Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Falls in the Fall - Part 4

Part 4

This is the final part of a four-part series.  To start from the beginning, click here.

My trip was about all finished, but I wasn’t in a hurry.  I retreated from the edge of the water, leaving the puddle of radioactive waste and my prime skipping rocks behind. 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this when you wander through the forest during autumn, but it’s a totally different experience than during the warmer months.  You can see a lot farther, for one thing, so the backdrop muddles together a lot more in the distance.  Moving is generally easier for the same reason; no leaf-laden branches and surprise thickets to impede you.  The sound, though is probably the most fascinating difference.

In the spring, when a breeze comes up, and especially when a storm is coming, you hear a cacophony of leaves rubbing together, making that deafening, but somehow also relaxing, sound of leaves brushing together.  In the fall and winter, though, when the trees have forfeited their protective layers, they rattle together like bones.  It reminds you that, in the end, you’re just visiting some big, upright sticks.  The wind cuts right through, making you feel exposed, even when you’ve gone far off the path. 

I could see the green hill from which I came through the branches, even from the other side of the linear wood.  On the other side, the rough path I’d seen earlier bore me back towards the bridge to Kentucky.

Wait, what?

I checked my phone’s weather app; 65 degrees.  Somehow, despite being 33 degrees outside of its limits, this little snowpile endured.  I touched it to confirm its identity, and sure enough, it was cold and wet but surprisingly firm.  The exact combination of shadow, wind patterns, and sheer determination kept this little pile of snow alive.  Good job, snowpile. 

I finally reached the end of the dirt path, which had risen almost to the level of the elevated, paved path I’d taken to circumvent the Falls of the Ohio. 

This visitor center met me at the end of the road.  It’s fairly new, as I recall them talking about the renovations in the Courier-Journal a few years back.  I didn’t have to go in, but I’m sure it would have told me more about the reason the Falls of the Ohio are both naturally and historically significant.

Thankfully, this artfully crafted hunk of bronze gave me a hint.  Apparently, the famous Lewis and Clark expedition convened here; though the visitors’ center might not say it, the legendary expedition did not “start the clock” here.  That would be some 250 miles west of here, just north of modern-day St. Louis.  Lewis and Clark were some of the first white people to move west across the land to the Pacific shore, and their expedition helped pave the way for America’s western expansion.  Mind you, someone was already there, but that’s a story for another time.

The statue’s faces were kind of creepy, but I suppose you’re not supposed to look at them that closely anyway.

Exercise and education!  It’s probably for the best.  My entire knowledge of Lewis and Clark can be summarized from their spurious appearance in a cinematic oeuvre of great import.

There was a vehicular road and a sidewalk that ran concurrently east of the center, so I kept to the skinnier of the two and pressed on.

With as far down as the shore was, I suppose the path I’d used had taken me up rather than coming down to me.  The little dots of people down there were enjoying the nice weather, but some were actually looking for something.  It wasn’t loose pop cans, a lost cell phone, or a washed up bit of ambergris.  No, they were looking for fossils.

It appears that this region is more widely known for its paleontological value more than its chance meeting between two in a long line of explorers.  The flat shore, which has been slowly eroded away, is home to fossils of all shapes and sizes, presumably washed onto the shore and buried over millions of years.  It seems that the park’s geography is a perfect breeding ground for historical evidence pile-ups. 

Fossils are really, really old.  I mean, I get excited when I find a ten-year-old piece of trash on the side of the road.  These fossils are several orders of magnitude older.  One day eons ago, those bones were moving, those shells housed a living creature, and those teeth were seeking out anything else to bury themselves in.  You can literally hold history in your hand.

As fun as it’d be to find a fossil, the plethora of signs announcing a strict rejection of the “finders keepers” rule made the prospect a bit less exciting.  Besides, I’ll let those kids down there find ‘em.

This is the Fourteenth Street Bridge, another of Louisville's many crossings of the Ohio, but one very few humans actually cross.  The Big Four Bridge is old, but the Fourteenth Street Bridge was already an antique in the former bridge’s heyday.  This thing was built three years after the Civil War ended and is still being used today.  It only carries rail and very brave human traffic, but don’t think I didn’t consider how to get up there.  There was a hill that led right to it and everything.

If you can’t read the bold, red sign, it says: 

“Danger: Leave Fossil Beds When You Hear Siren
“Water Subject to Sudden Rise and Turbulence When Gates Open”

You see, the large concrete retainers on the left are part of the Louisville locks system, allowing ships to move down safely through a series of water tanks that adjust the elevation of the water to allow large ships to bypass the otherwise impassable Falls.  When I was younger, my dad would take me to the locks on the Kentucky side just to watch the ships come in, the water to flood out onto the spillways, and the emergence of the vessel on the other side of the dock several dozen feet lower.

This is what the Falls look like now, a trickle of what I’m sure they used to be, and controllable, no less.  I went down a dirt path to the edge, as close as I could get, just to listen to the calming, rushing water.  No matter how you manipulate the water itself, the sound is the same.

Technically speaking, from the Fourteenth Street Bridge eastward, the rest of the park was city property.  A large, green embankment sat on the north side of the road, so I climbed up it and walked along it to see what was on the other side.

Turns out it wasn’t much the average pedestrian would be interested in seeing.

These rusted, industrial tanks held some unknown matter, and further research turned up nothing, except that they didn’t want you to know what’s in them. 

Maybe it’s Coca-Cola’s secret mixture, or KFC’s “offshore” stockpiles of its signature herbs and spices.  Maybe it’s sarin.  Either way, they looked cool.

There’s the Colgate clock!  If you’ve fallen asleep on a familiar south-to-north road trip, you could wake up, see the Colgate clock and know exactly where you are.

I’d been walking along this ridge for a couple minutes, moving my feet involuntarily to stay on clean grass.  Wait, clean grass?  Yeah, it appears this ridge is a popular hangout for the local geese gaggles.  Fun fact: did you know a group of geese on the ground are called a gaggle, but in the air they’re called a skein?  Like a skein of fabric, I guess.  Anyway, their, uh, post-consumer meal remnants were scattered all over the top of the ridge.  Like, all over. Every step was an obstacle course.

At the end of the ridge, the western tip of the Jeffersonville levee abutted with the shaped earth, and I briefly considered walking along the narrow, concrete top of the levee.  I dunno, though, I ain’t no Ezio.  Instead, I clumsily ambled down the natural hill to the park below.

Aww, wedding pictures!  When I took this walk, my wife and I had just celebrated our five-year anniversary.  This young couple had a great day for pictures, and I’m glad they did; planning a November wedding with anything outside can be a crapshoot in Louisville.  Luckily, the dice came up right for them.  It was a bit windy, but you’ll take 60-degree weather in November however you can get it.

There’s our city.  I’ve spent the majority of my life there, and there it is in its late-afternoon pallor.  In fact today had been kind of a wild day for weather.  The clouds were racing across the sky so fast that the sun would be completely obscured or overt five minutes apart from each other.

With the Second Street Bridge in sight, I walked the last, uneventful blocks along the edge of the levee.  It was at this point that my wife’s camera, burdened by my itchy shutter finger, filled up its small memory card.  It had already been nearly full when I left, I came to find out, but I took a moment and cleared maybe 20-30 duplicate pictures to make room for the last half an hour.

Now, the Second Street Bridge is –


Well, never mind.

Disappointed at the foiling of one portion of my plan and the lack of a backup plan to get across a different way, I resigned myself to go back the way I came and cross the Big Four again.

As stated earlier, construction is a perennial sign of progress in Louisville, as it always seems you’re being rerouted one way or the other, or the roadbed has been ripped up to the point where you might as well be driving (or in this case, walking) over gravel. On the other side of the underpass, I considered a drink at the gas station and declined in the interest of time.

I have seen this sign many times before, and for the life of me, I still don’t know what a jake brake is.  I have never seen a sign like this anywhere else in the world.  From my days of interest in street racing and modified cars, I figured it had something to do with J-turning, which is where you drive in reverse, swing the wheel hard, give it enough gas to keep from stalling and hold the turn until you’ve made a 180 degree turn and are facing the direction in which you were originally reversing.  In my mind, I think that should always be illegal.  The adding of the “brake” part made me think it was just doing that but using the E-brake instead of the application of steering input and throttle.

I was tired of my ignorance, so I looked it up.  Jake braking, it turns out, is a mechanism in diesel engine that allows for efficient engine braking.  As a stick-shift driver, I brake with my engine all the time, both to save my brakes and out of laziness. Engine breaking is usually reduced or absent in a lot of modern automatic transmissions, as they often don’t bog down the engine when you’re not giving it any gas.  But jake braking is apparently a more purpose-built way to do it, and I assume it is particularly loud, hence why you can’t do it after six.  My guess is that’s the descending roar you hear from some semis when they slow down, especially on a downward incline.  Either way, don’t do it after hours; I’m sure it’d be a weird ticket to receive.

I turned down Pearl Street from Court, looking to cover the chunk of the street I’d missed by detouring off it on the outbound leg.  Not two houses in, a cat greeted me on the well-decorated porch of a local resident.

A handsome resident.  The cat, I mean.  No idea about the bloke or dame who lived inside.  Cats are funny porch-dwellers; they watch you like a person would, but they never say anything.  In fact, you can walk up to them without getting funny looks.  Not like I did that.

The next house over bore an intriguing warning emblazoned on its boarded-up door.

It amazes me that there are still folks who rummage through old houses for the copper wires, fittings, and pipes that fill the walls.  Not that I’d condone it at all, but defacing pennies just seems easier.  The thing I find most interesting about this sign is it could just as easily be for one potential extractor as it could be for the other.  It could be to deter scavengers, yes, but it could also be for the builders, who could legally forage the copper out of the walls before demolishing it.  Either way, there’s nothing here of interest to either of them. 

The men who were working in the obelisk in Big Four Station Park were no longer there, and I rounded the long walkway up to the Big Four’s deck. 

The walk back across was still breezy; the guitar man was still jamming, and his bucket looked much more filled than it did earlier.  I emerged on the other side, and the couples of the evening had started to come out for a walk; people of all ages, but the number of high schoolers surprised me.  When I was growing up in Louisville, there were several known places you could more or less loiter: Bardstown Road, a mall, some of the more interesting parks.  It’s nice to know that there’s another place to add to the list.

We’ve got as many skyscrapers as we did when I was a kid, so the skyline is a very nostalgic look.  I’d recognize ours in a heartbeat just from the profile.  The building with the rounded top is Kentucky's tallest building.  For most of my youth, I remember they called it the Providian Tower, then AEGON bought it, but I don’t even think they’re there anymore. 

I like our city.

I like America.

The walk went about ninety minutes long, but I had a great time, and I got lots of steps in.  It just seemed wrong to such a nice November day go by without enjoying it.  That was something my father always said, “you don’t get these kinds of days all the time.”  He’s probably right.


Thank you for following me on this fun and winding journey!

Miles By Foot is concluding its first year, and although staccato at the start, I have every week planned for the coming year, and I’ll be travelling to places besides Louisville, and I want to bring you with me.

January will feature a walk I completed before this one, if you could believe it, but it was really a great time, and travelers, walkers, or both will find it interesting.  It's the first I did that required real out-of-state travel, and getting there and back was half the fun!

I hope these pictures inspire you to get out and explore the world right outside.  There’s so much to see!

Keep going –


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Falls in the Fall - Part 3

Part 3

This is the third part of a four-part series.  Click here to start from the beginning.

Someone had carved their proclamation of love in this sidewalk section just four months ago.  This kind of thing used to be almost a rite of passage for the rebellious teen, lauded in movies and books to the point of being cliché.  But here, this stand-alone town often overlooked in the shadow of Louisville, I find it terribly endearing.  

Looks like business isn’t too good at this old school board building, with just two offices advertising locations here.  The building is an old school board building built in 1925; as there’s no doubt a school board office elsewhere now, what with school still existing and all, I’m curious what the impetus was for them leaving the building purpose built for them.  It’s also possible that, instead of a school board building, it was itself a school, christened by the board, more or less. 

How’d I know it was built in 1925?  I’m psychic, you see.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

This is typical of Christmas decoration trends in the suburban places in Louisville and throughout Kentucky.  Turns out a half-mile of westerly flowing water doesn’t wash away the trend here in Hoosierland.  Unless you have a swath of disposable income you’re willing to spend on string lights, plastic figurines and utility bills, most people have a smattering of Christmas decorations accrued in years past from family, friends, yard sales, trash piles, and yes, intentional purchase. 

Our own collection of seasonal décor is largely inherited; reconciling what works together and what we’ve just bought is a challenge for every home decorator.  But some, with good reason, believe that all themed items, regardless of age, working order, or matching patterns, are appropriate for Christmas.  In the end, we’re all just celebrating a season, right?

After two hours of walking (and two weeks of reading,) we’re finally at the Falls!  While I’m sure I’d been here in years past, potentially multiple times, this unceremonious entrance to the state park was not familiar at all.  The road ended, and this cordoned path began.

I’m sure I’ll say this many times across these journeys, but telephone poles and the wires that cross them will be a quintessentially American fixture in my mind.  No neighborhood, back alley, or street corner is complete, in my mind, without them.  Comically included in many popular artistic depictions of these mundane infrastructural components, a pair of shoes was dangling from the lines, tied and chucked by a loving friend or stranger of the victim. 

In this case, it appears there were two victims, or one particularly unlucky single victim, as there are two different kinds of shoes suspended from the line: a right-footed boot and a left-footed sneaker.  We’ll just hope they were old and worn out.  Heaven knows my mother would have just as quick done this with an old pair of shoes I’d be flapping around in if she’d had the chance.

After climbing a pair of chicanes, I emerged on the top of an open ridge flanked on both sides by grassy green space.  Not a moment after mounting the ridge, a church’s distant bells began to chime 3:00.  I checked my phone to confirm the time, and after the Westminster chime had played, a hymn began.  It was “How Great Thou Art,” a traditional hymn sung within Methodist and Baptist congregations written by the long deceased.  As I caught my breath, a sung a couple bars of the song to myself, marching north along the road until, several moments later, the hymn’s last notes dissolved like a sugar cube in the atmosphere.

Certainly added as an additional way to release pressure when the rivers and creeks overflowed, this would delay the output of water when floods threatened the area, these particular pipes have long been sealed and most likely act as markers for runners and joggers, noting their place along the park’s length.

As I swung northwest as far as my time would let me, I followed the path, assuming I’d eventually end up in New Albany given enough steps.  Despite looking at a map while planning the walk, I wasn’t too familiar with my relative positioning based on the towns and landmarks around the park.  For all I knew, I was going to stumble upon downtown New Albany just around the corner.

The slope was gentle and wide; whenever I see a hill that fits such a profile, I just think about snow sledding.  This hill fits three out of the four criteria for good sledding: gentle, long, and free of obstructions.  The fourth criteria, rollout space at the bottom, however, was severely lacking.  You’d have to jam the brakes pretty hard to not end up careening into the spiky, dry forest at 25 miles an hour.

Down in the trough, a lone walker was making his or her way along the rough track cut by vehicles or manually to allow a safe, level walk free of precipitous missteps. 

When originally turning back to follow the path through the park with the boys and the dad and the Hunger Games, this was the cross street I passed.  Arlington was my northernmost point of travel today, and it would mark my turnaround point.  The path continued around the corner farther, but with the day aging and no idea when I’d need to be back at home, I about-faced, deciding I’d have enough time to still explore if the opportunity arose, hugging the park until I arrived at the Clark Memorial Bridge.

Turns out, the opportunity was happening right now.  I turned around and realized that the slope’s strength had declined significantly enough for me to descend and approach the shore without serious risk of faceplanting.  I ambled down the incline to an almost prescribed clearning and made my way through the dry, dormant trees to the shore.

With hardly any trouble, the river was in sight.  While it was easy to get a glimpse, getting down to the water might be a trick.  As it was, the flat area that contained the forest was elevated by probably twelve or fifteen feet from shore level quite drastically by a glaring, unforgiving cliff.  Obviously, there were no stairs; I’d wandered off the path, and they couldn’t anticipate my need.  I wanted to get to the rocky shore itself, though.  I’d come so far.  There were three options.


The subtitle of that option was my left brain.  It’s the smart half.

Option 2: Turn around.

Yeah, that sounds like fun.

Option 3: Find a way to climb down and hope there’s a way back up.

Now that’s more like it.

As I faced my quandary, a passerby who had chosen either the first or third option strolled by.  He waved and greeted me, and I returned the same.  The man was at a distance, but he appeared to be in his early fifties, a local, and ready to talk.  He asked if it was mine, gesturing down to below where I was standing.

Studying my current footing, I realized I was standing on the roof of a makeshift domicile, complete with tent, campfire, and personal effects.  The roof was made of a combination of plywood sheets and the rootball of a large tree whose birthing earth had been eroded by high water levels for dozens of years, perhaps most powerfully seventeen years ago.  All that was left of the roots was the ball-shaped mass that anchored itself against the cliffside.   

Regardless, the home was surprisingly effective.

I told the man it was not mine; he said he’ come down here since he was a kid and he frequently saw squatters set up camp here, especially runaways.  He’d admitted to doing it himself many years ago.  We maintained a long distance conversation about the area and the weather for upwards of a minute, and after a relative lull, he bid me a good day.  He turned around and returned from whence he came, and a moment later, I was alone in the quiet breeze, dilemma still unsolved.

I had to get to shore.  I wasn’t just going to turn around.  But how?  If these two photos provide any scale, that ground was too far to jump down, so I’d need to lower myself enough to not break an ankle when I finally let go.  For some insane reason, I stepped out ever so carefully onto the ramshackle roof, twisted, dry branches and all.

With every step, I felt something that my wife described to me perfectly several weeks later; my age.  In attempting to cross a log for a geocache, she realized her balance was not what it once was.  For me, this situation amplified my already poor balance and coordination by an order of magnitude.  My whole body was low to the roof, but I tried to remain as silent as possible.  I mean, what if there were someone home down there?  Maybe they had a gun?   Was I dead?  Is it too late to go back?

Foolishly Fearlessly, I scuffled along the top until I could reach the tree’s trunk.  I lowered my legs over the makeshift home’s awning, slid my back along the log’s rough edges until my arms couldn’t support my weight, and I jumped.

Now, I don’t know if you used to climb trees and jump from large heights as a kid like I did.  I would be known to take two or three stairs at a time when dismounting, with my personal record being eight steps with the help of a railing, and six without.  When practicing the ancient art of jumping down from a height, there is a microscopic moment in the fall when you expect to hit the ground and, when you don’t, you mentally freak the geek out.  I crossed that threshold about a tenth of a second before contacting the uneven ground, I feel forward, grunted and stumbled to a knee, sliding along the fallen leaves.  I swiveled around to catch the eye of what I would assume to have been a very angry squatter, .22 in hand and evil in his clouded eye.

Truly, though, the river was the only noise I heard besides my own heavy breathing.  My hand hurt a lot, as I had used it to break my fall and it had sustained several minor cuts.  My ankle felt rubbery, but I could stand on it.  Walking back up to the point of jumping, it was a bit higher than I thought, but still not high enough to complain about.  I was just getting older; the last time I had done that, I had a decade less years and fifty less pounds to carry.  Things change, but it’s still fun to do it.

Elated with my successful descent, I hustled to the smoothed, rocky shore of the Ohio and peered upstream at the city in the distance.

I took an honest seat, and I stared out at the river, listening to the splashing and undulating of our city’s livelihood.

I sat there for probably ten minutes before moving, watching a boat coast by and listening to the sound of the locks in the distance open and close.  As I was attempting to reach nirvana, a 737 came roaring overhead.  Less than a minute later, another one came rushing in, then two more jets, all within the span of two minutes.  A sky filled with four low-flying jets, all bound for SDF, perhaps six or seven miles away.  Two Southwest jets, the 737s, were flying in from Phoenix and Chicago, my FlightAware app told me.  The other two, an American Eagle Embraer and a Delta MD-series jet, were coming from Dallas and Minneapolis, respectively.  I watched them for a minute as they lined up over downtown for their respective runways and disappeared from sight. 

As I stood to leave, I noticed the rocks and pebbles scattered on the ground behind me.  Now, I love to skip rocks.  It’s not really something I did as a kid.  As I kid, I just threw them; no, the art of skipping didn’t come to me until my college years, and it’s such a simple, fun way to enjoy a body of water.  Most of the time when you’re by a riverbed, there’s a handful of small, roughly spherical pebbles lying around.  Occasionally you’ll find a fairly smooth long one, and that’s often the best you get.  For skipping rocks, you want lots of flat surface area, you want smoothness, and you want enough weight for it to carry the energy you put into it. 

The shore was littered with rocks that perfectly fit this description.  I scooped up a handful gleefully and began skipping them like a pro.  Some were so aerodynamic that they’d actually turn before striking the water at an odd angle.  Others sailed like a dream, granting several excellent hops before running out of momentum fifty or sixty feet from shore.  Sadly, some were too slippery, or my pitching mound was too slippery, to be effective tosses.

On my right, a brilliantly-colored pool of what I presume was algae bubbled and flowed along the rockface.  In no way do these photos accurately capture the vivid, coppery color of the rock.  It’s one of my favorite colors; I’d love to drive a car or own a statement piece of furniture blazoned with that mighty hue.  It was a color you rarely find outside of a lab, but here it was, right in the middle of a state park.

It was almost four.  Time to head home.


Although I missed last Wednesday, you can expect an update every Wednesday.  Next week I'll share the final installment of this trip and tell you what's on tap for 2015!  Merry Christmas!

Keep going -