I grew up embracing this motto, and in the past, for me, “Seizing The Day” has looked like striking out on my own at an early age, competing against the Big Dogs even when I didn’t stand a chance, saying “Yes” when I should’ve run the other way, saying “NO” when I should’ve said “Yes”, saying “YES” at just the right time to just the right man, touring England (and sweet-talking a Royal Guard into speaking to me), training in Krav Maga, “Caveman Training,” going to Vegas and jumping out of an airplane, Fox Hunting, marathoning (well, Half-marathoning – I still haven’t met my goal of a full marathon, BUT I WILL!), moving from my Homeland to get closer into the Heartland, hiking the mountains of Southern France, pursuing a child in need of a loving home, and…
Well, yesterday, seizing the day looked like bruised, skinned, swollen knees, shredded hands, raw and bruised elbows, blackened hips, and as sore a body as I’ve ever felt. Yesterday I took life by the horns and wrestled it to the ground. Deep into the ground. All the way down to 300 feet under the ground. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I went Spelunking.
For the past year, I’ve lived above the World’s longest known cave system, with over 400 miles of mapped passages, and more to yet be discovered. I’ve traversed above ground trails, and taken two of the “tamer” tours through the caves and was itching to see a wilder side of this place I now call home. So, I laced up my hiking boots and bought a ticket for the “Wild Cave Tour” – 6.5 hours of getting off the beaten track.
I am truly regretting allowing myself to get out of shape! I THOUGHT I could handle 6.5 hours of Spelunking, but after 4 or 5 hours of hiking, climbing, sliding, crawling, crawling, crawling, crawling, crawling, slithering, inching, wiggling, rolling, dragging my body by my fingertips/pushing with my toe tips, climbing, crawling, crawling, crawling, and FINALLY back to hiking…. WHEW! It was all I could do not to cry “Calf Rope!”
It was fun, though, and challenging. I had to do some free climbs that I NEVER would have even considered doing before. And though I did fail at one climb (despite assistance), I did make it up an alternative climb, though I couldn’t have done it without the help of our two guides. The climb I failed to make (failed two attempts), required a stretch that my poor stubby, inflexible legs absolutely maxed out on. My whole body was badly trembling as I stretched from wall to wall, suspended above the underground canyon floor, desperately trying to muster the strength to swing my right leg from one side of the canyon to join my left leg on the other side. I just couldn’t do it, Cap’n! I lacked the pow’r!
Ah, but I am comforted by the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
I may never go Spelunking again… well, I may just have to sign up in a CrossFit gym and get back in good shape before giving it another go! All I know now is that I am so sore I could barely roll out of bed this morning. Really, rolling is just too difficult. I had to wiggle my way to the edge. I can’t lower myself onto the couch – I just flop. Yesterday I managed to soak in an epsom bath, but today I can’t lift my knees high enough to get into the bathtub. Yesterday my right knee was about the size of a grapefruit, but the swelling came down since I slept with an icepack. I can’t imagine what my knees would’ve looked like had I not have been wearing knee pads and coveralls!
All of the bruises and soreness are incredibly worth the memories, though. Once I reached the park, I immediately began encountering wildlife. I saw a big doe, a squirrel darted across the road ahead of me and pounced over the double yellow lines, and I stopped for a turkey hen to cross the road with her flock of tiny babies. I’ve seen many deer and squirrels in my life, and even turkeys, but never before had I seen poults (baby turkeys). Another first was seeing bats inside the caves. They were so small and delicate, clinging to the cave walls. As we descended into the depths of the earth and away from the most-travelled paths, we looked up and were delighted with the sight of much larger Gypsum Flowers than I’d seen in previous tours.
If you visit this link you’ll get a taste of the wonders I enjoyed. There are many images on that page of the sights to behold inside Mammoth Caves, only one of which are the lovely Gypsum Flowers. I can tell that that particular group visited the caves not too recently, though, as now all participants on the Wild Cave Tour are issued coveralls and gear for the sake of preventing the spread of White Nose Syndrome – a devastating disease that is wiping out bat populations.
Some highlights from my Wild Cave Tour experience:
- entered through The Carmichael Entrance
- BARE Hole – I BAREly made it through! Must extend arms ahead, slither into the hole on belly, and push/pull/wiggle (not much room to wiggle as it was just big enough for my hips) by scraping the ground with your fingertips and toes of boots. I almost didn’t think I would be able to get out on my own power, but somehow managed to inch towards a stable rock that I got my left hand on and pulled myself out. Also, my back left pocket was hooked on a jagged rock inside the hole, which is how the hole got it’s name. In years past, before visitors were required to wear the coveralls, some cave divers had had their clothes ripped off by that jagged rock.
- The ManHole – a bit embarrassing that I couldn’t make it up that particular “Canyon Walk”, but the group was very encouraging and the guides were so great.
- Through one crawl space, I had to half crawl, half drag my body. There just wasn’t room enough for two knees on the ground.
- Mary’s Way – another passageway that was barely big enough to crawl through. There wasn’t room enough to hold my head up, so I was looking down the whole way through, unless I cocked my head at an odd angle. As I crawled and dragged myself along, I noticed someone’s missing button, a missing zipper pull, and the blood trail being left by a fellow Cave Diver ahead of me.
- I don’t remember the name of the location, but at one point, we stopped at a running creek where our guide had explained that the acoustics were phenomenal in that spot. We turned out our lights and I spontaneously led the group in singing The Star-Spangled Banner.
- Crystal Lake – a magnificent shaft with running water
- Frozen Niagara – as lovely as it sounds (and available for even the elderly and small children to see on the short Frozen Niagara Tour)
- Irene Ryan (Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies) signed a wall in the caves in 1937 – I was exhausted by the time we reached her signature. We were close to the end of our tour by then. We also were told about John Wayne’s signature in the caves, but did not see it.
- The “Snowball Room” – I was shocked – SHOCKED – to discover that we were actually stopping in a subterranean cafeteria for lunch, WITH INDOOR PLUMBING. REAL TOILETS. AND AN ELEVATOR FOR FOOD SERVICE. Food service wasn’t available that day, but the amenities available were shocking all the same.
So, to sum it up, it was an incredible experience that I would highly recommend to someone that feels up for a challenge. A word of caution, though – get fit or be sore!!