IV: We Find a Cave (Sort Of)

Copyright (c) 1997 by Ronald Bourret

We decided to ignore the muffler until it was time to go home and to go caving instead. I opened the back of the car to get my cave suit. Although it is bright yellow and makes me look like a giant banana slug, it is thick PVC and completely waterproof. Without it, the cold, wet caves of the Northwest are nothing more than laboratories for hypothermia research.

But my suit wasn't in my day pack, where I thought I had packed it. I opened my full-sized pack and rummaged through the top layers of clothing. It wasn't there either. I groped past the ropes and climbing hardware and reached the bottom of the pack. This couldn't be. In a panic, I poured the contents into a disordered heap on the ground. No cave suit.

Clad in leaky rain gear and a pair of rubber boots two sizes too small, I slouched down the road behind Ben and Paul. At the wide spot, we turned onto the grassy spur, which Ben was certain would lead us straight to Glory Hole cave. One hundred feet later, it ended in a pile of fresh bear scat.

Undeterred, I turned onto a well-worn trail on the right. It was more tunnel than trail and soon I was soaked from brushing rainwater off the bushes. A series of rocky steps led up to a muddy rivulet, followed by moss-covered logs and a maze of dripping saplings. I worked my way slowly through this labyrinth, shaking the cold water from each tree before passing its still-dripping limbs in an awkward limbo.

The path degenerated into a game trail and, about the time it disappeared altogether, I spotted the first flag. Flags meant people and people meant caves and I crashed expectantly forward, certain that Glory Hole was hidden just out of sight. The trail vanished again. I scanned the nearby trees and saw a second flag. It led to another dead end and another flag and another thirty feet of bushwhacking.

Each time we came to the sensible conclusion that there was no trail and there were no caves, a shard of pink winked at us from amongst the tangle and lured us onward, like the baying of distant hounds. In the process, we completely failed to notice that our short hike to a cave had metamorphosed into a cold, miserable, and altogether pointless Easter Egg hunt.

The flags led us to a slash-filled clearing. From a tangle of blackberries at its bottom, we followed them to the top of a small knoll and then back down into the clearing. Two rolls of flagging tape lay on the ground. We were puzzled. Why would anyone leave two perfectly good rolls of tape on the ground? For that matter, why would anyone be here in the first place? We climbed back up the knoll.

"So. Which way do you think the car is?" I asked. Ben, Paul, and I pointed in three different directions.

We fanned out into the woods below the knoll. Ten minutes later, Paul found a flag hidden high in the branches of a small fir. I plunged down and left into a tiny creek. Its bed was limestone, briefly reviving my hopes of finding a cave, but I lost faith again as I thrashed up the waist-deep thorns on the opposite bank. Ben outflanked me on the right and raced to the base of a muddy slope. As he and Paul attacked this directly, I scrambled over a rocky outcrop and up a slippery log.

We met at the top of a second knoll, where Ben was gazing forlornly up the hillside. A trail of tape led through the slash and disappeared into the drizzle, as if a modern-day Hansel and Gretel had taken a deranged trip through the Great Northern Woods.

"They're going the wrong way," he said, although what the right way was was not exactly clear. Paul pointed in the other direction.

"I can see the road," he said.

"Where?" answered Ben. "I don't see anything."

"Hey guys," I interrupted. "The car's right over there."