When you don’t have adequate imagination or life drive to come up with a really good list of principles, you have to resort to copying advice that you get from different sources. Serious people would get their advice from reliable sources like books, autobiographies, experts, psychiatrists etc. Lazy people (not naming any names here, just abstract statement) that would rather play meaningless computer games and listen to LitRPG audiobooks (if you haven’t been introduced to this genre – google it and you can thank me latter), get their advice from songs and/or podcasts that condense the collected knowledge and relay this wisdom like a good sauce stock to a heated dish of water. I think there is no need for more wasted words to convey to you to which group I subscribe to. And perhaps I am not the only one that drew many valuable advice from a song that would better be described as a sung booklet of proverbs and intelligent thoughts. And I have subscribed to all, and I do mean ALL of the advice of the song Sunscreen. Not because I needed to improve my life, but mostly because most of the advice I already followed daily – because like most of advice they are just descriptions of things we should already know and adhere to, but usually we just need to be reminded of. Trying not be jealous, enjoy(ed) my youth (especially looking at pictures of younger me and remembering how cool it was), but I got SING, DANCE, FLOSS part down perfectly. The only one advice I could never follow, no matter how much I tried was abstaining from worrying about the future. Just going to an event in my private time causes me so much worry about what will happen, all the things that could go wrong and if there will be a public toilet available. Just imagine what I go through when I have something important to do. So, I don’t even try to follow this one – I tried, but it is just futile. The one advice in the whole song I really try to do on a daily basis is to do something that scares me. But if you really think about my apprehensions of thinking about the future you would realize that every day I do something that really scares me just by getting up. But to really burst my cozy bubble that is my life, I do put a lot of effort to truly do things on a daily basis that scare me more than regular life stuff.
Why the long intro? Well, I never imagined I will willingly put myself into a situation that would test my nerves to the utmost limit. I am talking about feeling claustrophobia, anxiety and panic all at once aaanddd not letting to get the best of me. So one win for me.
What happened is that I let my wife do plans for my weekend and like a lot of times, she planned things I would probably said no to out of the bat. But once she had made arrangements, what kind of a man would I be if I chickened out. The plans were going into a “wild” cave – in Slovenia that has over 15 000 documented cave systems, a wild cave would mean a cave that is not opened to tourists. The most internationally famous cave is the Postojna cave, but if you really want to feel a cave but still be touristy about it, go for the Škocijanske cave system – there is more walking but it is truly a more pristine experience. However, both caves are a walk on a filled of daisies compared to what my wife had planned as a pleasant Saturday day family-adventure. Yep, the kids were with us.
My wife has a work colleague who does everything: climbing, cycling, running, diving and of course caving. He agreed to take the whole family to a real caving experience, something that is not available or even advisable for tourist who have no caving experience. In my mind I pictured an interesting cave exploring, taking some photos, looking at stalactites/stalagmites, maybe seeing an underwater lake etc. What we got was something so similar to the meaning of the words that I just listed, but so different from the interpretation of those words in my mind, which were based on the only two Slovenian cave that I have seen in my life (the previously mentioned Škocijan and Postojna caves). We headed towards the Štajerska region, the small town of Vransko, where the entrance to the Veternica (Wind Spinner) lay. In my mind I imagined the cave will be big enough for us to walk in, there will be no tight spots and crevices that pressed on my body when I tried to slide through, there will be no mud and definitely no need for all the waterproof equipment and injury protection equipment (like gloves and helmets). Coincidentally I did not think too much about our little excursion, I just went along with it. My daughter however seemed most bothered by the possibility that going into a cave without paying a fee or telling the police about it. She was sure we would be visited by the police. We calmed her down and explained that visiting the caves is allowed and there is no need for special permissions. She wasn’t convinced but she, like me, just went along with it.
This is how we looked like just before we went to the entrance to the cave.
Immediately when we arrived at the entrance to the cave Veternica, I realized that my mind did not imagine the cave correctly. The entrance lay near a small stream. It was labeled, but honestly it looked like a fox hole more than an entrance to an awesome cave my mind imagined it to be. Full of zeal to have an adventure we followed our guide into the cave and… from that point on to about half an hour into the cave I tried to curb my persistent urge to panic, to ignore the feel of claustrophobia and to shut-off all other anxieties that I felt in those tiny low muddy tunnels. The cave itself is mostly a maze of very tight tunnels that are connected by small gaps in the rock that you have to squeeze through. Not like you squeeze into tight pants, but more like being born again, but instead of a womb there are sharp rock that press down on your body and limbs. By the time we got into the cathedral part of the cave (which is in hindsight quite impressive – with 4 meters high walls and ceiling, and a small underwater river running through it) I have had quite enough. All I could think of was how much I would love to get back out. Those thoughts increased when I noticed that we were covered in mud from foot to head and that my “cave diving” uniform tore through and through from my butt to my belly button and all that was between my naked butt and tons of mud was a thin piece of cloth that were my under-clothes protective pants. Sliding on the muddy rocks actually felt like I went skinny dipping in the cave.
This is how we looked once inside the cave.
Struggling with all the feelings of fear and uncertainty, I realized that it was not me who I feared most for, but that we as a family would be stuck somewhere inside with no way to get out. OK, I also feared that my butt, the largest in the group, would be caught in a crevice and I would be unable to dislodge it and I would spend my remaining days regretting eating too much the last few years. What snapped me out of my panicky thoughts was surprisingly my kids and my wife, who was cool as a cucumber. My kids were the real champions thought. After the first few moments of sliding into the cave, when I thought my daughter will start panicking, they calmed down and started to really enjoy themselves. My son especially did not show that he was uncomfortable, but instead went into several more holes with our guide and climbed a bit further, when I already said I am not going anywhere else but out. Watching them enjoying themselves and traversing any obstacle in front of them forced me to also forget about my own apprehensions. I started noticing the beauty of the cave, the small stalactites and bacteria on the rocks and we even saw a small bat just hanging from a cave wall, not giving a damn, that there were five curious humans pointing a light at him. When I realized that all of my anxieties have been replaced by a strong feeling of achievement and wonder of the first-in-a—lifetime experience, two hours have gone by. We took notice of the hour and decided to head out again. Slipping through the same crevices on our way out I realized they were really tight but not nearly as impassable as I thought they were. Once we got out of the cave, I hugged everybody, the adrenaline still very present in my veins. I also realized that we barely made any photo (the only equipment that was small enough to take with us was our phones, and that made for bad pictures). These two are the only ones we took and that meant a lot of hassling with the humidity and mud just to get the photos that we managed to get in the end.
That is when we heard the voice: “We were just about to call the police!” It turns out that the only paranoid thought we had before the expedition that turned out to be true, was that of my daughter. Apparently there was some illegal activity performed in the cave that we just visited, so the local Caving Association started monitoring the cave. “What illegal activity could on execute in such a cave,” you might be asking yourself justifiably. Well, it has to do with Hitler. Yes, you heard me right, it has to do with Adolf Hitler, and it is not like there is a literal underground Hitler cult in the cave, but instead there is a unique beetle in the cave that was named after Hitler. Apparently some non-national cavers found this out and they visited this cave to steal the beetle. Why? I could not imagine to comprehend such an activity, but the representative of the local Caving Association explained that they thought it was fun to get a beetle named after Hitler. There are not many things in the world that are named after the notorious mass murderer, so, having a beetle Hitler seems to bring certain joy to people.
When we explained that we were honest cavers, the argument settled down and we even got a tour of the town’s castle mansion that the local Caving Association is trying to restore. After and hour or so talking to the local cavers, we headed for a much deserved and needed lunch.
But the whole day the feeling that we have just experienced and survived something dangerous amazing and unique did not leave us. It was quite cathartic. But I will need some time to prepare myself for another such experience. Just like it took some time to clean our clothes.