Day 2 & 3: Mammoth Cave and some Nashville on the side.
Yesterday had a much better start than day 1. I woke up at 4am excited for the trip, and was unable to fall asleep so I eventually got up around 5:30. The timing was perfect to say goodbye to my dad before he went to work. I then showered, packed up my clothes and other items into the car, had a quick breakfast with my mom, and hit the road around 6:30.
The drive to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is about 6.5 hours, but it went by really quickly. Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world, but my tour was not until the next morning. So once I got there, I went to the visitor center, grabbed a trail map, and hiked around for a couple of hours. I got some really good video footage for the movie, particularly at Sunset point.
At that point it was getting late and I decided to get some dinner at a local Mexican restaurant before going to the campsite and setting up the tent on top of the car. Once I got parked at my campsite, I started to unload my car, and at that point my heart dropped...
My mountain bike is strapped to the back of my car on a carrier. At some point during the day, someone must have backed into my car, hitting the carrier (and possibly bike) and it forced the bike carrier into the rear panel of my car (see picture here). There is now a hole in the back of my Forester and I had no idea what to do. I took the bike off the carrier and inspected it. I then took a picture and texted it to my friend Matt, a bike fanatic. He was shocked and decided that there was no way it happened due to the bike vibrating, someone must have hit me.
Keeping the carrier on the back of the car was not a possibility in its current state. The rear panel was compromised and there was no way I could travel for 11 weeks without risking an accident. Matt came up with a few options. One, go to UHaul and get a hitch installed and then by a bike carrier that fits into a hitch. I knew this would cost $500+, so that was not an option. The next best options we came up with is shipping the bike home when Nashville, or donating the bike in Nashville (which was my stop the next day).
I tried to forget the dilemma with the bike, and decided I would handle it once I got to Nashville. I unfolded my tent on top of my car, opened up the book American Gods, read a chapter, and eventually fell asleep. I am glad to say, my first night camping in my tent went well. The tent was very comfortable (except being a little hot early in the evening) and I got a good nights sleep.
When I woke in the morning, I knew I would not be taking the bike with me for the next 11 weeks so I was determined to use it at least once on the trip. There was a bike trail next to my campsite, so I went for a 30 minute ride before coming back to pack up my tent. I also took the wheels off the bike and managed to fit the bike frame and wheels on top of all of my other gear in the back of the car. Once I was packed, it was close to 9am which is when my tour of the cave started, and I drove to the visitor center.
Mammoth cave is incredible. The known size is over 400 miles long, and 70% of our 2 hour tour had areas where I could fully stand up. Many areas had huge open ceilings dozens of feet high. The sheer scale of the cave is amazing, and artifacts inside left by native Americans have been dated from 5,000 years ago. I highly recommend people visit to see the largest cave system in the world and learn more about our world and America's history.
After the tour, I googled bike shops in Nashville and decided to drive to the shop closest to my AirBnB. The bike shop is called Halcyon Bike Shop and I spoke to a really cool guy named Mikey. I explained my situation with the bike, and asked if they had a bike box I could have or buy so I could ship the bike home. He looked in back, and said they didn't have any, and even if he did, the shop needed them as well. I then asked about charities in Nashville, and he told me about the Oasis Bike Workshop which accepts bike donations and teaches at risk youth how to do bike maintenance and then provides the kids with bikes. After calling other shops and finding out shipping my bike home would be $200+ (money I did not want to spend since I also have a new car repair bill in the future), I decided to donate the bike.
The last 36 hour have been a bit hectic and crazy. I truly hope the rest of the trip will go much smoother... As I part, I recall one more memory from the last day. When I arrived at Mammoth, I took a picture at the park's entrance sign. There I met a lovely couple who chatted with me about my trip and my plans. They also visited a lot of national parks and Nashville, so they gave me some pointers. The husband though gave me some great advice from one introvert to another: life is better when you talk to strangers. As an introvert, this will be hard for me, but I am going to do my best to meet new people on this trip.