ASB2009 in Tennessee

During Alternative Spring Break 2009, SMU students will be volunteering in Appalachia, Tennessee, with the Once Upon a Time Wilderness Adventures mission. They’ll spend the week doing a variety of service learning projects, including trail maintenance, gardening and work with a Cherokee community.

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Gettin’ ‘er done, Tennessee Style

An update from Jose, first-year political science, economics and business, and Miguel, sophomore public policy and Spanish major:

Si-yo (shee-oh). That’s hello in Cherokee.

6 am Thursday, March 12 Alarm goes off. Get out of bed, shower for Miguel since Jose decided not to shower for 4 days in a row. We have a delicious and nutritious breakfast, and on our way to The Lost Sea Adventure; America’s Largest Underground Lake! Today, Thursday, is our only free day of alternative spring break.

Upon arrival we are presented with a choice….

(Miguel) Tame adventure? Or wild and life endangering? Jose and I were bummed since we couldn’t go white-water river rafting as we originally had planned. Naturally we chose the tour less traveled, because we walk on the wild side.

We began with the commercial. Sir Charles, our expert cave explorer, started us off with a fascinating boat ride around The Lost Sea!! A five-stories-deep 98% pure water underground lake. Among its other uses and names, it was a fallout shelter during the cold war, a base during the civil war, and the Cave Tavern, a bar with moonshine distilleries! After an amazing ride around the lake, filled with imported Rainbow Trout, we were eager to get down and dirty.

(Jose) And so the spelunking begins … prior to departing for our adventure, we had to don our clothing of choice, which was purchased at a thrift store; in preparation for the red clay, which we were warned covers the entire cave and would ruin our clothing.

So we spent the good part of the next two and a half hours on our knees, hands and stomachs, crawling through tiny, tight claustrophobic tunnels. We have multiple bruises to prove it. At one point we got quite a scare when we thought we had reached a dead end. I ended up having to pull Miguel out from the tunnel by his heels because he was stuck and could not pull himself out.

Another high point of our 200 foot underground expedition was experiencing absolute darkness. It is mind-boggling to fathom that if one were to experience absolute darkness for two weeks, one would become blind. Amy thought all the cave crawling was “just silly,” and several of our crewmembers managed to get stuck.

(Miguel) The cave holds half of the world’s Anthodite supply. Greek for cave flowers, they are beautiful crystals, which resemble sea urchins. While cave crawling the group (we went with Cazenovia) was presented with a challenge of almost Herculean proportions, known simply as The Game. Basically the goal was to scale an inclined 17-foot cave wall attempting to reach a small hole atop of it. Sounds easy right?

Unfortunately only half of the 2/3 of the wall was clay and thus scalable. However the other third was slippery, wet rock and thus unscalable. Before we began Sir Charles had bet us $100 we wouldn’t be able to complete the feat. Exhausted and disenchanted with our failed attempts, our expert guide explained the trick to the challenge.

While jumping toward the hole at the end of the clay portion of the incline, it was necessary to jump and raise yourself onto the unscalable wall while simultaneously twisting your body, landing on your back, and kicking your feet towards the nearby ceiling thus wedging your body between the wall and the ceiling. You would then have to crawl up the wall, shuffling your back and hands up toward the hole, with the use of your feet against the ceiling to help thrust yourself up; wrapping one of your arms around your head while on your back to reach into the hole, which supposedly contained a $100 bill.

Almost nobody came close to achieving this move until my boy Jose managed to get himself stuck between the wall and ceiling with zero mobility, finally allowing himself to tumble the 17 feet down the incline. We almost left the cave with a feeling of failure, until we went down the 25-foot water mudslide.

We could go on and on … but we have to go get ready for an East Tennessee hoedown!

By the way Tom treated us to Buddy’s Tennessee Barbeque!

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