Day 3 We woke to the pitter patter of rain on the canvas and birds chirping in the trees around us. I rolled over and smiled, realizing that we had spent our first true night on the trip. It was still chilly and I slipped out of bed and began to think about how grateful I am to be in in this moment. Mammoth Cave National Park was the first stop on our way westward.
A trip to the visitors center taught us about the 400+ miles of caves that lay underneath our feet. Not even close to being completely discovered, these underground caverns are federally protected and monitored closely (although we met some locals who claim it’s easy to sneak in). We were excited to climb underground and see how big the caves really were. As we twisted through the paths and followed our tour guide, I thought about how we would ever find our way out if all the light bulbs suddenly went out. We found ourselves standing in “rooms” that were a few acres big, all hundreds of feet underground. On the tours, we learned about the history of the caves and all the different expeditions that were taken here over the past century. Although the caves predate that, there hasn’t been too much evidence about other people living inside the massive system.
The Waiting Game
Although we had a lot of fun exploring Mammoth Caves, we were both itching to continue west towards Colorado. We happened to be stuck in a campsite with no way to get the car started again, and nowhere to get her fixed since our side-of-the-road fix was only temporary. We spent a day or two hanging around our campsite. I pretended I could play more than one tune on my ukulele while Conrad played cards. The next day, we trudged along a trail that had an overlook of the Green River (I fell into a 3 foot mud pit). One morning was lucky when the bus started without trouble. Luckily, my friend’s uncle was nice enough to open his home to us. When the evening air was finally cool, we headed north for Louisville, KY.
We were lucky enough to stay with a wonderful family who fed us (even vegan meatballs for me) while everyone got to know each other. Although our stay with these strangers was short, we felt at home for a night. We were on the road again by morning to get some advice from a local VW mechanic. He thought our electrical tape method was working quite well and gave his blessing to continue west towards Colorado. Our time in Kentucky showed me that Southern hospitality is real, because everyone we met showed us kindness and grace.
The Great Plains
We spent the rest of that day covering lots of ground (and corn) as we passed through Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. I was amazed that our country can actually grow that much corn! We cruised through these states with no plans of stopping soon. The bus had other ideas, because we ended up pulling off at the last exit in Indiana, which offered a gas station from the 1950s. We ended up doing another surprise oil change as we waited for the sun to go down and the heat to break. Once we finally hit the road again, it seemed like we were chasing the sun as she was setting in front of us.
As we neared St. Louis around midnight, we had planned to stop at a nearby state park for the night. We took our exit and followed the GPS down a dark dirt road in the middle of farm land.
“This doesn’t seem right.. I told you to use Google Maps instead”
“Let’s just keep going”
Well, Conrad was right. The GPS had said we arrived, just as we approached a sign that claimed the road was closed. Our hearts sank as we realized we had to find somewhere to get some sleep, and this back road had a creepy vibe.
“Walmart it is.”
Well that was another adventure as we tried to navigate around the city. The GPS took us in circles because all the highways crossed over each other. At about 1 am we finally found the Walmart, which allows overnight RV parking. As luck would have it, it happened to be undergoing construction in the parking lot. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night.
We were exhausted and cranky as we tried to settle in for the night, but I looked forward to the next day when we would cross into Kansas – one state closer to Colorado.