A Red River Halloween Day 1: Journey to the Red

The Crew
At approximately 9:02 AM on Saturday, I got a call from one of those vacation peddling con-men indicating that I had won a free week-long cabin rental at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. All I had to do was to immediately bring two bags to the car waiting to pick me up. Right now.

This con man was Zach. In on the con were his wife, Sevda, two friends of ours both called Dave (we’ll call one Dave and the other Dave-O), and myself. It was time for the Red.

Earlier in the year, Dave, Zach, Sevda, Lisa and I had gone to the Red. It was supposed to be more than the five of us, but rain. I had actually booked the biggest non-van rental car possible, but rain. We’re talking I’ve-just-used-half-the-country’s-oil-reserves-to-get-to-the-red Chevy Suburban big. But rain. Not even the 100%-its-going-to-rain rain, but the 80% chance of rain every day rain. I’m going to skip the hour long game of telephone trying to convince people to change flights and climbing locations at 1:00 AM the morning of the trip: long story short, five people bailed. The internet now makes it far to easy to make bad decisions.

And it was a bad decision.

… For everyone who didn’t go. It rained once on that trip (ok, it misted once at 5:30 as we were leaving the crag too). Minor details. It gets better. When that epic thunderstorm rolled in, we were holed up at the Chocolate Factory, staring at one of the prettiest overhanging blank faces you’ll ever see: Golden Ticket (5.14c). Bone dry. As were the two four/five star 5.10s (Oompa, 5.10a, and Loompa, 5.10c), just to the left of it. If it wasn’t for the lightning, our fingers, and a five year reunion with some old Rockville ET friends, we probably would have have been climbing these climbs. Instead, we just took shirtless selfies and compared six-packs (or our lack thereof). The deluge from the heavens didn’t abate for another hour, but the lightning did—and we ended up climbing Oompa. The route was dry, the climbing stances were not, and the second half of the climb slowly transitioned from climbing to chinese water torture from the runoff from above.

Regardless, it was a great trip—one in which we climbed at several new areas (for us): the Chocolate Factory, Fruit Wall and Secret Garden at Miller Fork, and the Boneyard and Inner Sanctuary at Muir Valley. We climbed till our fingers hurt and our bodies ached, then we would eat dinner, sleep and repeat, progressively getting weaker, more tired, and slightly more drunk every evening. It was awesome. At the end of trip, we decided we would have to do it all again. Except better.

In one of our conversations, Lisa deftly noted that there are alternatives to spending all night in a slightly damp tent (or—in winter, in a freezing cold tent) on uncomfortable roots with loud neighbors. She mentioned these things mystical places called “cabins,” which can have kitchens, air conditioning and heating, running water, beds, and if you’re really “glamping,” a hot tub! I filed this away for future reference.

With Dave in Asia, Zach in Europe, and Marek locked in the bowels of NASA building somewhere on the outskirts of DC, we held an impromptu pow-wow using one of the most advanced forms of communication known to mankind: text messaging. We decided that better would involve going to the Red for a week, not just a weekend. And during the Fall, preferably in Send-tember or Rocktober. And in a cabin. A warm, luxurious cabin. With a hot tub. With input from our wives/girlfriends/lady interests (to be clear: each of us does not have a wife, girlfriend and lady interest: Zach is married to Sevda, I’ve got girlfriend (Lisa), and Dave has a lady (ladies?) interested), we picked a week, and I found a cabin. With a hot tub.

We were set.

Along the way there were some minor complications: I didn’t confirm the dates before I booked them with Lisa (she didn’t end up being able to go, which, well, sucked); Greg got stuck in Hawaii, and the weather for the first weekend looked terrible so Nick ended up bailing too (notice a trend here?). But the biggest complication of all was casually pointed out by Zach, at the end of August: What are we doing for Halloween?

Halloween was the Tuesday in the middle of our trip. I had no idea. We didn’t have a choice. We had to figure out costumes. They had to be coordinated. We ultimately settled on being the Crush-This League of America: comic-inspired climbing themed superheroes. We would be like the actual Justice League, except justice would be served with sends, not saved lives. We would save the Red, one climb at a time. Too bad we never actually got around to making (or buying costumes). Except for one of us...

When the conniving con men driving the white stallion of justice pulled into my parking lot at 9:02 on Saturday, I was ready. Well, I didn’t have an actual costume yet, but I had my two bags packed, a cup of coffee, a summer’s worth of indoor bouldering, and far too much stoke. We’d make it work.
In the middle of loading up the 4Runner, Dave, stick clip in hand, turned to me and asked, “Do you have any dental floss?”

“Of course,” I quickly replied, “I’ll just go run upstairs and grab some. How much do you want?”

“Enough to tie the stick clip to the roof of the car.”

“That’s going to take a lot of dental floss.”

My ears must have been clogged with stoke. Dave was asking for bungie cord, not floss. Thankfully, Zach had some nylon webbing. Confusion skirted and disaster averted, we set off to pick our final companion: Dave-O. We took a few wrong turns on the way, unintentionally giving Dave his first DC monument tour, and then picked up Dave-O from a Park-n-ride. And we set off.

Important Life Questions, Answered by Siri (actually Wolfram Alpha)
We stopped for lunch at Black Bear Burritos in Morgantown. From past trips, Dave and I had discovered that we had a common weakness: Nachos. As in, if there are Nachos on the menu, we have to order them. We don’t have a choice. It’s like a disease. It may be contagious, spread by word of mouth. We couldn’t control it. And it cost us. The Big-12 Nachos on were huge: chips with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and beans piled a few inches think on a platter the size of a 24” pizza. We somehow manage to power through a good three quarters of the plate before getting stalled when our burritos rolled in. We finished our burritos (mashed potatos, caramelized onions and gravy in a burrito? Yes, yes and yes!), but not the Nachoes, and walked out, heads hung in shame.

But not for long. It turns out there was a costume shop next door. And only one of us had a costume. Dave. Unlike us, when Dave needs to take action he does: he had ordered the only superhero costume with two day amazon-prime shipping to Mexico two days before he left Mexico to come to DC. This costume actually put him over the 50 lb weight limit, and he had to repack his bag at the airport (moving his protein powder to his carryon) to fit the costume—but it made it.

So we went to the largest Halloween costume and liquor store I have ever been to in West Virginia. It may be the only Halloween costume and liquor store I’ve ever been to in West Virginia, but it was huge. We had no choice but to hop in. And even though 90% of the costumes were very revealing or scandalously skimpy women’s costumes, the team did manage to find some costumes (and a Mocha IPA) for ourselves. We were set. This time, for real.

Except, we didn’t have accommodation booked for tonight. I had booked the trip from Saturday night to Sunday morning—but Dave, Dave-O and Zach all had to fly out on Sunday night (Dave and Zach were actually both flying to London… from the same airport… a couple hours apart!). So we moved the trip forward one day… but didn’t book any accommodation. Thankfully, Dave had several thousand too many Hilton rewards points. He found a Hyatt with two king beds and a pull-out sofa. But when he called, they were booked… so we downgraded to one room at a Comfort Inn in Winchester, an hour from the Red.

On our way into Winchester, we realized that we only had Mocha IPAs for the trip. After grabbing dinner at a sports bar, we pulled into the the parking lot of a worn-looking strip mall liquor store… with an OPEN light on, but dark hallways and locked doors. Once again—Dave saved the day: “I’ve done this before! It’s a drive-thru liquor store!” We pulled up to the drive-thru window, and an ever-excited Kentuckian sold us a couple six-packs of canned beer and our adventures for the day were over.

We were only an hour away from the Red. Forecast: Cloudy with a high of 38.

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