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My first adventure
I had my friends and family laughing so hard, they were crying. I'm not an outdoor kind of girl. I love the city life, and live well in a small apartment overlooking a beautiful view of Lake Michigan in Chicago. My life is peaceful and comfortable, for the most part. This is why my gold mining adventures are so hilarious.
For a couple of months, I'd been watching a reality television show about gold mining. It fascinated me. Do people still mine for gold? I guess they must. Gold doesn't just materialize out of thin air. Someone has to obtain it.
I began to research gold and the methods of obtaining gold. The more I researched, the more engrossed I became in the topic. I searched all over Chicago for a gold pan. None were to be found. Apparently, not much gold panning goes on in the windy city.
Then, I found out that there is gold in Indiana. I researched the best places to find gold in Indiana. I went to Cabela's in Hammond, Indiana and purchased a gold panning kit. Cabela's is an outdoor store. They sell camping equipment, guns, outdoor gear, etc. While I was there, I also picked up a jacket and hat to wear on my first gold mining adventure. I thought about buying a metal detector, but decided to wait on that purchase.
I found out that there is gold at the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. I called the main office for the State Forest to request a gold panning permit. The lady who answered said that the office was going to be closed the next day, but she would leave my permit in a box outside for me.
I planned my trip carefully. It was a four hour drive. If I left at 4 a.m., I could get there by 8 a.m., and still have plenty of time to pan for gold before returning home to Chicago. When I left my apartment complex, I had my gold panning kit, rubber boots, rubber gloves, and some snacks. I also tossed a roll of toilet tissue in my bag and my tool kit. It's a small, girlie tool kit, but it has all the essentials: hammer, pliers, etc. I wasn't sure of exactly what I would need, but I was excited about my trip.
I followed the mapquest directions, which led me to a toll road. I wished I hadn't taken the toll road, because I had three tolls to pay, one was $3.00, the other two were $1.50. I dislike paying unnecessary money, when I could very easily have taken a different route. There was a great deal of construction going on, this delayed me a bit. It actually took five hours to get to Martinsville, Indiana.
I had to stop to ask directions a couple of times. A postal worker instructed me to go a different way from the mapquest directions. I hesitated on deviating from the mapquest directions. Once I was off route, there would be no way to get back on route, if his directions were incorrect. But, I followed the man's directions, which led me into the Morgan-Monroe State Forest.
That is when it hit me that I was in the middle of this great, big forest all by myself. I drove onto a long, winding road. On each side of the road were miles and miles of trees, deep ravines, and emptiness. It was like something out of a scary movie. I said to myself, what the heck am I doing in the middle of the forest by myself. I kept driving along. Along the way, I saw a pick up truck, then later a van off to the side of the road. The forest's website said that hunting season had just started, so I figured they were hunters.
Finally, I see the sign for the main office. I pulled into the parking lot and got out of my car. I retrieved my permit from the box outside of the office. They had included a map and highlighted the best area to look for gold. The map was like Greek to me. I couldn't make heads or tails of it. As I was looking at it, a man drove up and got out of his car. I asked him to please help me read the map, so that I could find the gold.
He was happy to oblige. His name was Greg. He was a friendly fellow. He looked to be in his late 40s, early 50s. He looked at the map and began giving me directions. He said he was there to renew his gold panning permit. I told him the office was closed. Ironically, he was there to gold mine also. He said I could follow him, if I wanted.
Of course, it never occurred to me, until a friend mentioned it, that Greg could have been a serial killer that I was following deeper into the forest. Good thing for me, he wasn't a serial killer. He was just a nice guy, who loved to gold mine.
We drove down the winding road for a while, making a few turns. I had no idea where I was. Then, Greg pulled off the road. I pulled off to the side of the road behind him. I got out of my car. We were at the top of the steepest hill that I've ever seen in my life.
"Are you sure you can make it down there?," Greg asked me. "Oh, no problem," I replied. "I do P90X." For those of you who aren't aware, P90X is an extreme exercise program. It includes a series of DVDs that focus on extreme yoga, extreme martial arts, weight training, etc. I had just finished my 60th day of P90X and was feeling pretty confident about my ability to navigate this steep hill.
Greg went bounding down the hill with the greatest of ease. Then, he had to stop to help me, because this hill was no joke. At one point, I had to get down on my butt and scoot down the hill. At another point, I tripped and fell. Greg became a little concerned. "Please don't hurt yourself...please don't hurt yourself," he kept repeating. I finally made it to the bottom of the hill. I took off my Adidas gym shoes and put on my rubber boots.
Greg and I made our way through the creek for about a mile. I had to be careful because some of the water was moving above the top of my boot line. Greg had on a wet suit, so the water didn't bother him. As we walked along, Greg explained to me how the gold came to Indiana years ago on glaciers from Canada. The glaciers carved out the deep ravines, which is why the hills are so steep. He also showed me the rocks to look for that were not from Indiana. He showed me quartz rocks and other rocks. He said that if I see these kind of rocks, there is probably gold in that area.
We got to the place where the gold was, only I couldn't see it. All I could see was dirt. Greg plopped himself down directly in the creek. I sat on a rock, but I could still feel the coldness of the water through my rubber boots. We both began to fill our pans with dirt, classifying out the big rocks.
Greg showed me how the shake the pan back and forth and immerse it in the water. He did pretty well. He would pan and get several small pieces of gold. I would pan and get like three or four. I thought that maybe I wasn't doing it right.
While we panned, Greg talked about the local gold mining clubs, his wife, his children, and his church. I think he was just glad to have some company. After about an hour and a half, my feet were cold, I was hungry, and I had to go to the bathroom.
Greg was gung-ho, like he could be out there all day and all night. I took a break, pulled some cashews out of my bag, and began to munch. Greg filled up my pan with dirt, encouraging me to continue. I didn't immediately return to the water, so he began to pan the dirt that was in my pan for me. "Is this a new pan?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied. I had just purchased the Garrett Gold Panning Kit the day before. Greg explained that new pans have oil in them from the manufacturer. He said that you have to wash them with dish detergent and a brillo pad, otherwise the gold will float right out of your pan. That's why I was only getting a few pieces at a time.
Greg cleaned up his gold and my gold. He gave me his gold too, so that I would have something to show my friends. I looked at the gold, sparkling in the plastic tube, and I was excited about my accomplishment. Then, we made our way back to our cars. Suffice to say that on the way down, I didn't think about the fact that I would have to climb back up this steep hill. It was quite a climb. But, Greg offered to carry my bag for me.
We finally made it to the top. I thanked Greg profusely for helping me. When we parted ways, Greg said something that probably came from the spirit my mother, who certainly was looking down on me from heaven.
"Hon, next time bring someone with you. You don't need to be in the middle of the forest by yourself."
I headed back to Chicago and arrived home about 5 p.m. Wow! That was an adventure!