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Caving In

August 16, 2012

Well, that sucked.

Today started out so promisingly. We woke up early, got packed up and out of our motel in record time, and made it to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky in time to get onto exactly the tour we wanted. And the tour was great. It’s a dry cave, which means there are few interesting formations or colors, but the cave is truly collosal (it’s the longest in the world, but many of the rooms are also mindblowingly huge in all dimensions). As we walked and gawked, the immense scale of the cave had a couple of lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” kept echoing in my head:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Aside from its size there were some particularly fun parts of the tour, like this really old graffiti:

Ironically, Sam’s favorite part of the biggest cave in the world were it’s smallest parts, such as a long passage so narrow that it earned a descriptive nickname:

Fat Man’s Misery was immediately followed by a section called Tall Man’s Agony because of ceiling so low that even the 4’10” Hamster had to crouch, which he enjoyed even more. And at the very end of the tour, our Ranger revealed that he is a direct descendant of the two teenage slaves who were first sent in to explore and map the cave in the 1700s, which was an interesting twist and certainly helped explain his reverence for the cave and its history. The whole experience was pretty great.

The plan for the rest of the day was a 4+ hour drive ending at Lost Sea Adventure, a cavern in Sweetwater, Tennessee with the largest underground lake in the world. First, however, we needed an oil change so we stopped in at a Wal-Mart, where we dropped off the car and then ate lunch and did a little shopping while the oil and filters were being changed, and we were right back on the road.

That road was not an interstate. We drove exclusively on winding, hilly, country roads through rural Kentucky and Tennessee, which was fun for a while but after more than a hundred miles of hills and turns we were pretty desperate for a major highway. When we finally got to one it was about 4:45 pm, so I called Lost Sea to find out when their last tour leaves. The good news was that the last tour doesn’t leave until 6:30. The bad news is that we were still a little more than an hour away, which would have been fine except that Sweetwater, Tennessee is in the Eastern time zone, and we were still in Central Time. A few minutes later 5:05 became 6:05, and there was no way we’d make it to the Lost Sea.

We also missed out on one of our destinations yesterday, a museum of wacky cars in Nashville that we were both excited for but turned out to be closed on Tuesdays. And there was that cool park in Memphis that was closed Monday. And tomorrow we had been planning to spend the day at Dollywood but starting this week Dollywood is closed every Tuesday and Thursday. I never heard of an amusement park being closed on Thursdays, but that just seems to be the way our luck is going lately. Clearly my meticulous planning is on the fritz.

On top of all this, I’ve apparently contracted some sort of extremely itchy rash, and being 1,000 miles or so from my doctor means I’m reliant entirely on hydrocortizone, which offers little relief and I’ve been physically uncomfortable all day with no end in sight. I can suffer through the itching if it means Hamster and I can do cool stuff like take underground boat rides, but it’s a lot less tolerable if we’re just spending all day in the car. By the time we check into tonight’s random motel I was in a pretty pissy mood and felt like the whole trip is starting to fall apart.

Sam, however, thinks we had a great day. He absolutely loved Mammoth Cave, he spent half the car ride watching The Lorax again in the car, and he’s amazed at how nice our motel is. (So am I: an indoor pool and an outdoor pool, a decent gym, a room that doesn’t smell musty, and a very impressive free breakfast, all for only $55!) We even had a nice dinner (leftover roast chicken reinvented as chunky soup) in our motel room and managed to end the day on a positive note. I’m just really hoping that tomorrow goes better.

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