What was I doing, stuck in a cave, crawling on my hands and middle-aged knees, my face barely inches from some overweight man’s butt?
He was stuck and now, so was I. Not just stuck because of his size—he was a big, burly, macho Italian guy, but more, because of his ego.
He wanted to show his kids he “could do it”.
Like me, he crawled and crouched his way through this cave. But I could hear, as we went deeper in, winding our way through the granite tunnel, on hands and knees, his breathing was getting heavier. We were almost at the end, but he was starting to panic.
He couldn’t move.
His kids had exited, but were now shouting back in the cave’s darkness, “You can do it, Dad!”
Nervous laughter bubbled up inside me, then turned into hyperventilation. Granite walls enveloped me like a closed casket. Was someone behind me (no pun intended)? I couldn’t turn my head.
If he couldn’t get through, then neither would I. Who would come and save us? This man and I were both overweight. We shouldn’t have gone in the cave.
It’s why the cave company hung a sign outside the cave—one you couldn’t miss—with the cave’s name, “Lemon Squeeze”, an obvious warning to people of a certain size not to enter.
It also had a “try this first” sizing chart of sorts, two slats of wood slanted like a teepee opening, so people like me (and him) could see if we could fit.
Before I went in, I knew the answer. I’m sure, he did, too.
Primal fears started taking over my rational mind. I wondered why I was here.
The idea was to do a family-friendly trip that all four of us could enjoy. My husband, Joe, a 4-season mountain man and veteran hiker came up with a new idea for us: caving.
We could try some caves in New Hampshire, he said, about two hours from our home in the Boston area.
“Sometimes it’s called ‘spelunking’,” he added, as if a fancier, cuter name would entice me more.
Maybe, if chocolate was involved.
I had seen the cave’s advertisements, on route to trips to ski or hike in the White Mountains, but figured they were some synthetic, Disney-like reproduction. A former co-worker, an avid caver, had told me stories about his caving adventures, one that required special equipment, like helmets, ropes, headlamps.
Oh yeah, and guts.
Joe convinced me that the cave he was considering was a “showcave”, not wild cave like my Dutch friend explored, but real all the same.
Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caverns, located in the White Mountains in New Hampshire, was a popular summertime destination for families like ours who enjoyed exploring outdoors.
Or, in this case, indoors.
Ok, I sighed. Let’s try it.
Driving north on I-93 on an overcast summer day, my husband explained how the caves were formed: during the Ice Age, 300 millions years ago, when mile-thick glaciers covered the White Mountains we knew well. When they melted, glacier-sized gushes tossed and tumbled boulder-sized granite rocks that came crashing down, finally lodging into place, forming the Kinsman Notch and the White Mountain range. Lakes at the bottom of the mountains were the only visible reminder of the Ice Age.
Anyway, Joe reassured me, how hard could these caves be? Two brothers, about 9 and 10 years old, discovered them in the mid-1850s while out fishing.
Now, I liked to think of myself as an adventurous kind of woman, but I liked being on top—of a mountain, a boat, a bike, a tree. On my feet, or on a seat, not my belly. Not underground, like someone buried alive. My heart beat faster in my chest at the thought of being blanketed by pitch black in the cavernous space below the surface.
After having our two daughters, I have to admit, my sense of adventure diminished.
I started playing it safe. I skied slower. I pumped my bike brakes more. I drove closer to the speed limit.
I wanted to be around for them.
But we wanted to grow our daughters, Bridget and Katie, to be adventurous, outdoors-y people like us. And attract people who did likewise.
Hyperventilating on my hands and knees, I wasn’t that person.
“Get a grip, Kathy!” I told myself. I remembered my deep breathing from yoga.
It restored me.
Now it was time to help this man calm down.
“You can do it!” I shouted to him.
His panic subsided and he pushed through, crawling forward a bit more, then out to the open.
With a heave of relief, I followed.
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