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An Underground Adventure

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Published on: Nov. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 9, 2010

we decided that it was prudent to make our way out of the cave. In some areas the water was almost waist-deep on these 13-year-old scouts.

When we emerged from the cave, I realized why the water was rising so rapidly inside. It was raining hard and had been doing so for hours. The cave watershed was funneling water into the cracks leading to the underground system, just as it has for thousands of years.

The small creek that we crossed as we approached the cave entrance earlier that morning was a raging torrent, unsafe to cross. Several of the other adult leaders were waiting on the other side of the creek wondering if we were ever coming out of the cave. We weren’t walking back to the campground the way we came.

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” I had maps and compass. We would have to walk 2 miles due east to the paved county road on the east side of the conservation area. I shouted driving directions across the bulging stream to the other leaders and asked them to pick us up on the county road.

The caving trip evolved into an orienteering exercise. We had practiced this many times at scout meetings, but this was the real thing.

The scouts gathered around. We positioned the compass on the map and determined the direction to walk. I asked the scouts to use the buddy system to avoid getting too spread out. This was a waste of breath. Soon scouts were strung out over a half-mile of forest, but at least everyone was heading in the right direction.

Occasionally, one of the scouts would come up to ask, “Are we lost Mr. Urich?” I always responded with the same answer, “No, check the compass and head east, young man, head east,” a quote borrowed and altered from the 19th-century newspaper editor Horace Greeley, who encouraged Americans to go west.

It took more than an hour to negotiate 2 miles through the woods with 30-plus Boy Scouts. It was kind of like herding cats.

When we reached our destination, we saw an array of cars parked on the roadside, plus five fire trucks—and more over the hill. People were milling around everywhere. Finally, I was escorted to the command center, where official looking and serious people had tables, maps and radios.

I learned that an extraordinary chain of events occurred as we were walking across the Fuson

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