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A few minutes before the tour began, I descended the 48 steps to the mouth of the cavern.
As the air turned crisp at the bottom, I slipped on my windbreaker, already questioning the wisdom of wearing shorts.
The earth’s natural refrigeration generally keeps the temperature in these underground chambers in the 50s year-round.
Penn’s Cave, about 14 miles east of the town of State College and one of a handful of caves that you can ride through in a boat, has been offering tours since 1885 — long before the advent of modern climate control.
A slow drive through the very pretty park brought me to the shaft, which, as I’d been sort of warned by an employee, was essentially a set of stairs leading to a small opening in the shaft wall.
About halfway down the 17 or so steps, the temperature dropped. Perhaps it was my lack of a flashlight — the smartphone just wasn’t cutting it — but I couldn’t make out any ice.
As we distributed ourselves between two benches, the flat-bottom boat bobbed back and forth, unnerving a few of the passengers.
I envied some of the warmer-dressed guests, until I realized that the whole point of this expedition was to cool down and let the 52-degree chill of the cave permeate my bones.
Marketing Director Terri Schleiden later told me that Penn’s Cave guides are issued uniforms that include a long-sleeved pullover and a jacket, although some of them conduct six or seven tours a day in short sleeves.
Employees don’t necessarily recommend that visitors be that brave.
“The hooded sweatshirts are a bestseller here,” Schleiden said.
If you’re looking to beat the crushing summertime heat, you can’t do much better than a deep, dark cavern.