Sometime in the late 1970s a friend and I explored the longest known gypsum cave in America. The journey started out well enough with both of us walking upright through the main entrance into the main chamber, then gradually crouching a bit more as we moved further into it. I had been in the caves as a child with my parents about a decade and a half prior to this time Bobby and I were there, but we had not ventured very far after encountering large boxes of fireworks someone had stashed inside and my father decided we had seen enough. Eventually Bobby and I came to a place where we had to change travel modes or turn back when we came upon an expanse of water stretching from wall to wall where the ceiling of the cave hung mere inches above the surface of the underground river.
We did not hesitate, Bobby as eager as I was to probe deeper, and waded right in. Midway across we stopped to appreciate the experience of swimming in the dark depths of a cave, touching the gypsum ceiling smoothed by hydrologic action. Moving on, we crawled most of the remaining section on hands and knees until we entered a chamber through a small opening to the right. Inside, the chamber opened up and we stood straight again, shining our flashlights up to see how far above the ceiling was. We both gasped audibly, shocked to see the ceiling moving. Then it exploded downward and swirled about us as thousands of bats took flight, loosing a rain of urine and guano.
We ducked under a rock ledge and watched, utterly fascinated, as the batnado whirled before us and listened to the sounds of it–a combination of beating leathery wings and high-pitched squeaks and chirps. Feeling the air stirred by their wings buffeting our faces, we grinned and giggled at each other, knowing we may never see anything like it again as long as we live. A little over three hours after entering the cave, we emerged and made the long hike back to camp for lunch followed by another hike along the main drainage channel of the karst system to look for more cave openings to explore. We found none large enough to crawl through before growing too tired to carry on and retired for the evening, sleeping that night under a crystal clear sky awash with stars. That was the last time I saw Bobby but I returned to the caves to explore some more with a few other friends, and several more times years later caving solo. The solo trips were the trippiest of all–a struggle to overcome fear which I may not have been very successful at if I had not already been in the caves a few times before with friends. And on each of the solo trips I made a point to swim in the Styx again.