"I've been a park ranger for 14 years, and I've never seen anything like that".
He and his partner were looking at me and Kelly with a look that could have been amazement or could have been irritation. We are at the very farthest reaches of Red River Gorge - end end of Road 9 along Indian Creek, where the gravel track turns into a muddy trail at a bridge over the creek.
The road rises about 10 feet above one of the best camping spots I've ever seen down by the creek. It's by the water, isolated, with cover. The sound of the creek was amazing.
But it was 11 pm, and the two federal forestry rangers were not especially amused. Although there were numerous other no vehicle signs at pull offs along the road, there had not been one here. Kelly really, really wanted to camp there. So I put the Sportsmobile in 4wd low and took the roller coaster ride down to the creek. Now they were walking around the van shaking their heads, trying to decide whether to hassle me, give me a ticket, send me to a lunatic asylum, or congratulate us on our daring.
I was friendly and offered to move the van. They were poking around, looking for stuff like police do (even forest police). There was a half empty bottle of Jim Beam by our fire.
"You know, it's illegal to drink alcohol in the park", he said. I almost failed to stifle a laugh. I've been coming to the Gorge for 30 years now, and although my hiking buddies have changed, Mr. Beam or one of his relatives has been with me every time. When you drive along the roads you can literally smell the bourbon in the air wafting from every campsite.
In the end, it was our bear hang that saved us. I had properly hung my trash by from a tree, maybe the only person in the Gorge that evening who actually followed the bear safety rule. I did it in part because of Kelly's pathologic fear of predators. I'm glad I did, because it somehow changed how the rangers looked at me. No longer a drunken lawbreaker, I was now simply a daring outdoorsmen following universal forestry protocol.
They let us go without even a warning, but not after checking out the Sportsmobile and talking about it. I thought about offering them some bourbon, then decided against it.
It was a good thing that we moved that night - early the next morning (before we woke up) it started to rain, and I'm not sure we could have made it up the muddy bank. The Beast would have sat there, helpless, as the creek slowly rose to engulf it's huge victim.