The Motivation for this Journal

My name is Matt and I play in West Virginia. Actually, I'm addicted to the state.

Living inside or within a few hours of a WV state border for all of my life, I've had plenty of "West Virginia Moments," a characterization that could range from WV stereotype reinforcements of the cultural (could be bad) to the natural persuasion. Fortunately, the number of the latter is far greater than the number of former.

I wish to document with this blog these "West Virginia Moments." If you're reading this, then you are a friend or family member, or have stumbled upon this blog, and I thank you for reading and hope you'll get a laugh, discover a new natural place in WV, or gasp at the thought of it. However, the real reason for this blog is personal. I will consider this blog an archive of these moments for a man with a poor memory.


23 June, 2010


I find myself more inspired to post entries lately, but I often hold back, restricted by the title of this memoir. I don't know why I'm such a stickler to my own rules, but I've come up with a loophole: a new blog.

So, here goes. My new blog is Lugs, Chains, and Paddle Blades

I will post there when motivated to do so, and if the subject happens to involve The Great State, then I'll repost here.

Got r dun.

03 May, 2010

Cheatin' with the Family

On Friday I raced in the Cheat Downriver Race after missing the 2009 event. After crossing the finish, I got off the water, said a few hellos to some fellow competitors and spectators, lifted my kayak to my shoulder, and walked up to the parking lot at Jenkinsburg. There were several hundred frolickers and racers around me in the remote West Virginia river canyon. I located my friend Jen's Jeep, pulled out some tie-down straps that I'd stashed in my kayak earlier, and secured my boat to the roof. I then stuffed my gear in the boat, turned around and stopped the first car that came my way and asked them for a ride.

Not even half of the racers had finished, the kegs had barely been touched, and I was already sitting in the back of some stranger's Cherokee on my way up the long, rough road out of Jenkinsburg.

The entire trip, which consisted of two successful hitchhikes, took 3.5 hours. This is how my river trips go now; I wear a watch and I move efficiently. Navy S.E.A.L.s, eat your hearts out.

Despite the dramatic changes that have taken place for me and Molly in the past few years, the primary motivator for both of us remains unchanged: we're just trying to have fun. In fact, we try to eek out every last drop of it.

Everybody has to work. Everybody has to maintain their home, buy groceries, and pay bills. So, while it may not be any fun to do some of the things we all have to do, decisions to do things in my life are made with a fun:work ratio consideration. How will task x facilitate fun event y? If I decide against p, then how will that affect the fun q I've been planning? Life is a fun game to play, and winning the game means having the most fun. This isn't to say that I don't change diapers, and grad school really sucked, but a bit of foresight goes a long way in this game.

When Molly told me she wanted to go back to CheatFest after taking a year vacation from it (Indie was less than 4 months old for the 2009 event), I jumped at the opportunity. If I could do the race, then I would spend all day Saturday being a husband and father, no matter how many of my friends invited me to tag along on a river trip. We'd camp, we'd hike, and we'd enjoy the music at the festival.

By Saturday night we'd accomplished all of this and then some and getting home after the long weekend in the sun would have felt great if I didn't have yard work to do.

Git r Dun

07 December, 2009

Mother's Day at Rockville

There's no mystery; I know what's gotten into me, preventing me from (a) finding time to write in this memoir, and (b) having experiences worth sharing. Somehow I've found myself with a life full of grown-up responsibilities. There's a beautiful little red-headed girl named Indie tugging at my ankles. The tenure review process is heating up. All of a sudden, the important people in my life can be found in their houses and not their tents or pickup beds. And so, when I decide how to spend time away from my office, the creaks in the floorboards of our new home get more of my attention than the creeks of West Virginia .

I have not given it up, though.

Molly insisted that we spend her first Mother's Day playing. Just like we used to. With decent water abound and generally mild weather, I was happy to secure a loaner raft to show her the Upper Big Sandy from Bruceton Mills to Rockville. Indie was less than 4 months old and still preferred to sleep in her carseat, so it was an easy first time in a tent. We spent the weekend camping at Rockville, arriving Friday night and sharing the over-used riverbank campsites with a couple of friendly guys who were nice enough to invite us to their campfire. For Saturday, we'd arranged the company of a few friends to hang out with Indie while we rafted.

After a beautiful day on the water that included two runs of the Upper Sandy by some and a kayak run of the Lower by others, we enjoyed dinner at the fabulous Riverside Hotel in Friendsville. The cozy, quiet sophistocation of the mountains would end there. After saying goodbye to friends as they went their way, we headed back to Rockville. Things then went downhill fast.

We pulled into the campsite after dark and Indie was clearly ready to be nestled in for the night. Interruptions wouldn't typically be expected in situations such as these; we were driving into an uninhabited former mining depot reached only by rough backroads. It was too early in the season for the crowds who like to come and swim in the creek, and so we only expected to see a few of the campers we'd seen the night before. And, the night before was quiet. Based on what I saw as I pulled into our site, I was worried even before I turned the headlights off .

A small Chevy S-10 pickup sat marooned on a 2-foot high stump and two men stood next to it, drinking and pondering mechanical advantage. The rear tires were on the ground, but the front tires hovered 3 inches in the air. They were excited to see us. We were not excited to see them. Attempting diplomacy, I got out of the car, pulled the baby seat out in full view of our neighbors, and nodded with a serious brow, as if to say, "See this? It's a baby. I'm too busy with family matters to help you dumb asses get out of the situation you were stupid enough to get into." But, they didn't bite. They waddled over to me, looked at me, looked at my car, and said, "Dude, is this a Subaru? We need your help!" I wasn't biting either. For one thing, a Subaru is no tow truck. For another, I was busy and had to help Molly get Indie to bed.

To the non-parent, it may sound simple, as it did for me only a few months prior. Put the kid to bed. Plop. Done. No, no . . . the task starts with the warm-up activity of removing clothes from the baby's body. That's the easy part. Change diaper. Put new clothes on the baby. Feed baby. Wrap baby in swaddling blanket. All of these are difficult, and it gets cold at night in Rockville. Getting Indie ready for bed was a two-person, four-handed activity. So, when they asked me this question, I politely said, "okay; I'll be happy to help you guys figure out a solution, but first I have to help get my family ready for bed." "Oh, I toooootally understand, man; my little girl is turning 14 this year!"

For a second, I thought, well if this guy has kids, then he must have some sense about him. But I quickly remembered that procreation requires no sense and promised that I'd be back shortly.

Once Indie was asleep, I told Molly that it would be best for all of us if I helped these guys as much as possible. If they decided they didn't like us, I explained, then they definitely wouldn't be very respectful neighbors. I tried to make it sound as if the worst case was them not being courteous with their flashlights. When I arrived back at the scene of the treed S-10, I quickly made friends with the two men by looking around and taking a strong interest in their project. "We been tryin' ta git 'er unstuck, but that tree's right in the middle of it," I was told. I could see that the chassis of the pickup was resting on the tree stump. We tried a few different strategies, all of which consisted of trying to lift one corner of the truck while one of the increasingly drunk hillbillies sat in the cab and gave it gas. None of them worked. We got a better idea of the physics of the situation when I tried pushing the truck to the side from the rear fender. The truck spun like a lazy Susan.

I somehow successfully convinced the two men that it was time to call it a night. Their campsite was set up, it was nighttime, and the beer was still cold. "Maybe we'll have better luck in the morning," I suggested, trying to emphasize the we as if I had some intention of sticking around in the morning while these guys slept off hangovers.

I thought it ended there.

I went back to our campfire where Molly sat in a camp chair and drank with our more friendly campsite neighbors and laughed with them about the situation. A short time later, the unmistakable sound of an unmuffled engine roared in the distance and grew louder. I knew what was coming and didn't expect it to pass quickly.

In many rural areas, it is a fairly common hobby to take an old truck or jeep, remove its muffler and all other power-depleting mechanisms, and modify the suspension to accommodate for giant wheels. As if we were all of a sudden at the county truck & tractor pull, several of these beasts came creeping down the rough roads, intentionally taking every bit of boulder, earth, or small tree as a direct hit. Then came the sound of one of these beasts struggling as the others made their way out of the canyon. Revving and revving, we could tell that the truck was bouncing and jerking by the motion of the spot lights mounted to its roof. For a minute or two, we heard nothing but the earth-trembling roar of what turned out to be a 1980's vintage Ford F150 smashing back and forth against something. We had no idea what it was, but the truck could not overcome this obstacle. Then, silence. A creaky door. A slam. Unintelligible language. More silence.

I waited just a bit before I decided to try to get all of my new friends together. It was serendipity. Two drunk hillbilles with a truck stuck on a tree meet a third hillbilly with more horsepower than he can control in the middle of nowhere. I dashed over, exclaiming, "Guys! You need that guy's truck! He can get you off the tree!" Without proper explanation, this would make no sense at all, but on that night it was poetry. By the time I got back to the treed S-10, the new truckster had already joined the marooned party. So, I came upon the three of them, once again drinking and pondering mechanical advantage. You ain't so clever, they seemed to indicate as they looked at me, and said "Yeah; we found the guy, but his truck is dead now, too."

By now I could end this story because it doesn't go much further. The truckster had been "tryin' out my new truck; I traded it for my 4-wheeler today; and I was tryin' to plow some dirt around," when it just died on him. Good thing the two hillbillies he stumbled upon had extra gear and cold beer, because his other truckster friends never came back. But, before I walked away, our conversation went on to families.

One of the guys with the treed S-10 is a father and remarked at how fast the years pass. The other treed S-10'er agreed, "I remember when she was this big." All three gentlemen live nearby. When the father asked his buddy for confirmation on how big his little girl has gotten to be, the two got uncomfortably close to the creepy, incestuous line, crossed it, and kept going. Disgusted, I walked away, joined Molly and the others at our campfire, and told them about the conversation between the treed S-10'ers and the truckster. "Fuckin' rednecks," one of our neighbors said, "I'm glad I bought this," and pulled his jacket away from his chest revealing a pistol harnessed under his armpit. Molly didn't notice, and I ushered her to the tent.

I waited a few weeks to tell her about that.

The next morning, eager to avoid all of the sleeping creepers, we packed up and drove off to the trailhead to Wonderfalls. I asked Molly to marry me here and consider it to be an extremely special place. We were bringing Indie to see it for her first time.

Git r Dun.

20 April, 2009

First Time Cheatin'

My first ever shot at leading a club trip came this past Sunday, when 16 boaters agreed to put their faith in my guiding them from Albright, WV down the long and hearty Cheat River. To spoil the end of my report, this story ends well; the same 16 boaters cheerfully hoisted their crafts to their shoulders at the take out about 5 hours later while Steve Wang sheepishly admitted that he once was young and foolish enough to have jumped off the Jenkinsburg Bridge. I gasped and reminded him that it was “plumb crazy” for him to intentionally put himself into danger’s way (hint, foreshadowing).

Promptly at 9 am, we congregated at Little Sandy’s truck stop to perform the essential cognitive activity of the day: the shuttle. A mild headache later, five vehicles pulled out of the lot on their way to the take out while the remaining vehicles, their passengers, and 17 boats scattered about among the eternal revolving door of tractor trailers and pick up trucks.

A long shuttle drive later, we slipped into the orange waters of Muddy Creek and scraped down about 100 yards to the slightly less orange Cheat River. The group corralled at the confluence, and I told Jen “Stern Squirt” Raber that that a level of 3.7 feet was juicy, To be clear, I told her, the Cheat was not high. but it was most definitely not low. Overhearing me, Dave Greenwald rolled his eyes and chuckled while first time cheat boater, Martin Wittmann, took a big gulp and peeled out in his itty bitty Jackson playboat.

I forgot most of the lines. Actually, to be precise, I never really knew them. But, really, who other than a veteran Cheat raft guide knows the lines through the dozens of unnamed Cheat rapids? Feeling a bit silly, I announced to the group that if I don’t announce a line or if the line doesn’t become entirely obvious as they approached rapids, then it was on the left. John Brady chuckled, though I believe he knew I was right.

And on went our crew. They bopped through countless nameless class 2 and 3 rapids, putting their confidence in me. For some strange reason, this confidence remained strong even after my little spat with Big Nasty.

Which, for the record, was Grease Fire’s fault.

After scouting and successfully navigating Big Nasty, our group congregated in the eddies on both sides of the run out of the notorious hole. Rob “Grease Fire” Mitchell and I have a history of getting each other into trouble, and this was exactly what I was up to when I first attempted a surf of the big hydraulic. “Worst case is you swim out of it” was part of my advice to the newbies above Big Nasty, and what I reiterated to myself upon pulling my boat into the surge. Quickly it spit me out with a strong denial, and – just as I expected – Rob was eager to make his attempt. His surf was similarly a non-surf. After getting similarly denied, he looked back at me and nodded, as if to say, “go for it.” And so I upped the ante and really dove into the hole.

Jason Hilton tells me my bow went deep into the hole and then swung hard into the foam pile for a few bow-to-stern cartwheels.

On my end, it was utter chaos. I had about 0.5 seconds of sense and began to set up a roll, but from there it was nothing but mayhem. Giving up relatively quickly, letting go of the paddle, and pulling the skirt typically ends with a big breath of air, but in this case the next thing that happened was an aquatic gaze up through several feet of pearly green water followed by more tumbling. It would be an uncomfortably long time before that gulp of air came. And, when I did come to the surface swimming aggressively, I opened my eyes only to find myself swimming upstream in the recirculating boil. I was at the top of the foampile staring down about 12 feet into the meat.

After I hacked up more Cheat River water than I wish to admit, I received a round of applause. It was then that I looked down to discover that the two Snickers bars I’d stashed in my PFD were gone. That damn hole literally ate my lunch.

I like to think of the Cheat as a very long chain of flatwater pools connected by about 30 rapids. Those pools make the collection of gear much more convenient when playboaters get stuck in holes and swim. It happens to lots of playboater all the time, and it happened to us on Sunday.

But, the real event came to life just above Pete Morgan’s rapid.

After scouting Coliseum, we set up safety with a rope on either side of the outflow and boaters in eddies. We did not want a swim out of Coliseum to turn into a swim through Pete Morgan. Moments later (okay, more like a half hour), after a successful run through the big rapid by all, we began to hop eddies to get a good look at Pete Morgan. Halfway there, I glanced back to see, for a split second, a rare triple side surf in three distinct adjacent holes. All three accidental sidesurfers looked calm, but they were all working hard to become unstuck. By the time I had jumped to shore with a rope, Jen had flipped in her hole only to right herself with a blown skirt. As water rushed into her boat it favored the stern cavity and by the time she was in the meat of Pete Morgan, Jen was paddling a swamped boat in an eternal stern squirt. Remarkably, her line was clean. She jumped out and began to swim while the rest of the group rounded up her gear.

With confidence high, the group chatted and laughed, telling tall tales through the final miles of runout below Pete Morgan. We returned to the put in soggy and tired and redistributed bodies and boats while Ralph Teter prepared his campground for CheatFest. Judging by the size of the fire he set to burn the rubble that accumulated over the winter, it appears that he’ll be ready.

The 2009 TRPC First Time Cheatin’ Trip included John Brady, Paul Eisner, Rick Gates, Dave Greenwald, Jason Hilton, Alan & Andre Kumonkowski, Jeff Lorimer, Ed McGuiness, Rob Mitchell, Jen Raber, Phil Raber, John Rudland, Steve Wang, Martin Wittman, and Matt Zeleznik.

16 September, 2008

A day of firsts

Despite my personal policy, it is worth noting that on Friday the 12th, Matt Z and I attempted a run of the upper reaches of Thompson Run in Penn Hills. It had rained all day and so we were happy to find the little micro-creek gushing with water. Devoid of any beta on this gutter of the Eastern suburb of Pittsburgh, we assumed incorrectly that the take-out was at Hank's Auto Body off Thompson Run Rd. The friendly (aka, drunk) patrons of the Universal Joint then directed us to a drainage ditch that was running and which we assumed was our put in for Upper Thompson Run. After a handful of portages, a lot of bushwhacking, and at least two chest-deep episodes in the disgusting sludge water, we "successfully" paddled about 500 yards of a drainage ditch that was no wider than our kayaks are long -- betcha can guess how we found that out -- before all of the water on which we were floating disappeared into a big pipe. Tails between our legs, we decided we need to do more research and have since deduced that Hank's is the put in, and that this could be a nice gem to ride all the way to Turtle Creek, or perhaps even further to the Mon after our next big downpour. A bit more daylight would be helpful, too.

But, that's too far north to be discussing at length in this archive.

So, on the following day and after disinfecting our gear, I was happy to lead three first-timers down the now familiar Lower Big Sandy (LBS). Those of us in the know for this run were not concerned about the skill levels of the three, especially given the beginner-friendly level at the bridge.

The three first known firsts of the day could be seen in the anticipation of our three newbies -- actually, just in Mike -- and the fourth was the level, 5.3 feet at the Rockville bridge, the lowest any of us had run it. Then, the ratio of beginners to experienced boaters (3:4) would be considered inadvisable and high and the highest any of us had experienced on the LBS. A 6th first was attempted and successfully carried out when we strapped a total of 8 boats to the roof of my car, a precipitous act considering that the drive to the put included Rockville Road.

A bit of mangled knuckle skin and some trauma discovered by two head-on piton at full speed later, the group arrived at the mouth of the Sandy as its sediment-laden waters dirtied the clear water of the Cheat.

Here are a few more photos from Saturday.

Git 'r Dun.

18 August, 2008

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad race

I was so sad on Saturday; so very, very sad.

You see, I had spent months running and pedaling my mountain bike up the gnarliest climbs I could find in my nearby woods and paddling up and down the rapids in the rivers all around my new home in Pittsburgh. It was all in anticipation of this year's Captain Thurmond's Challenge triathlon and it would be my third year competing. Everything looked to be perfect. My legs were fresh and strong and my fitness right where I thought it should be in order to perform well. I'd been in my new racing kayak for a few races and dozens of workouts, and at this point I really felt at home paddling it.

The race began well. The biking section would have a new course in 2008 so that the race could start and finish in Fayetteville, WV. After about a half mile of riding through the town's quiet streets, the racers entered the woods. We weren't quite spread out enough at that point, so some ritualistic bumping and passing was necessary. After a few descents and climbs on the singletrack course, I sat comfortably in position somewhere in the top 15 riders as the passing diminished. It was looking to be a good race!

Then, just as the race director had described in the pre-race meeting, the trail opened up to a graveled forest road. Down into the gorge I raced and once in awhile I was able to see a racer or two ahead of me when the road opened up for a straightaway in between switchbacks. Screaming down the mountain we went. At a rightward turning hairpin, a volunteer stood there, presumably for safety, encouraging us to keep going. A quarter mile further down the steep road in next hairpin turn to the left, the road opened again to a long, straight descent. I clicked my shifter into its highest gear and picked up speed.

I though it seemed odd that we were going so far away from Cunard.

Cunard is the place where we were to ditch our bikes for our boats and paddle to the end of the New River Gorge at Fayette Station. But, we were getting closer to Fayette Station on our bikes, not Cunard. Oh well, I thought, I haven't seen any course markers and there are still fresh tire tracks in the muddy sections. There must be riders ahead of me.

Slight panic began to sink in with my first glimpse of the New River Gorge Bridge, high above Fayette Station. This was a long way from Cunard. But there are still tire tracks! A group of hikers then encouraged me that there were eight riders ahead of me. Allright! I'm in 9th position! This is really my year!!

My slight panic became more intense when I reached the paved road and found one of my competitors, dejected, standing next to his bike.

"We're going the wrong way!", he shouted.

"Are you sure?", I protested.

"We're at the take out!", he said with eyes of disappointing solidarity.

A few bystanders disagreed. "The other racers went down that road!", they said. We shrugged to each other and off we went down the road. This road is one way, I thought, as we cranked our bikes as fast as we could down the steep, paved hill. But no cars approached us. Instead, we came upon those other racers that the bystanders had told us about.

"There's nobody down there!", one of them shouted, clearly infuriated. I was now in a group of about ten riders, two of whom won the race in previous years. This group was not happy. Kill the Monster lynch mob visions danced in my head.

Later, when I came upon a National Park Service Ranger's Jeep driving through the woods, saw the expression on his face, and heard the words he had to say, all hopes of seeing my results among the better ones in this year's vanished.

I had stopped racing. But, something inside me wouldn't allow it to be over until I heard it from an official. And, with the ranger's brown NPS uniform and white and green jeep, it doesn't get much more official than that in the New River Gorge National Recreation Area. I was just so sad.

And so, from Fayette Station, two riders decided to ride along the railroad to Cunard, disqualifying themselves from the race by doing so, but it was the most direct way to get to their boats so that their team could proceed. The rest of us began to backtrack. For miles (and miles!) we all had descended into the New River Gorge at breakneck speeds. Now we slowly ascended back out, feeling cheated. At the point where asphalt gave way to dirt, the two previous year's winners accepted a ride from a pickup, leaving about 6 of us to continue into the forest. We rode together, licking our wounds, bitching about how in the world a race director could possibly fail to mark a turn off a screaming fire road descent!

And that's when we ran into the ranger. His words should have reinforced what we already knew, but for some reason (denial) it was hard to hear that the entire race was now ahead of us because we'd missed a turn off that fire road.

Several hours later, after transcending the remaining grief steps (actually I was still stuck somewhere between depression and acceptance), I found myself back in Fayetteville. In the meantime, I had decided to stop racing after completing the remainder of the bike course and then paddling to a point where I found my friends from Three Rivers Paddling Club on the river. Telling race officials that "122 is pulling out of the race", as much as it pained me to say it, came at Fayette Station. I've felt this emotion before, but it's been due to injury, not personal protest and exhaustion. When I found the race director, things changed. I had clearly not been the only one ready to tell him exactly how badly he'd screwed up (er, how angry we were that he did). Shaking his head while holding it in his hands, he was courteously apologizing to each of the racers who stood in front of him. He knew that the mistake was on his watch whether or not he'd carefully instructed his volunteers. I imagined myself in his shoes.

And so I began to walk away after leaving him with my name for my refund check. As he maturely took his next tongue lashing from the line of tongue lashers, I looked up at the Fayette County Courthouse and the big, bright blue sky illuminating its stone facade and the dozens of townspeople who had come out to support the race. I stopped in my tracks and turned back. "Hey, Adam!", I shouted. The race director looked up like a victim. "I'll be back next year."

Git 'r Dun

Here's the Beckley, WV Register-Herald story on the race.

10 June, 2008

Whiting's Neck Cave

This one is a throwback and -- once again -- it was Jeremy's idea. I recently came across a photograph that reminded me of this one and decided it was worth writing up.

While I was living in the DC area, the Eastern Panhandle was about 70 miles from my home. In anticipation of a mild 2003 January weekend, the two of us spent far too many hours researching caves in the Harper's Ferry area on the Internet. I had heard of their existence, but as the code of grotto explorers the world over goes, their locations are not to be disclosed. I recently found my notes from the Internet sleuthing and resulting adventure.

It's called Whiting's Neck Cave, named after a nearby bend in the Potomac River, and somehow we found it. It required a day-long adventure because much of it was spent bushwhacking through fields and the woods. When we'd find a hole in the ground that looked like it might lead to a cavern, Jeremy would don his helmet and headlamp and get down and dirty attempting to squeeze himself in. If we'd have been spotted by a local landowner, I can only imagine the reaction upon one guy (me) standing guard with the other (Jeremy) only visible from the waist down, sometimes with legs spidering while he wrestled himself into an inverted vertical position.

After many hours of this despite being entirely convinced that we were walking on top of a cave, we finally stumbled upon a power line trail into the woods from a farmer's field that was mentioned in a vague online description of the directions to the cave. Along the trail, we found a few more holes that proved to only allow Jeremy to go subterranean to his ankles. Then, we finally stepped around a boulder garden that revealed a hole tall enough to walk into. About five feet in, the ground dropped into blackness and the top of a wooden ladder invited visitors to see what's down there.

It was just as we'd hoped. Crawling on the smooth, slimy, off-camber rocky cave floor, we dutifully became a muddy mess from head to toe as we shimmied through holes and squirmed around stalactites and stalagmites. A few interestingly large rooms enabled us to straighten our backs for a moment and get oriented before entering the next small tunnel. Jeremy broke out the Pep-o-Mint Life Savers, as expected.

Despite claims that the cave was linear (different exit and entrance), we each carefully kept a mental map for our way back out of the cave as we came to each bifurcation in the cave's passageways. Our Internet notes told us of a 50-foot rappel into a lower, terminal section of the cave and upon reaching a drop into utter blackness accompanied by a few rock bolts at the top for attaching a rope, we knew that we were there. And, we came prepared.

With a big heave after tying it off, the coiled rope was sent flying. We had tied a "stopper" knot into the lower end of the rope in case it wasn't long enough, but that didn't drive away the butterflies from swarming as I clipped in and started lowering myself over the precipice. There was nothing to see below me but painfully silent darkness. Slipping around on the slimy wall, I stumbled my way down the face and was soon standing safely at the bottom in a few inches of water. A short time after signaling up to Jeremy with a flicker of my headlamp, he was by my side at the foot of the big wall while the rope dangled for us to return.

After a bit more exploring in the lower section, we reached our turn around. Friends back home were instructed to notify help if they hadn't heard from us by a specific time, and in order to be sure to beat that time while allowing wiggle room for what may be a difficult climb back up what we'd rappelled down, it was time to go.

Retracing our steps back to the rappel was easy, and in a short time we were back at the foot of it staring at the dangling rope. This time, however, the darkness loomed over our heads as we looked up at a boot camp style 50-foot hand-over-hand climb up a slimy wall. With mud covered hands, we were a bit unnerved.

After a few attempts, we stood at the top and we were exceedingly glad to have worn helmets. And, climbing that rope was definitely not a solo job.

With the big hurdle behind us, we were light on our toes on the return trip. The task now was making effective use of our mental maps and at one junction we found that they were not the same. We reached a large cavern and were looking at two tunnels. While my instinct told me that the left tunnel was the way to go, Jeremy's indicated right. As the butterflies returned, sweat began to accompany an elevated heart rate. I'd freaked in a cave once before when I was in high school, and I began to feel the sensation again. Trying to stay cool, I suggested that we each take our own suggested route for exactly 5 minutes and returning. With luck, one of us would reach a point of recognition, confirming that route as the correct one.

When I freak, I tend to move quickly, perhaps to find comfort as soon as possible. I was happy to find that comfort in the form of a monster rock formation known as the Wedding Cake that we'd passed earlier in the day and of which we'd seen photos earlier in the week on a website. We met back at the freak out spot a few minutes later and Jeremy told me that his tunnel was a dead end.

With some of the remnants of anxiety staying with me, we quickly moved through the tunnels until we saw the light of day at the top of the ladder. When we got back to the car and into cell phone range, we made our phone call several hours before the dreaded, prearranged rescue time. Mission accomplished.

Unfortunately, I have no electronic photos from the day, but I do have the notes from the trip including detailed directions to the cave entrance. I don't consider myself a spelunker, but I respect the social mores of those who are. So, I'm not just giving them to any old Joe. You know how to contact me if you want them.

Git 'r dun.