Canoeing and Spelunking with the Intrepid Explorers

Tom Magliery, July 1993

By planning to leave at 2, we were successful in leaving by about 3:15 on Friday. We arrived at Harrison-Crawford National Forest in southern Indiana just a little after dark. "We" at that point consisted of me and LG, Igor and Ellen, and another Tom. Sharon, Dave, Laura and George came a little later because Sharon had to work later. Had shocker #1 when the camp turned out to cost $11 per site instead of $2 per site. At least it was spread out a little -- we had 9 people and only two sites.

Got tents set up with only one small difficulty. Since it was dark, I held a flashlight in my mouth while I laid out the bedding inside. At one point I bonked the flashlight with my knees while squatting, and managed to cut both my upper and lower lip in the process. Yowch. Still hurts (Tuesday after).

Hung out. It was not raining (yet), but it was warm and oppresively humid. Ellen is an entomology grad student, currently taking a taxonomy class wherein she needs to collect samples of basically as many different kinds of bugs as she can, so we all ran around finding different kinds of bugs for her. Prize finds for the weekend were a big walking stick and some cool moths.

Rain started less than 5 minutes after LG and I went to bed, and continued through most of the night, coming down pretty hard at times. Our tent passed its first rain test with flying colours. We only felt a few splatters where it splashed up under the edge of the rainfly.

We got up at leisure and made our way up to Milltown (15 or 20 miles) for a canoe trip down the Blue River. Had shocker #2 when the canoes turned out to be $13.50 per person instead of $13.50 per canoe. Canoe trip was good. The weather was mostly sunny, not too warm. We saw MANY turtles, occasional ducks, some crayfish, and one cool snake. About 90% of the other people on the river were rowdy hillbilly types, but they weren't bothersome. At one point LG and I paddled over a little and picked up a can, and then we all sort of began competing to pick up the most, or at least the most interesting, litter from the river. LG and I had the lead for a while with an old innertube, but Igor and Ellen ended up reigning by picking up a nice steel-belted radial tire. Other interesting items included an unopened can of Pringles (which we then ate), and a Bic lighter.

After canoeing we returned to the campsite, where we spent the evening hanging out and eating, which in my experience is what one does at campsites. We learned that it's not a good idea to accidentally leave your tent door open all day, but on the other hand it doesn't take all that long to shoo out a few daddy longlegs and a couple giant mosquito things. Doug and Mojo (Doug's dog) arrived at some point during the evening.

Sunday morning we managed to break (most of) camp, get on the road by 8:10am, and head for Wyandotte Cave (just a few miles away) to begin our 8-hour spelunking tour. Only 7 of us went on the bodacious tour; Ellen, Sharon, and LG opted for the 2-hour walking tour. Mojo guarded the campsite.

The spelunk tour was quite fun. I'd never done anything like that before. We climbed, we crawled, we slithered, we ogled. We learned some of the history of the cave, such as when and how much the Indians used it, that it was mined for something-or-other for making gunpowder during the War of 1812, etc. It's been open for commercial tours since the late 1800s. LG et al learned more history on the walking tour than we did. We were more into the exploration thing. We went into one branch where even our tour guide had not been before. He had only guided the long tour twice before, and neither of those groups had been willing to make the long crawl to the room -- about 50-75 feet, along a hand-dug tunnel that was only just big enough for a not-very-big person to fit through. That was the longest crawl we had, though there were several other spaces that we had to crawl through, a couple of which were tighter. There were lots of nifty monuments in the cave (piles of stones left by people in ages past to mark their way and commemorate themselves). There was an "autograph gallery" where there were hundreds of little clay plaques, made by people with their names and dates on them. Most of the dates were from the late 1800s and early 1900s. At one point we stopped in a nice big room and turned off all our lights and heard the story of Andrew.

In about the 1860s the family that owned the land at the time had a little boy named Andrew. He didn't really like the cave much, but he liked to play in the woods around there. One day he went out to play and didn't come back for supper. They searched the woods for him, but couldn't find him. But they found his jacket by the mouth of the cave. They searched the cave for days, but still did not find Andrew. Deep in the cave they found a handkerchief that was his, though, so they knew he had gone in. About a decade later, a team of scientists were deep in the cave doing some sort of study when suddenly they lost all of their lights -- not a good thing to happen in a cave. Since people knew where they were, they decided to wait it out. About 45 minutes later, a light came down the passage. It was a little boy, and he asked if they needed to be shown the way out. They said yes. When they got to the mouth and turned to thank the boy, he was gone. They figured he came from a nearby farmhouse, so they went to the nearest. When a lady came to the door, they said they wanted to thank her little boy for leading them out of the cave. She said she had no little boy. They described the boy -- young, perhaps 7 or 8, with red hair. The lady turned white and fetched a picture, which she showed to the scientists, who said, yes, that was the boy. Of course, it was a picture of Andrew.

As we originally entered the cave, the tour guide said that at the third step from the top, on the way out, our glasses would fog up. Well, of course they would, but I was still surprised when they fogged completely over in the span of about 0.2 seconds, and I looked down at that instant to see that my leading foot was on the third step from the top.

It's been years since I've been that dirty. We all got to take little bits of Wyandotte Cave home with us, via our clothing fibers and fingernails. I wore a biking helmet in the cave, and was thankful for it 5 times personally. Dave wore a helmet too, but still managed to cut his head open when he looked ahead at the wrong moment during a crawl that was too small to wear helmets through. I have numerous bruises on my shins and knees from bonking into rocks when climbing around. It would have taken many more bruises to make it not worth it, though.

My only regret about the cave tour is not having a good small flashlight, or a helmet light. I carried one of the hugemongous lights that they provided for us, which weighed about 700 pounds (well, it was definitely more than 5 anyway). It was ok most of the time, but it's a pain to go through long crawls with it. For the general idea, lie down on your stomach with your arms out in front of you, put a 5-lb bag of sugar at about your elbows, and then lift it and move it forward about a foot. Repeat 50 times. To make matters worse, mine had a weak battery, so it didn't provide all that great light most of the time. :-P

Ellen, LG, and Sharon spent the afternoon in Louisville, KY after their cave tour in the morning. They shopped a little. They were supposed to meet us when we came out, but they weren't there. After waiting a few minutes, Doug and I went down to the campsite to find them just leaving. We all headed back separately, planned to meet up at a later point along the road, but somehow didn't quite get it right. Tom, LG, and I ended up eating at a KFC, while the others spent a few hours at a Chi-Chi's about two blocks away. On one hand I would have rather been at Chi-Chi's, but on the other hand, we got home at 9:30, while everyone else got home at around 11:30. We all got to drive through a very spectacular thunderstorm on the way home.

Here endeth the story.

Tom Magliery