Saturday morning, Ashley and I woke up in the tent at Mammoth Cave National Park. We packed up and prepared for what we knew would be the most strenuous day of our vacation. It also may have been the most rewarding.
We ate some breakfast and traveled to the visitors center to sign in for our 6 hour, 6 mile caving tour. I have taken a few walking tours of caves in my life, including an awesome one in Florida and the great Cathedral Caverns on my 29th birthday. I never been caving. Ashley had never even set foot in a cave. This was going to be pretty grand.
The tour started at 10am, where after we put our pads, gloves, coveralls, and helmets on we were bussed to the cave entrance. We forgot out hip packs and I had to pocket our water bottles. We paraded down the walkway past several walking tour groups into the cave. Within minutes we were on our stomachs inch worming our way through the first hole.
We could tell right away, with our three guides and 14 person party that we were in for a wild adventure. With over 200 miles of caves in the park, we were going to only see 6 miles but it would be unforgettable. We went from crawling on your bellies, to walking through very narrow passageways with large sharp rocks jutting out on either side.
It was not long before I realized that my knee pads were not fully covering my large knees and they were rubbing raw. I began to struggle a bit with the crawling due to the pain in my knees but I still pushed on. Ashley, with her height impairment, struggled with the climbing on boulders and scaling up the walls of the cave.
Some sections of the cave were similar to hiking uneven ground, until we hit 50 degree water that was waist deep. Some sections required using upper body strength to pull yourself out of holes and prevent yourself from falling dozens of feet onto ragged rock. There was of course the claustrophobic cave crawling as well. Belly crawls through 6 inches of thick wet mud, or passages so narrow that you are forced to turn your head to the side just to make it through the 10 inch tall rock cave.
It was an amazing experience and I can not wait to get some more in, as soon as I correct the knee pad situation. Once we were out of the 50 degree cave, I peeled my pads off and looked at my shredded knees. They were in bad shape. Concerned about infection I dumped peroxide over them. It was painful but they are beginning to heal now.
During the caving tour, we met a guy named Peter Liptak, who is an aspiring photographer. This guy was crazy enough to bring his camera on his first caving trip. Although he regretted it by the end, he took some great photos and Ashley and I are grateful. All of the picture from the cave were taken by him. Thank you Peter!
After rinsed off, Ashley and I immediately jumped in the car and headed 2 hours south to Nashville Tennessee. I have never been to Nashville and we were only there for the night. We were able to go get some dinner at The Wild Cow
This would be the last leg of our vacation and it was one of the better meals. We shared some nachos. I had my second philly cheese steak ever with a side of cole slaw. Ashley had a buffalo tempeh sandwich with a side of tofu chicken salad. For dessert we snagged a caramel filled chocolate cupcake and an amazing slice of gluten-free chocolate cake. The icing was some of the best icing I have ever had. It was a lot of food but we had earned it and were starving after 6 hours caving.
This was the last day and the ride back to Atlanta in the morning would be long and sad. The first day back from vacation is always the worst.