Thursday, May 22, 2008

Grace's place - Austin, TX

Tuesday, after showing me his work place, Joe and I went around downtown a bit. We stopped at the river, but it was way hot and sunny yesterday and I had left my sunscreen at his place. Then we visited a friend of his who works in a headshop. Not a ton of excitement, but the best part was yet to come. Joe had plans to take me caving that evening.

I've gone caving with Joe a few times in Arizona. We've gone in some pretty cool caves and gotten plenty mucked up and bruised. I'm not claustrophobic and I'm relatively small, so the idea has always appealed to me. I am endlessly thankful that Joe is such a patient person, because I'm willing to try new things, but I ask constant questions and I take my time. I guess it's not all bad that I have the most interesting friends in the world.

The cave we went to is called Whirlpool. It is inside the city limits of Austin, right next to a shopping center, under the freeway. This came as a shock to me, because all of the caves Joe had taken me to previously had taken hours of desert driving to get to. Apparently the city of Austin has hundreds of caves, discovered when people try to build on them. This cave is locked to protect it. We went in with a guy named Matt as our guide, who gives tours of this cave regularly to beginners. There were 13 of us total, about half of which were not actually beginners, but I've noticed that cavers don't turn down a good cave just because it's not the most challenging one in the world. This cave isn't open for just anyone to come through, so they took advantage of the cave tour.

Whirlpool was given its name because it is in a stream bed. When it rained and the stream flooded, water drained into the cave and created a whirlpool, which is how it was discovered. It is a fairly straight forward cave with a pretty clear path of where to go. Some caves are like Swiss cheese, with endless passages to get hopelessly lost in. I have been in such a cave once with Joe, and gotten slightly lost, so this one was a relief. It was also a relief to have people who know the cave so well as our guides.

The cave was made up of many tight passages that required crawling, and often times slithering, to get through. These passages opened up into bigger chambers, which made the journey more comfortable. One of these passages was named the birth canal, because it was such a tight squeeze. It was best to go through on your back with your eyes closed, to avoid dust. You just have to feel your way forward and trust that you will come out in the end. It was about 6-8 feet of this, which is not so bad. I've gone through passages that seemed to go on forever and ever with nothing but sliding on your belly, using your toes to propel you forward, with no clear ending that allowed you to stand right up.

This cave had a lot of payoffs, in that hard work led to a comfortable place for the group to sit and chat, or amazing cave formations. In this case, the last room in the cave had an exploded geode, named Crystal City, that could be seen right up close. By shining your headlamp on it the little crystals glowed. Amazing, amazing the things that are hidden in the ground.

We entered the cave around 7:30pm and came out at 11:00pm. It was a long trip for such a small cave, but so worth it. I emerged covered in bruises and mud, but completely satisfied and energized. Starving, also.

After that it was off to shower and then meet up with Grace, Joe's girlfriend. Very nice girl, a little hard to read, but I think that's a good thing. We crashed at her place because she has an air mattress. She also has an awesome dog named Chloe who is currently laying on the air mattress with me.

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