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Coachella to the Kentucky Derby
May 10, 2007
For the past two years we've driven down to the Coachella music festival in Indio, California. According to Google Maps it's a round-trip
of 5,140km, or 46 hours of driving time. Google Maps fails to take into account accidental 3 hour detours into Western Idaho or buffet stops
in Mesquite, Nevada.
46 hours is a long time. Even longer when you're crammed into a vehicle with 4 other guys full of luggage occupying all of the available air space.
Even longer when you consider that Coachella itself is only 48 hours. It's always been worth it though, with Coachella (in my opinion) being the
greatest music festival in North America.
This year though, we wised up, and flew down. 4 hours there, 4 hours back, seatback TV, gotta love WestJet. We arrived nice and fresh, without the beatdown
of an all night drive. Then the heat hit us. "Christ it's hot." "Man it's hot." "Jeezus it's hot." Yeah, it was hot alright, over 40C every day. That's April in the desert for you.
One way to beat the heat is with a large brimmed hat. I walked into a drug store and picked out my shade saviour for the next few days, a hat that placed me somewhere between
Asian rice-field picker and 'Rayden' of Mortal Kombat fame. Beautiful.
This year I came prepared with a list of who I wanted to see, and actually did fairly well. Usually the worst part about Coachella is the conflicts, two great bands playing
at the same time, but this year it seemed to work out nicely with very few conflicts. Some of my favorite shows were:
Jesus & Mary Chain, The Arctic Monkeys, Of Montreal, Benny Benassi, Mike Relm, The Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers, Hot Chip, MSTRKRFT, and Rage
Against The Machine.
This year the drive didn't kill us, and the heat did, but Coachella still rocks.
After Coachella I hopped on a plane and flew over to Louisville, Kentucky for the Kentucky Derby. I've always wanted to go to the Kentucky
Derby. I've heard it's quite the party, and if it's good enough for the Queen, it's good enough for me.
First I drove East, past Lexington, to the Red River Gorge area of Kentucky. They have great climbing here, and some interesting geological formations. We
stayed at Miguel's, a campground that costs $2/night, and Miguel runs a restaurant with great pizza to keep the climbers well fed.
We hiked up through the Natural Bridge State Park and checked out the natural bridge formations, which are formed by weathering over millions of years.
Then we drove around the rest of the gorge area, taking in the views. After heading back to Miguel's we took in some of his delicious pizza and chatted with the climbers.
Later on everyone gathered around the group campfire, and eventually we headed back to our tent, and tried to fall asleep with the sound of multiple bullfrogs chanting
right behind us.
The next day we woke up and drove south towards the Cumberland Falls area of Kentucky. Along the way I insisted on stopping at the spot
where Colonel Sanders opened his first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. It's a new KFC now, with a museum inside of it, containing a replica
of the original restaurant. Another life goal down. Speaking of restaurants, every restaurant in Kentucky is freezing cold, not really
Continuing along, we made our way to Cumberland Falls. The reason I wanted to check out Cumberland Falls is because they claim it's one
of only two places in the world you can see a 'moonbow', the other being at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Africa. A moonbow is just like a
rainbow, except it's at night, by moonlight. Theoretically, a moonbow can happen anywhere in the world, but Cumberland Falls claims to be
one of the only places it consistently happens.
For a moonbow to happen, a few conditions have to be right. First, you need a full moon. It just so happened we were there during the
peak full moon of the month. Second, you need to have water moisture in the air. We had that. Third, you need a clear sky. Damn it!
So close to a freaking moonbow, but the sky was full of clouds.
Even though we figured there wouldn't be much chance of seeing a moonbow, at 11:30pm we headed down to Cumberland Falls to check it out anyways.
Just as we thought, no moonbow, oh well, there's always Africa.
Caves and Bourbon
Heading west we decided to check out the Mammoth Cave system, which is apparently the most extensive cave system in the world. Kentucky
is just full of surprises. We had heard that the cave tours in the national park weren't all that interesting, but that a privately run cave tour called 'Diamond Caverns'
was really good.
So we stopped in at the Diamond Caverns, and we were the only ones on the tour. Sweet, a private tour of the caves. The tour was given to us by a Vietnam vet who was still
upset at his friends for dodging the draft in Canada and then returning. He was great though, and looked and sounded a lot like Morgan Freeman, who better to narrate our tour?
The caves were quite interesting, and were discovered by a small boy playing in a field in the 1800s. They are full of great formations, stalagtites, stalactites, the usual.
After the caves we drove towards the Maker's Mark Distillery. Along the way, taking some Kentucky backroads, I nearly ran over a small puppy who ran out on to the road. Stopping the car, we rescued the
puppy from the road, and noted that the cute puppy had the foulest smell you can imagine. A gentleman noticed us and told us that the dog
was his neighbor's, as he pointed to what at best can be described as a shack.
Pulling up to the Maker's Mark Distillery we were just in time for the last tour of the day. It was a pretty good tour, and you can dip
your own bottle into the red wax that gives Maker's Mark bottles their distinctive look. I was disappointed that they didn't give us any
samples of bourbon at the end, just bourbon chocolates.
That night we stayed in a campground near Bardstown, a fairly historic town, settled in the 1770s. We ate at the Old Talbott Tavern, built
in 1797, which has hosted a few notable American icons including Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Boone. Several bullet holes located in an upstairs wall are reputed to have been put there by Jesse James.
All I know is that their fried chicken was damn good.
After dinner we tried a few different types of bourbon, and I concluded that bourbon on the rocks was not for me.
Actually it's Lew ah Vull, according to the locals. Pronounce it Lewis Ville and the locals will shake their heads. And what's Louisville
famous for? Louisville...Louisville....Louisville Slugger? That's right, baseball bats.
The Louisville Slugger Museum is really quite interesting. There's batting cages, and artifacts, but the main attraction is the actual
factory floor, which you can take a tour of. They have a lathe, one-of-a-kind and made in Italy, that they throw a piece of wood into one end, and
out the other end comes a perfect bat. Not only that, but the lathe can custom design it to any pre-programmed specification for each individual baseball
player that orders custom bats.
Next we went shopping for Derby wear, ladies are required to wear a fancy hat. Those hats cost a bloody fortune as we soon came to realize.
Walking through the Highland district, full of trendy stores and restaurants, we came upon an awesome hippie bus that was built by some hippie tribe. It was
amazing though, all custom wood paneling, and was actually two buses merged into one.
In Kentucky it's not called the Kentucky Derby, just The Derby. It's 150,000 people all looking to have a good time. The elite are
in the stands, and the rest of us are in the infield, hoping to catch a glimpse of the most exciting 2 minutes in sports.
You have to be quite creative to sneak alcohol into the Derby these days, many people spend the night before injecting fruit with their spirit
of choice. Others slice the top off a big, round mound of bread and insert a ziplock bag full of vodka, then place the top back on.
Getting to the Derby early is required if you want a good spot. If you don't require a good viewing position, which most don't, you can just
wander in any time. Not knowing what to expect, we got there quite early and claimed a spot near turn 4. We knew that turn 3 was the rowdy, mardi-gras type
atmosphere, which we occasionally ventured into, but it was always nice to come back to our serene spot.
Many of the women are dressed to the nines, with the $2000 hats and dresses. Some of the men are dressed up too, but in terms of fashion, Derby day is all
about the female. Mint Juleps are the traditional drink of choice, consisting of mint, bourbon, sugar and water. I have to admit, I grew
to like them.
The queen was making her first trip to the Derby, which caused quite a buzz. Have you seen the queen? Who's the queen betting on? Myself, I was betting
on Hard Spun. We spent quite a bit of time analyzing the different horses, the situations, the hurdles they would need to overcome to win, the superstitions. In the end though,
I went with my initial gut choice, based solely on the fact that the previous two Derbies were won by horses with a single name (Barbaro, Giacomo), and three times in a row
didn't seem to happen often. It was as good a reasoning as any.
I put my cash on Hard Spun to win, and he led for nearly the entire race. However, fate would be on the side of Street Sense this day, and despite being in last place, the field
opened up for him, and he ended up winning. So the Kentucky Derby was won by the favorite, who you're never supposed to bet on.