DAY SEVEN The word you’re looking for is AGONY.
Friday morning was another early day. We had about eight hours of driving in front of us, but more importantly, we had tickets to tour Mammoth Cave about two hours in at 11:30 a.m. Thankfully, we arrived with about an hour to spare before our tour started. We browsed around the visitor shop and bought our souvenirs, then wandered across a foot bridge to snarf down some ice cream before the great descent.
We have been in a few caves, some several times, including Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, and the other day, Ozark Caverns, but this was something completely different. The room they collected our tickets in could have been used to play football in. The enormity of it didn’t quite register with my brain, and I falsely told the boys that this section had been mined out. Nope. Just a gigantic cave room. Jason commented, “you could build an airplane in here. You wouldn’t be able to get it out, but you could build it.”
Not only was the cave unfathomable but our tour guide was something special in his own right. Almost immediately Jason looked at me and said, “I love when we get Vicki.” I nearly died. But he was right. If you have seen “So I Married An Axe Murderer” with Mike Meyers, think of the Alcatraz tour guide—that voice and strange cadence are what we had going on. For the rest of you, why haven’t you seen “So I Married An Axe Murderer”?
Anyway, our guide’s real name was Jerry, and as we walked through the cave, he told the story of two slave brothers who were forced to give guided tours to the extremely wealthy. When we stopped, Jerry gave impassioned accounts of the two young men as they grew up giving tours of Mammoth. In the end, we learned that the men were Jerry’s great-great-grandfather and distant uncle. Jerry was a fifth-generation Mammoth Cave tour guide and was relaying his family history to us. Simply amazing.
Now, something less amazing. It seemed we were stuck ahead of a little boy of maybe four or five, his slightly older sister, and their grandparents. At first, the little boy’s questions and comments were cute, but this was a two-hour walking tour, and soon enough his voice might as well have been a crow cawing continuously. Although, at some point, I’m sure the crow would have gone hoarse. Not this kid. He was a classic case of silence rejection. No more than several seconds passed before he was repeating the same things over, and over, and over, and over.
At the beginning of the tour and one stopping point Jerry mentioned that we would be going through areas known as Tall Man’s Agony and Fat Man’s Misery. This was what the bulk of Chatterbox’s conversations comprised of: “Is this tall man’s misery? I think we just passed the fat man’s part. Was it tall man’s misery or fat man’s misery? Which one was the tall man’s name?” At one point, we were single file in the claustrophobic Fat Man’s Misery section, and Chatterbox was on an unusually long streak of asking about the tall man’s area, “It was tall man’s what? Tall Man’s… What was it?” and without skipping a beat, my sweet, reserved Lucas yelled from the middle of our family, “AGONY.” Yep. It sure was.
After the spectacular Mammoth Cave tour, we hit the road again toward Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains. By the time we reached the 12 mile stretch of road that led to our camping area, it was almost dark, and our GPS was telling us that we still had 45 minutes of drive time. UGH. The road was just a 12-mile string of varying sized S and hairpin turns. By the time we filled water and got to our spot, it was 10:00 p.m.
Setting up in the dark in an unknown area is not ideal. But this particular spot was down -right agony. I tried to talk Jason back into the spot for about a half an hour with zero success. It was a narrow pad, with concrete barriers on both sides, which were just high enough to clip off the stabilizing jacks. It was the scene out of Austin Powers where he gets his golf cart stuck between two walls and went forward and backward in two-inch increments. Good times. Thankfully, some nice guys took pity on us and came down to help. It took the three of them directing Jason another half an hour to finally get into the spot.
Day seven was brought to you by the letter A for Agony.