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The Road to Full Cave Part 2

The darkness that surrounded me was darker than anything I ever had experienced thus far in my life. Closing one’s eyes, compared to this darkness was like standing in the spotlight of a prisons’ search light. I hung there motionless waiting for my eyes to adjust for what felt like an eternity, but in reality it took less than a minute for my eyes to dilate and soak the little amount of ambient light that was available.

Near me was a rock; little further still was another rock, then another. The taunt gold line what I followed in was only 5 feet away, if that far, but just a minute before when I hung in complete darkness it could have been a mile away and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Once my eyes fully adjusted I carefully turned around to not stir up any silt. I saw the faint glow of green filtered sunlight coming through the opening of the spring. It was beautiful it felt surreal. My anxieties vanished along with the darkness. My heart began to beat slower. I swam slowly back to our exit or entrance depending on your perspective. Upon breaking the surface, first with my exhaust bubbles then the top of my head, TJ my diving instructor says to me, ” Congratulations, You are now a Cavern diver.”

Denise, his wife and fellow instructor interjects, ” Once, you finish all your paperwork.”

Damn so close.

I don’t know exactly why I decided to pursue training to dive in caves; I have done a few cavern dives prior to completing my course and had always sworn that, cave diving is for lunatics. Saying something along the lines that cave divers are fucking nuts for doing what they do. (I’m paraphrasing myself of course.)

Chac Mool Cenote

Even though the Cenotes we dove was easily the most gorgeous place I have ever been, the thought of diving further into the belly of the earth, confused and scared the hell out of me. It wasn’t until I got home and relived the dive in my head when the bug finally bit me. I want to dive more caves.

In comes TJ the man that would get me there. We met up in (or down in, depending on your perspective) and after the initial pleasantries and required documents were signed we discussed what would be our dive plans for the next two days. Today we would be driving for 2 hours to dive Buford Springs (Basically a giant hole in the ground in the middle of a alligator infested swamp) and tomorrow we will be driving at least 3 hours to get to Peacock Springs State Park (Now named Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, after the death of a prolific cave explorer who passed away in 2010).

Gearing up in the parking lot at Buford, TJ looked over my gear and made small last minute adjustments. We walked over the edge of the woods to start my land-based training. Which basically entails stringing as much thin nylon line as you can and following it around with your eyes closed until, 1, you get very comfortable in doing so and 2, you lose enough blood from walking head first into as many trees and rocks as your body can take. The skill is vital to surviving within the caves, not the hypovolemic shock that comes with the skill. Once my line skills were satisfactory to TJ we started on the long walk to get to the spring.

If you have never traveled into a large swamp, I suggest you do it at least once in your life. One of nature’s great wonders. A beautiful and serene experience for all types and ages. Or, it could be like Bueford and miles and miles of knee-deep mud and mosquitoes, and Gators waiting around every corner, waiting for the mud to entrap you. Making the job of biting and ultimately eating you much easier. Being the fact that this was winter in Florida this walk through the swamp was easier than it would have been in July, since there has been little rain lately the swamp hasn’t flooded keeping the stinking mud at bay, still it was not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination.

Each step must be taken with extreme care. One misstep and your leg would be knee deep and stuck forever in the mud. The more you fight it, the deeper you sink. The swamp gods demand a sacrifice and your neoprene booties make an excellent offering to appease the gods. Fortunately, the gods only got to hold onto my booties for a very short time.

Between every step my eyes darted back and forth scanning the swamp horizon for the telltale signs of gators. In all honesty, I don’t know any telltale signs of alligators, I assumed the first sign would be an angry alligator’s jaw securely wrapped around my leg, as far as I could tell, I had no alligator jaws around my leg, I was safe for now.

Honestly, this story would be a lot shorter if I actually did see an alligator. Road to Full cave part 2 Alternative ending”

I walked through the swamp and saw an alligator and I went home. The end.

But, alas we made it to the spring unharmed by the dinosaurs of our generation. And what a sight it was. Fog lifted from the clear blue water giving it a lady of the mist type vibe. I preformed my safety check of the spring making sure there were no gators, which consist of making up an excuse to let everyone one else jump in the water first and to make sure none of them are being eaten and made my own splash.

I didn’t mean to make a splash, I had slipped as I was trying to gracefully get into the water and fell in with all the gracefulness of an elephant wearing roller-skates. When I regained my composure I tried swimming out towards the rest of the group who were witnessing my floundering around but instead of swimming I was in scientific terms, sinking like a rock deep into the spring. I clawed my way up and to a sunken tree that laid across the opening of the spring and was able to situate myself with my head above the water. I removed all my detachable weight and breathe a sigh of relief when I was no longer sinking uncontrollably to my certain death at the bottom of the cave.

TJ was able to quickly diagnose the problem and fixed it while I fought back intense panic. I was able to calm down long enough to complete my dive briefing and make a very calm and controlled dive into the immense cavern. Being that I was in training, TJ and I needed to spend a longer time in the water to complete all my required skills, everyone else that was diving that day made an early return through the swamp and back to their cars, leaving TJ and I by ourselves during our last dive in the cavern.

Once we finished up we made our way out of the water and started on our long trek back through the swamp. I would love to tell you that we made it back within 10 minutes, had some smores and drove back home where we won a million dollars and there is nothing more to the story. I would love to tell you that. But, of course this wouldn’t be a story without a climax.

What actually happened during our walk back to our cars…

(After 30 minutes of walking away from the spring)

TJ: (Stops and looks up through the canopy of thick trees) “Hold on a second.”

Me: (very out of breath from carrying 60lbs of scuba gear through a swamp, looks over to TJ who is now scratching his head as he looks up through the thick canopy of trees) “hasldsjhsdjasdh” (Unintelligible mumbling)

TJ: (Now looking around with the classic, I’m lost look) “I think we’re lost”

Me: (Blank Stare) ……………

TJ: “Yup, we missed the trail. It must be behind us.

Me: “What?”

TJ: “Can you see where the sun is coming from through the trees? If we could make it out then I would know exactly where we are.

Me: (Inside voice… HOW THE FUCK IS WE LOST!?! THE SUN!?! WHAT THE FUCK DO WE NEED THE SUN FOR!?! WE NEED A FUCKING GUN! NOT THE SUN! HOLY SHIT I”M GOING TO DIE! A GODDAMNED ALLIGATOR IS GOING TO EAT MY DELICIOUS PUERTO RICAN LECON ASS RIGHT HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS GODDAMNED SWAMP! WHAT THE FUCK DID I GET MYSELF INTO!!!!!) ” Hmmm….. What are we going to do?”

TJ:” Let’s just keep walking to the right, we will eventually hit the road or the trail.”

Me: “Ok. (Deep breath) Ok. (Large gulp) Ok. Ok. Ok. Ok.

—-Fast-forward 2 hours later—

TJ still looking upwards towards the heavens to try and make out the direction the sun was headed. I was terrified. During our initial meeting it never dawned on me to ask TJ if he was a Boy Scout or if a Marine Recon Scout or if he possessed the ability to get un-lost after being lost. Now my life depended on the directional skills of someone I barely knew. For all I knew TJ’s Indian name could have been One Who Can’t Escape Paper Bag. And if he was relying on my ability to get us home, we were FUCKED!

TJ: ” Don’t you wish you brought that compass I told you that you wouldn’t need?”

ME: ………………………………………………………………………..

We eventually did find a small stream which was just enough of a clue for TJ to make a guess as to where we were. The stream led us to the road that we first drove down to get to the parking lot and the road led to our cars and a group of very relieved divers that had patiently waited for us to return.

Now was the time for some ball busting, an ancient tradition within testosterone driven groups. I was very used to it from the firehouse and I knew that TJ and I had a made an unspoken decision that no matter how badly they busted our balls, we would never admit to being lost. Man code demands that you never admit anything. I guess I just fucked up that whole man code thing by writing about it, but whatever, I can admit it now, We were lost, and we had found our way, the whole experience wasn’t anything like the song Amazing grace or anything remotely that spiritual, but for what it’s worth knowing that I had made it out of the swamp unscathed by gators or snakes made my beer at lunch taste that much better.

To be continued in PART 3…

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