I went caving for the first time yesterday.
It was awesome.
A friend of mine from Antioch, John Dunham, just so happens to be an alumni of nearby Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont, and still volunteers for the college to lead caving trips to caves throughout the northeast. I had never been caving before, but thought it sounded like fun, so I joined John and a group of six students from Marlboro College to explore Clarksville Cave near Albany, New York.
Caving is a pretty sweet way to explore a side of Mother Nature that few people experience. We crawled through tiny passages, on hands, knees, and bellies, getting covered in wet clay and trying to avoid the pools of water that had gathered in the gullies beneath the surface. We wedged ourselves into crevices that seemed impossibly narrow, and shimmied ourselves through tight spaces between rocks. I felt my limbs twisting awkwardly at weird angles, my muscles struggling to pull and push my body through the most absurd spaces. Sometimes the cave opened up into small “rooms” rarely big enough to stand in, and in one section, we waded through a cold and shallow river of rushing water in a spacious underground tunnel that reminded me of something out of an Indiana Jones movie.
At one point, while standing in the underground river, we stopped to turn off our headlamps and experienced the darkest of dark. The blackness surrounded us so completely, it was impossible to see anything, and I even was able to brush my eyelashes with the tips of my finger and still see nothing at all, not even the faintest shadow or outline of my hand.
The girls started to sing – I’m not sure what exactly, but they sang in-the-round and their lovely voices filled the cave with the sweet sound of music. Eventually, the song they had chosen to perform came to an end, and their voices faded out, two by two, gently and beautifully, until the only sound in the cave was the loud rushing of the water around us. We stood in silence and total darkness for a bit longer, then switched our lights back on and continued our exploration of the underground world. I could never ask for a moment like that to happen, but when it does, I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.
When I climbed up out of the cave to grab lunch on the surface, I felt like a groundhog on Groundhog’s Day. According to my calculations, we have six more weeks of winter. Funny when you consider that we’ve hardly had a real winter at all this year!
At the end of the day, I felt like I had been beaten up. I could feel bruises already forming and my muscles were fatigued. I was dirty and tired, wet and cold. My joints ached a little, and I had the distinct feeling that Mother Nature and I had an interesting relationship. I loved the feeling of her abuse, but realized that, unlike unhealthy relationships between people, the challenges she put before me only heightened the rewards she dished out. The thrill I get from being outside in and nature makes the soreness I feel afterward more than worthwhile. I thrive on the adrenaline and endorphin kick I get from physical exertion, and I love nature; put the two together and you end up with one happy Kari.
Nature is therapy to me, and sometimes, I suppose therapy is painful. Therapy forces us to examine our real selves, to dig deep inside and push beyond the barriers that are in our way. Emotional walls or physical ones made of rock and earth, we can gain a lot by conquering them and exploring beyond that which is known. The journeys are not always easy, but they make us stronger, and we are better for them. Perhaps that is why I do some of those “crazy” things others wouldn’t dare to do, like biking across the United States or climbing Mount Washington in the winter.
Or going caving.