Monday, August 23, 2010

Canoeing and Caving

This is a long-ass post. Also, profanity is used. Also, I switch tenses a lot. I am not going back to edit it. Pictures will follow in the next post.

Sunday found me participating in two activities that I would not typically pursue on my own - canoeing and caving. For those of you who do not know this already, I am quite terrified of both water and tight spaces. Silly right? That's what I think. It is silly for me to be scared of these things.

So when Derek asked me if I wanted to come along to scout the canoeing/caving Outdoor Rec trip, I said yes. I saw this as an opportunity to face my fears, and help him as I would be an ideal 'test participant' for the trip that will take place next month.

Overall, the day was a success in terms of helping calm my fears and scouting out an ideal trip for the future participants. However, there were some interesting moments that I'd like to share for giggles & groans...

Here we go:
The cave system we went to is accessible via a flat stream. Since we had 2 canoes and 5 scouts (including me), we had to stick 3 people in one boat. I jumped on the chance to sit in the middle of a canoe and not paddle - woohoo lazy me! That also meant that I got to take pictures and read the map. It's nice being a test participant. I felt positively luxurious as I sat in a boat and got paddled to our destination. It was also nice not having to worry about maneuvering the boat, and I think that helped me not freak out about the whole water thing.

The stream itself was very calm, but not pristine. It was filled with downed trees, trash, and creepy green goo that made navigation rather interesting. At one point, we had to step out of our canoes and onto a downed tree, pull our canoes over the downed tree, and get back into them on the opposite side. It was pretty interesting to me, and I was pleasantly unafraid through the entire tree-hop operation.

After 2 to 3 miles of paddling, we banked the boats and made the short hike to the cave entrances.

Up until this point, I had been thinking "we are going to a 'walking cave' that is well established and marked and mapped and frequently traveled and big and open and not a big scary deal at all..."


The cave entrance was a freaking hole in the ground that looked like an animal's burrow.... I really thought everyone was joking when they said that we were going in that thing.

Derek, my love, went in first and coaxed me, silly me, to follow. Following meant sliding in head first on my belly into the tunnel of darkness. Scurrying in a bit further over loose leaves and rocks so others could follow, Derek and I made it into a passage way where we could stand. Looking around, we saw graffiti stating "Welcome to Hell" and other less pleasant obscenities... such a marvelous beginning...

Once we were all in, there was a review of a map before we set off into the darkness. Think Lord of the Rings when Gandalf knows things are screwed and you know things are screwed but everyone keeps walking deeper into the dark dwarf city anyway. That's about how I was feeling right then.

We journey through fairly open passage ways until we reach the "Party Room" - more creative phrases in graffiti. We decide to try and find the "Sword Room" which is located in the far north east section of the cave (I think... maybe...), so we head out of the Party Room into a passageway that quickly shrinks in size.

What starts as walking becomes hunched over walking, becomes single file hands & knees crawling, becomes army belly crawl through a tunnel. I'm sure you can imagine my elation at this point in our journey.

As we crawl, I notice that everything sounds weird. It took me a moment to realize that what I was hearing was the sound of our knees and elbows bumping against a hollow sandstone floor.... this is where my yoga breathing comes in handy.

Breath in ::one two three:: breath out:: one two three. Schooch an inch forward. Repeat.

We finally get to an intersection of tunnels tall enough that we can all sit (not stand) within eye sight of each other and discuss our options. The tunnel continues in the direction we need to go to find the Sword Room, however it is doubtful that participants going on this trip will be up for the type of belly crawling we've been doing. We decide to go back to the party room and try to find a walking path going the correct direction.

Thank you God.

Crawling back through the tunnel of death to get to the Party Room, it is easy to imagine the cave collapsing in on me and crushing me to death. Breath in ::one two three:: breath out:: one two three. Schooch an inch forward. Repeat.

Back in the Party Room, my heart pitter pattters its thanks for the open space. I make sure to look at the map and give my two cents about the direction we should take. We decide to try a path that stays closer to the cave entrances (there are actually about 4 'burrow' entrances to this cave and we had come in the one furthest from the Sword Room) in hopes that the path would stay walkable.

It didn't.

Before long we were scurrying forward single file on our elbows and knees again. Keep in mind that once we start crawling through these tunnels, it if physically impossible to turn around - there simply is not enough room. As we continued through the tunnel, more and more I was noticing side passage ways that had loose rocks and roots dangling in. We could smell the earth (and poop?!), and I knew we were relatively close to the surface. Rather than finding this comforting, it made me more anxious. To my thinking, if roots were popping through and centipedes were walking past then this area was more dirt than rock, and dirt freaking moves. More imaginings of cave-ins flashed through my mind...

Once again we found an intersection that offered just enough room for us to squeeze together and plan. In this intersection I could not stand, sit up straight, or even lay flat - there simply was not enough room. I felt as though we were breathing each others' breathe, we were packed so tight. At this point, I couldn't help it - I started crying.

Don't worry, I kept myself decent. It wasn't a sobbing, panicked cry - just the quiet sniffles of the hopelessly, helplessly miserable. And here's the funny part - after this moment my memory is completely blacked out until the point when we were crawling out of an exit tunnel (not the same one we came in). Seriously, I cannot tell you what happened between here and there. I'm guessing there were more tunnels.

Fun times, eh?

Anyway, jumping past my memory lapse, we found an exit at the end of a long narrow crawling tunnel. Enter sunshine and open spaces!

Then we find yet another entrance and decide to go in it. Enter feelings of dread.

Sam volunteers to go in first. This entrance is yet another one of those 'belly crawl into a hole that looks like an animal burrow' type thing. I watched as his wiggling feet disappear into the earth. It reminded me of that movie Tremors where the giant monster worms pull people into the ground and eat them. After a moment he starts to give us the 'go ahead' to follow him in, when abruptly he interrupts himself yelling, "oh shit oh shit oh shit"

Oh shit.

He quickly explains that a six foot snake is curled around a stalactite which hangs over the entrance he just passed under. There is no way for him to come back out or for us to go in without passing under the snake, which started unraveling itself from the stalactite as he spoke.... The probability of us finding Sam in the cave from a different entrance seems chancy, so after a brief hesitation Sam makes a 'run' for the cave entrance.

I put 'run' in quotes because the entrance was a belly crawl... Seconds later, we see Sam shoot out of the little hole, pop up, run to the woods' edge, and do the 'heebie jeebie' dance of the freaked-out. Dude is brave. I did a little heebie jeebie dance of my own just thinking about what he had done.

Seems like a good time to go home, yeah? Did we no home? Nooooo.....

We go back to the main entrance. We still needed to find a 'walking' path through this cave to take participants on. At the entrance, we all fidgeted around - no one wanted a repeat of the snake experience. Derek, my love, goes first...

Nooooobody follows.

Derek calls back out, coaxing folks to come back in... Ugh... I man up, stick my head in the hole, and slide in after him. Dude should know that I love him. Cause holy crap.

This session of the cave exploration went much better. We did actually manage to find a loop through the cave that was mostly walking (a little bit of crawling, but not bad). We also managed to find our way back out through the main entrance without incident.

Back to the boats, we have quick paddle back to the cars and drive south to Tuscaloosa.

Scouting mission: success. i guess.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this story. Laughed, and could barely breathe...I would have never have been as brave as you!