Caves, Beams and Directions

What was I thinking?  Since I had to revise my trip north and not stop in Evansville Indiana, how did I neglect to see I would be driving through Kentucky’s Bourbon Country?  It didn’t dawn on me as I passed exits for Bowling Green, home to Corsair, one of the biggest and most innovative distillers in the country.  But what can I say?  I am drawn to Mammoth Cave National Park, and just have to stop.

This awe inspiring park is home to over 400 miles of cave passageways and is the largest known cave IN THE WORLD!  There isn’t time to take the official tour I’m interested in, but I can look around, learn, and plan for a return trip.  There are over a dozen guided tours ranging from ‘Easy’ to ‘Very Strenuous’ in difficulty, and can take from half an hour to 7 hours to complete. The one I want to go on is the Grand Avenue Tour, where you get a big work out while going up and down hills and climb 670 stairs for 5 ½ hours. There’s even a lunch break. Definitely the Wild Cave Tour sounds crazy cool too;  almost 7 hours of very strenuous crawling around in the dark, squeezing through crawlspaces that require your girth not to exceed 42 inches, to see some of the wildest areas of the cave system that few people ever get to see.  This tour requires special clothing and decontamination procedures. Actually, all of the tours, sound uniquely amazing.

The park was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1981. 1n 1990 it became a core piece of an International Biosphere Reserve.  Kind of like that movie Biodome–the connection between human beings and their environment; hmmm, do they study us in those caves?  There are strict regulations and decontamination procedures for entering and exiting the caves, to help prevent the spread of White-Nose Syndrome, a fungus that has destroyed over a million bats on the East side of the country.  It’s made very clear that these tours are not to be taken lightly, participants must give strong consideration to what their limitations may be, prior to choosing and taking a tour.  Good advice.  Mammoth Cave Park will be seeing me again, perhaps soon.  I grab some brochures and get back to the road north.

 

Wait–what’s that?  Jim Beam?

I am able to salvage just enough time to visit the brand new Jim Beam facility and take the tour.  It’s probably a good thing I only have time for one stop.  I can’t imagine doing the whole Bourbon Country Tour with the Toy Hauler, or I’d be parking in a field overnight, taking a nap!  I pull in and park in the only place I am confident I can get in and out of, a vacant parking lot behind the distillery.  I visited the old Jim Beam several years ago, when in Louisville on business, but it was a Sunday and because it was located in a “dry county” they didn’t serve tastes when I was there.

Things have certainly changed for the Jim Beam of today– what a nice facility!  Just stepping into the tasting room is downright dangerous. So many smooth-as-silk bourbons. Digital card reading bourbon dispenser kiosks strategically positioned around the room keep a tight lid on quantity of consumption, so that’s a good thing.  There’s no control measure in the retail store, however. That quickly becomes my downfall as I literally fill my shopping basket with tasty bourbon chocolate treats, stemware and of course—great bourbons!  I shuffle away with heavy bags of goodies and have lunch on the lawn behind the distillery with the dogs.

Determined to not make any more tourist stops, I deadhead north towards Peru pausing only for fuel and bathroom breaks, and hit Indianapolis at almost 11:00 pm.  My GPS is telling me to take the next exit to reach highway 30, so I do.  I am brought through a scary looking 30 mph industrial district with pot hole laden roads and I begin to worry.  Trust the GPS, it’s never been wrong yet.

My first clue is the neighborhood has become a run-down residential strip.  The bigger clue is the tall dark shape up ahead a few blocks that looks just like a bridge over the road.  A low bridge.  Two blocks from that bridge I can finally read the sign;

 

“Clearance 10’4.”

 

“Um, I’m not going to make that.” I say out loud. 

 

What do I do with my 12’6”?  I stop right there in the road, and look at my options.  Turning right appears to be my only option, so I do.  Now I am driving down a pot hole laden side street, void of any street lights, heavily lined with big trees creating a low canopy over the road, and cars parked all along both sides, making it impossible for two vehicles to pass, or me to hardly squeeze through.  I look off to the sides and see rows of run down houses and silhouettes wandering around in the yards, looming around in the dark.

I have a really bad feeling about this. I make it down that narrow street to a T in the road, and turn right again.  I feel like I’ve left part of my Toy Hauler back there. Possibly my nerves, too.  I also feel like if I slow down, I’ll lose even more of both.  I arrive to a better lit main street. It looks randomly familiar.  I re-start the GPS for new instructions. 

What???  NOOOOOoooooooo!  I am directed back to the same route! I am tired. I am very tired.  It is the middle of the night.  I need to get to hiway 30 and there only seems to be one way to do it, yet, this cannot possibly be the way.  I am scared.  I pull into a vacant business parking lot to examine my Indiana map.  Creepy figures are hovering across the street.  I give up, I can’t do this in the dark. I’m turning around. 

I punch in coordinates to Jim Beam, and my GPS directs me back onto the highway heading south, approaching an exit just outside the city, offering both a Pilot and a Flying J station.  I choose Flying J, and proceed down the exit ramp and over to the station entrance. I drive directly to where the semi trucks are parked, only to discover an absolute sea of trucks.  Rows and rows of tightly parked trucks, a few open spots, and narrow lanes between the rows.  I’m in no shape to try to back into a narrow open spot, so I continue toward the back, hoping for a wider area to work with.  No luck. What was that sign?  Pay per night?  That doesn’t seem right.  I have a really bad feeling about this.  I try to swing around and head back out.  A figure steps out of the dark and approaches my driver side. 

“Is this the Flying J overnight lot?” I crack my window and ask the skinny, greasy gray hair guy standing outside my truck.

“You don’t wanna park there, those guys will clip your rig. This is contract and thirty dollars a night.”

“I have to pay to park here?”

“Thirty dollars, cash. Now.” He takes a long drag off his cigarette.

“You know, I think I’ll just keep driving for now.  Thanks.” I manage to squeak out. I slowly maneuver out of that creepy lot.

Rattled, and trying so hard to keep it together, I cross the underpass and head over to the Pilot Station.  It is well lit, and not scary looking at all. I pull in, park next to a Canadian coach, and go into the building to use the facilities.  I usher the dogs out to pee, and we all crawl into the camper to get some sleep. Tomorrow we will start over.  The folks at the Pilot may be able to help me.

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