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Archive for October 3rd, 2010

Spelunking While Drunk.

If you came late to the telling of life stories, today we’re discussing spelunking.  Go back a few posts and there’s some other stuff to read when you’re done here.   The Dog Groaned at DuskSpitting Beaver River IncidentKeep the Customer Satisfied. A Short Story of the Long Jittery Arm of the LawTo Detroit Death Comes Astride His Pale Horse.

Spelunking While Drunk.

My earliest cave experience was the Oregon Caves when I was eight or so.  That was fun.  They were large spacious affairs, those caverns.  They were the Cadillac version with the mile-wide back seat, the huge seven-body trunk, they had the cool fuzzy dice hanging from the mirror to match the furry dashboard, and they had power seats, those caves.

They were beautiful.  The formations were massive and wild and varied and there was water everywhere.

I humbly submit that that childhood experience was about as much related to spelunking as we did it as a Hereford is related to a sea cow.  The simple facts are that you don’t milk sea cows and as a rule dairy cows drown in the ocean.

It was a cool fall night but the weather hadn’t quite gotten cold enough to require people to bring their brass monkeys indoors – it was just cold enough to make plumes of your breath flit across a flashlight or headlamp beam while moving around.

We got out of the car and I spilled my beer in the dirt but I had a backup can that I had been nursing in my other hand so we were good to go.  Between my feet on the trip down were seven or eight cans of Keystone left out of the half-rack I had bought earlier.  That combined with a few shots of Southern Comfort left me pleasantly inebriated but not so much that I felt like life was a big Tilt-a-Whirl ride.   We were still in Ferris Wheel country.

The de-facto leader of our motley crew said “Whelp, I think it’s that way!” and took off running.  The rest of us, being citizens of the Land of the Blind, assumed that the One-Eyed Man was King even though we began to suspect that he had serious cataract troubles.

Metaphor is an inconvenient and blunt tool at times, especially when it’s inadequate, don’t you think?  Yes, metaphor is a bitch.

An hour or so before that…

We were just getting into the swing of a lazy Saturday night.  Pickings were slim on party-less Saturday night – about all we had to look forward to were rentals if we were lucky and if we weren’t so lucky there was always Gilbert Gottfried (Rhonda Shear, the Midnight Morsel, was Up All Night on Friday nights, I think).  Ah, the good old days when you could catch an edited sexploitation B-movie on a regular basis.  One of my favorites was The Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death but if you repeat that to anyone I’ll deny it and claim Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama, because Avocado Jungle was really a chick flick.  Why, oh why, can’t they make good movies like Killer Klowns from Outer Space anymore?  I have that one in my personal collection, by the way.

My future roommate (Walking) Pharma(ceutical) came in and announced that we could either (a) sit around drinking and watching highly edited B-movies and Gilbert only to end up hormonally worked up and alone, or (b) run down to a cave near the Oregon/California border and do some exploring.  We conferred briefly (about three seconds) and jumped on the opportunity like a deranged slinky.

Fast-forward an hour or so…

A gal that I was sort of lusting after came along, too.  We’ll call her Bimbette.  She was a cute, short, spunky kind of gal with an infectious laugh.  This has been a constant throughout my life, this attraction to short dangerous women.

Bimbette sat in the back between me and some other guy who I didn’t know really well (we’ll call him Strange Guy) and he and I did the timeless male courtship rituals, locking horns, verbally spurring one another, and had we been allowed probably would have knocked each other silly to get the upper hand.  She smiled and enjoyed the attention as she drank her Girl Scout Cookies from her ever-present bota-bag.  So we talked a bit and eventually I got around to saying “Ok, where the hell are we going, again?”

Captain Jack’s Stronghold. Nearabouts.  Sorta.  Maybe.

I got the feeling that it was a cave system that someone had told someone who had told someone that they heard a guy tell his barber’s doctor’s wife’s hairdresser’s daughter about it a few years ago or he had seen a peyote-induced vision of it once.  I was never clear on which one it was.  It was however, near as I could figure, kind of one of those off-the-beaten-path not-quite-sanctioned verboten-probably-illegal kinds of places where if you were not careful you could end up a statistic.

It was a reasonably large group to make statistics with, and I’m guessing through a hazy mix of time and alcohol that it was probably twelve or thirteen of us in three cars.  Hey, a lot of dumb things have been done by far fewer people.  But far fewer people didn’t have the sheer quantities of alcohol that we had at our disposal, either.

Ever had a crystallized moment in your life when you kind of “came to” and realized that you were being kind of swept up into something that was no longer even remotely in your control and never really was, either?  This was just the latest in a very long string of such moments in my life.  After a while you just kind of relax and quit fighting it.  Beer helped immensely to that end.

About a quarter mile off the road we came to a hole in the ground.  It was a big hole that rapidly narrowed down and was pitch black.   Yep, that was a big hole in the ground.  Right before my eyes Pharma put on his headlamp and started climbing down the chimney.

If you’ve never found yourself going down a 30-40 foot chimney with no headlamp of your own in the middle of the night while inebriated and people above and below yourself, dirt falling on and past you into the darkness, and being pelted with pebbles of lava rock every now and then, all to the irregular flashes of remote light… well, let’s just say it’s a lesson in self-restraint and dogged perseverance.  But it’s not like you’re going to just hop off the ride once you’re in that spot, either.

We got to the bottom and I popped open another ‘Stone (I had six or so stashed in pockets around my person) and sucked it dry.  Reckless climbing in the dark is hard thirsty work.  Pharma had already hared off with a few others and we did this sort of Tour de France spreading out where a small group was way ahead and there were pockets of peristaltic-like movement as we traveled down the earth’s gullet.

What I saw:  Above me, the black chimney of the way out, forty feet straight up.  Behind me, the passageway that snaked off in the direction of where the cars were.  In front of me a passageway that was crookeder than a dog’s hind leg where we were going.  I asked someone just how far this cave went before it came back to the top and someone said that they thought it was a mile.  There were glints of discarded beer cans in the passage showing the path taken in the classical Hansel and Gretel fashion.  Good thinking, I said to myself and dropped my current empty can further down the passage.

Bimbette, Strange Guy, and I had two lights between the three of us and we started after the others.  The lava rock was all different shades, rough, and irregular.  It was an Alice in Wonderland illusion of size and scale and you had to crouch down a few inches in some areas and had a higher ceiling in others.  The general trend as I was seeing it though was that quarters were getting cramped(er).

We rounded a 90 degree turn and came face to face with a rock wall.  I thought “HUH? Where’d they go?”

Bimbette pointed down and I crouched to see what she was pointing at.

It was an opening about half again as wide as my shoulders, not very tall at all, and it was 25 to 30 feet long.  I could see lights flashing on the other end and hear muffled voice sounds that made it through the passage. Strange Guy got down and started crawling through the space.

If you’ve ever seen ventilation ducts in the movies, they’re these square profile affairs where the hero can sit up and turn around, make out with some window-dressing chick, change shoes, play cards, curry-comb a horse, even do a complete tire rotaton in them.

This thing?

There wasn’t enough room to scratch your nose or your ass.

I got down and started into the hole, about a body length behind Strange GuyBimbette was still behind me.  I am NOT claustrophobic.  But I’ll tell you this:  I got two body lengths in there and because I’m deep in the chest I got stuck.  Picture it:

You can’t get purchase on smooth dirty rock, you can’t get up on hands and knees, you can’t grab things with your toes, and you’re having a hard time getting a deep breath because you’re stuck.

What do you do?

I’ll tell you what you do.  You panic.  You flat out go apesh*t nuts.  As Stephen King once wrote “If Sgt. Fury goes Section 8, who’s gonna lead the Howling Commandos?”   No one, that’s who.

I’m a quiet apeshit-panic kind of guy.  I started flailing though, and found that yes, you can flail drunkly.  I had just enough presence of mind to exhale as much air as I could.  I exhaled my testicles and my appendix in order to get out of there.  I exhaled my bladder and one kidney and WHOOSH… I was FREE! Now my flailing toes and forearms got purchase and I was backing out of the hole in high wobbly gear.  All that time I was acutely aware of how many tons of material were above me and how very flat it could make a person if a person were to become a statistic.  That thought alone took hold of my world and shook it like a rag doll.

I started muttering at 78 rpm “GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE GOTTAGETOUTOFHEREGOTTAGETOUTOFHEREGOTTAGETOUTOFHERE!” and started almost-but-not-quite running out of there.  “Bimbette, I gotta go.  I can’t stay down here.  Gotta go and I gotta go NOW.”

Making a note for the possibly younger crowd that doesn’t know what 78 rpm refers to… 78 rpm refers to the speed of a phonograph record.  See, they had these… oh never mind.  If you don’t know what it is, just keep reading and forget about it.

Bimbette followed me and only paused long enough to pick up two full cans of beer that had flopped out of my sweatshirt side pockets.  And off we went.  Rather, off she went to find me because I was already gone.  She told me this afterwards.

Ok, hang a right, go twenty feet, left, left, go thirty, bear right, right right, go straight, just go go go go.  And then the absolute worst thing that could happen happened.

I came up to a blank wall.  The tunnel just… ended.  Where there should be a tunnel the tunnel just turned into a big solid featureless wall.

Up until that point I had been panicky.  Now, the bottom of my world just fell out and my mind became unhinged as the reptilian part of my brain came into ascension and took control.  “AAAAAAAAAGH!!” I yelled.  I pounded on the rock and yelled “SH*T SH*T SHI…”

“Lemur!  LEMUR!  LEMUR, LISTEN TO ME!  You ran PAST the chimney!  It’s back there about sixty or seventy feet!”

Huh?  What?  We did?  Oh, well why didn’t you say so?

“OK, THANKS! GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE  kiss kiss  GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE huh GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE kiss kiss GOTTAGETOUTOFHERE!” and I started running back the way we had come from.  And the adrenaline junkie inside of me?  He had bolted a while back when I horked up my appendix and bladder.  He had enough and cut bait.  Oh sure, stick around while it’s fun then leave when things get hairy…

Bimbette was trailing behind me but I could tell she was now committed to staying with me to see if my mind had come completely unhinged in a permanent way.  For a brief while it actually had.   I climbed up the chimney as fast as I could and a great deal faster than was safe.  I hit my head a number of times and my hands were scraped raw and bloody by the lava, and my pants were torn, but I crawled out of there fast, dusty and dirty from head to toe, and Bimbette wasn’t far behind.

Later, I did return the favor although she did not know the extent of it.  She had way too much to drink at a football game and I fended off the predators later when she was praying to the porcelain god and even later after she passed out.  Got her to a bed, covered her up, and staked watch.  No one was going to harm this gal, not if I had any say about it.

A very slight salve to my wounded ego was that it was I who got stuck and not Bimbette.  She had very large… uhm… lungs.  Yes, lungs.   She would have gotten wedged in even before I did.  So I’d like to think this slides into the “Chivalrous” category rather than “Lemur went apesh*t and freaked out like a little girl.”  Facts are facts though, and that is I’d have never fit through because it got even narrower beyond where I got stuck.

So Bimbettte and I sat and drank and waited and talked in the chilly night until people came back from the other end of this particular set of caves.  It was actually several miles by one person’s estimation and it was hours before they got back.  I was happy though.  I wasn’t a statistic, I got to hang out with a chick instead of Gilbert Gottfried, and didn’t run out of beer.

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