Before I share the story though, let me give a little background info.
When I was growing up I was a scaredy-cat. I was especially scared of heights. I’m not talking about standing on the edge of a cliff, that would make anyone scared. I’m talking, when we went to the mall I did not want to get on the escalator and then when we got to the second floor I would walk as far away from the balcony railing as possible. My brothers on the other hand were the opposite of me. They were into all the outdoorsy adventurous activities you can think of- hiking, skiing, and their favorite was rock climbing. On occasion I would venture out with them.
One time I went rock climbing and prettying much got stuck at the top. I learned the hard way that rappelling requires you to trust completely on the ropes and put your entire body weight into the harness in order for it to work. I objected the physical facts of this and demanded that I was allowed to climb down the cliff. It was explained me that it doesn’t work that way and that I would have to rappel down. What felt like 18 hours later I barely managed to get off of the mountain. To this day I have never been able to live it down. So when my brother Brandon recently proposed the idea of rappelling 100 feet into a cave for fun he invited my 12-year-old daughter but not me. Everyone assumed I would not be interested. Surprisingly I wanted to go for it! I actually regret not doing a lot of things that I had the opportunity to do while I was younger and now that I’ve outgrown and/or overcome some of those fears I was ready to give repelling another try.
I posted some videos of my big feat on social media and everyone commented on how brave I was.
However there’s a big chunk of the trip that was not shared. This is the part where we unhooked our harnesses and started to journey out of the cave. At first I confidently followed our fearless leader (my brother) through the narrow tunnels and curves which included army crawling for long stretches through the mud and tight quarters. It was cold and damp. There with creepy crawly prehistoric looking insects clinging to the walls around us. Spaces were so small that we couldn’t even wear our backpacks. We either had to drag them behind us or push them in front of us. We finally got to an opening that allowed for more room when someone in our group up ahead declared that we went the wrong way and would have to turn back. We weren’t tired yet so it really wasn’t a problem but the anxiety at that point started to mount. I have watched a documentary that included some cave tragedies and that’s one film too many to have rattling around in your memory when doing an experience like this. Once we got back to square one (which was the big open cavern) I found my brother and I demanded reassurance that he was certain that he knew how to get out of the cave! He told us there were only two exits on the map and the last one didn’t work so it had to be the next one. As you can imagine my fear level dropped only a small fraction when I heard this.
In that moment I really wanted a supernatural ability to teleport out of the cave. But since I assumed this was not an option the only choice was to keep going. So we charged ahead, did more army crawling, and at one point we reached a big incline that was really too slippery to get up so the person behind you had to make a foothold with their hands and then you climb up. In my case my daughter SJ was ahead of me so she reached out her hand to grab mine. It was really difficult, but my kids encouraged me and SJ said “Mom you’ve got this. I’m going to pull you up.” I may be small for an adult but she is small for a kid so I didn’t expect her efforts to do much but it did! That little warrior pulled her mother up over the mud slide, I kid you not!
Next I heard our friend up ahead say “Wow that’s real sketchy”. Then I hear them say “don’t look down”. My eyes bulged out of my head and I didn’t even want to know what was coming. They came back and reported that we would have to get everyone across this ravine. My heart started pounding. I knew I couldn’t look down, ledges are scary for me anyway and this one had a slippery element. I started breathing heavily and could feel a panic attack coming on. All the fear I had when I was younger creeped back in and I started trembling. I didn’t know how I was going to get across the chasm. J was on the other side encouraging me and reaching out his hand. In my mind it was like a scene from Indian Jones.
In reality J later told me that it was a treacherous drop, but the way the cave was formed he said you would probably have to turn into a wet noodle to fall through the crack. Whatever. I still didn’t like the risk.
I sat on the ground overwhelmed with fear and my sister in law reminded me to breath. I have had panic attacks before and I knew the techniques I needed to do to calm down I just needed to be reminded of them. I got up in that moment and jumped over to where J was.
After that there were a few more moments of fear and danger before finally getting to a place that we knew we had nearly arrived because we ran into the part of our group that did not rappel. That was a relief. I announced that I was leaving our group to go with them, but everyone convinced me to finish the course and see the water fall with them. So I did. Eventually we made our way out of the cave, into the light and I was ready to kiss the ground. We did it!
Even with my challenges I am so glad I faced my fears and experienced the cave with my family. I also really loved watching Z and SJ navigate the whole thing so effortlessly. I was so proud of them.
Afterwards we got ice cream and SJ announced that when she turns 18 she wants to sky dive. I just shook my head at her declaration. Her aunt Laura told her she would do it too. By the way my brother and sister in law have a YouTube channel called Chris & Laura IRL so you can hop over there to subscribe and see a video of the whole caving adventure!