In July of 1975, I left Atlanta in a red 1968 Mustang and travelled all the way to Rochester, New York for a month of training with Eastman Kodak. I was searching for something to do on the weekends while I was there. I located John Freeman, who also worked for Kodak, and he invited me on a caving expedition over the weekend to spend the time we had together underground.
I accompanied him to the peak of a hill, where the cave explorers had a cabin and a cave that was rather large in the area. The gathering had a band, which performed for the most of the evening. Even though the rock band was amazing, I’m not really like that sort of music—a it’s bit too loud for my tastes. I began by sleeping in a tiny tent, but as it started to rain and become colder outside, I went inside the Mustang to get some relief from the rain’s intensity. As far as it would go, I pushed the passenger seat forward, and I attempted to build a bed out of the space between the rear seat and the front seat. I did not fare very well, and as a result, I was up for the better part of the night. Both the rain and the lightning were behaving in a peculiar manner; the lightning was streaking diagonally across the clouds, which is unlike anything I have ever seen.
The next day, Jack led those of us who were visiting from out of town to a new cave that he had discovered. It turned out that one of the couples was from Australia and was travelling across the United States. He was under the impression that we were going to leave, and that the location of the cave might be kept a secret for some time. My understanding is that it was called Raccoon Cave. The cave was littered with raccoon footprints, some of which were even high up on the walls.
The entry was narrow and difficult to navigate, consisting of little more than a crevice in the side of a low rock wall. The cave was not very large, but it did have some interesting structures. It was even conceivable that it might be driven through a sizable fissure and into lower layers of the structure.
Jack was a person who was involved with the Cave Research Foundation (CRF), and he was the one who provided me with a copy of the CRF Personal Manual. The Cave Research Foundation (CRF) was the driving force behind the investigation of the Flint Ridge System in central Kentucky and the establishment of a link between that system and Mammoth Cave. Jack was also a part of a group that investigated Lee Cave in Mammoth Cave National Park a few years previously. Lee Cave is 7.5 miles long and is located under the northeastern side of Joppa Ridge.
Caves in New York are much colder and wetter than those found in the southern states. When I went caving in New York State, I always made sure to wear the 3/4 wet suit that I had bought. The cave that was located behind the cabin had a stream that led to a tiny area at the rear of the cave that had very few formations. You could spend around fifteen minutes exploring the whole of the cave.
Herkimer, New York is the location of the Herkimer Diamond mine. The Herkimer Diamonds are huge crystals, however they are not true diamonds. We proceeded to travel through a farmer’s field, during which time we kicked up a few diamonds along the way, until we reached what seemed to be a mine shaft. We descended around 20 feet to the floor of the cave using the ladder that was located in the pit. As we crept down the twists and turns of the cave, the environment was chilly and wet. In addition to this, it continued to shrink and sink lower. My companion who had led me to this cave was further ahead and making significant forward progress. I begged him to keep going since I was young and still had a lot to learn; in response, he turned over and indicated that I might feel free to go ahead and pass him. I inched my way by him and proceeded for the next curve in the corridor, curious as to what kind of surprise may await around the next bend.
I took off my hard helmet and carefully pushed it forward while inhaling to help me go forward, and then I finally gave up. Simply put, it was too constricting. I let everyone know that I will be returning. Because there was no space available for a U-turn, the only option I had was to exit by the entrance I came in from. When I go caving, I have a gas mask bag from the army that holds all of my equipment and a belt from the army that holds the batteries for my headlight. Both of these items fit beautifully at my sides. When I made the first move to retreat, things quickly went from bad to worse. When all of my gear began creeping into my chest, it was already so congested there that I could scarcely breathe, and in order to move, I had to force out all of the air that was trapped in my lungs.
I was unable to unbuckle my belt because my arms were trapped in front of my head and I was unable to move them. I was unable to reverse direction, and I was trapped! As I slept there against the icy rock, panic began to set in, and I worried whether this would be my last resting place. Over the course of the next twenty minutes or more, I dug my toes into the granite and exhaled as much air as I could while simultaneously drawing myself backward a fraction of an inch at a time. The Chinese finger just became more constricting as a consequence of each movement. Finally, the channel opened up for me and provided a little bit more space, so I wiggled my toes and made my way backward. I had learned my lesson by that point, so it was the last time I ever encouraged one of my fellow cavers.
During that weekend, a friend of mine, whose name escapes me at the moment, brought me to a number of smaller caverns located in and around Albany. He also showed me his old swimming hole, which turned out to be the municipal water reservoir. Even though swimming was prohibited, neither our group nor the local children that we met along the route decided to obey the rule. We went to the shore of the lake by following a well-trodden trail that passed through some low vegetation. A tall bank with a tree that jutted out over the deep sea could be seen in the distance. A rope was fastened to one of the limbs. We were able to get the rope by having one of the younger guys climb the tree and then slinging it over to the bank where we were standing. It was a very long swing that went out over the water, and it was at a very high elevation. At addition, I was unaware of how frigid the water would be in the depths.
I took a strong impact and proceeded further into the water before realising that the icy water had taken away my ability to breathe. I gave it a couple more tries, but I couldn’t help but notice that the younger lads seemed to be having a lot more fun.
During that journey, I had two or three enjoyable and eventful weekends, and I gained a lot of knowledge. First and foremost, that I was not quite as youthful as I had previously believed I was.
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