Make a right turn out of Nemacolin, and US 40 West cuts through the Allegheny Mountains in a mouthwatering delight of curves and hills that make the Porsche Cayenne S excel with athleticism. The route is roughly paralleled by the Pennsylvania Railroad between Uniontown and Brownsville, and by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad between Washington and the West Virginia Line, and the Porsche Cayenne S, carving through the mountains, felt like it had the muscle to easily haul a few tons of bituminous here in American coal country.
Having achieved escape velocity, we continued to climb the mountains. The engine possessed a Darth Vader resonance while the all-wheel-drive powering 20-inch rims conveyed the ferocity and poise of Bruce Lee. Yes, Hollywood images come at you 360 as you feel ensconced in a special-effects machine that pushes the boundaries of known limits in the universe of road-going, high-performance vehicles.
This marked our second morning behind the wheel, and I was lit up on caffeine and sugar. The left lane lay open in full submission like a dog rolled over on its back. The GPS had indicated a drive of 372 miles estimated to take 6 hours, 9 minutes as we would slice through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio toward our destination of the Elk Creek Hunt Club in Owenton, Kentucky – placing us within striking distance of the fabled Bourbon Trail later in the day.
If Elk Creek sounds familiar, the 2009 US Open Sporting Clay Championships were held there, when it drew an international contingent of some 1,000 shooters. Equally as impressive, Elk Creek operates an adjacent winery on the property’s 700 acres. Naturally, we were in a rush to arrive.
Riding on the optional air suspension through an eight-speed transmission, we drove as far as possible on the Extended Range Fuel Tank. It was the gas gauge – not our bladders – that signaled our breaks. Fill-ups were more like suburban pit stops. Gas, bio relief, peanut-butter-cheese sandwich crackers, buckled in, then zoom-zoom to the on-ramp.
It was somewhere on southbound 79 that we discovered the DJ, Sri on XM Radio 50. Light traffic had induced a meditative levitation. The Porsche Cayenne S revealed wings to glide effortlessly on air currents. The mystifying Mr. Sri held sway over our 10-speaker BOSE Surround Sound System in a profound revere of love and despair that summoned the heart-aching power of Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and Ike & Tina Turner. We rode a blue highway: Back Door Love, Dirty Old Town, It Tears Me Up, Piece of My Heart, Cry to Me, A Fool in Love…
Sri’s playlist was an anthem for America; of hope lost, hearts broken and dreams forsaken here, somewhere between the Midwest and the South. There was a damn, good reason why we hadn’t seen another Porsche Cayenne S since yesterday as we barreled toward Cincinnati.
On 75 North, we were approaching our exit: #144/OWENTON/CORINTH. That’s when we spotted an enormous road sign that read “Elk Creek Sporting Clays.”
The sign warranted a bravura double-thumbs up to the Kentucky Department of Transportation.
We arrived late in the afternoon, just in time to shoot the last round before sunset. The Elk Creek Hunt Club would be closed the following day (Monday), and at the very least we wanted to shoot 100 targets before the next leg of the trip.
Elk Creek operates three sporting clays courses, and after returning from our shooting we discovered that we had been sent to the beginner’s course since it presents the most beautiful views of the vineyards. Called The Woods Course, it’s carved out of wooded hills with 14 automated stations presenting long, sweeping chandelles, high incomers and of course a few challenging quartering birds. After our six-hour trek, the beginner’s course proved just right for our physical and mental states at the time.
We smashed plenty of clay targets against backdrops that would rival the wine regions of France. The Woods Course was immensely satisfying, while also providing a good warm-up with Connecticut Shotgun’s A-10 American sidelock over/under for the more challenging courses we would face later in the trip.
The 12-gauge model conveyed the grace and pointability you would expect of sidelocks from Europe. We did regret not having the 28 gauge version that day, since it would’ve been perfect for the easier targets. In fact, we noticed that a good deal of spent hulls around the stations were 20 and 28 gauges. Still, The Woods Course lets you savor the virtues of the larger A-10 American in the same spirit that the French take pleasure in relaxed meals with delicious wine. Life slows down and the senses awaken to capture the splendor of the moment. You shoulder the A-10 American as the easygoing incomer approaches the break point over a pond, and suddenly the target explodes like fireworks before vineyards framed between old trees.
Unfortunately, we missed the intermediate North Course and the Ridge Course for the most experienced sporting clays enthusiast because of time constraints. A covered 5-stand and practice FITASC Parcours de Chasse are also available at the Elk Creek Hunt Club.
When it comes to shooting live game, though, El Creek offers upland bird shoots, European Tower Shoots, trophy whitetail and catch-and-release fishing in stocked lakes.
That night, we were the only guests for dinner. Chef Gary Sigretto, brother of Elk Creek owner, Curtis Sigretto, kept the kitchen open for us. We enjoyed an opener of lettuce-and-tomato salad followed by grilled filets with asparagus. Ironically, Elk Creek is in a dry county and so it was ice tea with our meals that Sunday evening.
Finally, we had the opportunity to occupy our room. We stayed in the Estate Room, an ancillary building on the property with the three rooms in the rear tendering a hilltop view of the vineyards and the modern tasting room across the estate. The accommodations underscored the Hunt Club character of Elk Creek; wood paneling and brick in a modest size room with a pitched ceiling.
With the sun descending below the horizon, a sky full of stars emerged over Elk Creek. This was Kentucky’s invitation to enjoy a cigar and I lit up a Gurkha Evil, the fragrances of cigar smoke mingling with the earthly aromas of the South.
Useful resources:Elk Creek Hunt Club web site