Howdy, folks!

When I last checked in, we were about to embark upon an adventure of epic proportions – traveling with spawn. And already I was tearing my hair out. I’m happy to report we managed to get on the road with nothing forgotten except, of course, every piece of jewelry I own. It wasn’t on the list I finally broke down and wrote. Mr. Clean teased me the entire time we were in Kentucky, saying I left behind my rings so I could look available to all the rich horse farm guys. I didn’t argue. It keeps him on his toes.

Eighteen hours in a truck with Shaggy and Doodlebug resulted in one major accomplishment: I found Patience. Okay, maybe found isn’t the right word. But she did visit me more often than usual before returning to her little cabin in the woods. In other words, I only lost my shit once (or maybe twice) during the entire trip. Seriously, this is just shy of amazing.

Within 30 minutes of our getting on the road, the spawnlings argued. Doodlebug’s pillow was touching Shaggy’s “state line” and the inhabitant of said state warned that a counter-offense would be forthcoming… which of course set the invader into tears because now he had a headache and he was tired and he wanted to lay down and go to sleep. We weren’t even out of our immediate hometown area yet. I seriously considered getting out and walking back home at that point, figuring a week of silence in my own house might be better than going on a trip with those two.

After a couple more backseat Spawnling McBickerfests and four… count ‘em… FOUR pee stops for Doodlebug (in the first Hour), we managed to really get on the road and the DVD babysitter stepped in to produce the blessed sound of silence – punctuated by periodic top-of-the-lungs commentary by Doodlebug, to share what was happening in the movie. Dog help me, but I love DVD players with headphones, except when the wearers decide to talk over the sound in their ears.

Armed with a venti Starbucks and a little James Blunt, I settled into the passenger seat with a sigh. We managed to reach Arkansas before another McBickerfest occurred. By this time, my coffee was drained and apparently Starbucks has not found its way into Arkansas just yet. At least I couldn’t find one (not that it would matter as they close at 10pm – which makes no sense to me as they could make a fortune on top of their fortune from road-trippers like ourselves). Note to self – look up all available Starbucks along the driving route for future trips. Just in case.

Eighteen hours later (we stopped a bunch for Doodlebug’s peanut-sized bladder and then for breakfast), we arrived in Georgetown, KY where Mr. Clean’s cousin, her husband, his other cousin, and her two-year-old met us with open arms and backyard burgers. Yum. I am so thankful Mr. Clean’s cousin loves us enough to open her guest rooms. The money savings pales considerably next to the ability to visit with family we don’t see very often. The boys really had the greatest time staying there. So, after a lovely weekend with them doing nothing more than catching up, the travel fun began.

Monday morning dawned Early and Too Bright at 6:30am. With a groan, I fell out of bed and managed to get everyone ready for a two hour drive to Mammoth Cave. My hair turned Medusa between the house and the truck, our Texas heat and humidity having stowed away with us. I’d left all my tress-taming products at home, under the impression of highs in the lower 80’s and little to no humidity. Heh. The joke was on me. Sort of. In reality, I guess the joke was on everyone else who got to see my hair at its craziest. Gotta love natural curl. *snort*

Mammoth Cave. I love this place. If you ever have a chance to go… GO. The park around the cave is gorgeous, with the occasional wild turkey and deer flitting in and out of the woods as you drive along. That being said… I don’t hope to visit again for a Long Time. We’d chosen our cave tour before leaving Texas, advanced tickets being necessary due to the immense popularity of this place. The tour we chose – the Frozen Niagara – stated that it was 2 hours long with an elevation change of 250 feet. The number of stairs involved was 500, with 200 of those descending. Not too bad. Before embarking on the tour bus, which would take us to the cave entrance, the tour guide had a bit of a spiel – the gist of which was:

  • If you are even slightly claustrophobic, do not go on this tour.

My family looked at me, pointedly. I wrinkled my nose and stuck out my tongue. I only get claustrophobic in Christmas shopping crowds at the mall or mosh pits at concerts. Please.

  • There are a lot of stairs on this tour and if you get down into the cave and have problems, it will take us two hours or more to get your butt back up to the top.

My family looked at me, pointedly. I raised my eyebrows and faked a smile. Having endured a few debilitating ankle injuries, I’m not the most stair happy person – mainly suffering from a fear of re-injury more than my ankles not handling the repetitive movements. But, really… it’s not like we were going to go up or down all of the stairs at once, so not a big deal overall. Their over-dramatized caution was totally unfounded.

  • If you have a fear of heights, you should NOT go on this tour.

My family looked at me, pointedly. I took a deep breath and held back the snarky comments just begging to spew out. It was becoming obvious that my family didn’t think I could handle this tour. Let me just say it for the record – I Am Not Afraid Of Heights. I am afraid of Falling. There is a big difference. It only involves a bit of mind over matter and the keen ability to Not. Look. Down. Ever. I’d be fine. And if I wasn’t, I would FAKE IT (or forever hear it from Shaggy who tends to think it’s humorous to tease me about my vertigo).

To you all, I’ll admit, there was a healthy thread of trepidation spinning itself into a nice wool lump in my throat and my steps became heavier the closer we got.

Upon our arrival at the cave entrance the tour guide stood atop a nearby bench for another spiel on the history of the cave and the new entrance they’d found. It was an old air shaft – very cool. The outside door opened to show a short staircase down to an inside door. The doors could not be opened at the same time. I didn’t catch all of the “why” but the gist of it was it could cause an air imbalance (bringing to my mind a scene from a movie where an underwater pool exploded up to flood the submerged facility). My heart did a little jig but I had a point to prove so I pushed on. The little heart jig, though? A precursor to doom and my gut instinct screaming at me to Go Back! while I had the chance. Ever the one to do things the hard way, I did not listen.

We entered. The door behind us closed. The door before us opened. We trip-trapped down a little catwalk and turned the corner to find:

Skinny, STEEP metal steps with treads, interspersed here and there with catwalks of See-Thru metal mesh – all TWO HUNDRED OF THEM occurring at ONCE! The guide up front informed us with a cheerful voice and what I perceived to be an EVIL smile, that we’d be descending 14 vertical shafts to get to our first location. I swear he looked at me and WINKED. I lost my shit – very quietly, careful to not let anyone see. After a momentary prayer to anyone who would listen (I would have made a deal with the devil at this point), I figured I could do it. I mean, come on… how hard could it possibly be?

I wanted to turn back after the second flight of stairs. Umm, that would be like #30 of 200. If we’d been at the back of the pack, I might have done just that but we were in the middle, meaning there were people behind us pushing forward to ensure there was No Escape. In front of us were three little kids, ages approx 5-8, trailing their Dad (who descended every damn one of those steps with a video camera to his face). Those kids Bounced down the steps, emitting the scent of sugar high in their wake. I was sure one would fall and then trip me. I imagined broken bones and entertained vision of the two hour hauling out process… but kept walking.

Those little metal mesh catwalks – revealed ALL 14 vertical shafts at once. I did not notice this until Shaggy thought it FUN to point it out. And, of course, I looked down. My legs wobbled and I fought the urge to sit on a step, curl up into a little ball and rock back and forth until someone hauled my ass out of there. Hours shmours… get me the hell out of here. Mr. Clean laid his hand on my shoulder and I remembered – Fake It. Prove a Point. I pressed on.

After the first hundred steps, my knees were shaking, making each future step seemingly more precarious as my vertigo began red-lining on the internal meter that measures my ability to stay upright and balanced. And then the walls began to close in. Literally. We had to turn this way or that, many times ducking to avoid knocking ourselves out on low overhangs (and I’m only 5’2”… Mr. Clean is 6’2”). I’m happy to report my claustrophobia does, indeed, only apply to crowds of people. My boobs, however, lost a cup size from being smooshed against the walls so many times.

I don’t recall the last 75 or so steps. I think I went to a very special place. Not a happy place. SO not a happy place but a mind-numbing place of one foot in front of the other, perhaps. We finally emerged into an E-e-e-normous cavern. With BENCHES. Yipppeee! I could sit down. And I did, after slip-sliding up and down a damp slope to reach them. I prayed that this part of the tour would last at least until my legs stopped shaking. It didn’t.

We pressed onwards, and honestly… I don’t recall much. There were more steps. I could give the intimate detail of every step down and every step up. I could describe for a sketch artist every bumpy slope we traversed as my knee/thigh muscles screamed at me with profanities such as I’ve never heard before in my life. The cave itself? I think I missed it, but I have pictures that Mr. Clean took.

It was 54 degrees down there, which was really nice. The boys had a blast. Shaggy decided it was too short and wanted to turn around and hit the 6 hour tour involving helmets, knee pads, and repelling. Obviously, I nixed that idea.

I didn’t walk right for the next few days. I’m still feeling the burn. Lesson learned – Always, ALWAYS check beforehand to find out if the steps occur along the way or all at one stinking time.

Being able to look my guys in the eye when it was all over, stick out my tongue, and Neener, Neener them like there was no tomorrow? Priceless.

EDIT: Part 2 coming soon!

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3 Responses
  1. Deb R Says:

    Dang, there were a LOT of people on that tour! I'd forgotten how many they like to pack in at a time! The other pics are cooooool.

  2. Dancinfairy Says:

    Oh my god I could never have done that!

    It's funny but I just posted on my site about when Vertigo goes wrong and wins and I have to leave the Chili Pepper's concert early.

    You are so cool for making yourself do it!

  3. dragonfly Says:

    Yeah, we had 3 bus loads of people on that tour. They told us the prime place was in front or the middle but I think that's just their way of keeping you from running back the way you came.

    Dancinfairy - I saw that about the Chili Pepper's concert! I felt so bad for Paul... and am right there with him. Upper stadium seats last about 10 minutes before I'm convinced the world is going to tilt me out to fall all the way down to the bottom.