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Sinking Cove 1995

August 11-12, 1995

Long ago, a prominent young attorney named Ed Yarbrough used to lead a biannual expedition to Sinking Cove Cave for friends and members of the Nashville Grotto. For many, it was an overnight adventure which began with a 4WD trip back into the cove, a spectacular trip through the cave, and a late night spent around the campfire where the conversation flowed like the cool air and water that poured out of the spring entrance. Years passed, Yarbrough built a huge house on a hill south of Nashville, and the tradition quietly died. Annie and I moved to Chattanooga, and our memories of Sinking Cove slowly faded. We started saving to buy a house, and like Yarbrough I gradually forgot about the weekend caving trips that had once given so much meaning to my life.

And yet, every once in a while, it's good to be reminded that Sinking Cove still exists, that the cold water still makes its way through miles of passage to flow from the cave entrance, that what was important to me then is still important to me now.

I was on my back in darkness on the cobblestones at the bottom of the first rappell, watching the warm glowing of a carbide lamp illuminate the walls of the sculptured canyon stretching high above, remembering. It had been so long that I had almost forgotten the simple truths: that bare rock can be beautiful, that places like Sinking Cove still exist. I had come not with Yarbrough but with my contemporaries from Chattanooga, some of whom were experiencing the cave for the very first time.

"We've got get our medical people beefed up for caving," Dennis told me. It was important, he thought, for newer members of the cave rescue team to get caving experience in preparation for the monster call that's always out there waiting, like some kind of predator. Not a minute passed that he didn't have the radio in his rescue truck monitoring the appropriate frequencies, just in case. And that's good, because one day any of us might be lying in pain at the bottom of some horror hole, and we'll appreciate his viligence. But for me, the weekend was a retreat from all that. No worries, no pressure. The trip from the upper Boulder Entrance back to the campground might be a little tough for the average American family, but it was still easy for experienced cavers: a 37 foot drop, rigged double to pull down behind us, a series of breakdown rooms, a 50 foot chimney down into a canyon, then three more short drops which led us through beautiful scalloped canyons to a 200 foot water crawl where we pulled on wetsuits and simply floated onward.

I lay on my back again at the bottom of Rick's Downfall, a 10 foot drop where Rick Buice had long ago fallen and injured his back, watching Dennis and Josh and Karen and Eddie appear and descend. Water splattered down from the crawlway above, lights played on the walls, and I thought again how lucky I was to be able to experience this timeless place. A half hour later, after a quick stroll down the borehole passage, I was swimming out the spring entrance back into sunlight.

There is a certain feeling of walking past the people in camp, body still body dripping water, wanting to describe all you've seen but knowing there is no way to express it in words. I suspect that I will probably continue to fade, become ever more forgetful of these wild places, turn into the couch potato I thought I'd never be. Inevitably there will come a day when, without knowing it, I will make my last trip to Sinking Cove. But as I strip off my wetsuit I make a promise that when that day comes I'll at least try to remember the times and places that mattered, that showed me there is more to life slaving for that big house on the hill.

It's all too easy to stop being young and forget about the places you always wanted to go. Sometimes it takes a few hours inside the mountain beneath Sinking Cove to realize you're already there.

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