I've neglected to mention the strangest thing I've done of late. During the last weekend of Christmas break, I took a wild cave tour. Now, we're not talking about a stay on the lighted trail kind of cave tour. We're talking down and dirty, six hour long, no part of your body may be more than 40 inches in diameter kind of tour. We clambered through such limestone formations as "The Cheese Grater" and "The Hell Hole". We climbed down a cliff with a 30 foot vertical drop below. We wriggled through a tunnel called "The Birth Canal", and to top it all off, we shimmied through a cleft in the rock that forced you to keep your head tilted to the side (you don't fit otherwise).
The Mammoth Cave system is the longest in the world, and also contains the most gorgeous collection of tunnels, rooms and caverns. I saw beautiful gypsum crystal flowers growing right out of the rock. Sometimes the crystal coated cave ceilings would sparkle like the night sky. Oh yes, and then there were the cave crickets. Ghastly looking creatures which are really quite harmless.
The sheer physicality of the tour was incredible. There was no backing out. We crawled down slippery walls and waded through knee-deep, ice-cold water. I think it very smart of the guides to not explain beforehand in detail what we would be doing during the tour. Most of us would have said "no thanks!" at that point. However, I am so glad I went. I had an amazing, once in a lifetime experience. Being in a cave is a strange thing. You begin to feel disconnected with the world above you. It's relaxing, really. You have nothing to worry about except the task ahead of you. The serenity of the cave calms you. The silence of being a part of the living earth awakens an instinctual part of the human psyche. Yes, there is fear in the cave, but there is also discovery. The chance to witness things most people never see. Your curiosity overcomes fear, and you stand dwarfed by the immensity of creation.
The men and women who first explored the labyrinth of Mammoth Cave possessed extraordinary curiosity. To go into a dark hole with nothing more than a candle and your wits is something akin to driving a car blindfolded. Whatever drove them still drives modern cavers to continue exploration. They are still mapping new passageways in the Mammoth Cave system.
Some highlights of the day:
-Almost running into a hibernating bat (sorry little guy).
-Eating a meager lunch in the Snowball Room (a room with gypsum formations that actually look like snowballs stuck to the ceiling and walls).
-Going head-first into the “Hell Hole” (sounds better than it really was).
-Bonking my head on numerous sharp rocks.
-Observing the horrified looks on peoples faces when we passed the two hour (for sissies) cave tour (we felt and looked like tough stuff, especially considering that we were covered from head to toe in mud).
-The Cave Rat (she was so darn cute).