Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tuesday Travels: The Allure of Caves

Earlier this afternoon, Dan and I boarded the Tall Ship Manitou, an impressive replica of a 19th-century “coasting” cargo schooner. Despite the overcast sky, it was a lovely cruise. The constant breeze kept us cool as we sailed across Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan, and I even had the chance to take the wheel and veer the huge sailboat away from the coastline, which was thrilling!

During the two-hour voyage, Dan and I went below deck and toured the galley and sleeping quarters. The galley was more spacious than I would have imagined, but the bedrooms were truly the tiniest I’ve ever seen. Each chamber had only enough room for a bunk bed, below which was stored several life jackets, and a side table. I, for one, loved the cramped quarters – I’ve always appreciated such coziness, which might explain why I’m so enamored of RV travel. But a fellow traveler on board the Manitou was so claustrophic that she wouldn’t even venture down the ladder for a quick look.

Fascinated by her fear, I asked her if she’d ever been inside a cave. “Yes,” she admitted, then began to describe a long-ago family trip to Mammoth Cave in southern Kentucky. And, suddenly, my ears perked up. Mammoth Cave? The Mammoth Cave?

Immediately, I shared my own adventures in that amazing underworld, which is indeed the longest known cave system on Earth – and the main inspiration for my novel, Hollow Souls. Nine years ago, Dan and I took a three-hour tour through that wondrous place – and we’ve never forgotten the awe we felt, crawling through such tight spaces and experiencing the blackest darkness we’ve ever known. That encounter inspired me so much that I even mentioned it in a recent “American Nomad” post.

Although I fully acknowledge that there are folks who despise such underground entities – particularly claustrophobes and nyctophobes – I absolutely adore them, and I’m certainly not alone. Spelunkers venture all around the world to explore well-known caves and discover new ones. While I’m no expert like them, I do find caves utterly fascinating – and I think part of the allure lies in the fact that caves represent the last frontier on this well-traversed globe. The last chance to venture into a place that no man – or woman – has gone before - without ever having to leave Earth's atmosphere.


Steph Damore said...

Hey Laura,
Dom and I are taking a road trip down south in a couple of months and we were planning on stopping in Kentucky on our way back for a night or two. At first we weren't exactly sure what we wanted to do (well, besides trek along the Bourbon tour) - but thanks to your post I think I know just the place to visit. Looks like Mammoth Cave has some excellent fall tours - can't wait to check one out.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Steph! Wow, that's awesome. You should totally visit Mammoth Cave on your return trip - it really is an amazing place, and the park offers so many incredible tours. My favorite was the Intro to Caving Tour - a terrific way to experience the caves. Oh, I can't wait to hear all about it!