Living the Life That You Love
Allison and I choose to live the life we live because we believe in what we do. We believe that the mission of CKY: Canoe Kentucky, “To provide family friendly outdoor opportunities in a experiential and educational manner that strive to offer respite and clarity of one's place in the natural world,” should and does ring true. We believe that by leading a business with our Christian values, our family values and our love of the outdoors, can just possibly change the world, or at least a few people in it!
We began this crazy journey in 2001, with our first date. We both knew at the moment we met that this was something real and something with potential. We had both been part of the Kentucky Down Under Family, a Australian Themed Zoo, now called Kentucky Down Under Adventure Park, in Horse Cave. Allison had worked there through college as a stepping stone to going to vet school. I worked there after her, also in college, as an intern and later as my introduction to outdoor interpretation. So we had worked with mutual friends, and those mutual friends fixed us up on a blind date. And as they say, the rest is history, but not so fast!
I came to join Canoe Kentucky in 2002 when my career at KDU came to and end and the path in front of me seemed wide open. I only came to work at CKY after Allison and I deliberated for lengthy periods on how we would not let the job come between the foundation we had set in our new relationship. That first year was such a great way to start any business and personal relationship. It was busy, but we had our separate and together roles, with Allison handing the inside logistics, and I running the outside.
We married in October 2003, in the way any perfect outdoor couple would marry; outside, on the banks of Elkhorn Creek. We even left our wedding in a brand new canoe! At this time in our lives, I was working on my EMT license and Allison was completing her Master Degree. So we took a short honeymoon, putting it off for a bigger one someday. At this writing, someday has not arrived yet!
Things changed completely in 2004 with the birth of Boone, our first son. It suddenly seemed like there were many more priorities than just work. However, CKY was growing and work was still definitely there. We had to learn balance to keep ourselves sane. We took turns balancing Boone, with I running most of the day to day CKY operations, and Allison taking on a second job being the events coordinator for the Professional Paddlesports Association.
And of course, one child gets boring, so we had Dane in 2006. What a great gift, a playmate for Boone. Dane gave us a brief scare at a very young age, as he was born with SVT, a heart condition that would cause his heart rate to climb to 250 beats per minute. We had to regularly medicate him for his first full year, but miraculously, on his one year check up, he had outgrown the SVT!
At this time, we decided as a growing family that we needed to move, so we left our small cottage in Peaks Mill and moved up to the canoe put in at Knight's Bridge. This allowed us to stretch out quite a bit. It also gave us a room to bring in a large garden as well as chickens. This was the beginning of our movement to become more self sufficient.
Through all this time, CKY was growing every year. We began to bring on more team members to cover this, so that we as a family were still able to balance. At this time, Allison came back to work at CKY full time and left her other job. We knew that her and I together were what made the CKY decisions always work. But even with Allison back, we began to need more full time help, so we began employing a few more people on a year round basis. Luckily we had a great team, as I was down for 2 weeks with mono one year, had a corneal transplant the next year do to an infection from a water born organism, which just about robbed me of my vision, then had a chainsaw accident the next year that put me out for four weeks. Little did I know, that besides being a torture to myself, being away from the business and trusting the team was going to be needed even more in the near future.
Then, in 2011 we added our third child into the mix. Her name is Isla Rainn. Isla was born with a congenital heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot. We knew within hours of her birth that she would have to have open heart surgery someday soon. To say that this scared the heck out of us is an understatement. How big of a deal this was, we did not fully understand yet, so we arrogantly thought that running the business and taking care of our daughter would be fine. It was with the boys! Right?
At this point in my life I was looking for some inspiration, and I followed the path back to my church. I was a born Catholic, coming from a hard core Catholic family. My grand mother used to make us say the rosary, one bead for each step, up to Holy Cross-Immaculata Church in Cincinnati. I can't tell you how many times you covered the rosary, but it seemed like 100! I also went to all boys Catholic High School. But after school, I am ashamed to say I stepped way too far away from my church. But in 2012, when I needed something in my life to help me understand why my daughter was going through this, she opened her arms and took me back. It was the beginning of my faith journey that now guides every decision and path I take in life.
Isla's heart surgery was scheduled for May 9, 2012. We had an amazing meeting with our team, letting them know that for the next month, CKY was theirs's. What ever happened was up to them, as we were dedicated 100% to our family. And they stepped up. Isla was baptized on the 7th into our church, and went into surgery with all odds in her favor. And she did great. I must say it was the worst 5 days of my life not being able to do much for her while in the hospital, but it also taught me everything I needed to know about fighting and staying positive, and trusting in God.
That year, Dane, Allison and Boone all came to know God in a deeper way as they too joined the church. This was a huge moment for our family and for our business, because it gave us a path in life that we felt was a good path to also extend to our customers. The way that we treat them, the type of business we conduct and the values we try to convey. And we have held onto them in all the things we do with CKY.
Having kids grow up in our business is a blessing as well. They allow us to take on all sorts of new projects. We have always home schooled our kids. We feel that with our traveling and busy schedule, it is the only way we can spend time with them. And we are weird, I know, we like to spend time with them!
In 2013 we began a new chapter, moving from our Creekside house to a 60 acre farm on a hill overlooking "The Mill". For 6 months, this "working farm" or "working on farm" had no running water! Our only source of heat was, and still is, wood only. We have had to lift our house, dig 2,000 foot water lines, put over 70 loads of rock on a 3/4 mile long driveway, build buildings and sheds to cover all the projects we do, plan a huge garden, raise chickens, dogs, horses and more, and oh yeah, run a business. But, it is all a labor of love. Every year we get more self sufficient and more off the grid. In 2020 we began raising commercial chickens on the farm and selling them... over 300 a year, and eggs from our other chickens, to locals in the Peaks Mill Valley as well as all over Frankfort. We also began tapping maple trees in the winter and early spring, and that sweet nectar is given to many of our family and friends as Christmas gifts!
In 2018, as one business must have not been enough, we started #2, Kentucky River Tours. KRT, or the Bourbon Boat, offers bourbon themed river cruises on the Kentucky River. Now there is more to this story... and we are currently writing it... so check back soon!
Nathan Depenbrock, Co Owner CKY