Sunday, July 8

Caving In

We’re fast approaching the end of the academic year, and that means the annual ICSS trip to Lambourne End to do all sorts of outdoor activities.

Since I've been before, I've done most of what the centre has to offer. However, they had just built an artificial caving system, and the idea of crawling around them seemed a bit too interesting for me to ignore, so I volunteered to take the kids who wanted to try them out.

In effect, the system was just a bunch of concrete pipes buried underground. The twist was that there were around four different size of pipe. I'm not sure of the precise diameters, but they ranged from allowing me to crawl pretty freely to... well let's just say quite small.

I'm usually quite good with outdoor stuff (the other activities Lambourne have include Ropes Over Water, Archery and the like and I was okay at those), but I have to admit that this was tough and, at some places, quite concerning. And that was only during the "easy" route consisting of the two largest size of pipes.

After completing that, we were asked if we wanted to carry on with the smaller pipes. We were pretty unanimous in declining the offer and as we got ready to depart the system properly were relieved that it was all over. Until one of the kids asked if we were sure we wanted to give up.

Of course that was enough to trigger doubt in most of our minds. How could we walk away not even having tried the smaller pipes? Well, we couldn't, and so five of us went back in.

The second smallest of the remaining pipes weren't that bad actually; I had to lie flat on my front and was able to shuffle along a few inches at a time. It was slow, but I had a method so wasn't too worried. The plan was to reach the cavity at the end of that pipe section and then take the escape hatch out. I was last in line to go through though and it was only when I got to the cavity that I realised the rest of the group had carried on, down the smallest of the available pipes. And that meant that I had to too - I couldn't bail out now!

Thinking back, this pipe was only a couple of inches wider than my hips. This meant that my shoulders couldn't fit, not squarely anyway, so there was no way I could crawl like I had been before. After asking the advice of the host (who had doubled back overground to the aforementioned escape hatch), I lied down on my back, one arm stretched out in front of me, and the other pointing downwards toward my feet. I don't even know how I travelled forward in that position (it may have involved rolling on my shoulders or something), but eventually I made it through to the other end.

It was both physically and mentally challenging, and so also really rewarding. Once you commit to tackling a pipe you couldn't bail out or give up. This meant that you had to really push and rely on yourself or risk spending a long time in a pipe on your jones; real mind over matter stuff. I really enjoyed it!