Notes from the underground

I celebrated my thirtieth birthday last week. Now that I'm old, try not to mind too much if I talk slower or need to repeatedly be told to speak up and stop repeating myself.

I spent day of my birthday suspended from a rope underground. I took the gang spelunking and rappeling in Moaning Cavern in Calaveras, CA. The tour consists of a 165 foot drop to the bottom of a cave, following by a crawl through tiny tunnels below the main chamber. Much team-building occurred, as well as bruising.

We camped the night before in Calaveras Big Trees and tasted wine in Murphys. Laurel brought birthday cake from the Buttery. Mmmmmmmm.

When I told our guide that it was my birthday, she noted that by a stroke of coincidence, the employee who was catching us as we rappelled down was celebrating his birthday, too. Nifty! I went first, and I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. For much of the ride, there are no walls to push off against. But when you look around, you see some really cool stuff from angles you just can't get on the stairs, including the tops of people's heads. Scary!

A boy who had taken the stairs gave me two (2!) thumbs up on my final descent. That made my day. I asked him why he didn't take the rope. "They said I don't weigh enough," he replied. I didn't tell him--he was so nice and encouraging--but I think he wasn't old enough, either.

I wished the other employee well on his bday, and asked him how old he was. "18" he said. I said, "The last time I was in this cave, you weren't born yet." He said, "Wild!"

The other nine descended after me. Only Mitch rocketed to the bottom. He nearly passed Judy, but got reprimanded by my birthday buddy.

All of the formations were in the main chamber; curtains, igloos, stalactites, and weird faces that you can only see when they turn off the lights. Once we were under the underground, things got dark. The space got tight. The air got sparse. Somebody farted.

When the headlamps went off, I started hallucinating. I swore I could see my hand in front of my face, and my fingering wiggling (though the cadence was wrong). In true darkness, most people just saw nothing, but my mind has always had an overactive imagination.

The squeezes were great, and very challenging. It's like rock climbing sideways through something the size of an air duct. I got worked on the final squeeze. I felt like an inch worm wriggling through a soda straw, and then I had to climb straight vertical to get back to the main chamber.

After spelunking, Tammy learned from the locals about a nearby swimming hole. It was a river that ran through a cave. We hiked to the bottom of a ravine with beer in tow. It was awesome. Though the mercury was approaching 100 degrees F, the water was cold and clean. Imagine swimming in a frigid river through a cathedral, and that's close to what the cave was like. Look up and see stalactites, look sideways and see curtains, look down and see nothing but your own reflection. It was too cool. In some ways it was more awe-inspiring than the underground cave.

And there are NO PICTURES! You have to take my word for it that all of this happened, all ten of us forgot our cameras. But we remember it. My memories of my thirtieth birthday are vivid (even the hallucinations). Next time, underground river rafting!

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At 6/30/07, 3:35 PM, Blogger marshlady said...

H-E-L-Loo Vince,

(Was that slow enough?) Next you will be saying comments like "Kids today" and other things like "weren't faxes enough?" "I had to download for hours in the snow when I went to school" that kind of thing.


Caves sound cool!!


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