O-REC led a trip this weekend to the Robber Baron Cave this past Saturday. Thirty feet below the surface, cramped in a narrow tunnel, stuck with only my feet mobile, I came to realize some things about life.
I signed up for this trip with the image of Natural Bridge Caverns in mind. For those of you who haven’t made it out there, imagine a cave with walkways, lights, cafe and gift shop, and now you’ve got the idea. This was in no way a show cave.
After locating the rather inconspicuous site, we parked in the adjoining alleyway, met the guides, and were split into two groups. I was with Mike Harris, the assistant preserve manager, while the other group was put with Mike the Survivalist, the rough-skinned, bandana-wearing badass who claimed to have fought a mountain lion with his bear hands. As we were given the run down, I soon came to understand what I had gotten myself into “” helmets, flashlights, kneepads and gloves were laid out on the table “” this would be a rough morning, I thought.
After a run down of the fascinating history of the cave (once a speakeasy during prohibition), everyone squeezed inside. We were instructed to watch for bats and follow Leah, our other guide. Shortly into our crawl we heard a noise ahead from one of the dark-side passages. Everyone went silent. Leah called out to whomever (or whatever) may be in there. There was no reply. I grabbed a rock ready for whatever was to emerge. A loud noise echoed out. A large figure suddenly emerged, shouting then laughing at our shock “¦ it was Mike. His dad likes pranks and jokes made for a lighthearted time “” especially his flawless impression of a bat flying inches from your head.
With the jokes aside, he was also a plethora of knowledge and guidance, especially of the caves inner workings and proper caving techniques. For the next two hours we made our way around the different humorously named passages and rooms “” Fat Man’s Misery, Bitch Passage, the Dinosaur Room just to name a few – with varying levels of difficulty. My favorite, the plainly named Graffiti Room, had a large collection of graffiti from 1800 etchings to 1960s spray paint, composed of poems, pictures, names and dates. I’ve always loved graffiti for its subversive, in-your-face antics. It’s the original anonymous comment thread, the rebel’s folkart. You didn’t ask for it, you may not even like it, but thank God it’s there. Give it a try (even chalk counts).
The most impactful part was what they called “The Tube,” a long tunnel just wide enough to squeeze in headfirst. It was quite a humbling experience to fully submit myself to the earth in that way. However, about 10 feet into this narrow tunnel, a worrying thought crept in my mind about the earth above me, all its weight and how it would crush me instantly if it were to shift, or worse, entomb me. I began to panic, but I couldn’t go back, it was far too tight.
I had to figure out a way to calm myself. Outside of the cave, I get anxiety from feeling trapped in my life, so I calmed myself the same way. I thought how the length of the tunnel could be looked at like time, and the width are my current options, which were limited. Just like my life at times, I only had one option, to continue inching forward in my given space in hopes of a better, wider place.
To get involved in an outdoorsy, adventurous, possibly existential trip, keep an eye out for the next email Orec sends out, and be sure to register quick, the spots fill up like wildfire.
If caves sound like your thing, there are a plethora of them surrounding the city. To find out more about this hidden world, go to a Bexar Grotto meeting, join and learn all the ins and outs of the dark world of caving.