Monday 22nd September. Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Two state lines and another time zone, but let's start at the beginning...
Saturday, Glenn and I finished replacing the handrail on their stairs. He and Shirley had some business to attend to, so left me to catch up on my 'work'. I decided I'd head north the next day, at least as far as Mammoth Caves National Park in Kentucky. It wasn't going to be easy to leave Harmony Hills, but I had more adventures ahead of me.
Glenn and Shirley didn't get home till the evening, and after dinner Glenn asked if I'd like to go to the races; stock car races that is. "Sure!"I couldn't have imagined how loud those cars would be. They were deafening! There were all different classes of vehicles, from tiny miniature cars that drivers climbed into through the roof, to full sized Nascar type cars. The racing was fierce and we witnessed a couple of decent spills. I took dozens of photos but most of them turned out to be just a blur.
Sunday morning, Shirley cooked Glenn and I his favourite breakfast- scrambled eggs and salt cured country ham. Phew, salty....but nice, and of course accompanied by the ever present biscuits, which I've come to love! *for those Australians out there, 'biscuits' are not the same as what we call biscuits. You just gotta try 'em* Initially, I'd hoped Glenn and Shirley would give me a lift to the interstate so I could hitch to Kentucky, but they decided to have a look at Mammoth Caves as well. At least that was their excuse to drive me all the way up there. Thanks guys.
Mammoth caves is a huge network of limestone caves, hundreds of feet underground. Three hundred and fifty miles of caves have been surveyed in the National Park so far, and geologists believe there could be up to a thousand miles in total. What caught my attention was the 'wild caves' tour they run, six hours of crawling and squeezing through cracks and crevices. It's classified as 'very strenuous' and you must be less than forty-two inches around- chest or hips- in order to sign up for the tour. That sounded cool.
Of course, just my luck that they've switched to their fall schedule, and now only run the 'wild caves' tour on weekends. I was too late for Sunday's tour. Damn. As a second option, I signed up for Monday's four and a half hour 'Grand Avenue' tour, a less strenuous and less exciting walk through four miles of cave. I bid goodbye to Glenn and Shirley and set off in search of a good place to sleep. About two miles from the visitor's centre, there was a spring that fed a small creek. There'd have to be some nice spots if I followed the creek. Well, not exactly...
The upper banks of the creek were covered in thick vegetation. The vegetation was of three major types; prickly, thorny and itchy. The lower banks, close to the trickling stream, were slick and treacherous. With my backpack on my back, and the laptop strapped to my chest, and my waterbag in one hand, I hit the deck several times before having the sense to clamber up a fallen log to the relative safety of the thorns and nettles. A mile or so further along, I came across another spring. The air was almost pure moisture, my singlet was wringing with sweat and I was covered in mud from sliding down the greasy clay. I stopped at the spring to clean off the mud and freshen up before bedtime.
On the slope overlooking the spring, there was a rocky outcrop. Amongst all the boulders, I found a relatively flat rock that was covered in thick moss. Between the moss, my sleeping mat, and sleeping bag, that rock felt like a feather mattress. *kind of*
There were still a few hours till nightfall, so I stretched out on my rock and waited for the sunset. The air was still warm; except for a few pesky mosquitos, I was comfortable without a shirt until well after dark. Just as I was dozing off to sleep, my thoughts turned to wildlife. *not in a kinky way* What sort of beasties should I be worried about, lying here in the forest? Insects and such didn't really pose a great threat, but what about predators? Surely, there wouldn't be bears or wolves or alligators, but what about coyotes? And I swear just at that moment, as the word 'coyote' passed through my mind, a pack of coyotes burst into song not more than a hundred feet away, screeching and howling. Crap!
I figured that over the years, coyotes have learnt to instinctively avoid humans- they'd be stupid not to have. Then I remembered Glenn telling me that the mongrel things usually hunt in packs of six or eight and will sometimes have a go at a full grown cow. Double crap! I was much smaller than a cow, and lying on the ground with just my head protruding from the sleeping bag, I would've seemed like an easy snack for half a dozen hungry dogs. I tried to ignore it and get to sleep, but I couldn't get that tune out of my head.
'Road runner, coyote's after you,
Road runner, if he catches you, you're through'
Sleep was fitful and light over the next couple of hours. Every rustling noise was a band of slavering carnivores. Every light breeze was the hot breath that would signal my grisly end. And could someone please tell that owl to shut up. I thought I liked owls until then, especially the ones at Hooters!
Finally, the decision to move was made for me. About nine-thirty, the first few drops of rain fell on my face. A down sleeping bag is no good in the wet, and this didn't feel like any passing shower. I packed as quickly as I could, and set off for the security of the visitor's centre, relieved that the rain had given me an excuse to escape the clutches of the waiting coyotes. Earlier in the day, I'd seen an old train engine and carriage on display in the grounds near the visitor's centre. Even if I had to sleep under the train, at least it'd be dry. I'd just have to make sure no-one saw me. Luckily, the train wasn't even locked, so I crawled inside the carriage, stretched out on the floor, and had eight hours of blissful slumber as the heavy rain pounded on the roof.
The next morning, I crept out into the daylight and made a beeline for the cafe. I was starving! All I'd eaten since yesterday's breakfast was a small Hershey bar. There were a few hours to spare before my cave tour, so after breakfast, the waitress let me set up my laptop in the corner and I put my time to good use. Finally, I started to write references for the GlobalFreeloadershosts who I've stayed with so far. It's something I'd meant to keep up to date with as I travel, but it had just got away on me. To those concerned, give me a day or two and your references will be online.
The cave tour itself was very interesting, if not the extreme adventure I'd been hoping for. Mostly, the caves were quite wide but there were a few places that a fat bastard like Cosmo couldn't have fitted through. Around halfway through the tour, we stopped for lunch at the underground dining room, 260 odd feet below the surface. That felt a bit strange!
When our guide Charlie said it was our last chance for questions, I piped up. "Yeah, I've got a question. Is anyone driving north straight after this tour, cause I could really use a ride to Louisville or thereabouts". Deathly silence. "Thank you so much" I said, with a trace of sarcasm. It was impossible that not one person from this large group would be heading north. On the way out, a young guy approached me and said that he could take me sixty miles north to Elizabethtown. Cool, Louisville was only another half an hour or so up the road.
HAPPY 3RD ANNIVERSARY JOSH AND AMANDA FOR TOMORROW!!
Half an hour after Josh and Amanda left me, I was riding north in a semi trailer driven by Jack, a veteran truck driver of several decades. He was headed for Detroit, which took him through Louisville and also Cincinatti. While Jack mumbled incomprehensibly on the squealing sputtering CB radio, I got to thinking. I hadn't been able to check my emails for a while and at last check there'd been no response from my potential host in Louisville. What if I got out in Louisville, checked my emails and there was still no response? I decided to ride with Jack to Cincinnati. Erin, my host there had given me her phone number and I was hoping she wouldn't mind me calling her a day early.
Of course, I misread the sign and made poor old Jack skid his semi trailer to a halt at exit 1H instead of exit 10. I scurried across the motorway, and climbed a couple of fences to get into downtown Cincinatti. It was 8:30 p.m. - a respectable time to be calling someone, I thought. There was no answer at Erin's, so I did what any man would do. I found the nearest bar, ordered a pint and struck up a conversation. Before I knew it, I'd been chatting for two hours *yes, she was very cute* and I hadn't called Erin back. This time she answered straight away- she'd been waiting for my call- and said she'd come and pick me up.