NSS Convention 2007: Into The Eye Of The Storm

Tom and I were looking forward to the 2007 NSS Convention in Marengo, Indiana. The previous convention in 1992 had been our first convention, and since that time, we had missed only two, in the far west, Pendleton, Oregon, and Bellingham, Washington. We were especially looking forward to it because we knew there would be many caves to visit, and a number of MAKC people were going. We planned to camp with Walt Hamm, who arrived earlier than us, of course, and with Andrea and Ray Gillis, who would arrive mid-week. Sue Moore and Phil Gowaty were hotelling it, and Kelly Hart set up on the hill along the road. Many other MAKC members attended, including those we saw: Emily Davis and Mike Warner, John Pearson, Gordon Birkhimer, Frank Herceg, Dean Snyder, Dan Peden, Dave Ruth, Rick Falconer, Chuck Hilpert, Carl Pierce, Dick Blenz, Bill and Peri Frantz, Thom Engle, Keith Wheeland, John Yost, Megan Yost, and probably a few others, which is the danger of trying to remember everyone you saw at such a large event.

We set up the indoor booth on Monday, sharing our space with Dean and Frank, and the room with Mike Kehs and another vendor.

The howdy party was held at the campground, which was nice. Walt had been scoping out the led trips, and we ended up signing up for two, the Wyandotte mega-trip, and the Lost River trip, on Thursday. So Tuesday, we headed to the Wyandotte area for some self-led trips, the first to Saltpetre Cave, which is a short fifteen minute hike from the parking area for the commercial cave—that is, if you know where you are going. I finally found the entrance, and finally Tom and Walt heard my yells and arrived shortly. We spent a good bit of time tooling around in this cave, which is essentially one large passage with a few small leads at the end. Then we decided to do a hike to find one of the other caves listed in the guidebook, which appeared to be a mile or so away. But we had a description. About halfway there we found the entrance to another small cave, which we didn’t know the name of, and did some crawling around in there. It was mostly hands and knees crawl with a few formations, and was a cool diversion from our hike for the half hour or so we spent there. Then we spent a lot of time going up the hillside and down the hillside and up and down the hillside looking for Wildcat Cave. We split up, each going our own way to try to cover more ground. Tom found an interesting area that sounded like it was what we wanted, but of course we didn’t find out about it until after we had already descended the hill—again. Tom led us back up the hill and meandered off as Walt and I searched an outcrop for the cave. I finally found the entrance, Tom caught up with us, and the three of us went in. It was a very steeply sloping passage, leading to a drop. The passage was sizeable and full of breakdown. Given the lateness, we did about half the cave and decided to head back. Tom showed us another cave he found, but we decided we wanted to find our way back in daylight, so we didn’t go in. The hike back was hot and long, but the caves were fun.

When I woke up Wednesday morning I discovered I had definitely aggravated my achilles tendon and another tendon in my right foot, probably negating several months of physical therapy. Having seen Wyandotte Cave at the last Indiana convention, I said the only way I’d really want to go back was if we could get an off-the-tourist trail trip. And Wednesday was that day. So I decided to suck it up and endure the pain and off we went. As it so happened we knew mostly everyone on the trip as a lot of Pittsburgh Grotto cavers had signed on for the trip, led by an Indiana caver who used to work as a guide at the cave many years ago. He led a fast paced trip, or as fast as you could go with a large group when you were climbing up and over breakdown, down and over breakdown, up and over breakdown, down and over breakdown, ad infinitum, stopping only briefly to see interesting rooms. The trip was a workout. Our guide had been trying to show us as much of the cave as possible, and after the trip, when we looked at the map, we estimated we covered at least four miles of cave. I was feeling the pain almost throughout the whole trip. But, I said to myself, you signed on, you showed up. Keep your mouth shut and cave. However, I knew there was no way in the world I was going to be able to go on the Lost River trip the following day, so I volunteered to watch the store on Thursday (and work on a cave map project), while Tom and Walt went caving.

After they returned we prepared to go to the photo salon, which was inside one of the rooms of an extensive limestone quarry in the town of Marengo. Just before we caught the bus into town, a tremendous storm ripped through the campground, the rain coming down in sheets. We drove over to the bus pickup. Walt and I made a break for the bus, but Tom didn’t. We later discovered he stayed at the campground as a second wave of storms ripped through, taking with it most of the easy-up canopies. Kelly Hart’s camp tarp, which was similiar to the MAKC booth, ended up against the fence of the high school. We didn’t know that the second wave had been damaging until an announcement about mid-way through the salon.

We decided to stay for the salon.

Tom, after helping assure everyone at the campground was safe, took our sleeping gear to the laundromat to dry.

Friday after we tore down the store, Andrea and Ray and Walt joined us to go to Squire Boone Caverns, a commercial cave not far away. (Tom and I had done Marengo Cave at the previous convention). Sue and Phil had recommended it and we could see why. It wasn’t a long cave, but it was very well decorated, and a huge rimstone pool in the back had a cascading waterfall which was just gorgeous. Everyone snapped lots of pictures. The rain had continued off and on for most the day, but we didn’t worry about the tent. We headed for the banquet, which was also in the quarry.

Afterward, we returned to the campsite to find pretty much everything in our tent soaked, so we decided to pack up and drive partway back. We made about ten stops near Cincinnati looking for hotels, but none had vacancies, so we sucked it up and drove all night, finally arriving home around 8 a.m.