Mammoth Cave Overnightby Tim Chilton
What is it, exactly, that separates the great of our society from the mediocre? Why is it that some are venerated and deified despite their obvious human flaws while others of remarkable achievement are all but forgotten, swept under the rug of history? Some would argue that this ageless enigma can be solved by denoting timing and luck as the determining factors. Others, perhaps deeper thinkers, would assert that the greats of history were remarkable for their attention to planning and to detail.
Ah, yes. Details, details, details.
At first glance, it would appear that luck and timing were on our side as we set off for our 120-mile Mad Dog bicycling adventure to Mammoth Cave National Park. After all, the weather forecasts were calling for near perfect weather: sunny skies, low humidity, and moderate temperatures. A gentle northeast wind promised to push us all the way to the Green River. Of course, the forecasts were correct, and the very nice conditions could not be foreseen when this ride was scheduled back in August. Score a big point for timing and luck.
Heading out of Floyd’s Fork Park on a chilly Saturday morning, we followed a revised version of the famous OKHT route to Bardstown. We were allowed only a few quick pit stops — one in Fairfield and one in Bardstown — by our authoritarian ride captain, Mike Pitt. We were under the gun to arrive by 6:30 PM in order to get a seat at the park’s restaurant.
On the way to Hodgenville, I had nice conversations with Mike, John Paul, Christy, and a new Mad Dog, Steve, who came from the Bluegrass region to join us on our odyssey.
Steve is an experienced long distance cyclist who participates in those kinds of cruel, masochistic events that we mere mortals cannot truly understand. Anyway, I really enjoyed talking to him because I got to say real French words like “randonné” and “brevet” as though I were riding through Provence. I’m certain Steve was real impressed.
Our lunch at the Stewarts Restaurant — 70+ miles into the ride — was, as usual, fun and noteworthy. Everyone seemed to feel fine and be in good spirits despite the hilly nature of the road traveled. My mind must have been more than a little muddled, though, because after eating a salad and a large serving of lasagna, I found myself with a piece of chocolate pie surrounded by two scoops of ice cream. How the heck did that happen?
Mike had plotted out a course that depended upon a ferry crossing of the Green River that, for all intents and purposes, bisects the Mammoth Cave Park. He had called earlier in the week to ensure that the ferry was operating. You must understand that Mike has this almost childish naiveté that is, at the same time, remarkably refreshing and a little disquieting. Regardless of the level of cynicism, there is no question that Mike is very conscientious about his rides; it simply didn’t occur to him that a TECHNICAL ERROR could occur to the ferry.
But a technical error did occur to the ferry. Some said it was stuck in the mud, others said it was a cable break. All I can say with certainty is that we were stranded. 35 biking miles from the hotel. Is this a question of bad luck or is it a case of failing to plan properly? I’ll leave that to the gentle reader to determine. I report, you decide.
Of course, Mike very quickly took charge and negotiated a transport for us all in a big truck with a horse trailer driven by a man nicknamed “Chug Bug”. Mike, Von, and I rode in the back of the trailer, which just happened to be coated with a thin layer of straw and horse dung. Once, the driver almost missed a turn and hit the brakes while traveling at a VERY HIGH RATE OF SPEED. Physics forced me into a most embarrassing position that I don’t care to discuss. Suffice it to say that this 35-mile trip encompasses one of the worst episodes of my life and I am now receiving both counseling and medication.
We eventually arrived — traumatized but alive — at Mammoth Cave, took a few pictures for evidence, and had a nice dinner. The hot shower that followed made us feel much better. Too bad that was the last of anything hot we would know for many hours.
What followed was a nice little beer and wine party that served as a great brainstorming session. The greatest idea was the formation of a new Mad Dog club in which Eddie Doerr was named President in absentia. We made plans to set up a dues structure. Heather volunteered to be treasurer, but we nixed that idea as we suspect she would soon run off to Florida with all of our money. Various committees and subcommittees were suggested and the stupendous concept of replacing the simple “Mad Dog sticker” with tattoos was put forth. I quickly volunteered to chair the Committee on Tattoo Placement.
When we all decided to finally call it a night, we learned a vital Law of Nature: it is hard to sleep when you are freezing to death! Those unheated cabins are designed to let heat out and they do that job very well. My roommate Norm said that if he had had a match, he would have burned the cabin. Again, is it just a case of bad luck that we had a cold Saturday night in an unheated cabin or we the victims of poor planning?
We woke up cold and sleepy headed on an already chilly morning. We breezed down to the Cracker Barrel in Cave City and were joined by Don, Susie, and Mike’s wonderful wife, Sue, for breakfast. From there I rode almost nonstop with Heather and Norm to New Haven. It was a very difficult ride, facing a steady head-wind for most of the trip. While I was fighting my own demons, I could tell that Christy was being severely challenged by fatigue. To be honest, I didn’t think there was any way she could finish the 114-mile Sunday leg. In a tremendous demonstration of raw will, Christy fought through the terrible pain and intense discomfort to finish those final 25 hilly miles.
Despite the hardship imposed by the headwind, we all made it back safe and sound. We were also fortunate enough to make a few new friends along the way and to learn that we have some strong cyclists like Michael Pearn and Von in our midst.
So, in the final analysis, is Mike Pitt a great ride captain or is he simply mediocre? I’ve observed that Mike has a powerful personality and seems to go out of his way to make everyone included in the group. He tries to keep everyone together and tries to look out for those that are struggling. He wants to make the Mad Dog rides special. Yes, he missed a few details. Maybe he was the victim of poor timing and bad luck. Maybe his rides are a bit too challenging. We must also recognize that Mike has put a great deal of time and effort into planning these Mad Dog rides, building a camaraderie among the Mad Dogs that will likely last a long time. Some would say that this is adequate for greatness. What do I think? My answer comes in the following statement: “I’m going to do more Mad Dog centuries.” I just hope tattooing isn’t too painful.
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web posted: 5 November 2001
last updated: 5 November 2001