included traversing three cable-supported swinging bridges), Megan and Irisa identified the flora surrounding us. I learned that if you’re in desperate need, Magnolia leaves make the best toilet paper. I also discovered that American Sourwood tastes similar to Sweet Tarts (I chewed one to make sure), and how to distinguish a Red Maple from a Sugar Maple (Red Maple is the one--wait for it--with the red veins in its leaves). I swore I’d remember the plethora of other plant facts our tour guides dispersed, but I don’t. That alone warrants a return trip!
The next morning, we reluctantly left River Expeditions Adventure Resort headed back to Harrodsburg, looking forward to returning to the luxurious accommodations at the Beaumont Inn, which, by the way, were even better than our previous visit. Sadly, the Inn’s restaurants are closed on Sunday, but when we asked for an alternative, a place where we could have a drink and a relaxing dinner, they suggested Eddie Montgomery’s Steakhouse, which made us both crack up. Why? Because Eddie is half of the award-winning country music duo Montgomery Gentry, an act both of us, as media mavens of the entertainment press corps, have covered for years.
We took the Inn’s word for it and dropped by Eddie’s Steakhouse. As we drove in and sat down for dinner, Montgomery Gentry fans were meandering about, checking out press photos and music memorabilia and posing for pictures. Like them, we were disappointed by the empty stage---you never know when Eddie and his friends will show up for an impromptu concert----but not by the menu, which ran the gamut from beer cheese soup and fried green tomatoes to grilled Ahi tuna and frog legs. We both ordered something in between: a Steakhouse Burger for me and a Hey Country Chicken Sandwich for Raeanne.
After dinner, we drove back to the Beaumont Inn for our second stay, which I have to say was even better than the first. Bigger room, lower bed (Hey, we’re both height- challenged as RR would say!) and a quick tour of the grounds with fourth and fifth generation innkeepers Chuck Dedman and his son, Dixon Dedman, who regaled us with their family history and the basics of aging country ham.
The next morning, we packed the car and headed back to Music City. This time, the three-hour drive seemed shorter because we were busy reliving our adventures. Was it a perfect long-weekend getaway? Yes. Would we recommend taking it? Absolutely. But only if there’s no rain in the forecast.