Facing My Fears
By Leah Bredemeyer
Each month I try to check another adventure off my bucket list. This time I went spelunking (exploring caves without paths) at
the Natural Bridge Caverns outside of New Braunfels.
I am terrified of the dark. Even at 27, the unknown of the night scares me. When I was younger, if my mom asked me to go grab something from the car at night, my mentality was to run as fast as I could so nothing could catch me. Not much has changed. I still don’t like going out at night alone. I walk around with a flashlight so not to be caught in complete darkness.
I think it is the unknown that terrifies me the most – not knowing what could be lurking where I cannot see. These fears were running through my head every time I would go down my bucket list and see spelunking. I blame the movies for accentuating that terror. What if all our flashlights failed? What if some mutated creature grabs me? Many other crazy dramatizations ran through my brain that only Hollywood would dream up.
So there I was – staring at a ridiculously small hole in the ground that I was supposed to be winched down into. I knew from the website that for this particular tour you get lowered down a 160-foot well shaft. What they didn’t say was how big the hole was. I should have realized it was going to be tight fit when I saw well shaft, but I swear – this hole was tiny. I’m not normally claustrophobic, but while getting ready for the decent, my mind was quickly changing its tune. The machinery that was supposed to be lowered down with didn’t give my nerves any reprieve either. I know machinery was made sturdier in the past, but I swear this device was made when the cave was first found back in the 1960’s. And two high school boys were supposed to man the gears – not reassuring!
For some reason, I was always volunteered to go first in my group – so as I sat at the edge of no return, I faced my fears and dropped down. The guides said being lowered down was supposed to take three to five minutes. I swear it felt more like ten seconds. I’m sure it really did take much longer, but once I got into the well, I actually had a fun time. Looking down, up and all around was exhilarating and made me forget about falling or getting stuck. With elbows glued to my sides, I made it to the bottom of the well calmly, which surprised me since the only lights on were the headlamps from Kyle (one of the tour guide) and my helmet.
After going down a well hole that makes you realize how big you are, but then as I looked around, it was amazing to look around and realize how small you really are inside the caves. It was mindboggling. Since I was the first down, I had plenty of time to take it all in. And just when I thought I got used to being underground, the “tour” started.
With a temperature at a constant 70 degrees year round and high humidity, the caves wear you out faster than above ground. Three steps in and I was already feeling it. Our guides Kyle and Sabrina warned us it was normal and we would be taking many breaks. I was so grateful for that. The first leg was somewhat easy. Mainly level ground with some balancing required. Then we came upon the tough part. Repelling down the side of a drop off. I have repelled straight down before, but haven’t ever repelled while walking.
First thing they tell us is to not cross your legs. I of course got volunteered to go first again. Once I worked up enough nerve to take the first step backwards with only a rope securing me, what is the first thing I do? Yep, that’s right – I crossed my legs. A shoulder to rock doesn’t feel that good. Graceful I am not. Gradually I find my feet again and slowly make my way to the bottom, grateful that was over. Although, as I watched the rest of the group make their way down, I realized – what comes down, must go back up. Sigh.
The further in we went, the muddier it got. With every step my new hiking boots got heavier with the clay-like substance. Eventually we were all covered in it – especially after we crawled crab-like through a passageway sideways. But the trek was worth it. When we reached the end, we were rewarded with a ceiling full of wonder. Multiple soda straw stalactites covered the entire surface. Truly a sight to see.
During one of our breaks on the way back out, I really had to face my fears. Complete darkness. This was the point I was glad I didn’t bring my dad along. He’s the kind of person who likes to scare people for fun. Luckily, the group I was with were not like my dad. While we all laughed at random jokes, I was clutching my water bottle the entire time and concentrating on my breathing. It didn’t help that my mind kept going back to those horrible movies I’d watched in the past – Mimic, The Cave and all those other sci-fi horror mutation movies. Needless to say, I was the first to request we turn the lights back on.
After surviving my mini freak-out, we came back upon the dreaded drop. Going back up, we didn’t use the same equipment as coming down. No, this time was with a multiple knotted rope that was to the side. No harness. This worried me. I do not have the best upper body strength. What if I got halfway up and I got stuck. This was not going to be fun. This time I volunteered someone else to go first before I sucked into going first again. It didn’t help my confidence that it took him about five seconds to scale the wall. I shouldn’t have worried. In my mind the slope was much more substantial than it actually was and before I knew it I was already at the top looking down.
Looking back at what happened next makes me giggle. We got back to the spot where we were lowered down the well shaft and it was actually the end of the regular walking tour of the cave that is sidewalked. It just happened that a tour was just coming down as we were going up. They made sure they gave us a wide bearth when they saw all the mud. Their faces were priceless. I couldn’t help it – as I walked by a little boy, I gave a smug smile and said “Good luck”. His eyes went huge. Again – priceless.
Even though I made it through the cave without any major injuries, I still have my fear. Darkness is a nemesis I’ll probably never conquer, but I was quite proud of myself that I didn’t scream like a little girl when all the lights were out. Just like getting down the cave wall, I’ll get through the dark – one step at a time… or running full speed.