The Red River Gorge in Kentucky


1474990646I remember vividly the first time I heard Avicii’s song “Wake Me Up.” I was riding from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Red River Gorge, Kentucky (The Red) with a bunch of fellow in-coming college students. The song created a new atmosphere in the van, everyone smiled a bit more and happiness seemed more alive. At the hard beats of the drums and base, no one could help a little nod of their head or a little dance. Every time, I hear that song and the music cuts, then crescendos into a strong base beat, I can feel Maaike there beside me in the van fist pumping so hard that she’s shaking the whole van.

Whenever I hear that tempo and the voice of the singer, the strings plucking then the base beating strong, images of that trip come back to me, taking me out of the present and into the past.

Everyone else asleep, the night dark as we begin to enter the mountains, and the stars shifting behind the tall peaks. Me, looking up at the sky and feeling my strong passion for mountain landscapes. My heart singing along to the words, “I tried carrying the weight of the world, but I only had two hands… Wake me up when its all over,” let me live in the moment and forget all of my worries for now. At that moment, I lost all sense of time, all pressures and stresses of the world, and I wouldn’t gain them back until I stepped out of that van and onto campus after the trip.

There were other songs, too, that we listened to a lot in the van, but “Wake Me Up” is the one that captures the trip and brings back not just vivid memories but emotions. Flashes of rocks taller than you can see with long ropes dangling from some destination unseen. The faces of my friends and companions that became so even before the first night. The smiles, the adventure, the adrenalin, the wilderness: that’s what the song captures in my heart, the true meaning of that trip.

“Wish that I could stay forever this young, not afraid to close my eyes!” I cherished every moment and that’s how one truly lives, with no fear, no plans, no worries. I took risks, safe risks. I climbed higher and harder than I ever have. Climbing is exciting, exhilarating, and puzzling. One has to think when climbing: what moves to use, how to position one’s body, where the holds are, how to find a path and reroute, determining what’s safe and what’s worth the risk.

One night, after a great day in the mountains, the girls around me were all asleep, but I just lay there on my mat, looking up at the stars through the screen in the tent roof and not thinking a single thing, just smiling and relishing the feeling within me of pure joy. It was a feeling of knowing that this was the place and moment where I belonged, and nowhere else would be right at that moment. The night was warm but not so much that I couldn’t sleep. The sounds of crickets and frogs filled the air as I lay there on my back with my hands under my head, my stomach full of a great dinner, and my body clean and cool from a fresh shower. I felt deeply connected to each of the girls around me and even more so to the landscapes surrounding us.

The mountains rolled over the land stretching valleys far below. Trees blanketed the landscape in a fuzzy green broken only by the towering orange-brown of majestic sandstone cliffs and arches. As we trekked through the undergrowth of towering trees, it seemed as if we were in a jungle. The plants so abundant and vibrant that it appeared more so that the trail was infringing on the plants than the reverse. Civilization seemed to be a fantasy in the midst of this great wilderness.

When we drove home after a week, whenever our song came on, it would revive my feeling of freedom and The Red that was fading with every mile that we came to the real world. I could feel each item of stress coming back to my shoulders, and I didn’t want it. I wanted to stay in the wilderness forever. When I got back on campus, I listened to “Wake Me Up” on repeat for a half an hour or more at a time, my eyes closed and my heart beating to the rhythm of The Red.

“All this time I’ve been searching for myself, but I didn’t know I was lost.” Isn’t that so true of me on this trip. Maybe I didn’t find my career path and all the answers to my problems, but I found myself again. I decided that I travel not to get away, rather to return to myself.

About the Author: Stephanie Bradshaw is  a Calvin College student studying Writing and Geography. I love to travel and have been all around the United States and also to Italy, Greece, Canada, and Mexico.

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