Spelunkers are eccentric. Spelunkers, or cavers as they are more commonly known, have no fear. They face darkness and the possibility of death every time they probe the depths of our earth. So when my co-worker, who was an avid caver, asked me one day to go caving with him and some other first-timers, I hesitated. I don't like cold, dark and cramped places. But since he was a friend, too, I reluctantly said yes.
According to the National Speleological Society, there are 9,000 caves in Texas. Some are commercial, and some are noncommercial. The one we were going to explore in San Antonio was a favorite commercial cave in the past but had been closed for decades. The local grotto group had permission to explore this cave, as well as others. They could invite guests on occasion as long as there was an experienced, unofficial tour guide - a guide who knew the cave inside and out, with or without a light.
Our tour guide for this trip was extremely experienced. He was also extremely deranged. His name was Ron, and he tried to calm our group of five as we climbed down a ladder into a dark opening of the earth. Once we were inside the cave we paused, and he asked if we had any questions before proceeding further. Millions of questions flooded my mind, but the one that I blurted out was, "What happens if there is an earthquake?"
Ron, who looked gangly and weathered from years of caving, grinned through his scruffy-bearded face. He said, "What better way to go than being embraced by the bowels of the earth?"
What? Did he say "embraced by the bowels of the earth"? This guy was weird. His reply did not calm my nerves nor did it give me a reason to place my life in the hands of such lunacy. I kept quiet though, bit my lip and adjusted the light on top of my hard hat. At least I knew my head would be spared in case of an accident.
We eventually made our way through some small crevices and small rooms as Ron told us the rich history of the cave. I learned it had been a site for Indian massacres, a hideout for robbers and a sanctuary for murderers of the 19th century. At one point, we stopped in a large room, and he told us to look around at the names on the walls. Some were placed there in the early 1900s. Then Ron did something out of the ordinary. He told us to turn off our lights to see how dark it really gets in a cave. Okay. This guy worried me. But all of us did it anyway, and we couldn't see anything. Then we heard a voice that boomed, "You can turn your lights on now."
When we turned on our lights, Ron had vanished! We looked around, and he was nowhere in sight. He abandoned us. Logic told me you should never abandoned a group of first-time cavers. But, just as quickly as he vanished he reappeared in another part of the room and yelled, "Boo!" Of course we jumped. I thought: Great -- not only is this guy weird, but we have a tour guide from the latest Psycho movie.
That day, Ron's eccentricity continued throughout the rest of our caving experience. I was never more happier to see daylight once we exited the cave. Ron thanked everyone for coming and invited us back again. I mumbled something under my breath, and vowed not to return. But I lied.
When I had time to think about my caving experience, I liked it - in spite of our tour guide from the local loony farm. Caving is challenging and rewarding. It's physically demanding and exciting at the same time.
Over the next several months, my life had turned mundane again. Fortunately, my co-worker and friend popped the question I had been longing to hear, "Would you like to go caving?" I said yes in a heartbeat. And, I kept saying yes for another whole year.
Read more articles by Bob Valleau or search for articles on the same topic or others.