The Adventure Continues…
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” –Anthony Bourdain
On Friday, MapQuest’s promise to me was “You’re not lost.”
I was given no other choice than to drive the roads typically unseen by tourists in Kentucky. The moment I ascended down Campground Road, I knew I was in trouble. The road was wide enough for the width of the truck and camper not including any oncoming vehicles. There was no place to turn around, and if there was, I’m still lousy at the game of Back Up. Cresting a hill with no sight of the backside, I swore at the navigation app, “What the hell have you gotten me into? Fuck!” At the bottom of another such hill with a curvy embankment, I smiled and said out loud, “I wonder if this would pass Sandie’s Roads of Ireland driving test?” Seriously, these roads remind me of the ones I viewed from a seat on a charter bus roaming Ireland.
I drove approximately twenty-eight miles before reaching a road that had painted lines and wide enough for me and oncoming traffic. On the journey to that glorious stop sign, I saw ghost towns where the rundown gas stations bared a rusty name, homes slumping into a tired heap over the foundation, barns baring the interior to the heavens and one home I’d love to find again. I got a glimpse of it as a navigated my way down a steep embankment and up the other side. Afraid to deviate from the navigation app to my camera, I didn’t stop for any photographs of interesting sights. They are forever etched in my mind (or until I forget).
From memory, it was dusty white, one story home with a crawl space attic, weather-worn by countless seasons. The fragile front porch roof stood in tact; a visitor casually leaning against one of its post would set the collapse in motion. The front door, centered between the two ends of the deck that was maybe a foot and a half from the ground, clung to the frame by one hinge. Ivy caressed the door and a portion of the wall to the window. I may attempt to retrace my tire treads to find the home, but I’m living life in motion. That is, forward motion. There is no need to relive what I’ve already experienced. I’ve been there, done that, purchased the t-shirt.
Although less intense cornering, the drive to the Mammoth Cave National Park helped me to hone my towing skills. The more I relaxed and lightened my grip on the steering wheel the tunnel-vision widen to stimulate my curiosity of how Kentuckians live. Because I am a Michigander, I noticed that even if the house was in shambles, they all had nice vehicles parked in the driveways (even the few I saw out to pasture!). There was NO RUST. The game was on – could I find a rusty beater? NO! Whoa. In our region, a car will begin to rust after its first winter driven on our salted roads.
I reached a campground with only seven campsites that looked rather abandoned, unmanned and untidy. I drove through it twice to make sure that that was all there was to it. Nope. Not where I wanted to be. I continued on my way to the Visitor’s Center. Again, more loopy-lou roads within the hilly terrain. I laughed the first time I saw the sign: Road Ends At Water. I was recording the drive and snickered when I saw the second and third road ends at water sign. I stopped laughing and exclaimed, “Oh fuck!” when I rounded the corner and saw exactly what they meant! At the bottom of the hill was a ferry to take cars across the river. Feeling less than courageous to attempt a barge ride, I did the worst maneuvering at the game of Back Up to date. Thank goodness there was a small parking area halfway down the hill and I had the good sense to stop right there. Oh my, it took me probably six years (slight exaggeration, more like fifteen minutes) of backing up, pulling forward until I sashayed my way so I was pointed in the direction I just came from.
Furious at the navigation app, I closed it. Yep. You guessed it. No cell service, no map visible on my cell phone screen, a feverish spewing of swearing exploded from my mouth. What the hell was I thinking?! I’m sick. I’m lost – even though MapQuest promised I wasn’t. I’m in the middle of a national forest with less than a quarter tank of gas that (according to my dashboard) equates to 120 miles to empty. Seriously? Damn.
With the good sense to know NOT to travel the roads I’d been on, I turned to the direction I’d not traveled. What’s the worst that could happen? At least this road had a painted lines.
I would go so far as to say that I drove ten miles when I came to a stop sign; across the road was a gas station. I belted out a loud “thank you” to whoever was within ear shot. With cell service restored, fuel and the navigation app online, this adventure seemed a little less infuriating. I’d love to state for the record that I’m a easy-going, fun-loving kind of gal that loves spontaneous adventures – but, that’d be a big fat lie.
On the map, I found a national park campground on Nolan Lake and thought it would be a great place to set up for the evening. The park ranger was a sweet man; a gentle soul with (I would guess) a million stories to share. They had two sites left for the one night, being it was their Halloween Weekend after all. I drove through to check them out. I could feel that this was not where I belonged, and waved at the gentleman in the office as I exited. I followed my intuition to keep driving.
Ironically, once I decided to continue on my way, the trip to the Mammoth Cave National Park was less complicated. I saw plenty of travel trailers heading towards the Nolan Lake campground; to which I promptly cursed and thanked my navigation system. I got to see the farmlands, ghost towns and the way of life for a handful of Kentuckians that would have otherwise been out of view.
It felt good to set up camp here, site 73.
Where I come from, y’all, we have an abundance of wineries. Too many to count in fact. According to the internet, there’s 40 different wineries throughout the Traverse City region. That’s not including the breweries and distilleries. Based on the number of alcohol dispensaries, it would lead one to believe we’re a bunch of drunks with rusty cars. Lake Michigan may be unsalted, but the Michigan roads certainly are when the snow flies.
It was interesting to see number of road signs along the freeway informing us that there was another whiskey distillery at the next exit. For this whiskey-lovin’ gal the temptation was strong, proudly I resisted. I have to keep on truckin’, you know.
The wrong bus equals two cave entrances
When ya pay attention, you get on the right bus. As soon as I hopped on, looked at my cellphone, I knew I messed up. It was only 9:17 am and I was suppose to be to Shelter B at 9:25 am. Whoops. So, instead of doing the Domes and Dripstones, I did the Frozen Niagara Cave Tour. It was interesting, and the guide was entertaining to say the least. On the bus ride to the entrance, I continued to tell myself, “There’s a reason you’re on this tour. Relax and enjoy. Be adventurous, damn it.”
The natural underground formations are incredible to see (of course, not touch). Although our guide asked us not to use any light source, there was that one gentleman who continuously used his flashlight to look at the “wildlife” (aka the large light brown crickets), the unlit crevasse and gaping holes.
So here it is, 11 am on Sunday morning. I still have no cell service nor connection to the outside world. Sure I could have turned on the wifi inside the Visitor’s Center. Once I saw two frumpy individuals in their sixties or seventies (I’m terrible at guessing ages) casually melted into a slouching position heads bowed down and scrolling their cell phone screens, I was good with being offline for a while. My family would understand.
Since I had the time, wrote notes to my three grandson on postcards while I wait for the next – correct – cave tour.
Steep metal ladders led sightseers up a long distance and down even further.
The second tour, the one I was originally suppose to attend, was a two hour, ¾ mile walk into a hillside. The layers of limestone, stalactites and the “bacon” were not taken for granted by this wander.
Three bus drivers drove the 10 minutes to our destination point to drop us off. Each bus has a forty person capacity; do the math. As the first bus pulled away, a five or six year old boy exclaimed, “Mom, they’re leaving without us.” His momma assured him that our bus driver would return when we were finished with our walk in the cave.
Unlike the first metal box entrance that had a rotating door, this one, as soon as we stepped over the threshold, were greeted with a descending walkway. Within a short distance we approached the longest stairwell down, down, down even further. I continued to sputter “wow’s” at every corner, opening, narrow crevasse that I barely slid through without touching the “walls”. It was if “oh wow” were the only words in my vocabulary. At least it wasn’t shit, damn or fuck. After all there were young ears on the field trip into the Earth.
Our Ranger was quick with a joke, pun and off-the-cuff humor. Best part, he had the good graces to be entertaining, not obnoxious. It was obvious most of the one-liners were repeated multiples times a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, but they still got a laugh and kept the mood of the crowd upbeat, light and ready to continue our trek.
In total, there were three spots underground where we could gather to listen to the Ranger explain the significance to the particular part of the cave, the story of George The Entrepreneur, and dwellers surrounding us.
Quick fact: the white-nose syndrome killed approximately 90% of the bats that once call Mammoth Caves their home.
Lining up after our first rest spot (with story-time), I ended up behind three women completely oblivious to their surroundings. There may have been at the mall. They talked about traveling and about other friends. The one girl who is boasting about her travels are you comparing the back roads of Kentucky with Ireland. Ironic that I was too. She took a hold of the conversation sharing how she was wanting to go to Italy and Greece. One of the other young women perked up and said I’d love to go to France. The one boasting of her extensive travels said France is boring. “The people were friendly but I couldn’t handle the constant smell of urine,” she stated. I, who have been to France (for one day), thought that’s interesting considering the French did not like us there and I didn’t smell any urine. The path expanded; I stepped aside to take a few pictures and let the world travelers continue on their way outside of my earshot. When I got in line I was in front of a family who was participating in the tour with their children pointing out various things to look at. I thought, Yes, these are my peeps.
We weaved through the underground cavern to a familiar space – the Frozen Niagara Cave area. Ah, it was good to see it for a second time.
At the end of the tour, I looked up before exiting the exit door. The very large spider (if I had to make a guess – 7 inches from the tips of his front legs to the toes of its back legs and its body larger than a quarter). He was still there perched between the ceiling and the wall above the door frame from the first tour and hundreds of visitors later.
Quick fact: Mammoth Cave got its name based on the extensive cave system. With over 365 miles of surveyed passageways, its over twice as long as any known cave.
Rain will silence the noisiest of campgrounds.
The cold I lovingly received from a grandchild nestled from my sinuses into the bronchial tubes of my lungs the further south I drove. All I wanted to do was rest when I parked the truck ‘n camper Friday night.
The interior of the camper does provide a slight muffler-effect to the chatter and on-goings of those outside of my safe haven to a certain extent. Don’t get me wrong, it warms this momma’s heart to hear the laughter of adults sharing stories, children’s playful giggles and dogs yips. But, I wanted to journal about my day of travel, touch base with my family, snuggle in my bed with my flannel encased pillow and enough quietness so I could rest.
The moment I unlocked the camper door, I felt a raindrop. Of course, I’m setting up camp, I thought. Rain and snow seems to happen when I am either setting up or tearing down camp. My awning is still wet from the first weekend I purchased it! Okay, so that’s a slight exaggeration. Kinda. Maybe not. Anyways… I’m off topic. As I started to unhook the camper from the truck, I noticed that the only sound I heard was the rain hitting the canopy of tree leaves, the ground, and campers and tents. Thank you.
Along the way…
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OMG! This was like sitting next to you in the truck traveling down the road, or walking with you through the caves. I am treasuring these chapters of your travels. You are one mighty brave lady! You remind me of that guy that does the “On The Road” episodes on the news. Keep it coming. I am so along for the ride!
Barb, you warm my heart with your encouragement and excitement. Glad to have you ride along with me on this adventure. Not sure that I’m another Charles Kuralt, but I’ll keep putting pen to paper and share my story.