At the final meeting of the year, we decided to have one last big trip. I brought along a novice, E-Man, who waited patiently at Burruss while I rode along with Rich to pick up equipment. We stopped at HoJo's to mobilize Jennifer, Emily and their friends, picked up Alex and stopped at an ATM. While we were there, Kevin, Jennifer, Emily, Joe and the others whose names I should have been more careful to remember, stopped by Burruss, didn't see us, and headed for Franklin thinking we had gone ahead of them. In my eagerness to take the carbide gear along we had forgotten the helmets. It wasn't until E-Man and I had gone back to Ed's for them that we all realized what had happened to the rest of our group. I called Yvonne and told her that this was turning into the cave trip from hell. She gave Alex directions and he led us off. I lost him when he made a U-turn to avoid the stodgy left turn signal from 42 onto 33, but he pulled over until I passed him, then followed me out of town until I passed a red van which insisted on staying under the speed limit. Alex didn't have any luck, so I followed it from in front until it started showing an alarming tendency to tailgate near the top of the mountain, then I pulled over and we both followed the plodder until it finally got off in Brandywine. Now we were in the land of unreasonably slow-moving vehicles which we couldn't both pass, although Alex certainly tried, so we didn't make good time until the last few miles out of Franklin.
Everybody was happy to see us and the equipment. I set E-Man up with my old cave pack and an electric lamp, and found myself a carbide one which worked reasonably well, although the flint was gone and none of the lamps had filter clips.
Jennifer explained about bats and the three-points rule, and we counted off and headed into the cave, stooping and leaning to the left. I was happy to see the register room, because it meant I could finally stand upright again. The register pencil didn't work so we only took a brief break. E-Man took off his pack when we got to the first crawl, and I handed it up to him after he made the first climb. He was a real trooper until we got to a vertical face he would absolutely have to climb. I left my pack with him and met the rest of the group as they were getting ready to head up to the big room for lights out. I explained that I had pro- mised him that he wouldn't have to attempt any climb he wasn't comfortable with, and that since the cave was a straight line to that point I could lead him out. I showed them a pen and said I would leave it for them at the register so they could know before they left the cave that we had reached the entrance safely.
New Trout is rich in fossils, with few formations, but there are some speleothems at the upper end of the first big chamber. E-Man and I clam- bered down the big rocks to the bottom where there are some stalactites, a little stalagmite and a column tucked into the joint of the shelf. I found a dusty, inviting low crawl on the other side, but it wasn't the way out and E-Man wasn't interested in it or the glistening popcorn above it. I was disheartened but I didn't want to say anything that might cause him to panic. We went up to a side passage we had passed but it turned out to be a dead end too. By now E-Man was cursing and said he was scared. We backtracked some more and I spent some time getting my bearings where breakdown had created three parallel passages. After crawling around them for a while we went up further and I was relieved to see the dayglo orange of my first aid kit, which I had left to mark some broken glass when we had passed earlier with the group. E-Man's spirits and confidence in me were not as buoyed as I hoped. "I don't care!," he exclaimed when I informed him that I was diving into a crevice to pick up someone else's trash. In that area I found a drill hole where dynamite had been used, and we came back to this landmark and others several times as I repeatedly led him in and out of the same big chamber.
There is dry soil and decayed wood in places on the floor of the upper end of that chamber, so debris must occasionally wash down into the cave from some opening above. I made this observation by flashlight, because I hadn't checked my supply of fresh carbide before we left. We were in the middle section of the chamber drinking Coke and trying to conserve our dimming lights when we heard the voices of the main group coming down. E-Man hurried me to meet them, and we found that we had been sitting under, and had passed three times, a wooden staff which marked the true way out of the big chamber. I remembered hearing one of the guys say on the way in, "Is that stick holding up the ceiling?," but I had never seen it, and certainly not the arrow beside it.
It wasn't far to the register room. I try to be self-sufficient, but one of the gals set me up with an electric lamp and I was thankful for the group's support. E-Man had already hastily departed, so I handed down my pen and provided the most memorable quote I could recall on his behalf: "I'm going to church next Sunday, and I vow never to enter a cave again!" My own quote was "I thought I found an upper and a lower chamber but it was just the main passage," but it should have been: "I know I put fresh carbide in here. . . ten years ago!"
Some loser didn't want to go to Fatboy's, so he left and I took an extra passenger, but when we got there it was closed so we went to HoJo's. I found Joe's and Alex's discussion of deconstructionism in society and per- ception stimulating, and E-Man must have enjoyed his meal, because when we left he was talking about his next trip. He never went, but he reneged on church too, so I can't recommend caving as a way to get religion.