Words by Lisa Kelly unless otherwise noted.
“Some people see a wall, and assume that’s the end of their journey. Others see it and decide it’s just the beginning.”– Angeline Trevena
Venturing out of the concrete of New York, we never could have imagined the beautiful chaos we’d discover within the remote sections of the Kentucky Adventure Trail. Our Convoy started in Queens, NY led and organized by Off Grid Adventure Co. and sponsored by GoMammut Expedition Rooftop Tents. Along the way, we experienced some of the most beautiful views and natural features, immensely hospitable locals, great food and an immeasurable number of laughs.
Then there’s the fun: Subzero temperatures, steep graded shelf roads incapsulated in ice, near unpredictable water crossing levels, bear encounters, trails unmaintained since the 1930s, and TREES…. downed trees at every turn.
The Kentucky Adventure Tour (AKA The Kentucky Adventure Trail) is a 900+ mile combination of paved roads and trail systems spanning across most of Southeastern Kentucky and parts of West Virginia and Tennessee. The system includes paved roads and logging and mining trails which have remained unmaintained since their original forging in the 1930s. This tour has a range from scenic Appalachian roads, easy forest trails and hugely difficult terrain.
After a long 14-hour drive, the Off Grid Adventure Co. / GoMammut convoy was first to arrive at the rendezvous campground. We set camp along a high ridge under a gentle flurry just in time for last light. The rest of the group (totaling 12 rigs) would arrive in the night. The morning brought us together as a group for the first time and everyone was introduced and briefed on the plans for the day before we headed for our first trails.
Day one was exactly what we had hoped for in a family overlanding event. The trails kicked off with a tunnel blasted through the mountainside that was nothing short of viral material. The scenic drive continued along a mild shelf road and led us to the first obstacles. The KAT changes from trails to pavement often and we were greeted by a couple of locked gates that should have been open. Some immediately were discouraged but the organizers quickly found alternative routes and, upon arrival, no one was disappointed. We were wheelin’!
Our convoy consisted of Jeeps, Toyotas, Land Rovers and Chevys all with different modification levels. Everyone had a line on these trails to keep themselves entertained. We made several water crossings over 3’ deep and everyone was able to keep pushing with some help from the group. Everybody contributed and everybody had a good time.
As we lost daylight, we headed toward camp where we were met with our first fallen tree just a ¼ mile from the site. With a little bit of teamwork, we made quick work and headed into camp where the group really came together.
That night, we had a chance to finally get acquainted and I can’t say enough about these guys. We had a group of about a dozen rigs from a handful of different states and wildly different cultures and an amazing time. We tried new foods, heard stories from “back home”, laughed for hours, and, somewhere along the line, I was handed a shot of homemade traditional Korean liqueur which changed my life.
The next morning, I came out of my tent to the realization that I was in one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. Coming into camp after dark, we had no idea what was surrounding us. A river fed by waterfalls pouring over massive icicles and rock stairs down were right outside my tent window. Turkey foot campground is, without a doubt, somewhere I will be camping again one summer.
Looking back, we’re thankful for the good nights sleep we had ahead of the day to come. Day three led us down shelf roads completely covered in ice into the most challenging part of the journey. After carefully sliding down hill along a cliffside, we made several more fender-level water crossings and had to clear several more downed trees. We discovered early on that we did not have our chainsaw in the smaller convoy which would make the day a lot longer. After axing, sawing and winching three large trees aside, the group reached a heart droppingly impassible trail. The trail had now gone from questionable to just plain unsafe. We were in some of the most remote parts of Southeastern Kentucky and, collectively, we decided we had had our fun and forged through enough to count this as a success. What we soon accounted for was the major challenge still ahead of us in getting back out. The river crossing we had previously done was now much higher and the trails were now uphill on solid ice.
We discussed the plan, voted and pushed on. GoMammut and Off Grid Adventure Co. again leading, we tethered the fleet together to help with traction and made it through the water crossings without issue. The final obstacle was the most intimidating. Again tethered, we headed up the ice-covered hillside and began winching the lead rig up to try and keep everyone off the ledge. With some patience, cool headedness, and trust in our team, we made it out completely unscaved.
The final night was a challenge and a lesson. It was a realization and a complete hurl out of our comfort zones. However, not at one time did we feel that we were in any real danger. We always assume a certain level of risk when going out on a trip like this but the faith in your team is what keeps your mind at ease. The guys with GoMammut and Off Grid Adventure Co. kept everyone entertained and safe throughout this journey and I cannot say enough about them.
to be part of the next adventure!
for more content check out JMK _overlandlife: