Mammoth Caves National Park

My frenzied McDonald’s experience fueled a pleasant, sunny 45 mile ride that day.  Though I stayed on one road for a large chunk of the mileage, I passed a number of points of interest on the way.

The first was a residence next to the highway that stood out to me due to the fact that it appeared ‘culturally different’ than my community back in Michigan.  The house and outbuilding looked to be fairly rundown, as if college students had been put to the task of taking care of it for the last twenty-five years.  The backyard stretched for only a few yards before sloping steeply up to train tracks that I had been following all day.  The yard was mostly dirt and weeds, and filled with old cars, car parts, and other fix-it-upper projects that had taken a back seat for the moment.  A large confederate flag was proudly displayed on a makeshift flagpole near the front porch.  Two men sat quietly on the stoop, long beards cascading down under their baseball caps as they held aluminum cans in their hand.  I did not stop, although the thought crossed my mind, and the idea didn’t go away as I continued to ride.

The scene struck me when I first caught a glimpse of the place. judgements such as “redneck” and “racist” went through my mind as my stereotypes and preconceptions came alive.  But as I rode, I yearned to know those people better.  I never did turn back, but I still think about what they would have been like, just person to person.  I like to imagine them as welcoming, friendly, and fun.  I guess I will never know.

As I continued on, I passed several signs and markers describing and commemorating various civil war battle sites.  It seemed as if every four or five miles there was a new site with a unique story.  The towns that I passed through all had significance in the war as well, which made the ride interesting as I pictured young men marching through the hills, sacrificing themselves for their idea of freedom.

Around twenty miles into the day, I began up a beautifully forested hill, large pines swayed in the wind on both sides of the road.  As I crested the climb, some sort of factory came into view, and the smell of pine became even more pungent.  I could hear the sounds of loud machinery, and as I got closer, I realized I was looking at an industrial saw mill operation.  Huge pine trunks were being handled by some sort of crane with  a claw on the end, and fed into a series of powerful machines.  The heavy trees were being handled and processed so quickly, they looked like toothpicks.  This time I did stop, and asked at the front desk about tours, but the woman looked as if she had never been asked, and said that they didn’t do tours.

I rode on, and all day kept seeing signs for an Amish discount grocery with fresh baked goods.  Not only did this sound delicious, but when I finally came upon the establishment, I needed a rest, and was intrigued by the way of life of many of the Amish I had seen thus far.  I went in, expecting to get in and out with a quick cinnamon roll, but upon entering, realized I was in a poor and hungry man’s paradise.  The grocery was similar to a regular grocery store, except every item was slightly damaged and marked way down! I was so happy to be able to restock my supplies with delicious food for next to nothing.  I clopped around the store in my plastic-soled bike shoes, probably looking quite strange to the young women in the bakery who stood eying me and whispering amongst themselves.  I don’t know if they were scared, intrigued, or both, but I think it’s safe to say that the visit was entertaining for all parties involved.

I eventually made it to Cave City, a hodgepodge of tourist-traps like putt-putt, a dinosaur sculpture park, and more cheap souvenir stores than I ever care to be around again.  To my great relief, after a long ascent, I reached the entrance to the park, and from that point on, until I was out of the park the next day, I didn’t see a single business or building that wasn’t part of the national park.  The hilly forests were absolutely beautiful, specked with rocky outcroppings and many deer that must have enjoyed the park as a safe haven from hunters.

After stopping by the park headquarters and arranging for a campsite that required a 5 mile hike to get to, I rode the last few miles over some very hilly terrain, in and out of a river valley, on and off a river ferry that cars used instead of a bridge, and finally, as I approached the trailhead I was to take to the campsite, I came across a vacant cabin set back a ways in the trees.  The sun had set, and the long hike to my campsite seemed way to hard at that point, making the cabin yard very enticing.  With help from the darkness, I was adequately concealed for the evening, and got out of there the next morning without a fine from the rangers.

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River crossing in Mammoth Caves NP

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On the ferry, in the beautiful valley

 

The next day I woke up, bought a morning ticket for a cave tour, and hung out in the park coffee shop for the morning.  The women working in the shop gave me (probably their only customer all day, due to the off season) free coffee, and told me about how they loved their jobs, even after the 45 minute commute, but that the government was cutting their hours, which would make their already tight budgets very hard to manage.  I felt for these women, not having many economic options at their disposal.  I was happy, however, that they could maintain a positive attitude throughout.

One entrance to Mammoth Cave, the largest cave system in the world.  Currently 400 known miles, but still being explored.

One entrance to Mammoth Cave, the largest cave system in the world. Currently 400 known miles, but still being explored.

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They lit a Christmas tree in the cave for the holidays. In the foreground you can see remnants of the mining infrastructure that was installed by slaves after colonial settlers claimed ownership. Evidence of Native Americans through found artifacts place them as the oldest known discoverers of the cave.

 

 

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