I love holiday weekends when Caleb can get out of duty and finish his homework to give us some time away from the city. I didn’t realize how anxious I was for this trip until the night before leaving when I couldn’t sleep. My eyes wide open at 4:15am on Thursday morning and Caleb was already packing. We were ready to go before 5:00am. The idea for this trip came from me making a list of things I have done and I noticed the World’s Longest Cave was within driving distance over the weekend.
We bought the tickets for a tour only offered Friday and Saturday in this season. I wasn’t looking forward to the large accompaniment of 70 other tourists, max allowed for the trip, and hoped that some would give in to Black Friday Fever. We didn’t do much planning, we never seem to. By 6:00am the sun was up lighting the way to Cumberland Gap. Caleb had found camping here, but we were disappointed upon arrival. The park ranger told us that the park was updating the camping from the 1920s and the sites would be closed for a while; and then gave us hotel info. She was very friendly and helpful.
We always like to travel at minimum costs; it’s how we ensure we can do it more often. This was not in the plans and it would be dark at 6:00pm. The ranger also informed us that the cave tours were booked, thanks. We took some trails and they got steep; my dogs are in better shape than me. We made it up to the tri-state area of KY, TN, and VA; enjoyed the view and the fall back down the hill. Later that night we would pull into London, KY and find lodging at the Budget Host Inn.
I recommend this place to anyone near the area. I don’t usually advocate for places, not that I don’t care, but I forget. We got a jacuzzi for two and a massaging bed for less than a tank of gas for an SUV. I turned on the water while Caleb ran to Domino’s. I wasn’t expecting much but they are stepping up to the health plate competition. A yummy veggie pizza with some cheesy bread sticks for dinner and a movie with Albert Brooks for a few minutes until we fell asleep at 8:00pm. It might seem early but both of us were tired and would wake every hour in anticipation. I finally gave in at 4:00am and decided to get up.
This would give us time to try the massage bed. A quarter would buy us 15 minutes. My expectations were formed by what I had seen in romanticized or thriller movies. I thought it might be like the vibrations from those pads fitted to office chairs. I had trouble getting the quarter to go in and settled down as Caleb turned the know just a few degrees. I could feel a difference and was excited for something new tried but felt somewhat disappointed. With us off the bed, Piggy was left to feel the whole thing for herself and she loved it! We put our hands near where she was and it was vibrate heaven. Perhaps we are longer than the coverage area was made for.
We packed up the room, forced the dogs into the cold, and let them go back to bed while we went to Waffle House for breakfast. I know this restaurant is a chain, but it felt like a neighborhood diner sitting at the bar chit-chatting with the locals. We got offered some puppies but took them up on waffles and biscuits instead. We had decided to visit the Lincoln Birthplace on the way to Mammoth Cave; we had an extra hour with the time change. We learned that the cabin wasn’t old enough for Lincoln to have been born in it and that there is a model inside the memorial that was downsized to fit.
At the end of the path was a huge leaf-filled place where a six-foot wide, 90-foot tall tree with a span of 115 feet of branches used to be, and a sinking spring. We had the choice of the Boyhood Home at Knob Creek Farm, only 9.58 miles away, but Mammoth Cave was calling. We got there an hour and a half early. I looked like I was suffering from withdrawals as I didn’t want to sit still. We picked up our tickets, I got my stamp, and then we looked for food before the 4.5 hour tour. I wanted the fastest thing in this slow looking restaurant. We got cinnamon rolls and juice for under $4.00.
The cinnamon roll looked pre-packaged and over heated. Our juice came in a double-shot glass. Done with that; time to find the greeter, waitress, and register lady – they are all the same person. We check out and take to the trails. We read signs and take pictures. We get to see a group getting the safety brief before entering the natural entrance. Soon I am anxious again and we go to Shelter B to await our bus to the Grand Avenue Tour. There are kids climbing on everything and I worry – a lot!
Finally two buses arrive with a ranger for each. We are the first on and obviously the first off. We get our safety briefing and the ranger warns us we wont have time to fill an 8GB card. I whisperingly ask about a 16GB and the lady next to me gasps. We start in after the ranger and begin hurrying down the stairs. There are three left when I realize we have some space between us and the next guy. I turn around to get a picture. From there the race continues through the first mile of cave until we arrive at the Snowball Room.
I am upset at this point. I always feel fulfilled with love and nature and unicorn magic. This time I felt rushed and unsatisfied. We were pointing and clicking as we speed-walked. While everyone else sat down to shove their faces full of dead animal and candy we walked around getting some pictures. Here we decided, for the first time ever, to take to the back of the line. This made me feel worse. I was able to get a few pictures before the dooming clomp-clomp of the ranger’s boots made their presence known. If you got behind her, you got left in the dark – more than once.
I could have easily tripped and broken my face, arm, or fancy camera. Caleb said we might have been able to buy the cave at that point and then we could actually enjoy it. We rushed so that we could stop in the dark and let the uneducated, meaning they didn’t read the brochure or all the signs, ask stupid questions. Is this a real cave? Are there other passages? Was the Civil War fought here? No, it is all a dream or at least I wish it was because then I could control it. We stopped for a bathroom break and in-between got to watch parents and their kids pet the cave.
“Mommy, I like the way this feels.” I couldn’t help but say something. “Please don’t touch that. I know a million years isn’t a long time, but that’s how long it will take to fix what you just destroyed.” Luckily for the group of 77, plus two rangers, only a stunned look was returned. I now know I could not be a ranger as my mouth would get me in trouble. On to the rest of the race; we pass what looks like the boat scene from the movie The Addams Family. Tours are no longer given because the space available isn’t as profitable.
Mammoth Cave has at least five levels of passages and the longest line-of-sight in any cave. Sometimes the marked trails are five-man wide through 1/8-mile wide passages. At a few points I had trouble not touching a wall or banging my head on formations closer together. Carlsbad Caverns tallest room is about 256 feet. In Mammoth, we are able to see multiple levels at once looking forward and to see several hundred feet in certain areas when looking up or down. This cave has so much to offer and so much unseen.
The rangers tell us that the first half of the cave is boring and the second half will be strenuous and full of stalagmites and stalactites; it was just more stressful to me. We made it out of the cave only 15 minutes past our scheduled time. If it hadn’t been for having the dogs with us I would have gone to the visitor center to complain; I still should have. We gave the dogs lunch and saw some deer and turkeys on the way out of the park. We were headed somewhere far away and it was already 4:30pm, so we changed our minds.
We decided to camp at Mammoth Cave and head to Indiana in the morning. We set up right next to the bathroom unknowingly but the main light was on a motion sensor. I think that night we were asleep by 7:00pm. Another 4:00am morning and by 5:00am when we are packed up the light from the sun is hitting the horizon. We arrive at George Rogers Clark NHP and the ranger is all upset about the time change and her state’s place on the time zone line. I didn’t appreciate that much but the maps she gave us came in handy.
We have to be let into the memorial along with another family. We get some good pictures and listen to a recording. There seems to be plenty of ‘old’ things to take pictures of here, as that’s how they refer to their historic attractions, but we are off to the Lincoln Boyhood Memorial instead. We would walk to the living historical farm and midway through the nature trail my battery would finally die after hours of blinking. Today we will head to Big South Fork where there is $5 a night camping. We stop in Santa Claus, IN for some pizza from Brick Oven Pizza and to see the post office that takes in all the official Santa mail. There is no rush as we will be arriving after dark.
We pass the road to camping; it looked like a ranger road or a trail. The speed limit was 20mph and even though it was dark, or maybe especially because, we were going even slower. We park on what we think is the edge only to find out that our campsite is a few stairs down. We can hear running water but can not see it. We set up the tent and let our backs get adjusted to the rocks. We agree we should bring a thick foam pad next time. Another early morning. This one didn’t work out in our favor. We waited an hour for the sun to rise and then learned that it would be another two hours.
We headed from the north-end camping around to the south-end visitor center. They were still closed when we got there so we visited the horse stables near by. I wish we would’ve been able to feed them more or donate the money to do so. We got offered a horse and trailer for only $70,000 – like it’s pocket change. Got our stamp, saw some snakes in cages, and then headed to the west side to see the Twin Arches. We wanted to do more, we always do, but there was weather and time deciding factors.
We take the 6.4-mile dirt road, mostly free of pot holes, to the parking lot. Not much sprinkling and the exercise will be good for the dog; there is barely water on the ground. I put my camera under my sweater. The rain starts to sprinkle and the dogs are putting up with it so on we go on our 0.7-mile trek. There are some steep stairs and we carry them down. It begins to pour and we begin to run. Piggy doesn’t want to take the bridge; she prefers the edge. They stay back with Caleb as I run around the corner to get a picture of the arches so we can get out of the pouring rain.
I saw the North Arch. It was the one dry spot but really windy. We all take back towards the car. Again, the dogs are in better shape than me. Sparky makes it up the steep stairs himself; I begin to breathe heavy; it could be the elevation. I appreciate the training so I will be more prepared for Alaska. We are now running through puddles. We make it back to the car for toweling and treats. We had been informed that we were near Obed WSR by the park ranger.
Caleb asked if I wanted to go. Of course I do, but we don’t have the time. He already got someone to cover his Sunday, but the boss will be back to work on Monday and so will he. From here, it’s estimated to take us 10.5 hours to get home. We will suffer through a few bumper-to-bumper miles due to impatient drivers. One car was parked under a semi. Another, a truck had hit the semi, the suburban hit the ditch, and two other cars decided to hit each other. Another, a car burst into flames but that was north-bound traffic. We would finally catch a break and were excited that we would be home before midnight.
We come up on this white car in the far left lane with two open lanes next to them. Sometimes that is the position we are in and we let others go around. They are going faster and are less likely to get stuck behind someone. Later I would realize that we had gone around all the lanes, with cruise control set, and managed to get back in front of this car three times. Finally, they get tired of us getting in front of them and speed up to cut us off. Eventually traffic would catch up and save us and we were able to resume safe driving.
I was hoping for a straight road to our house, but as had been the case the entire trip there was construction. Lanes would be closed and cones everywhere but no workers during the holidays. We will arrive home five minutes before 11:00pm. I love driving roads when I can make frequent stops; we think we should put a sign on the car that says so. We risked getting hit a few times. I would get lost in the moment on these long empty roads but not for long.
I hate dealing with traffic and holiday’s are the worst. We thought of multiple ways we could fix the problem. Caleb’s plan was to build a second layer of roads and have fewer cars and more semi’s and buses with cheaper gas for them. My idea is to get half the cars off the road. I think gas should be $15 a gallon. We both agree there should be more stringent drivers test exams. We were able to enjoy a new radio station, 91.5, in Indiana geared towards kids; I will be looking for it online.
Caleb knows I love peaceful music, but sometimes when driving tired it’s not the best idea, but it helps to keep me calm. Our favorite is the Muppets Mahna Mahna song. I had a train of thought here, but obviously it went off the tracks. I will finish by saying that music that speaks to your soul can make any trip more memorable, but inner peace comes from a more quiet place – for me. I enjoy the distance, I enjoy the noise, but most of all, I enjoy the natural intensity of what the elements have to offer in combination.