Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tails of an Overweight Aging Man.

It is two weeks till the end of the semester when the needed one credit class began on a Tuesday night. Surrounded by younger and more fit peer the first and last class session began. This class room session was to inform the class as a hole what to expect and what items were necessary for completion of the field part of the course. Stuff like bring your own tent, clothing, food, water, and lights at least three. Being a one credit class the task to complete for the weekend classes were nothing more than show up and participate.

With all the excitement of a child awaiting Christmas morning I got all the necessities packed and ready to for the weekend field course. Arriving five munities before the pack up and head out time I was able to stow my belongings in the pack truck and stand around for everyone else to show up. With a quick pep talk about the location of our journey and a reminder of what to expect we headed out on a hour and half to the first site. Now I bet you are wondering what it was that earned the title of this post. Our first stop was a old lava tube that was not very difficult to navigate or explore. That is right I signed up for a caving class. Being a Geologist at heart and soon with a diploma (give or take a few years) it was like being lead into a candy shop as a child and told have what ever you want. Everything from the way the cave moved to the structure of the cave it’s self was extremely interesting to me. Often I would be seen just staring at a seemingly boring bit of rock but I would see different colors, shapes, and fracture patterns (some a bit odd by the way) and just try to figure out what happened down in the cave.

Cave two turned out to be another forty five munities away on deeply rutted with patches of ruff basalt popping out every few feet. Thankfully my friend whom I will call Dave was an expert when it came to going off rode with many years of practice and a few old trucks to vouch for it. As luck would have it we had to park the vehicles and hike for about one and a half to two miles over broken up basalt in the middle of the hottest part of the day. On the plus side the wind was cool and kept the hike pleasant. New camel pack and friend the journey to the cave went by quickly. However this cave turned out to be very different for the first. It too was a old lava tube but its size made the other look like a golfer hole. The temperature in this cave was much colder that the last and as a point there were ice goblins and ice stalagmites and stalactites. But the most difficult obstacle was the cave floor being covered in an inch of ice at times.

On the journey back to the parked vehicles the group spilt into several smaller groups that all found there way back with the last group containing the instructor and his aids excitedly telling everyone that they had discovered a new cavern not on any of the maps. Promising all that would attempt to go and enter the cavern that the trip would be well worth the effort required but nothing more was said other than you will need gloves and knee pads. Upon entering the cave witch stood only five feet tall and rapidly narrowing down to a foot to two feet tall with a jagged ceiling and floor one would wonder if they had a nasty prank just pulled on them. Crawling on the rock was tiring and craning my neck up to see were I was going caused a sharp pain to develop in my neck making it difficult to look where I was going for long. It turned out that I was being left in the dust by everyone else I could tell that the instructor felt bad for me as she stayed close to me to make sure I could make it to the end. During part of this journey some of the other class members would stop and roll over to rest and giving there legs and arms a much needed break one such individual was resting up ahead of me when the incident happened. Our instructor aid, who was ahead of me, reached the point right next to the before mentioned caver who reached out and grabbed the instructor’s arm and said her name. All I heard was her scream witch caused me to look up to see what had happened. But when I looked up to see her turn on her side slightly and start punching at every part of the resting caver intent on doing as much damage as she could. As for the caver he was trying the best he could to curl into a more defensible position an almost impossible feat as the cave was so small. This bit of amusement seemed to brighten the gloomy and sharp predicament I was in by leaps and bounds as I was the only one behind them and could easily see what happened. Roars of laughter could be heard echoing all around the group as the story was retold to those who were up ahead. After army crawling a tenth of a mile the cavern opens up into an antechamber with an exit to the surface further on after a short crawl and a bit of a tight fit. This chamber was spectacular a large gas bubble like one that can be seen when driving through a lava flow. On the outside it look like a giant mound or hill but on the inside it is empty.

It was decided that this unknown cave would be the last on our trip for that day and we broke out camp in a little valley with the hope that it would shield us from the now very cold and gusty wind. Needless to say that night was miserable to cold and windy to sleep but the next day was full of promise at six a.m. (anyone who know me knows better that to require me to be up and coherent at 6 a.m. let alone cheerful). The next cave was the most technical and thankfully the last that we would be doing that day. It started with a 20 to 30 foot repel into a cavern which was full of rock mounds which were the result of the ceiling caving in. This cave also had a short crawl the only difference was the floor was covered in about six to seven inches or more of find sand. Compared to the previous cave this short crawl (maybe a hundred feet) was like crawling on velvet. Unfortunately the cave did not have any alternate exits which meant we had to ascend out of the cave the same way we went into it. Not wanting to go first I watched all the others use the ascender doing the equivalent of 30 pull-ups. David (my new friend) wanted to go early on and hooked into the lines and with surprisingly little effort was up and out of the cavern (he is in the air national guard). When my turn came Another one of my instructors that were on the outside of the cave started joking around that they would pull up all of the ropes except two for the instructor who was still down in the cave (who by the way was the same instructor who was startled in the previous cave). Panicked stricken she started asking the only reaming person in the cave who had come well prepared for rock climbing (and was the person who startled the instructor in the previous cave).

With more words that I would care to type I emerged from the cave with the distinct thought of being over weight or lacking muscle power or both (more likely the later). True to there word they yanked up all but two ropes for the remaining instructor who despite the disadvantage emerged out of the cave without the aid of the extra lines and ascender.

As for the title of this post it was stated to me by David (who is the same age as me) the day before and I quote this question and answer session that made me smile and laugh he asked me.

David “Do you know how I can tell that I’m old?”

Rich “How?'”

David “I’m at the end of the group.”

(Short pause)

David “Do you know how I can tell that you are old?”

Rich “How?”

David “You are behind me.”

(Much laughing)

I hope you have enjoyed my tail of an over weight aging man who is me. ;-)