July 28, 2010.
I woke up this morning with an enormous blister on my knee from hiking with the crutch yesterday. Bummer. I couldn’t avoid using it today, since I’d need to transport my camp up the hill to the car. So in the process of packing up I popped it. I stopped at a drugstore in Medford to pick up blister pads and bandages to try and find a solution that could keep me hiking. My journey wasn’t even half over!
So, with a blister pad secured in place I kept on driving towards the Oregon Caves.
Visitors can only see the caves if they go on an official tour ($8.50). These leave every 15 minutes, so it’s pretty easy to just show up and get on the next one. They do not allow backpacks or hiking poles so I had to leave both of these behind. The tour covers 0.6 miles of walking, including 500 (?) stairs, in the course of 90 minutes. I figured this would be do-able for me without causing the group’s pace to slow down considerably. The tour guide let me know that he would be keeping an eye on me for the first half to see if I would be able to complete the whole tour.
Our group of about 12 started out on our tour with an older, totally smart-ass tour guide. This was going to be fun. For the most part I was flanked by two other group members who were concerned with my safety: grandma in the front and retired cyclist in the back. Grandma was there with her family and did a great job of letting me know when to expect low ceilings, stairs, slick spots, etc. She was awesome. Retired cyclist was there by himself, and just seemed to always be right behind me monitoring my progress. We didn’t really talk in the cave but had a nice chat on the walk back to the Visitor Center. I was really grateful that these two warm-hearted people had my back if I needed any help.
The Oregon Caves are beautiful, marble caves that are still being sculpted by water. Each room had distinct features, which our guide talked about. There were huge, cathedral like rooms, small passageways, and openings leading in every direction. We saw tiny tubular ceiling projections called soda straws, cave popcorn, a lava dike with a visible faultline running through it, graffiti from the 1800’s and gorgeous crystals. The tour guide talked about the cave’s human history, geology, and general cave factoids. It was very interesting and well worth the trip. I was a little surprised there were so few stairways with hand-rails, however. I had a hard time keeping my balance on uneven stairs with nothing to hold on to. I occasionally had to touch the cave walls to keep from falling over. It was the hardest 0.6 miles I’d done on this crutch, but I made it. The guide did a great job of accommodating me as well.
When I retrieved my backpack I was finally able to have some water and lunch. There would be no more hiking for me today. I stopped at the Grayback Campground on the road back to Cave Junction for my first and only night of fee-camping. For $10 I got a spot right on the river, and had only two neighbors. I bought a huge bundle of firewood for $5 (three times as much as the grocery store sells for that price), which the camp host delivered right to my site.
Immediately I “iced” my foot in the cool river water, then got around to setting up camp for the night. With the exception of my idiot neighbors screaming at their dogs for a couple hours, the site was relatively peaceful. My campfire kept the mosquitoes at bay, too.
The photo set from the entire trip is on Picasa.