Late Wednesday afternoon my boss suggested i take the Friday off as it was not worth driving for 1 hour each way for just 4 hours of work, ( nice boss, right!!) as my workplace was having a half-day in lieu of Easter celebrations.I was mighty glad to hear it as I have worked hard for the last three months at my new workplace without a single vacation day (i.e. apart from the weekends which usually race past doing household chores and getting some much needed rest ). My new workplace doesn't allow any "paid" off-days for the initial six month period, at the end of which I get 1 day, and at the end of the first year I get total four off-days (sucks big time!! ). At the end of the next year I will be eligible for eight to nine days, but it seems like too far away to even think of now. These vacation days are so less that I can’t even think of taking them to go to
- Weekend trips – State Parks in
Illinois, , Indiana etc. Missouri
- 3 day trips – Mammoth Caves National Park, Big South Fork National Park etc.
- 4 day trips – Badlands National Park, Shenandoah National Park etc.
- > 4 day trips –
YellowstoneNational Park, Rocky Mountain National Park etc.
By the looks of it "> 4 day trips" are not going to happen this year.
I needed to decide on a NP by Wednesday night, as I had to pack all my camping stuff so that I can go directly from workplace on Thursday. My first choice being Big South Fork National Park near
- A Big Suitcase with my tent, sleeping bag & pad, gas stove, lantern etc (permanently stays in my car);
- A Small Suitcase full of clothes,as there are very few chances of taking a shower i prefer to change clothes at least once a day (contrary to what i would do if had stayed at home for the whole period..hehehe!!) and my slow poke laptop (which i plan to switch from XP to Ubuntu pretty soon to see if that runs any faster);
- Video camera $ camera bag along with the tripod;
- 2 comforters, a pillow and a woolen blanket (vinmo's "soft" blanket liked by many a delicate bodies..lol!!), which are also a permanent part of my car now;
- A shoulder bag full of different kinds of chargers for all my electronic gadgetry;
- A Backpack full of utensils, first aid and paper towels.
The last two were also a permanent part of my car until they were stolen recently :( (my fault being, i kept them in the back seat rather than in the trunk).After packing all these stuff in my car I went to work Thursday morning eagerly awaiting the end of the work day so I can start my first journey of the season. But during the lunch break I found out that there were severe thunderstorm warning throughout the weekend for Big South Fork. This drastically changed my plans and I started to look for another place. Not eager to go to a weekend designated trip (look above for definition) on a 3 day vacation I finally decided to go to Mammoth Caves even though rain was forecast over there as well, but on a less severe scale and sporadically . I guessed if it is raining outside better to go and visit the caves as it will be too soggy and dark outside anyway. But photography inside the caves brought forward me having a bright lens ( unfortunately all my lens, apart from the 105 MM macro are dark, i.e. have a small aperture size). As my friend had mentioned that he had bought a 50 MM f/ 1.8 lens and that I could borrow it if I needed to I decided to ask if he can lend it to me for the weekend. Luckily he said yes if i could pick it up from his place on King’s drive, which i gladly agreed too.
I studied the NP map and decided to stay in the main visitor center campground so that I don’t have to worry about the ferry timing which controls the time to go to the other part of the national park where most of the "above the ground" trails, bluffs and scenic drives are. I even called them up to confirm if they allowed after our campers. I also tried to reserve a site but only the "first come first serve" sites where left. I looked at which cave tours were available for the spring season and printed them out, but decided against reserving them online as I thought there won’t be too many people at this time of the year (and you can't imagine how wrong I was about that) .
The big disadvantage of picking that 50MM lens was that the detour took me extra three hours driving through traffic. It’s weird that I get heavy traffic similar to that of on Friday (which is understandable) on I 55 south. I think its because Thursday night is college night! and people start to celebrate the weekend long before it actually starts. Anyway to get to Mammoth Caves I had to cross
I took a campground map from the kiosk and drove around the farthest camp loop twice o look for a secluded spot so that the noise (from pitching a tent) does not disturb nearby campers in deep slumber. On second time around the loop I found a place to my liking and as I pulled up in the parking spot I saw a small family of deer’s grazing at the place. As I stepped out of the car the deer’s give me an innocent look or two before quietly walking away. It was a warm, clear, star studded night and I felt amazing (almost as if this was my home) to be out in the open under the sky after a long time. Recently while searching for camping "tips and tricks" I stumbled upon “ Widow Maker” which refers to dry overhanging branches during fall winter and early spring which are susceptible to fall on innocent campers :D. Looking up, I only saw dead branches like a witch’s fingers covering the entire site. I Looked around for some evidence of previous such happenings on the ground and finding nothing decided to camp underneath the thickest of all the overhanging branches (don't know if that was a stupid idea, I am open to suggestions) . I kept the engine running to provide me with some light (I forgot my lantern batteries and my torch) to get the base of the tent pegged down, but later as my eyes got used to the darkness I switched it off and finished putting up the tent by the moon/ star light. It was already 3:30 AM before I got everything inside the tent and got ready to go to sleep. I decided against waking up early for sunrise as that would probably have given me around two hour’s of sleep at the most (not a good idea at the start of the trip) ,thus putting an alarm for 7:30 AM. I felt stiff but not sleepy ,but as I lay on my comfortable bed (made off comforters) listening to the sounds of night (occasional chirping of some night bird, rustling of the leaves and breaking of tweaks under the feet of some animals or just plain old wind and tiny drops of rain hitting the tent) i don't know when sleep crept in.