In the spring of 2000, Dudley, our Sunday school teacher for the high-school juniors and seniors, thought that it would be a great idea for our class to experience the “Wild Cave Tour” at Mammoth Cave, the world’s largest cave system located just a couple of hours away from Louisville. The tour was basically six hours of crawling, climbing, and squeezing through tight spots.
At first, Mamaw Ruth and Maw Maw didn’t want me to go on the “Wild Cave Tour” because they thought it was too dangerous for me because of my previous back-surgeries. But my doctors had told me that I could resume all activities, so I talked to Dudley, and Dudley talked to my grandmas, and it was a go.
Seven of us met at the church on a Saturday morning in March to depart for Mammoth Cave. Dudley and Ray were the adults, Lee and Emily were the seniors, and Ashley, Jordan (a girl), and I were the juniors. Lee was the one driving since we were using his van. Not even a mile away from the church, everyone started talking about what they were wearing. Ray took a look at my pants and said, “Joey’s wearing his nice pants.” I’m not sure why, but I never spoke up about how I bought those cheap pants for this particular occasion.
We made it to Mammoth Cave with no problems. When we got out of the van and started getting our things together, Ray noticed a huge bag of Lay’s potato chips in the back of the van and said something like, “Who’s big, honkin’ bag of chips is this?” Maw Maw told me to bring that bag of chips. I knew that we were supposed to pack ourselves a small lunch that we could carry through the cave, but I figured that maybe Maw Maw had heard something that I didn’t. And I figured that if we didn’t change lunch plans, then I could just leave them behind. But Ray walked me to the cafeteria to get a sandwich bag to put some potato chips into. The pants that I was wearing had many pockets, so those are where I packed my sandwich and chips.
Dudley and Ray took some pictures of our group by the van before we headed over to meet some more people that were going on the “Wild Cave Tour” and our tour guides, who gave us our helmets with the lamps attached. We were driven by bus to the cave entrance where we walked down a flight of stairs and introduced ourselves. Everyone was mentioning where they lived, worked, and/or went to school. Being the shy guy I was at the time, I got nervous and somewhat mentioned that the group that I came with was from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Louisville. I know that’s not something to be ashamed of, but I immediately felt everyone’s eyes on me and I gave Ray a now-you-say-words look. I could’ve just mentioned that I had pushed rows and rows of carts for many hours at a Target store and I was prepared to do some serious cavin’! So after Ray finished explaining that our group was some of the juniors and seniors from our youth group at church, serious cavin’ was what we got down to.
The tour started off good. We did some crawling and squeezed into an empty room. I think I remember someone spending a few minutes with their behind wedged in the hole, but if something like that had happened, I’m surprised that I don’t remember the details. I’m not sure if it was that first room or a room further down the tour, but when our tour guides shut off the lights so that everyone could hear how quiet the cave was at that depth, the girls snickered and whispered. Another lady in the tour was getting irritated and told them, “Shhh! I want to hear the quietness of the cave!” That poor lady would’ve deserved a gold metal if she could have gotten those girls to “shhh!” When the lights came back on, she immediately asked the tour guides, “Can we do it again, please?!”
About half-way through the tour, we stopped for lunch in the underground cafeteria. The reason that we had to bring our own lunches is because we were told that the cafeteria may be closed. But the cafeteria was open and hot veggie-soup was being served, which sounded mighty good to most of us. I bought some soup and a drink and sat down at a table with Ray, Dudley, and I think Lee was also sitting at that table. When we unpacked our lunches, I was surprised to find that my sandwich that I’d been carrying in my pants pocket looked almost as it did when it left the cutting board that morning. Ray took a smashed-up sandwich out of his lunch bag. That must be what happens when you talk about someone’s “nice pants” and “big, honkin’ bag of chips.”
While we had our lunch, Ray told us about the time that he and his family went to Disney World and he helped a young man fix his car in the rain at night. That young man told Ray to bring his kids, Ben and Josh, back to Disney World the next day so that he could repay Ray by drawing a portrait of them.
After lunch, we started the second half of our tour. The girls continued to giggle and laugh, and they seemed to be very amused by the “rat poopies.” I’ll bet they were really getting on that lady’s nerves. Lee seemed to be on a constant lookout for our female tour-guide, who popping up in strange places.
Then we came to the part of the cave tour where we had to walk through a mile-long tunnel. The ceiling was low and there were a few inches of water on the floor, so we were walking in a crouched-down position. I began to feel very claustrophobic. The MRI tunnel at the hospital was actually the first thing that popped into my mind… right after the thought of blubbering like a baby right there in front of everybody.
The only differences that that particular tunnel along the cave tour had from the MRI tunnel was that it was way more damp and muddier, there was a bit more freedom to move, and if I had wanted to back out for any reason, there wasn’t a little button to push to call in a technician. And the six hours that we spent on that cave tour was probably less than the total time that I spent in that MRI tunnel.
But I just took a few deep-breaths and shook off the bad feelings. I was having major fun up to that point, and there was no telling when or if I’d get to do something like that again!
We did some more crawling and climbing after we finally got out of that tunnel. We were then shown a room that was shaped like a cylinder, which had a deep drop and there may have been an opening somewhere at the top. Our male tour-guide told us that whenever there was bad weather outside, the wind speeds inside of that room reached the wind speeds of a tornado. So I guess if someone’s mother had been there to say, “This room looks like it was hit by a tornado!” she would have been closer than she ever imagined, huh?
Then we passed through an area with large rocks hanging out of the ceiling at about head-level. We were told by the tour guides to warn the person behind us of an upcoming rock. I was walking along when I heard, Clonk! Following that was the scraping of plastic against a rock and Ray yelling, “Aaahh!” Ray had the misfortune of following me, the shortest person in the group at almost five-foot-four-inches tall. I missed a rock and all I can say is, “Thank God for plastics!”
As we neared the end of the “Wild Cave Tour,” we crawled up a slope of rocks to a path that I recall from the previous year when the whole Youth Group went on a tour where we simply walked through a part of Mammoth Cave. When we exited out into the open, we returned our lamps and we were given the helmets as souvenirs. Dudley and Ray took some final pictures at the van before Emily took off her overalls to reveal that she had on a clean set of clothes underneath of them. The rest of us Pig-Pens dirtied up Lee’s van. I offered to help Lee clean it out the next day, but he insisted that he do it on his own.
Ray got one last opportunity to get even with me when we stopped for dinner at Wendy’s. I was very hungry along with us being in a rush, so I ordered a double-cheeseburger meal, or so I thought. I must’ve told the kid at the counter the wrong number on the menu because what came to me was a triple-cheeseburger meal that probably equaled the size of that rock that connected with Ray’s helmet back at the cave. When I walked over to the some of our group that had already purchased their food, Ray asked me, “Wow, did they give you the whole thing???” I’ll just tell you that I got that whole burger down without wasting my three-dollars-and-something-cents and only a mid-major belly-ache.
But I guess I got the last laugh when I was the only person that participated in the “Wild Cave Tour” who wasn’t belly-aching about my sore body the whole way though Sunday school the next day. I guess pushing rows and rows of carts for many hours at a Target store prepared me to do some serious cavin’, after all!