Hey, y’all….wanna hear about my latest butt-kickin’, life-affirming, invigorating geocaching adventure? Did the title of this post pique your interest? Maybe you’ve guessed it already.
I rappelled! Wooooooo!
I think I’ll start my tale waaaaaay back when I first heard about a cache called Bradley’s Bottom. It was a little over 2 years ago, I think, and some people in the upstate geo-club were discussing it in the forums. They got a wintertime group together, adventur-ized, and came back positively euphoric. I’d really wanted to go, too, but…..well, I was a different person then. Fear — a hundred different forms of it, it seems now — paralyzed me quite a bit back then.
What scared me? Welllllll….you had to hike a steep mountain, cross a river by navigating rocks and fallen trees, and jump off a freakin’ enormous rock with just a skinny li’l rope for support. I was doubtful that I’d be able to handle the physical challenges. Plus I’d have to talk to a stranger or two. Or eight or fifteen.
This year, I’m ready
Fast forward to late 2008, though, and I’m a different me. No fear! OK, maybe some slight trepidation. But no fear!!
Happily, an adventure-bud — for no reason in particular, let’s call her A — decided at the last minute to join me (“Screw it — I don’t care how much I have to get done at home today. I want to go, so I’m going!”). So we got out of bed early on a brisk Sunday to haul ourselves, Mini-style, up to the NC mountains.
When we got to the agreed-upon meeting point, 8 or so geocachers — many of them familiar from neverdones #1 and #7 as well as other geo-fun-times — were out of their cars, chatting in the cold. By the time we were ready to set out on the hike, there were well over 20 of us.
Here’s a fun fact to set the stage for you — a notebook was passed around, and each person was asked to share the name and phone number of an emergency contact. A “next of kin.” Ha! I accused them of just trying to scare us, but apparently they were serious. “You never know,” we were told.
The hike in was easy, at first, and very pretty. We’d chosen the perfect day to come! Yeah, it was a little chilly, but soon I was grateful that the nip in the air helped keep me decidedly un-sweaty. And the fall colors were gorgeous! Of course I had my Nikon with me, as well as my GPS receiver and — tucked inside the generous pockets of my handy-dandy cargo pants — extra batteries, a Sharpie, a Power Bar, and a small stack of tissues just in case my bladder decided to go Benedict Arnold on me (it didn’t — yay!).
We crossed a small stream, some of us by skipping across ottoman-sized rocks, others by wading through a shallow area containing smaller foot-sized rocks. I’d actually been much more nervous about water crossings than the impending rappel — people had fallen in during previous trips, and, considering my phobia about deep water and my usually sucky balance, I figured my chances of joining the ranks of “the fallen” were higher than normal. But, taking a deep breath and just doing it before having a chance to think too much, I crossed MUCH more easily than I’d imagined. Whew!
(Much later in the day, as A and I made our way back to the car, we joked about our mild apprehension when first traversing this area. With REAL rock-hopping under our belts, these tiny little skips were now child’s play. Ha!)
Remember the people who made us record our emergency contacts… “just in case”? Well, as we trekked closer to the cache coordinates, we began to notice prominent signs supporting the organizers’ caution. Check out the photo! Yikes! (Click it if your eyeballs go all fuzzy when trying to read smallness….)
Next came the steep downhill leg of our journey. I loved it!! My legs and glutes felt alive, and the cool air in my lungs was the mutha-freakin’ best. Yeah, baby!!
Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the drop location.
I peered over the edge, and it didn’t seem that far down. Someone had said 30 feet, I think. The vertical rock was craggy and seemed like a good-grip place to “walk,” and surrounding foliage and trees looked like they might provide a sense of visual security. At the bottom, I saw dirt — soft dirt, I told myself. It’s not like I’d be dangling off an overhanging precipice with dangerous, pointy, stairsteppy boulders below, eagerly waiting to bludgeon and pierce my falling body if I slipped.
As the skilled rappellers worked to prep the gear, members of the group sat down along the steep mountainous trail. Two of the strong, experienced types did the drop first in order to position themselves vigilantly below. Soon we were ready to get rolling! Camera in hand, I settled in a spot near the friendly, credentialed, guru-rappel dude who stayed at the top to be teacher, cheerleader, and gear assistant to whomever needed it.
One by one, each person harnessed up, got hooked to a rope, received a mini-quick lesson, and walked backward over the edge as people all around them snapped photos. Some people went slow, some people went fast, some people were scared, some people were fearless. Everyone reveled in others’ excitement. It was cool!
About two thirds of the people had gone down when it was my turn. Even though I’d watched everyone else, I hadn’t been paying close enough attention to be able to apply the knowledge to my own downward trek. So Mr. Guru-Rappel showed me how to strap on the harness, and then took me to the drop point to rope me up.
“What’s the difference?”
“Two ropes slow you down,” he said.
Since it was my first time, I decided that safer was the better option, so I asked for two ropes. He looped ’em through some sort of figure-eight-ish thing as I stood with my back to the drop, and said, “There you go! Now just trust the rope.”
I leaned back, it held and felt very secure. I walked back and down a step or two, and I was comfortable on the rock.
“Now, with your left hand, hold the part of the rope that’s supporting you,” he said, ” and with your right hand hold the part of the rope that drops beneath you. To slow down, move your right hand behind you….and to go faster, move your right hand out to the side. It’s all about creating tension on the rope.”
Cool, it seemed very simple and straightforward. With my right hand behind me, I stepped down a little further, then moved my right hand outward. Nothing. I moved it out a little farther. Still, I didn’t move. My hand all the way out to the side and slacking off on the tension significantly, I still didn’t move. I laughed.
“Why won’t I GO?” I implored.
I heard someone above me — I’m pretty sure it was a frequent mm reader — yell, “You don’t weigh enough!”
I jumped against the rock a little, and that seemed to help. I began to move backward again……slowwwwwlyyyy…. then it sped up little. Woooooooo-hoo! What a rush! As I neared the bottom, though, I found myself wishing I’d requested only one rope. AND I was ready to go do a longer, more adrenaline-boosting big-boy rappel!
Even though the drop was my neverdone of the day, it was only one of the highlights. After making the jump and continuing down steep terrain, we came to Big Bradley Falls.
While parts of the falls can be viewed from above, we now had access to the most beautiful vantage point. Wow! If only I’d strapped my tripod to my back! A timed exposure — along with a little more patience to find the perfect angle — would have given a photo an ethereal quality which I would’ve loved to capture. As it was, my drunken-pixie muse was AWOL, and I satisfied myself with a couple snapshots of the waterfall while continuing to amass people shots.
Continuing the journey
You’d think all that would be enough of a journey to find a cache, huh? Nope. The person who hid this particular ammo can has a bit of a sadistic streak, so from there we had to traverse the river by hopping, climbing, and crawling over fallen trees, rocks, and boulders the size of vehicles. Now, THAT, buddy, was a physical challenge. I loved, loved, loved it!
The only part that bothered me, really, was walking across a fallen tree. It had a large trunk — which helped — but there was nothing to hold onto, and nothing beneath you except the river…..and it looked deep. I purposefully did not look at the water closely, so it might not have been deep, but…..
Aaaugh! I just held my breath and moved over and beyond it, fast. It felt good to do it, though!
Just as when I tackled Athena’s Curse — I was struck by the “why” of all my sweat in the gym and on the running trails. Why do it? Why pursue the relentless cycle? Sometimes I get discouraged and bored by the repetitiveness of it all — not exactly enjoying the actual pursuit of sweat, only reveling in the brief after-euphoria. I know that it’s good for me, but it sure sucks a lot of time, discipline, and dedication. Occasionally I’m tempted to set it aside to devote more of me to other types of lifestuff.
Then I bag a challenging neverdone, and I remember. I work the fitness grind so I can get out in the world and engage. Fearlessly.
Anyway. Back to the story. Someone ahead of me found the cache, and the gang converged at the container. I signed the log, but this was one geocaching trip in which the cache was incidental. The journey was definitely the thing, man.
Do we have to go back?
Yep, when you hike, drop, and hop out to the middle of nowhere, eventually you have to turn around and go back to the car. The first thing that gave me a bit of a pause was going back up the rock. I don’t know why, but I’d spent so much time being excited about the rappel that it never occurred to me we’d have to follow the rope back up. See the black knotted rope in the going-down picture above? You simply grab that puppy and just walk back up to the top. Turned out to be way easier than I imagined.
It would’ve been great to hang for a long while and do a late lunch with the geo-gang, but A and I needed to get back home….we’d been in the mountainous woods for nearly 5 hours. So we headed back toward the parking area, the steep hike now traversing upward. Again, my body surprised me, and I handled it quite well. In fact, it wasn’t as strenuous as my spinning or super-circuit classes. At one point I did feel a familiar running-injury twinge in my hamstring, but with a quick rest and a stretch, I was fine.
An invigorating, deliciously good, deep-sleep-inducing day!