TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

March 27, 2014

Experiences I’ll never forget but will never repeat


The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — By John L. Ross / Staff Writer

I am determined to make it to the real spring.

Sure, it’s technically spring — but I’m pretty sure that white stuff falling Tuesday was very much wintery looking.

And it certainly was wintery feeling — I feel like this winter has dragged on mercilessly and beaten us with icicles, storm threats and snow days.

But as I said, I am determined — I’m clawing my way into the spring.

So on one of the precious few warm days we’ve seen lately, I got outside and aimed for some long-overdue yard work.

I was carrying some brush from the front of the house and was headed toward the bottom of the backyard.

I was getting ready to pass between a pair of trees, when I saw it and dropped my armload of yard clutter.

There, in an evergreen bush, was a three-foot long snake draped through the bush’s branches.

Now, I’m not afraid of snakes. But this thing hanging out in the middle of the bush and at eye level to me was pretty much disconcerting — to say the least.

I snapped a few pictures, still unsure as to its breed — only knowing for certain it was NOT a rattlesnake, cobra, python or anaconda.

But the spring and summer months get me outside — and gets mother nature the opportunity to see the extent of my limitations.

Once upon a time before I became “mildly” claustrophobic, I was into spelunking, or “caving,” as the popular activity is better known.

There were quite a few I crawled through, but one I enjoyed in particular was south of Elizabethton, Tenn. just past a little burg called Hampton was a cave I went in quite often.

Many times I’d go myself.

Thankfully, the last time I ever went “caving” I went with three other people.

They knew the cave better than I did, and so I let them do the navigating while I followed behind.

The cave started becoming more of a glorified crack — at several points along one stretch we were standing upright in about five or six inches of running water. The top halves of our bodies were wedged in a crack.

I was focusing on my feet, and inching my way through the crevice in the rock.

I wasn’t using my flashlight much in front of me — I kept the circle of light pointed at the rocks in the water.

But then something brushed against my face — leaving me paralyzed with fear.

I jerked the circle of light toward my face — and did nothing but succeed in temporarily blinding myself with the flashlight.

Once I could see again, I tried to maneuver the flashlight where I could see what I brushed against. I didn’t feel it again, so I figured it was a drip of water or a bit of dirt sliding down.

When I finally saw it, and realized “it” was a “them,” that’s when I panicked.

The entire crevice was filled with bats.

I could see more than a half dozen within inches of my face — I was feeling the wing of one as it stretched from the noise the four of us were making.

Although I was ready to run out of there hollering, I kept calm and realized I would have to back out the way I came in.

They wanted to continue, but there was absolutely no way I could walk that final 50 or so feet of crevice — there were so many bats it looked like a carpet on both sides of the crevice.

With much grumbling, two of them came back with me — and I was totally fired up to get out of there as fast as possible.

Too fired up — because as I was crawling through a natural hole in the rock I got stuck.

Bad.

In my haste to get out of the cave, I forgot to remove the backpack to get through that natural hole.

And I was wedged in that hole pretty good.

The two of them tugged and pulled, but only succeeded in removing my shoes and tearing my jeans.

I could not get out.

Finally, one of them remembered a way around that natural hole — and after about an hour, made it to the other side where I could see him.

And after being trapped there in that hole for more than three hours, I was free. I had bruises, and a sprained back, and there was blood here and there on me — but again, I was free.

And vowed to never put myself in such a position again — at least, not in a cave.

But I did challenge mother nature during hurricane season in the year 2000.

I was off early from a reporter’s job I held in eastern North Carolina, and lived only a few hours from the coast.

I had been following a tropical depression on the news, and it had briefly developed into a low-grade hurricane while churning in the Atlantic Ocean.

However, it had weakened as it moved toward the Carolina coastline.

So I decided to take the drive along NC 158 toward Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, N.C. — I wanted to see the storm come ashore.

I got to the area and located a public beach, then walked out onto the sands.

The wind was incredible — I was having to really brace myself from getting tossed around like a beach ball.

And it was raining — sideways. The front of me was dripping wet while everything behind me was dry.

But the experience — that was exhilarating.

I stood there, marveling at the awesome power that I was seeing unleashed. Long arms of black and gray clouds stretched into the horizon — wave after wave after wave slamming into the beach, digging their way into the sands and dragging whatever they can back into the sea — the feel of the rain pummeling against my face and skin like a thousand massaging fingers — all of that made it an incredible experience I’ll never forget.

And another one I’ll never repeat.



John Ross is a staff writer for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at jross@thetimestribune.com.