Nature is beautiful, that is undeniable. Another undeniable truth is the fact that it is easy to take it for granted as we get consumed with work and school. Our daily lives often have us living on autopilot, and we only focus on accomplishing tasks and getting from point A to point B without focusing on the journey.
I realized that I was falling victim to this reality this past semester. I was turning in assignments and going to work, simply because those things needed to get done. Now don't get me wrong, I wanted to do well in both areas of my life, but I was so consumed with just checking tasks off my never-ending to-do list that I stopped living, and was only existing. I needed a way out and a place to recharge. I started doing research and trying to figure out how I could escape campus and my busy collegiate career through a day trip.
Going to Mammoth Cave National Park was something I had been wanting to do since my freshman year at the University of Kentucky. With it being the largest known cave system in the world, it seemed like a great way to experience a beautiful and rare piece of nature right here in Kentucky. It was also one of those places everyone said you should visit before you graduate. Other UK students always talked about taking day trips to Mammoth Cave, Red River Gorge, and other beautiful outdoor destinations. I thought I would give it a try.
If I would have brought up the idea of visiting the cave earlier in my college career, I probably could have gotten a group of friends together and gone. But even before life got so busy, I avoided doing a lot of things outside. I never played sports growing up and was always the type to avoid doing "risky" things like jumping off of rocky cliffs into lakes (fun fact: I can't swim). I liked the idea of some outdoor activities like riding bikes and visiting my favorite beaches, but hiking and snowboarding were out of the question for me for a long time. Why? The honest answer is that I was scared. The idea of exploring mountain ranges and swimming in hidden coves was scary to me. A part of me wanted to experience these things, but the other part of me was scared that if I got out of my comfort zone and attempted them, I'd get hurt. Fear kept me from living my best wilderness explorer life.
Needing to break away from my everyday norm, I put that fear behind me and asked one of my closest friends, Hayley if she would take a day trip to Mammoth Cave with me.
I was so happy when she agreed to go with me because I was going to get a much needed break and have a buddy to help me conquer my fear. We figured out a day that would work for both of us, and off we went. I didn't fully know what to expect before going. I just knew that Hayley had signed us up for the historic cave tour.
Once we arrived at the park, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Cell service is poor there, but we were able to connect to the visitor center wifi and let our families know we had arrived safely. We checked in, got our tickets, and tried to find ways to kill the hour and a half we had until our cave tour. We took pictures around the visitor center, picked out souvenirs in the gift shops and walked around the museum within the visitor center.
Eventually, it was time for our tour to start. I have to admit that I was still a bit nervous to go inside the cave, but at that point, we had driven over two hours and paid for the experience. I put my big girl pants on and went down into the cave with my friend and about 25 other visitors. The inside of the cave was magical. Feeling so small because of the vast ceilings and wide walkways was humbling. The park rangers were extremely informative and taught our tour group so much about the history of the cave. We spent about two hours underground, exploring and learning about the cave.
After the tour ended, I felt so relieved and rejuvenated. I was proud of myself for going on an outdoor adventure and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Visiting Mammoth Cave opened a lot of doors for me, and now I have an exploration bug. I hope to visit more places like the cave before graduation and beyond.