We’d spent much of our morning with the summertime sun trying to light our skin on fire. We were still in the mood to spend more time with nature. We also would have loved some air conditioning or something like it. Anne had a brilliant idea that combined the best of both whims. So we went underground.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Then came 2020 A.D.
Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are. Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.
In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed…
A short jaunt up State Road 37 from Mitchell brought us to the south end of the town of Bedford and an attraction called Bluespring Caverns. Formerly owned by dairy farmers, Bluespring comprises 21 miles of waterlogged caves, of which a good three miles is continuously navigable by boat. Visitors can take a one-hour ride they call the Myst’ry River Voyage. Let someone else drive while you enjoy geological sightseeing, fun cave trivia, and an unwavering 54-degree ambiance ideal for taking a break from the surface world’s roiling oppression.
It was not, however, a perfect getaway from pandemics. Social distancing rules remained very much in effect. All riders and employees were required to wear masks. Boats were only booked to half capacity. Each party within a tour group was seated as far away from the other parties as possible. The math worked out to eight of us passengers plus a guide in a boat that normally seats seventeen. We were unanimous in staying incognito like our lives depended on it.
After a short wait at some picnic tables outside — each spaced well apart so we could all choose life — the tour began with a 400-foot walk from the Visitor Center all downhill to the dock inside the caverns. Our guide kept things lively and informative, and I’d compliment her here personally except my brain is doing a middle-age thing where, instead of retrieving the exact datum I’m trying to remember, it’s giving me Jeopardy! clues to guess the correct answer. As of this moment all my brain will tell me is her name was six letters, began with a K, and was uncommon. This happens to me all the time now.
Our hour sped by as we zipped down the drive and up again. Among other fun moments, our guide (Kellis?) demonstrated “cave thunder” by hushing everyone and then banging on the side of the boat, pausing to let us hear the echoes reverberate into roars up and down the cave walls. At another point we were asked to extinguish all lights so we could experience pitch-black darkness ruined by nary a pinpoint of light pollution, neither from nature nor from humanity’s pocket toys.
Speaking of which: the experience was an engaging blast in person. Trying to capture souvenir imagery of any of it was a challenge. Rising temps outside had fogged up my usual camera into temporary uselessness, which you can see in our Railroad Cafe pics. Anne’s camera is a bit more advanced, but low lights and continual boating motion were a losing combination that complicated our amateur efforts. My phone camera excels in low-light conditions, but motion is definitely among its weaknesses.
The next hour’s worth of vacation memories from this grade-A tour, which we can still savor in our heads for the short term, are for posterity rendered largely as a series of Impressionist digital cave paintings. We like them, which is what ultimately counts.
At the end of the grand tour came the worst part: the sweltering, 400-foot walk back to the Visitor Center, all uphill. Transitioning from a 54-degree cave to direct summer heat would be a cause for foggy glasses at any time, but it was worse when we couldn’t take off our masks yet while we were still surrounded by too many people. Did I mention we out-of-shape couch potatoes were technically exercising with fabric covering our best air holes? Thus we returned to the surface nearly blind, out of breath, and trying not to bump into any surprise plague carriers.
Thankfully we can say we concluded Day Two of our trip with warm new memories and no new infections.
To be continued!
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