Lost Sea: the Good, the Bad, and the Dirty

IMG_8659Last weekend we had the opportunity to take our oldest sons on a Wild Cave Tour of the Lost Sea Cave with our Boy Scout Troop. This cave is part of Craighead Caverns in Tennessee and contains the second-largest underground lake in the world. The “Wild Cave” option is available to groups and includes an overnight stay in the cave, access to more adventurous exploring, and entrance (and exit) through the “natural entrance.”

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Our group check-in time was 6:00 PM at the gift shop. We bought our boys Wild Cave Tour patches. (Scouts tend to collect a lot of patches for special events.) We opted out of the dinner and breakfast add-ons and had arrived already fed–and ready to get dirty! Day visitors enter through a bright yellow tunnel in the gift shop. Our group received the “wild cave” portion of the trip and had to pack all of our overnight gear down almost 150 “natural stone steps.” (This means they were uneven, wet, and lacked a hand-railing.)

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We set our stuff down at the camp site at the bottom of the stairs and headed out to explore the cave with our young guide. For the next few hours, we were given the opportunity to complete various crawls within the cave. All were optional. There were always walk-around  paths for each section. This was great for the adults (and some kids) who were not comfortable with tight spaces, didn’t want to get extra dirty, or weren’t physically up to the challenge. I had done a bit of “spelunking” in college, so I was excited to try the crawls. I ended up backing out of the first one because I watched the dad in front of me squeeze through and decided my hips were NOT going to fit. The others I was able to finish, though. My husband, Kevin, is not a huge fan of tight spaces and chose to walk around. Many of the adults (and several kids) in our group picked this option and it was perfectly fine. My favorite part of the tour was the boat ride on the underground lake. Our whole group got in a simple metal boat and floated out on the lake. We could see enormous rainbow trout swimming around us.

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When we got back to the camp area it was after 9:00 PM. I took a trip to the port-a-potty and washed my face and arms with baby wipes as best as I could. One dad remembered his trip to the cave from 30 years ago and recalled wanting a chair afterwards…so he had packed a camp chair with him down into the cave. SO SMART! The adults were so ready to sit down by this point, but the only option for most of us was the hard cave floor. We spread out a large tarp for our family and arranged our sleeping bags and gear. The boys, never out of energy, took the opportunity to run up (and slide back down) a mud hill at the sleeping area–because you can never be dirty enough, right?

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I was exhausted. I wiggled my dirty body down into my warm sleeping bag. (The cave is in the 50s year-round.) I decided to let the dads handle the clean up and bedtime wrangling. It was a very rough night. I don’t like sleeping on the ground anyway, but this floor was really rough. By 5:00 AM, I was nearly desperate to be off of the ground and into daylight. I awakened two hours before our official wakeup time nearly choking to see daylight. It was a very oppressive feeling for me. Kevin told me later that it was what he imagined Hell would be like–void of God’s light. We did NOT enjoy waking up in that darkness and then feeling trapped until someone else decided it was time for us to leave. It was very unsettling for us.

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The guide’s alarm went off at 6:50 AM. By that time, I had been reading a book on my cell phone for nearly two hours cuddled down in my bag on the hard ground in total darkness. I nearly shouted with joy! It took awhile, though, to get all of the gear packed up. The scouts then systematically swept the camping area for trash and we headed back up the the precarious, wet steps. By this time, I knew that there was an easier way out of the cave–up that bright yellow tunnel. I was rather grumbly about the steps. The men told me that the other exit was for Girl Scouts. I decided that the Girl Scouts must have a smarter system, then. Why in the world would anyone choose to walk up 150 wet stone steps in the dark carrying a bunch of stuff if you could just walk up a well lit ramp instead? The answer that I was given is that it was part of the “full experience.”

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My conclusion of the “full-experience”: I really enjoyed my tour of the cave–both of the more adventurous and more touristy parts. I could have totally passed on spending the night in the cave, however. I think I would have preferred to walk down the natural entrance at the beginning and prance my little Girl-Scout-self right out that bright yellow tunnel into the daylight when I was finished with the tour–muddy and tired, but with a hot shower, a flushing toilet, and a soft mattress waiting for me at home. Oh, I can’t forget the daylight. I am so thankful for THE SUN!!!!

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