My 11 year old son and I just finished a weekend journey into the abyss; namely, the abyss under Raccoon Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. A spelunking excursion. A time of testing, of adventure. On both counts, it was a success!
I’ve been in caves before, but those caves were guided tours down well lit walkways, viewing yawning chasms and expansive arenas. This was decidedly different, and I knew it would be the moment they handed us mining helmets, gloves, and knee pads. This was a trip that I didn’t initially sign Tyler up for, because I didn’t think he’d be ready for something so tough. Yet when I told him I didn’t think we’d go, he was adamant: “Dad, I want to go!” “Son, you know this isn’t going to be easy at all, don’t you?” “Yeah, dad, that’s why I wanna go!” (God, I love this boy!)
Boy, I had no idea HOW tough it was going to be…for both of us. But what an adventure!
Our guide led us through the well lit cave entrance, where we would wind up sleeping for the night once the excursion was done. We rounded a corner, and he said “Lights on”. We turned the lights on our helmets on, and it was the only light source we had for the next four hours. It’s also one of the last times we were able to stand straight up. Our first area was a crawl space barely two and a half feet high, and roughly 30 feet long. Some areas were smaller than that, and required quite a bit of creativity to get through. One area that was so steep and so slick, that we had to perform rope belays (again, in the pitch, pitch dark) to get up. Other areas where you simply sat down and slid off the edge of a rock, down to…well, we couldn’t always see where it wound up.
It was what they called a ‘wild cave’ experience. Yeah, that about sums it up. Wild.
Tyler did fantastically. He was really challenged in a couple of spots, but I could tell that this was calling out something inside of him, because he never complained, never quit. It was awesome, as his father, watching him overcome obstacles harder than any he’d ever faced, at least physically. At the end of every challenging climb or crawl, we’d give each other a high five. It was a rich experience.
The next morning, after weathering a night on a cold cave floor, with stalagmites dripping colder water into my ear, we wandered out of the cave, into a cold crisp, beautifully foggy morning, changed our dingy clothing, and ate a light breakfast. I knew I needed to commemorate this event in some small way. Tyler had done something dangerous, and I wanted to give him something dangerous to remember it. So we went into the gift shop, and looked. He spotted a fixed blade hunting knife that he really liked. Perfect.
He wears that thing like a badge of honor, and well he should. He is rapidly speeding toward his rite of passage into manhood, his Warrior’s Path trials, and he showed me once again, through this event, that he is going to do just fine.