Ah yes, the ol’ weekend away with coworkers. Was I nervous? Yes. Not only did I hardly know any of my fellow Outing Club adventurers since I had just started at DMC when we were putting together the expedition, but I was also completely scared of the Wild Cave Tour that we were signing up for. With a quick Google Images search, I saw that the tight squeezes on the expedition were insane. The tour requires that all cave goers not have a chest or hip measurement exceeding 42 inches so that they can fit through the snug spaces within the cave. Plus, for anyone who is claustrophobic, this is your worst nightmare.
I was terrified! I was pumped! I decided, though, that this was an opportunity that I could not pass up, especially given that this was a DMC Activity Fund sponsored event.
The weekend came and the 14 of us packed up our cars and took the seven hour journey to Kentucky to explore Mammoth Cave National Park. Despite the below freezing temperatures that kept me up both nights, the camping was perfect. Thankfully, we had some amazing chefs in our crew that knew how to use our fire pit to create delectable meals.
The actual Wild Cave Tour was truly one of the coolest things that I’ve ever experienced. With more than 400 miles of interconnected passages, Mammoth Cave is known to be the longest cave system in the world. We were 300 feet underground for six hours and walked over five miles through the caves. It was a far cry from a coffee shop in Chicago where I’d probably otherwise be if I hadn’t taken this trip.
Entering the cave was amazingly beautiful. Trekking through the small spaces was incredible. The fear that I had going into the trip melted away through each passing challenge, as I was supported and encouraged by everyone in our group, including our two incredible tour guides. We crawled, we hiked, we shimmied, we climbed, we contorted, we dragged, we pulled, we squeezed, and we even body-rolled at one point. We saw bats, cave crickets, stalactites, stalagmites, waterfalls, and smoke writing. We were cavers!
One of the coolest parts of the tour for me was when we all turned off our headlamps. The utter pitch black darkness in that moment was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. We were all asked to then turn our lights on and look straight up. In that moment, we were greeted by the Cathedral Dome, a clearing in the cave almost 200 feet high. Absolute beauty.
And as if that wasn’t enough for an amazing weekend, we stopped at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky on the way home, tasting mash straight from the giant barrel and hand dipping our bourbon bottles in the signature red wax ourselves.
All in all, it was a super fun weekend with my new DMC friends!