Dec 5, 2004


Something about listening to the euphonious keyboard and synth amalgamation of "Rushing" by Moby blaring out of a Pioneer soundsystem while following a two-lane divided highway straight into what appeared to be a violent freak rainstorm sent shivers down my spine. The clouds appeared so luxuriously white and puffy near their peaks, resembling tall, snow-white castles reaching up into the heavens, while much farther down, they reflected a shade of foreboding deep grey. In no time, I had rushed into the heart of a cloudburst, and the raindrops began falling against my windshield like bullets. So deafening was the impact of huge, heavy raindrops against the glass that it drowned out my music already playing at high volume. I paused my music to listen to nature's beautiful harmonics, switched my wipers on to full speed, and slowed way down, as the road was becoming flash flooded in a matter of moments. Even in the middle of the afternoon, visibility was abysmal. I nearly hydroplaned over a stream traversing the road. The rain did not taper off for a good fifteen minutes, when the road led me into the upper domains of the clouds. I decided to resume my music, and when the current song I had initially paused ended, 'shuffle' brought up "Under the Sun" by Whirlpool. A delightful song, to say the least, but I was positively taken aback when a few sun beams did begin to shine down in almost perfect sync with the opening beat. I adore these sorts of perfectly timed coincidences, if one could call them such. Halfway through the song, the sun became obscured by very low clouds. I could safely stare up at the glowing sphere, which appeared dull and dingy beyond my shades, the tint of the windshield, and the density of the clouds. In fact, it looked remarkably similar to the moon. No overwhelming brilliance, forcing me to shade my eyes or look away. In conjunction with the song still playing, it was rather hypnotic.

I reached my destination, Volcanoes National Park, around 3:30 in the afternoon, having only left my apartment at 2:50, and already feeling as if I had experienced a full day of adventure. If I only had some idea of what was to come. I showed the ranger at the entrance gate my annual pass, made a left turn immediately thereafter onto Crater Rim Drive, and followed the twisting, turning road through the lush rainforest. A couple miles later, I stopped at the tourist-infested parking lot for Thurston Lava Tube. Even with the rain descending regularly, the area was still swarming with tour buses, rental cars, and humans bundled up in rain gear and protected by wimpy umbrellas. I walked out to the trailhead, watching the tourists predictably march down the designated concrete path, one after another. Good grief, I had to break away. Fortunately, just beyond the path leading down to the 'big attraction,' a gravel road led off into the wilderness. It was appropriately named Escape Road, and after two minutes of strolling down it, I had left all the undesirable commotion behind. I soon reached an iron cattle gate, beside which stood a separate chain link pedestrian gate. I let myself through it, and began to lose myself.

Naturally, I was the only one out there... it was as if I had suddenly stumbled into an alternate universe where humans fear to tread. This little one-lane road must have went on for miles through this beautifully lush, damp, cool environment, but I did not even consider once how far I was walking. I was lost in my imagination, while thoroughly enjoying the intermittent showers making contact with my skin, and the light fog enchanting and embracing me from every direction. The soothing sounds of the rainforest surrounded me, and it's nothing like what one would hear on a cheesy "sounds of nature" audio CD. Being out in it is being in an entirely different world. The familiar sense of liberation that quickly overcame my feral spirit was incredibly arousing. It tends to build up consistently and hit one with a sudden rush of power, much like an orgasm.

Encountering another iron cattle gate after awhile interrupted my trance-like state. Only a few metres beyond it, two wild pigs were grazing for food along the road. They seemed not to mind my presence at all, or even notice it. It made me wonder if pig hunting actually required much skill at all. Rather than disturb them, I opted to deviate from the road and follow a path leading perpendicular from the road, along a wire fence apparently erected to keep feral pigs out of the national park. Being an introduced species, they are infamous for completely ravaging rainforests.

The beauty of exploring areas you have never been to before is that one never knows what he may find. Sometimes, I may discover very little of interest at the end of a walk, but find that the journey was still worthwhile for the walk itself. Other times, I may discover something spellbinding; so spectacular that I assure myself I must return someday soon. The latter happened on this particular adventure. After about a mile of following this little trail along the fence, I reached a depression in the ground, at the bottom of which stood a gate boasting a pair of signs.

Admittedly, when I first read "Pig Control Unit," I envisioned an elite group of buff, heavily-trained anthropomorphic pigs dressed up in uniform, brandishing large police rifles, all carefully surveying the rainforest for intruders as they guarded some secret military bunker, inside which Magnus, Anubys, and their inferiors concocted schemes for world domination. And that big red warning sign only encouraged me to seek out a lava tube or cave to have some forbidden fun in. I let myself through the gate, then followed what most appeared to be a trail that ended at a steel ladder descending into a hole obscured with fern undergrowth.

By this time, I had truly become consumed by the spirit of adventure. My imagination had the capability to turn this into an action-adventure video game. I descended the ladder, planting my feet on the damp, rocky floor of the depression. Before me rose the wide mouth of a lava tube, closely resembling the mouth of some hungry monster, the pitch black darkness within threatening to swallow me whole. I produced a flashlight and courageously ventured into the primitive cavern, not quite sure what I would find.

As soon as I strayed far enough in to leave the light shining in from the outdoors far enough behind, I could sense the danger of what I was doing. I had only a single flashlight with me, and no replacement batteries. I was not even certain of the age or charge left in the set of batteries currently in my light. I imagined how difficult, hazardous, and time-consuming feeling my way back out in absolute darkness would have been. I would have had the advantage of not being afraid of the dark, even pure darkness, but it still would not have been easy. The technique, as I recall, was to maintain consistent contact with the same wall on either side, so as to avoid accidentally turning around in a circle and heading back deeper into the cavern. Proceeding very slowly was also very important; as escaping alive would be much more difficult with a massive head injury. Oh, and I was supposed to have a "feeler" stick with me in case I would have to resort to feeling my way out, but I lacked one. I suppose this all just heavily contributed to how arousing this entire experience was. It's a dangerous obsession, literally, to be aroused by subjecting myself to danger.

As I trudged into the lava tube, deeper and deeper, it once again became hard to convince myself that this entire formation was created by natural processes. It seemed much too... streamlined... calculated... engineered... to be the work of nature. In areas where fragments of the ceiling had not littered the ground in the form of sharp, angular boulders, the floor was smooth and flat as concrete, and the walking incredibly easy, even for bare feet.

Unlike the unnaturally-lit, paved lava tube all the tourists flock to, however, this one was entirely unmodified, and virtually all of its remarkable geologic features were left intact. Occasionally along the way, the passage would become quite narrow...

...before widening again. Maybe a kilometre into the tube, I reached a fork in the road. At this point, the ceiling stood above me several times my height, and the room seemed large enough to build a cabin in. Ah, spelunking is every bit as unique an experience as flying in the sky, which could perhaps be considered its converse. Naturally, I chose the left fork first. I was pleasantly surprised to see dingly blue daylight filtering down from above through the trees.

As I approached it, I noticed a small opening in the ground above where a large portion of the lava tube had collapsed. I scrambled up the large pile of boulders and exited, back in the rainforest. I saw nowhere to go, however, but right back into the tube. The prize for emerging, however, came in the form of a sign identical to the red one I had seen posted on the gate earlier. It was simply lying on the ground, face-up, begging to be taken home in Arcy's backpack. I complied, of course, by picking it up and stowing it away. I believed it would make an excellent wall hanging just above the light switch by my door. If I'm not allowed to take home precious geological artifacts (which I actually respect), then I can at least do my part to clean up the environment by removing bright red signs obnoxiously disrupting the visual serenity of the forest.

When I re-entered the lava tube, I happened to discover a narrow off-shoot of the main cavern. I had to resort to maneuvering very carefully on my hands and knees, but my incentive for pursuing this endeavor was the suspicion that I would discover something quite spectacular at the end. It turned out that this little passageway winded straight back, dropping right off into the main cavern. However, it was here that I witnessed some fantastic volcanic features:

Realizing I would be in trouble if I spent too much time admiring my surroundings with my light, I scrambled back into the main cavern and made my way back to the fork, this time going the other direction. Only half a kilometre or so later, I arrived at another opening where the ceiling had collapsed. Once again back above ground, I discovered a trail which led me right back to where I had initially started from--the chain link gate. Ah, what a circuit. How gratifying it was to meander off the beaten path and find a lava tube to explore all for myself; one that isn't invaded by countless souls from foreign lands day after day. The experience certainly served as a metaphor for the sorts of treasures one can discover if they have the mind to deviate from the most trodden trail. This area was most certainly never mentioned in any park pamphlets or denoted on any maps.

As the late afternoon descended upon me, I decided to head back to Escape Road. I continue following it farther for awhile, not in search of any particular destination. Only after a certain point did I finally decide to turn back, as the road seemed to go on for eternity. I actually did not desire to reach the end and betray the sweet mystery of it all. Wandering back up, I noticed the late afternoon sun casting its golden light on the highest trees above me, which I found quite euphorically beautiful. The breeze rustling through the leaves and the chirping of birds was about all that could be heard, and things smelled oddly of approaching twilight. The sun had already set by the time I reached the parking lot, which by now, was almost entirely devoid of cars and completely lacking of smelly buses. From a scenic point across a fern-dominated hollow, slightly obscured by fog, I could see the dingy orange glow of the lamps illuminating the lava tube mouth in the distance. It seemed so... delightfully Halloweenish. And it seemed to be beckoning to me. I followed the asphalt path down into the hollow, bathed in the wonderful atmosphere of rainforest at gloaming, and slowly walked along the steel platform leading over a seemingly bottomless pit into the tube.

Immediately, I was reminded of the Caverns level from Goldeneye 007, or the Mystic Caverns zone from Sonic the Hedgehog, or some of the cavernous stages from Donkey Kong Country. Ah, the exciting parallels I can draw between worlds... I had never been inside this tube before in the complete absence of obnoxious humans, and I found the atmosphere incredibly appealing. I found the relatively bright orange light that pervaded the cavern to be strangely entrancing, and the shallow pools of cool water that rested on the smooth concrete floor to be quite sensational against my lava-worn bare feet. All that could be heard, aside from my own breathing, was the constant drip-dropping of water from the ceiling. And the air, it felt so cool. A nice breeze swept through the tunnel, bringing with it a chill that made me shiver occasionally. After awhile, to my unfathomable indignation, I heard voices approaching from the same direction I had come. I opted to keep on moving until I reached the concrete staircase that led up and out of the tube and back to the parking lot. Just to the left of that, though, was a chain link gate wearing a sign that was actually welcoming instead of foreboding.

How could I possibly turn down another opportunity to get lost in a dark cave? I opened up the gate and descended into the tube, noting how smooth the floor was against my feet, and actually welcoming the absence of bright lights to guide my way. I felt much more comfortable being immersed in absolute darkness. At a certain distance, the lava tube simply ended at a cheaply manufactured brick wall. I decided that I would crawl up into a little crannie and rest for a little while with my light shut off, savouring pure darkness for awhile. When provided an entirely blank canvas, in this case one with 100% opacity, the imagination can cook up some rather surreal images. In fact, it wasn't long before my little hallucinations actually began to frighten me. I did, however, hear voices echoing down the tube, so I did not wish to depart just yet. Before long, I saw beams of light sweeping against the wall and ceiling, and annoying laughter. I remained perfectly silent, wondering if they would go as far as the end. They did. I watched a rather touristy couple marvel at their surroundings for awhile, disturbing the tranquility of the place to a dramatic degree with their horseplay. Five minutes later, the guy's floodlight... err, flashlight revealed me huddled up in the crannie, and the poor girl apparently almost had a heart attack. I just smiled and waved, utterly blinded. I bet they weren't expecting to see some scary creature hanging out alone in a dark cave without any bright flash light on to protect him.

"Do you have a light?" he asked, as his girl stared at me like I was some sort of mutant.

"No, I don't smoke" was my reply.

"Oh, I mean... well, just as long as you're okay."

"My respiratory system is healthy as can be. ...Not sure about her, though."

Another classic conclusion to an epic adventure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'm not posting anonymously on purpose, i just don't happen to have a blogger username and password and i'm too lazy to get one for the sake of posting a comment! hmph! :P i'm sure you know who i am, anyway.

i just wanted to say what a painstakingly boring day i'd been having before i read this entry of yours.. all the talk of the arousing danger you put yourself in.. it's exciting, better than an adventure novel! :) i'm all pepped up to go out meandering now myself.. especially now that classes are finally over and all of my commitments (minus work) are fulfilled.

at any rate, i love and miss you and greatly appreciate any chance to hear from or about you.. i hope school went well for you, and i hope you enjoy your time off.. i'll try and send you some kind of note via snail mail, i believe i have your address somewhere..

and oh, man.. i need to go home and play Sonic the Hedgehog now. thanks for that! :P

bye. :)