“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” ~~Vince Lombardi
The entrance to the Marble Caves stands at 12,000 feet above sea level. Local legend has it that Spanish Conquistadors used the passages to secrete gold from one valley to the next. Having been in the caves I highly doubt that. It is more than a little difficult just to get yourself through the tight passages much less with a payload.
The caves were discovered in the 1880s and the man who found them described them in 1888 as follows:
…entrance to the cave is by a crevice in the rock, extending some 400 feet; upon entering one must crawl a distance of 25 feet; then, the investigator can walk in a stooping posture for 25 feet; next, a narrow passage is encountered through which only a person of small stature can pass; and finally a low passage is reached through which one gains entry to the King’s Chamber.
Please note the phrase that says only a person of small stature can pass. That has never described me. I stand six foot four and well over two hundred and fifty pounds. I knew it would be a challenge to take my sons into these caves at my age. I have been in the caves half a dozen times, but the last time was about twenty years before. I was not the same man physically. I was fifty-four and less active than I once was.
The approach was difficult due to living at sea level all year, sitting at a desk most of the time. The temperatures even at altitude were in the eighty’s and I was struggling to stay hydrated. My two sons made it with ease.
At the mouth of the cave, we pulled on our wool gloves, hats, headlamps, and nylon wind pants to enter. I went first. Why? Because I knew the way and being the largest by far…but mostly because I am the Dad. I am strong that way. I am dominant that way.
We army-crawled through marmot scat and bat guano for several yards with grunts and huffs. My breathing was heavy. I could hear the guys behind me making guttural noises as they squeezed through tight places like human toothpaste. At one point Caleb said to me breathlessly, “Dad, I am pretty impressed that you are making it through these tight places that are squeezing the life out of me.” That made me feel good; then Clint muttered something about the malleability of fat.
At several points in the crawl and contortions, muscles began to cramp at the most inopportune time. I rued the lack of water I had deprived myself of on our approach. Muscle cramps are not a good problem to have in caves.
We pushed and pulled and stretched and stooped and inched our way onward towards the White Marble Hall or as the 1888 article called it The King’s Chamber. I began to notice my arms getting weaker and back muscles cramping. At one point as we stopped so that I could catch my breath, we decided that we had done the equivalent of over a hundred pushups. My arms were quivering. I had not done any upper body work in years. I am as soft as biscuit dough.
We crawled on in the cold when about three hundred feet in I sat to rest, I felt my heart racing faster than normal. I looked ahead and saw tighter and tighter passages. I felt my legs and back cramping and my arms quivering. I couldn’t catch my breath. I can only describe it as panic. In a nano-second, I flashed on all my possible rescue scenarios and quickly concluded that no one could rescue me if I couldn’t get out. No matter the injury, illness, or hyperthermia the only person who could get me out was me. Could I wait for the guys to finish and crawl out with them? The heaving in my chest said no. Fear was creeping up on me. It started in my toes and rose up through my body and settled like a bully on my chest.
I said aloud, “I need to pray.”
The guys got quiet.
Instinctively I began to pray “The Lord is my shepherd…”
I breathed deep and slow and prayed some more. The bully was pounding on my chest.
It is hard to look weak in front of your sons. I was grateful for the darkness so they couldn’t see my flushed and embarrassed face. Finally fear eclipsed shame and I said, “I have to get out. You guys can come with me or go on to the White Halls.” They both agreed to go on. I started snaking my way out.
“I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”
In five short minutes of crawling, I stopped to listen for their grunts and moans. Silence. They were gone. I was alone. The bully started on me again and I crawled on. Then I began to imagine all that could go wrong for them. That I would be out and safe and they would die in the cave. They had never done anything like this before.
The bully was kicking my big butt all the way out of the cave. Finally, I said to myself (or God said to me…I couldn’t tell which was due to the bully,) but these words came to my mind, “Trust your sons. They are men.”
Surprisingly I got out a lot faster than it took to get in. Adrenalin is my favorite drug. The light blinded me and I blinked my eyes several times to adjust to the brightness. I was chilled so I sat in the warm sun and I fell asleep waiting for my sons to come out.
An hour later they came crawling and squinting out of the mouth of the cave. They have some cool stories to tell about their adventures in the White Halls.
Clinton described shimmying up slick, narrow walls like you would climb up the inside of a chimney. At one point he got scared and he kept saying over and over to himself, “I can do this. I can do this.”
When he told me that story I said, “We both got a little scared in the caves, didn’t we?” He said, “Yeah.”
Then I said, “And we both prayed when we were scared.”
He just stared at me.
As I have reflected on the experience in the cave with the bully of fear and my plea for Jesus to help me and began to think maybe I didn’t have enough faith to overcome the bully, I started to crash and question the sincerity of my faith. And then on the trail a couple of days later I was pouting over the cave incident and it was as if Jesus said to me, “Hey Joe, did it ever occur to you that I did speak to you in the cave?”
How so, Lord?
Who do you think said to you, “Get out!”?
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