Summer was over. Our carefree days were about to end. Soon all of the busyness of the season would return. School, sports, activities, meetings; all would fill our days. But we had time for one last road trip. One last trip to explore and discover. One last trip together with no need to rush.
We choose one of the most out of the way places we could find for our adventure. A place so difficult to get to that it is isolated from its own state and, as of the 2000 census, only has 17 people living in it. This area is called Kentucky Bend and, while it is part of Kentucky, it does not touch Kentucky at all and the only way to enter it is by one rural road.
The bend is a notch that was created from a tight loop of the Mississippi River which surrounds three sides of the bend. The bend is tucked entirely into Missouri except for the bottom, which is connected to Tennessee and the only way into the area. Not a single part of the Kentucky Bend actually touches Kentucky!
Ever since I had heard about the area I wanted to go there. See a place that really fits nowhere. So, that’s how we ended up late that end of summer afternoon heading north through rural Tennessee. Humidity clung low to the crops as we sped through farmland. We had passed the final town, Tiptonville, a while ago and civilization had dissappeared until it was only us and the crops. We passed beneath a huge pivot irrigator, getting a free car wash, and then we saw the sign: “Welcome to Kentucky”.
Due to its highly fertile soil in the river’s floodplain, Kentucky Bend was once a major cotton-producing area with more than 300 people living there. Now few are left. No stores or gas stations or schools. Nothing that makes a community. Just a few houses left, scattered throughout the bend. It’s difficult and lonely to make a living in such a forgotten place.
As we drove into the loop of land, we quickly came upon a cemetery. Just a few clusters of graves surrounded by corn. We stopped there and walked around, reading the names and dates. The setting sun bathed the graves in golden light. Our goal was to make it all the way to the Mississippi River at the top of the bend, so we set off, back on the road heading north.
We continued on the road, passing only two homes. No one appeared to be home at either one. The road made a slow wide arc around fields. Large puddles of water sat in low lying areas reminding us that, even though we couldn’t see it, the Mississippi was close by constantly reshaping the land. As we drove north there was more and more water until we reached a point where the water covered the road. It was the end of the line on this road.
I turned the car around and we drove back. The sun was low in the sky now, but we were not finished exploring the area. There was one more road. A dirt road we could try. A high road. Maybe we could avoid the water on this road and make it to the river.
Driving along this road we caught glimpses of the Mississippi through the trees at its bank. Again, we drove north. This higher road parrelled the main road below us. We made it past the point where the main road was flooded and kept going. But, suddenly the road we were on just ended at a tree line. We got out of the car and peered into the murkiness of the forest. There was a trail that continued on where the road had ended. But it was getting dark fast and somewhere in front of us was the mighty Mississippi. I made the call that stumbling through the darkness towards a huge river would not be the smartest idea. We had reached the end of our line!
So, we began to head back. Darkness was quickly falling. I rolled down the windows and the thick summer air, cooler now that the sun was down, filled the car. We drove on, heading south back towards Tennessee and civilization. I noticed a truck below us in the fields. As we passed its lights suddenly turned on and it began to follow us. Parrelling us on the main road below.
That’s when I truly felt the loneliness of the Kentucky Bend, so far away from anything. Not even connected to the state that you are part of and surrounded by a river that can so easily change your landscape.
The truck stayed with us until we reached the boarder of Tennessee then turned around heading into the darkness back, deep, into the bend. It was as if it had escorted us out, not wanting anyone to remain. I stopped once we were in Tennessee and looked back. All I could see was darkness. The Kentucy Bend, in the waning light, had disappeared from our sight.