Part One – Even Though I Walked Through The Valley Of The Shadow of Death … And A Cave
Where to begin?
Where to begin explaining a four-hour cave crawl – not to be confused in any way with a pub crawl. Where to begin explaining sleeping, or rather lying down with eyes closed nestled between lung-piercing jagged rocks, in a cave.
I am fairly certain I did not embarrass the Eldest Son of Thunder in front of his friends. I am guessing that based on the fact I got a thumbs up after it was all over. And that’s probably because I don’t recall ever squealing like a pig. Then again, maybe it was just a “we survived” kind of thumbs up.
I realized certain children’s books take on a whole new meaning when you’re spending the night deep in a cave and you know you can’t get out (read trapped) until the morning. Books like Green Eggs and Ham – “I do not like green eggs and ham (or caves), I do not like them Sam (our guide) -I-Am.” Or The Little Engine That Could – “I think I can, I think I can.” For some reason I repeated both those lines, repeatedly, throughout the night. I tried to focus on the latter.
I also realized seemingly insignificant things, trivial almost, end up being quite significant. Little things, like on one side are large contractor-sized plastic bags; on the other, army duffel bags.
Our group got the duffel bags. We were told to put all our gear in said duffel bags. The importance of that – the duffel bags – will follow shortly.
It was about 7 p.m. Saturday when our Scout troop was finally suited up and ready to go. By suited up, I mean we had hard hats with lamps, gloves and knee pads. Again, those little things can be big things.
And we entered the cave.
Now, I realized – since I was wearing the above-mentioned items – this was not going to be a drive-thru tour complete with silly little trams and a guy making really bad jokes through a really bad sound system. Not that I would mind a drive-thru, but this was a Scout trip and well, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
Anyway, we start in with the aforementioned duffel bags on our backs and being the observant type I am, I started to, well, notice a few things. Like there were stairs, with handrails. And there little lights behind the rocks lighting up a rather spacious cavern. And the walkways were covered in very nice gravel.
Oh, I was liking this.
And then I noticed a big pile of those contractor-sized plastic bags over in a corner. Those bags held the gear of members from another Scout troop. So, they were going to spend the night in this spacious cavern. On the very nice gravel with their sleeping pads and sleeping bags. I assumed the very nice lights behind the rocks would go out at some point, although a few probably would stay on as night lights.
We passed the plastic pile and continued on up some stairs (with handrails) and down another passageway and stopped. And it was at this point our guide told us to turn on our headlamps. And right after that he mentioned something about starting our first “crawl.”
I believe the greatest fear is of the unknown. As in this case. Define “crawl” – how long is said crawl, how tight is said crawl, how (fill in the blank) is said crawl. Didn’t matter, we were off. One after another, we threw our duffel bags in front of us and started crawling. Basically, you push your duffel bag as far in front of you as you can, crawl up to it, push it again, crawl up to it, push it again, etc., etc., etc.
All the time you are hoping: the person in front of you doesn’t kick you in the face (or fart, but the Little Black Dress won’t let the Sons say that, we can only say “toot,” but that’s not descriptive enough); you don’t push your duffel bag the wrong way and it goes into a 50-foot crevasse; you don’t have a total freaking meltdown panic because you are in a rather confined space with someone in front of you, someone behind you and you have no freaking place to go; said crawl will have the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel; there is a port-o-let somewhere close.
But we made it. And I realized it wasn’t that bad. Now, it wasn’t exactly a “wow, that was awesome, can we go back and do that again, please, pretty please?” kind of crawl, but rather, at least for me, a “That’s done” kind of experience.
And onward we walked/crawled/crouched. A crawl here, a rope-assisted climb up a very slick ramp there, a little headroom next and then another crouch. Or crawl. It’s all melding together. Finally we came to a somewhat open space, with thankfully, real headroom. It was here we were told to stack our duffel bags. Oh yes, we had carried, pushed, kicked and cursed those bags through all the above-mentioned.
Off again. At least this time without the bags, which made movement somewhat easier. Off again to various aptly named areas, like the Echo Room. Imagine putting 20 kids in an Echo Room and see what they do. Yeah, time to move on.
The cave itself was pretty spectacular, with lots of those “tites” and “mites” do-dads. It wasn’t muddy, but the ground was covered in wet clay. In other words, when you weren’t walking or crawling, you were sliding. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes, well, not so much. We slid through the “Hat Hole,” an opening that looked exactly like that. And we were warned to watch our head when sliding through said Hat Hole, which of course I didn’t and let’s just say I’m really, really glad I was wearing a hard hat.
It began to follow a pattern – a crawl into the unknown, followed by a brief “I am so glad I can actually stand up” moment, then a crouch, then a roll-through, then another crawl with a slide here and there thrown in.
And then we came to “The Option.”
Basically, we had two choices. We could go through the “49-Cent Squeeze” or take a slightly longer route through the “Midget” something or other. Now the guide holds up his hands and makes a small (very small) triangle shape and says something about there being a “tight” spot in this crawl and as you go through and approach the “tight spot” you go on your back and then halfway through you turn on your RIGHT side – oh, and make sure your RIGHT arm is out in front of you – and you kind of wiggle on and you’ll feel an opening (how do you feel something “open?”) and keep wiggling and at some point in a galaxy far, far away you’ll be done.
So of course I ask him to repeat all that. In a little better detail. And he tries and well, it’s just not happening for me. Anyway, a bunch of the kids, being kids, just jump on down and start wiggling and getting on their back and RIGHT side and all that. And a few dads join them into the abyss.
And then it’s time for the Eldest Son of Thunder. He goes down, checks things out and comes back up. And he looks right at me and says, “that makes me claustrophobic, I’m not doing it.”
I was proud of him. And I’m proud of all the Sons, because they know their limits. And they really don’t care what anyone else thinks or says. I admire that. (For some examples of this, read Knowing Your Fears and What Shall We Fear).
Now, as a dad, there was no way I was going to attempt said Squeeze and embarrass him. No way. I just couldn’t do that to the Eldest Son. Just couldn’t. If he wasn’t going to do it, then by golly neither was I. Just the two of us, standing by our decision. Father and Son.
Yeah, and after all that smoke clears, what it really boiled down to was he gave me a free “I don’t have to do the Squeeze” pass. Thank you Eldest Son. Thank you. I will never forget your gift.
Okay, so this is by far the longest blog I’ve ever written and it’s time to wrap it up and hence the reason it is called Part One.
Let’s just say we did some more – wait for it – crawling/sliding/crouching/rolling/slipping.
And we finally made it back to where our duffel bags were. And the guide says, “this is where we’ll be sleeping.”
And, again, I ask him to explain that last statement in a little more detail. You know, answer the “where?” part. But I think my question - at least in my mind – came out more like “Um, you’re telling me 30-something kids and dads are supposed to find some place to actually fit a sleeping pad/bag amongst these slopes and jagged rocks and watch out for that 130-foot crevasse and standing water and otherwise completely uneven terrain and where in the heck is that really nice LEVEL gravel path with the soothing lights behind the rocks as night lights and high ceilings and really, really close to the cave entrance where that other troop is obviously staying because, oh yes, I understand now, they only had contractor bags while we got the army duffel bags and I would kill something right now to be in a plastic bag deposit room but no I’m deep in the bowels of this cave and I have no idea where in the world I really am and …”
To be continued.