Have you Ever? This is an occasional, returning series of this blog. Links to some of my other “Have You Ever?” posts can be found at the end of this page.
I have written about caves once before….not on caves specifically but on following rules regarding caves. I find myself in the odd position of planning an event that involves a tour of ancient caves in South Western Wisconsin. It is odd because my own history with caves is not all that positive. I first went in a cave in 1999. We had just moved to Wisconsin and I was VERY pregnant. To find a summer activity for our soon to be five year old, we wen to Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minnesota. I went down an elevator into the cave. Its coolness was a welcome relief to the heat of a July day in the midwest.
But, after several minutes of going on the tour, I began to get sweaty, clammy, and slightly short of breath. I knew I needed to get out – I was having an attack of claustrophobia – which I am sure was augmented by my condition (8 months pregnant). One of the tour guides accompanied me back up the path to the elevator where he escorted me to a bench to wait for my husband, and then, almost five year old son. I felt ridiculously silly and embarrassed. I was not afraid of being in the cave but the closeness of the walls, the people on the tour, and my size all added up to be an uncomfortable situation for me. After some years, I did go back to this same cave, in a non-pregnant state, and survived the entire tour.
The cave I went to this week is in Wisconsin. It has been used by bats to hibernate during the winter months and used to be a “show cave” many decades ago. As part of my role at work, I have to organize events. We are hosting three cave tours, two of which are public this summer. The cave that community members will view has its entrance attached to a gift shop that was left just the way it had been used in the past. All the trinkets, memorabilia, and advertisements are left intact, inside the building. In preparation for this summer’s tours, I went with some other staff members to do some cleaning of the gift shop. We also needed to check on things in the cave.
So, for the third time in my life, I entered a stairwell that led down into the cave. I had just a small amount of trepidation, but not large enough to cause me any symptoms of panic or that would foreshadow an attack of claustrophobia. In addition, my husband was with me, and he knew my history of cave visiting.
Our small group, three of us from work, and my husband, traversed the entire length of the cave. It is an interesting space, much more open than the cave I experienced in Minnesota, years ago. As I gather volunteers to lead our tours in July, I kept myself off of being part of the group that led participants down into the cave. But, as we were on our way back to the start, I kept thinking that being a docent (not a hike leader) was possible for me!
Our hike leaders were all trained by a DNR Bat Specialist last summer. Some have agreed to return to help lead the tours this year. They will be in charge of telling participants about the cave and the bats. But, as one who hunts for volunteers knows, finding enough people to help with events is sometimes difficult. I will change my role from being that of a gopher during the tours, to one of being a docent for one of the groups. It will help with staffing the event, and I think I will actually enjoy being with those who are experiencing the cave for the first time. And, as a docent, if anyone needs to leave during the tour due to claustrophobia, I’ll be a very empathetic accompanying guide.
You can find the other “Have you ever?” posts by clicking on any of these links!