Claustrophobia: A fear of confined places
Acrophobia came up in my blog about Mt. Whitney. No surprise there, thousands of feet are between the hiker and a rather unfortunate landing. Splat! It’s a reasonable fear. Claustrophobia is just as real as fears go, but more irrational. The odds of being squished in a tight space— unless you are Indiana Jones or a misplaced wookie caught in a starship’s garbage disposal unit— are between slim and none. Don’t sweat it, right?
Try telling that to someone who is claustrophobic. I suggest you don’t stand between her and the exit. I get it. I am not particularly fond of enclosed spaces myself, whether they are physical or mental. I don’t like driving through tunnels and I hate freeway construction where imposing cement barriers shrink down to your vehicle’s width and provide a view of what hell is like. And that’s even before the gigantic truck comes barreling down on you and breathes fire up your tail pipe because you insist on driving 45 MPH in a 45 MPH zone. At least I can take my revenge when they put up plastic cones instead of cement barriers, as Peggy might tell you. Crunch. Curt strikes another blow for freedom.
Where does this leave me with caving, or spelunking, as the sophisticates call it? How do I feel about getting down on my belly and crawling through a space my skinny fourteen-year-old body would have gotten stuck in several hundred feet under ground? Not a problem; it’s not on my to-do list. But for some unfathomable reason, the standard well-known cave tours don’t bother me. In fact, I find them fascinating. Stalactites and stalagmites tickle my fancy and stir my imagination.
So when Peggy suggested we head off to the Oregon Cave National Monument for her birthday a couple of weeks ago, I readily agreed. We’d been talking about it ever since we moved to Oregon. Except for the last few miles of the road that shot up a mountain and redefined the meaning of curves, the hour and a half drive was quite pleasant.
A ranger greeted us and gave us the bad news. We should expect a two-hour wait. He also wanted to know if we had been in any eastern caves in the last five years. If so— no go. White nose syndrome was wiping out eastern bats. So far their western cousins had lucked out. It had been six years since we had visited Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We were in by a cat’s whisker.
Our wait turned out to be just over an hour. There was barely time for lunch and a look through the visitor’s center before we found ourselves at the cave entrance shivering from a blast of 44˚ F air. “Cave’s breathe,” our guide stated. He also told us about the 500 narrow stairs we would be negotiating and the low ceilings. I would be bent over double with my size 14 shoes balanced precariously on wet slippery rocks. I looked enviously at a small girl who would be standing up straight with her feet resting solidly on the narrow stone steps. She gave me an impish grin.
The Oregon Caves are somewhat unusual in that they are made out of marble. Once upon a time they were a coral reef far out in the Pacific. Plate tectonics sent the Pacific Plate diving under North America and scraped off portions of the ocean floor some 100 million years ago, adding new land to the continent. The tremendous heat and pressure involved changed the lime into marble. Folding, faulting and water created the caves.
NEXT BLOG: Peggy and I are headed off for a brief hiking tour at Mt. Rainier National Park for the next several days so I may be out of computer range. When I come back I will report on my recent experience as a chicken farmer: The Chicken Whisperer.