The Real Cave Adventure…Through Stacey’s Lens.
I was drawn to Team Film for their sense of adventure. I connected mostly through running, but there is so much more to it than that. It’s a group of amazing women who see challenges as positive. We face challenges as a team and grow individually with each experience.
When the Team Film Caving Adventure was posted, I didn’t even consider joining in on this event. My palms sweat at the notion of being in a tight place. Then the personal invites started coming in, but I had every excuse not to join. Then one night it clicked: I’m not too busy. It didn’t cost that much. It was a fear I could face, so I signed up and let everyone know before I could talk myself out of it again.
It’s game day and we’re at the site in Southern Indiana putting on our kneepads, helmets and headlamps. Our trip guide, Danielle, asked if there are any health concerns within the group. I usually keep it to myself that I suffer from anxiety, but I had no idea what was going to happen underground. I can’t even say I have anxiety without crying. So I said it and moved on as fast as possible. Talking about it makes it worse.
We walked over to a hole in the ground with a grate over it. What?! I was picturing one of those caves with the huge openings where all 10 of us could walk hand and hand into today’s journey. Instead it’s one at a time, guided by someone on ground level and another below the Earth. Lots of big long breaths. Thoughts going through my mind: How would I feel if I stayed at the top all day and waited for them to resurface? How would it feel if I panicked and needed everyone to cut her day short? So I went down into hole.
It was comforting to have experienced guides. Danielle and Kate from dNk Presents had invited along a friend who happens to be a cave rescue expert. Our first physical challenge is Back Breaker, a long stretch not tall enough for even the shortest in our group to stand. I honestly feel OK, even though it is much tighter than I even thought about before signing up.
As we moved through the hours, the spaces got tighter and tighter. I was strategic about who I was near. I watched the shorter women jump and the taller women squeeze through places. We went through spots where I literally thought my helmet would get me stuck, but instead it just scraped along the limestone. We had to remove our small backpacks in many passages, either dropping it down, lifting it over our heads or pushing it in front of us as we moved forward. The group made me feel very safe. There were stories and jokes that made the tight spaces become normal.
Then it got real
Par for the Team Film course, we faced a new challenge. There were two passages: the first was similar to routes we had grown used to, and the second much tighter and more challenging. I thought quickly. To not go the tougher, tighter way was the same as quitting for me. Everything I did underground was a challenge. I couldn’t cheat myself of any experience. I took off my jacket to help me feel like I had more breathing room. I slithered through the downward passage, as if I could somehow collapse my ribs and shoulders.
Then on to a super-small hallway that “opened up” to something a quarter-size of a typical crawl space. It measured the height of our flattened bodies as we crawled on our bellies, dragging our backpacks. Tears rolled down my cheeks the whole time. I let them, but didn’t let it get to me.
Just like anything else, we took the journey in sections. Point to point to point. Just being present and taking each small journey at a time.
We made it to the Mountain Room. I felt like we found the treasure in the movie Goonies. A beautiful open space. We climbed to the top of the Mountain to experience the tiniest place ever. It was smaller than a child’s tunnel slide. We had to slither on our bellies with nearly 90-degree switchbacks. Then landed in this tiny “room” that had enough space for about four people. My fears of being trapped were gone but I did feel like I needed to see the sun again… soon.
The mood grew even more positive toward the end of the journey. The Back Breaker became a place of play. What was a tight space in the start of the day was now a big space and the final leg to resurface to the Earth. I split from the group in the back and journeyed — alone — to catch up to the front group. This was at most a 3-minute walk alone, but about 3 billion thoughts of getting lost and trapped crossed my mind.
Back at the entry was bitter sweet, like a 5-hour roller coaster. A challenge in itself to climb to get out of the cave, emotions took over. I was proud of myself for seriously facing fears, happy to have such a good group of supportive, positive people in my life and excited to be able to pee.
Afterwards we went to a local brewery for lunch and a beer. Our tables were near a window where the sun shone in so strongly we had to cover our eyes. I couldn’t be happier. I felt like it was congratulating us for our adventure below.
What may have been a fun day adventure to some of our group was a huge step in personal growth for me. Facing our fears, accepting challenges and seeing life as a journey is what we’re here to do. Being a part of liked-minded adventures who support you along the way is the best we can hope for.