Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers

I take great pleasure in life when I can think, "This is something I have never done before." That happened yesterday when Shmoikel and I went on a cave exploration trip sponsored by the Bruce Museum of Greenwich. Other than a 1971 visit to Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico -- hardly rigorous, more a stroll along well-lit underground paths -- I have never entered a cave.

Two dozen of us, split between adults and kids on their spring break, boarded a bus in Greenwich for the 75 minute drive to Litchfield County's Tory's Cave. An instruction sheet told us to wear layers of clothes and bring our own food and water. We were ready, to some extent.

Once we arrived, we met three skilled guides who just returned from a cave trip to Belize. After historical and safety remarks, we donned hardhats with small flashlights taped to them and began the descent. Whatever Shmoikel and I expected, this wasn't it. Rather than a chilly but dry, dark but wide cave entrance, we slithered down a narrow mouth of rock, past stubborn ice (the cave temperature stayes around 45 degrees). Feet first, stomach down, we slid into the unknown. Very fortunately, we had fantastic guides who were patient and knew every inch and rock ledge of Tory's Cave.



Once down, our group of a dozen (the others were doing a park walk segment) heard more cave lore. The kids asked lots of questions about bats. We divided again so one group went to through a crawl space to the "throne room," a silo-like area that extended 20 feet up for a good view. Those of us in the main room waited, while the kids wiggled through the "Lemon Squeeze," a short but tight tube too small for adults (except for one of the leaders). Shmoikel, the intrepid explorer, jumped right in and with some guidance from a girl who had gone before him worked his way out.

The other group returned and we clambered over a watery patch to the throne room. Then -- back to the surface, the same way we came.

This was the tough part. Coming down, we had gravity to get us to the bottom. Now, we had to haul ourselves up holding a rope and clawing for hand and foot holds. A guide gave a tired but determined Shmoikel step by step guidance while I waited below, the last to climb except for the final "sweep" guide.

Back at the surface, I gave Shmoikel a big hug and congratulated him on the considerable accomplishment. Before long he shucked off his drenched sweat pants and socks for track shorts and fresh socks.

We've built a wonderful memory of a father, a son, and a cave beneath the Planet of the Nutmeggers.

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