Off to Kentucky!
Sometimes, the journey is at least as much fun as the destination…
Yeah, we were just 30 miles from the Canadian border in upstate Minnesota but sometimes things change and we are both (especially me) much more flexible than we were when we started this trip back in April.
Our plans to go from here to Canada for a visit with Siobhan’s family changed a while back so instead we headed south, bound for Kentucky. This change would allow us to make our eventual trip from NH to FL more direct, taking less travel time then.
Since it was 1,005 miles from Grad Portage to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, we chose to split up the drive. We found a Boondockers Welcome member willing to host us for a couple of nights in Elk Mound, Wisconsin and another host in Hampshire, IL for a night. Then it was on to Kentucky.
We’ve come to enjoy these travel night stays with Boondockers Welcome hosts. Often times this provides us the best opportunities to meet people and get to know them a bit and expose us to what life is really like in different parts of the country. When we stay with these hosts, they are at their home and going about their daily lives. They are not on vacation or traveling around the country like we are. Many times, it is a great experience.
For example, our stay with Eileen and Elton John (no, not the British musician) in Elk Mound, WI was fabulous. They own a huge farm there, over 1,200 acres currently being used to grow corn mostly for ethanol production. And they were so kind and welcoming. We arrived here on Thursday, August 31st and really didn’t want to be driving the RV through the Chicago area on Friday at the start of the long Labor Day weekend. We requested a two-night stay and they were fine with that. In fact, they invited us into their home the evening we arrived and the four of us chatted until almost 10PM.
They are now retired, meaning they only work 40 – 50 hours each week rather than the 90 – 100 they used to work before retiring. They following day, Eileen led us on a tour of their farm to expose us to the overall operations required to run a business with this much land. There are four houses, three of which they rent out to others who work on the farm with them. There are huge buildings that are used as storage sheds for farm equipment like combines, planters, seeders, etc. And there is an entire mechanical workshop filled with an inventory of parts necessary to keep all the equipment running. Elton John shared an interesting quip with us about the workshop, “if you don’t fix, you don’t farm!”. Turns out he has a full-time mechanic on the team continuously maintaining the equipment to keep the farm running smoothly. He and Eileen also shared a concerning story about a phenomenon called “stray voltage” that, if true, can lead to all kinds of ailments caused by the electrical power running through the ground near power substations. Something we intend to look into further just to learn more about it.
In addition to our farm tour, we took a trip to the nearby city of Eau Claire, a college town that is home to portions of the University of Wisconsin. Our hosts clued us in to some great bike paths that we enjoyed checking out that afternoon. Of course, being in Wisconsin, we had to find a local cheese shop to sample some of the best cheeses in the area. Tough decisions so we bought four different types of cheese to take home and enjoy during the remainder of our adventure.
Finishing off our day, we decided to make a stop in Chippewa Falls to tour the Leinenkugel Brewery. It was a gorgeous, warm, bright sunny afternoon when we arrived at the Leinie Lodge, the starting point of the factory tour, which is also a tasting room of sorts. Well, more like a huge bar, really. The atmosphere was electric, everyone there seemed to be having a great time. So, not wanting to pass up an opportunity to join in the party, we opted to have a taste before the tour. Then we decided to just skip the tour altogether and have another taste! What a great afternoon.
You’ve heard the saying, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”. Well, staying with Boondockers Welcome hosts is just like that. For our stay in Hampshire, IL we never even met the hosts. They seemed very kind as we traded emails to set up our stay but we just simply didn’t cross paths. Very different experience.
On Sunday, September 3rd we finally arrived in Shepardsville, KY where we found a campsite at Grandma’s Campground that would be our home for a couple of nights while we made our visit to Mammoth Cave National Park on Monday. This park was established on July 1, 1941 and covers 52,830 acres. Below the surface, there are more than 400 miles of mapped passages making up the world’s longest known cave system spread across five levels and each year still more passages are being discovered.
We thoroughly enjoyed the hour and a half drive to this park from our campsite. Kentucky is beautiful green rolling hills, so picturesque. We got to the park early and signed up for the Ranger-led “Historic Tour”, scheduled for one and a half hours but took two since we were with about 100 other people. In places, the caves are mammoth, just like the name suggests. Yet, in other spots, the passages are so tight my claustrophobic tendencies made me uncomfortable. An interesting historical fact we learned was the significance of the large calcium nitrate reserves found here that could be converted into a critical component of gunpowder mined by slaves for use during the War of 1812. Some of the cave features highlighted on our tour included the Bottomless Pit, Fat Man’s Misery and the 192 foot high Mammoth Dome. At the end of this tour, we climbed five flights of stairs in the shape of an elevator shaft to exit the final chamber we explored. Oh, if you plan to visit, dress appropriately for the year-round mid-50 degree temperatures underground.
Once back above ground, we briefly explored other areas of the park before heading back to the campsite, trying to avoid the Labor Day traffic heading home from the long weekend. Good idea, poor execution. Evidently, we stayed too long and paid the price with a three hour ride back.
On this portion of our adventure, turns out the journey was at least as much fun as the destination.