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Bats and Basques in America

by Rich Long

If anyone is expecting a lot of technical information on caves and caving techniques from my trip to America, YOU DON'T KNOW ME VEWWY WELL!!

If you have ever had to catch an early morning flight from Heathrow you will already know that the booking in hall and seats were designed by the Marquis de Sade and his even more degenerate chums.  By three o' clock in the morning and check in time I was completely crippled.  My neck was now stuck at a ninety degree angle, my right knee had become disjointed and had taken on a life of its own, locking up or giving way as it wished.  Hobbling along slumped across my dribble soaked luggage and attempting to steer my little trolley, with one half closed bloodshot eye my fellow travellers were strangely quiet and gave me a great deal of room.  Even the kind baggage lady asked "Would I like some help to board the plane and would I care for a wheelchair?"

"Nooo, Nooo, Fank you!"I said from numb, slobbery lips as I limped away to the next wait in the departure lounge, behind me I heard one of the passengers say "Oh, isn't he brave to attempt such a trip alone, in that condition. " I turned to see who she was talking about but there was no one there, our eyes met, well her eyes met my one open eye and she waved.  I returned the wave and grinned; she gasped and fell back against her husband who said "Christ!"

We boarded the plane, I got a nice aisle seat near the toilet, I find you suddenly get an enormous bladder problem if you are blocked in at a window seat.  My next seat traveller turned out to be a young lad about 8 years old who took great delight in telling me all about Jumbo jets, while his Dad snoozed, until we hit an airpocket somewhere over Newfoundland.  We dropped like a stone, the cabin crew all fell over.  Some prayed, some wept, I did both of these and cursed with every swear word I had ever heard at the top of my voice.  This seemed to work as the plane suddenly ascended as quickly as it had fallen.  There was silence for several minutes after this as all of us adults came to terms with a near death experience.  I came out of this quite quickly as I am used to caving with Zotty on a regular basis.

So, we landed in Dallas. I collect my baggage, a rucksac as big as a small bungalow and phone Jay Jordan, the guy-I have been e-mailing for about 2 months- the phone doesn't answer!  No matter how many times I ring he is not there!  (The BEC reputation has gone before me?)

Nothing for it, book into a Motel, sleep, eat and see what turns up.  Two days in Dallas and I am going insane, it is mobile phone land, get out NOW!

Well the trips in Texas are dead, so New Mexico here I come!

Flew into Carlsbad and the lady at Hertz rental was so nice she actually shut up shop and took me into town to find a Motel, American hospitality or what!

I got to Carlsbad Caverns and met Stan Alison and Jason Richards, who sends best wishes to you all, they remember some of you, you know who you are!

Now my luck started to change a little.  I met a great guy called Curtis Perry, who is a lighting technician, climber, caver and store owner and he invited me to go on a filming trip to Cottonwood cave.  I had to understand that I wouldn't be in it, as he said they were only making a nature movie and not Return of the Living Dead IV.  I would just be carrying batteries and lights but I would meet some of the top cavers in the U.S. and get some more trips from there.

Next day, Curtis brings his friend Gus Widen- a man who, I found out later, could climb up glass. Gus was so good at climbing they had him try to escape from the bear compound in the Living Desert Zoo.  This was because the bear himself was a bit of a Houdini and he kept getting out and raiding the local cabins.  Well the keepers would drag him back and lock him in and then he'd get out again.  They put up an electric fence, he still got out.  Well, they stuck Gus and a few other local climbers in and Gus got out. So did Aaron, another human fly, but the rest were captive along with the bear.  So, a second electric fence was put in and up to now the bear hasn't escaped but, I watched him study those fences and that wall, it's only a matter of time!

Anywhoo, back to the story. That day was the weekend for hunting so everywhere along the road across the desert and up into the mountains were guys with red hats and big guns, Texas hunters.  Some just sat in their trucks and let fly at anything.  Not too many ramblers about that weekend!

On the journey to the cave we were unfortunate enough to hit a cattle guard and bust one of Gus's bearings on his pick up- just what you need on rough mountain roads.  We limped up to the mountain top and met the film crew who were doing the interviewing of the principal players.

Eventually we got to enter the cave carrying huge packs, the entrance was about 30 feet across and an easy zig-zag path down into it.  The formations started immediately at the entrance, huge stalagmites 40 to 50 foot high, massive flowstone.  I was off but Tom Zane, the director, soon advised me of my position in the scheme of things.  Alright, I am a Limey but I do know who both my parents are!

The filming went great, there were even some Mexican long tailed bats still flying in to roost, so we had to be very careful not to disturb them.  Everything was over by about 8 pm and watching the huge lights illuminating the formations was a magnificent sight.  We exited the cave to look at a star studded sky with no light pollution - it was absolutely fantastic.  Then we sat round an old Apache mescal pit and had a barbeque. Whereupon, my new found friend Gus and I managed to demolish some tasty American beers and a litre bottle of Chivas Regal between us before we both nearly did headers into the fiery pit. It was decided bed was the safest option!

Now, there is a saying in New Mexico," you can tell when an Englishman has had enough to drink, you can smell his skin burning! "

Next day after finding all my clothes and boots which seemed to have been scattered all over the clearing we headed out to Sitting Bull Falls, my new mountain home.

To be Continued.  Ed