update: pat & jessie’s photos

spelunking/cave exploring/whatever was….incredible. the single most exhilarating experience of my life. we drove down early – the drive is about six hours. mark picked me up at 5am and we picked up lindsay and katie at 5:30. we met up with pat and jessie at 6 then started the trip to wyandotte caves near corydon, IN. once we got south of indianapolis the drive was really pretty – lots of exposed rock, hills and trees. the final few miles to the caves was gorgeous – a winding road with trees all around that would part every once in awhile to allow a view of a beautiful valley or hillside.

after lunch at the cracker barrel, we changed into our spelunking clothes and met our guide, dave. we got our helmets and headlamps and were briefed on general cave etiquette. once in the mouth of the cave and through the gate it was immediately much cooler and surprisingly dark. the next 3 hours were spent scrabbling over rock fall, climbing up steep walls of rock and piles of snot rock (dave: they’re slipperier ‘en snot), and crawling through narrow holes.

at one point a sideways cartwheel-like maneuver was required to pass into the main room containing the actual pillar. pat, jessie and mark are all over six feet tall, and had some difficulty with this. for once, i was happy to be small; i could shuffle through it sideways (still very awkward and involved a lot of contorting though). once everyone was through, we found places in the big room to sit and switched off our lights. for the first time we experienced complete darkness; you couldn’t even see a hand right in front of your face. it was very relaxing and not scary at all. we sat for awhile and listened to the bats squeaking and flying around above us.

the way back was much easier and faster. we already knew what we could do and what we could climb, what slippery or stable ground looked like. as we were approaching the mouth, we ran into a walking tour group in the lighted room at the beginning of the cave system. they looked at us – sweaty, happily exhausted, and covered in mud (and possibly bat guano). we looked at them – khakis, gleaming white sneakers, tucked-in polos and button-downs. it was an odd feeling of…i don’t know – accomplishment? macho superiority? no, probably closer to pity because they wouldn’t be able to have the same sort of fulfilling experience we had just had.

we went to the restrooms to clean up and change. everyone’s knees were pretty badly and widely bruised, elbows too. heels of palms were sore and abraded. i got away with the least amount of bruising because i could crouch down in a lot of places where the others had to go on hands and knees. we went for dinner right away and i have never felt like i really earned a meal until that evening. the blue moon was delicious and the steak was fantastic. there was a lot of napping on the drive home.

i think overall it was more strenuous than any of us had anticipated. there was a lot more climbing and lowering yourself down steep angles than i thought there would be. at some point we had just half-slid half lowered ourselves like crabs down a very steep and slippery wall and those of us in the front had a moment to stop and catch our breath. we were standing in the bottom of a steep-walled room, at least fifty feet to the ceiling, with no visible way out. dave pointed his light to the ceiling opposite. there was no opening we could see and the way up looked almost featureless – there was no real rock fall to climb on. we all looked at each other. “we’re going up there??”

everyone had to sign a waiver first, and it was easy to see why. there were a lot of moments when a slip or a misstep could’ve led to someone falling down a rock-lined hole. at any given moment, not being aware of where you were putting your feet and also making sure you had a good hand-hold could’ve meant a bad fall.

i realize looking at this that i’m making it seem impossible or terrifyingly perilous. it was hard and definitely dangerous, but i was surprised by how much i was capable of – i think everyone was surprised to find they could do more and push themselves further than they thought. i was surprised i could climb out of a narrow hole, surprised i could free-climb slippery rock, surprised i could balance in a chimney on one tiptoe while getting my other foot right in front of my chest to lever myself up to the cave floor. surprised by how confident i felt in my ability to do all these things.

i wasn’t surprised by how much i loved it. i think i said “i love this” at least ten times while we were down there. a quarter of the way through mark and i were already planning out our next trip. it was the most wholly physically demanding thing i’ve ever done – today, two days later, my body still hurts in places i didn’t know i had muscles – and every minute was thrilling. i’ve never felt so alive – cliché? yeah, but completely true.