Copyright (c) 1997 by Ronald Bourret
"I got hold of Bill on his cellular. He said to meet us in twenty minutes outside his house." Ben bounced back to the car, which was parked at a gas station in Port McNeill. We had returned to town to get better directions to the caves, although not before Ben and Paul ripped the muffler off my car and handed it to me like an indifferent guest showing a hostess the remains of her Ming vase.
I fired up the Honda, now growling like a baby dragster, and rumbled out of the parking lot. Two blocks from the gas station, we turned into a small subdivision and pulled up to a modest home fronted by evergreens. Ten minutes later, a red Toyota 4x4 swung into the space ahead of us and a wiry, athletic man jumped out of its cab, his grin as wide as the bald spot on his head.
"Hi, I'm Bill."
"I'm Ben. We met at the cave rescue seminar," said Ben. "This is Paul and this is Ron."
We followed Bill into the house and deposited ourselves in the worn chairs surrounding the cramped kitchen table. A tall man with a salt-and-pepper beard was fixing a supper of baked beans, fried eggs, and toast. We hadn't eaten since midday and I greedily eyed the food. He didn't notice and introduced himself as Peter, Bill's roommate.
"So. You're up here to do a little caving, eh?"
"Yeah," replied Ben. "We were looking for Glory Hole but ended up following a trail of tape in a big circle that led us back to the car."
"Glory Hole, eh? That's a wet one. I don't think you want to be in there in this weather, eh?"
"How wet?" I asked, thinking about my cave suit in Seattle.
"Well, the whole cave is stream passage, and about halfway down you have to do a duck. If it isn't sumped right now, you'll be up to your waist in water at the very least." He paused a moment, then continued. "You should do Arch, eh? That's a nice, dry cave." I made a mental note to lobby for Arch.
Bill, who had disappeared upon entering the house, emerged from the darkened hallway with a binder full of photocopied maps. He couldn't find the detailed map showing Arch and Glory Hole, but had found one of the general area. He set it on the table and we elbowed around it.
The map was completely different from either of our maps. I retraced our roads and junctions in my head, imposing them first onto one part of the map and then onto another. Nothing matched. Ben and Paul looked similarly confused.
"Where's Square Corner?" I asked. While I had been looking for my cave suit, Paul had walked a quarter mile up the road and found a sign marking Square Corner.
"Here," said Bill, indicating the intersection of four roads. There was nothing square about it and it didn't help me orient myself. I began to wonder if we hadn't been in an different area altogether.
"Well, where are the caves?"
"Here," said Bill, pointing to a spot on the opposite side of Square Corner from our campsite. "And here." He pointed to a second location near the first. No wonder we hadn't found anything.
"Then whose tape were we following?" asked Ben.
"What tape?" asked Peter.
"We followed this trail of tape through the woods over here somewhere," said Ben. He pointed to an area of the map firmly on our side of Square Corner. "It led us in a big loop back to the car."
"Heck -- I don't know. What color was it?"
"Pink. Doesn't George use pink tape?"
"He might be using green now," replied Bill. "Did it lead anywhere?"
"Back to the car," said Ben.
"Well why'd you follow it, then?"
I asked again where Arch and Glory Hole were.
"Over in this area," said Bill. "Where's your camp?"
"Somewhere over here, but I don't really know for sure," I replied.
"Tell you what," said Bill. "I promised myself I wouldn't go caving this weekend, but I'm willing to drive up there and show you where the caves are. It would be a lot easier. Do you have a truck?"
"Nope," I said. "Just the Honda."
"You're driving around those roads in a Honda? Why didn't you bring a truck?"
"Well, his car is broken." I pointed to Ben. "And his VW isn't running." I pointed to Paul. "And I don't trust my wife's truck. My VW bus needs a new battery, so that left the Honda."
"That's all that's stopping you?" exclaimed Peter. "A new battery?"
"But the Honda gets great mileage," I stammered, thinking about what a new muffler would cost.
"A new battery?"
I changed the subject.
Twenty minutes later, Bill said we had better be going if he was going to show us the caves before dark.
"You have cave suits, then?" he asked.
"I've got a dry suit," said Ben.
"I've got a PVC suit," I said. "But I left it in Seattle."
"I've got some old rain gear," said Paul.
Bill regarded us with concern, then said he would lend Paul and me suits. We said good-bye to Peter and walked out to the cars. Ben jumped into the Toyota with Bill, while Paul and I followed in the Honda.
Half an hour later, we crept up the final hill to our campsite, waiting tensely for another expensive piece of metal to be ripped from the chassis. Ben got out of the pickup and said we were skipping the caves for the night. Bill had decided to break his caving moratorium and would join us the next day for a trip to the bottom of Arch.
We must have looked even more helpless than I thought.