Our rest day today involved yet another amazing experience for the ESCAA team as we ventured into Mammoth Caves. With 400 miles of documented caves, Mammoth caves is the longest cave system in the world. Although we only hiked about 2 miles of the caves it was an incredible experience. It was completely incomprehensible to think that such a spectacular place existed deep beneath our feet. I definitely want to return and explore deeper into this spectacle of nature.
Day 52 (58 miles) Mammoth Cave to Columbia, KY
The day after we went caving we returned to our mechanical steeds and ventured deeper into Kentucky. A peculiar thing happened on this ride. We were riding in four groups. Three of the groups took different wrong turns so we ended up taking four different routes to our destination of Columbia. The funny thing is that even though we all took different routes, we all arrived within 20 minutes of each other! This often doesn't happen even if we all go the right way!
That night we stayed in a Methodist church in Columbia. We were well taken care of there as the pastor offered to order us all pizza, an offer we graciously accepted.
Day 53 (76 miles) Columbia to Corbin, KY
The next day was a relatively long day from Columbia to Keavy. It was about 87 miles with a decent amount of climbing. Although we had encountered many of them throughout the midwest, this day was especially filled with free range dogs. They provided us with nice little sprint as we hauled our butts away from numerous large, and very fast, pit bulls.
In Corbin, we stayed at the residence of a very nice Kentucky couple. It was a perfect place to spend the afternoon after a long day. That evening multiple local scout troops came to join us for a potluck dinner that was very delicious.
Day 54 (55 miles) Corbin to Middlesboro, KY
We got to sleep in a bit the next morning and then awoke to an amazing french toast breakfast courtesy of our hosts. We then embarked on a short 50 mile ride to Middlesboro, where we stayed at a nice lodge in the woods. The caretaker at the lodge happened to be raising a 3-week old calf. We were allowed to walk and pet the calf, which was a new experience for a kinda-sorta city boy such as myself. Also, family members are starting to arrive and as we get closer to the finish line even more will join us. It will be fun to have some new people riding along.
Another special thing that happened on day 54 was that a member from my own Troop 9, Mr. Duncan Flett, sponsored the team for the day. Big thanks to him and all the other very generous people that have sponsored us along the way!
Day 55 (62 miles) Middlesboro to Duffield, VA
It was quite an exciting day as we had four new people riding with us and five new support crew members (for a total of 4 support vehicles). After ten miles we entered Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Right outside of the national park we hit the Tennessee border, but our time in the state didn't last long because the Virginia border was only an eighth of a mile down the road. All my teammates from Virginia were all very excited to have entered their home state!
Our entrance into VA was also our official entrance into the Appalachian Mountains. Although they are not very high when measured from sea level, they definitely look and feel just as high as the Sierras and the Rockies. This is my first experience in this East Coast mountain chain and I am pleasantly surprised about how beautiful it is. Although you can't see much while submerged in the thick deciduous forest, the occasional break in the trees presented some spectacular views.