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August 30, 2001

Overland Australia - Update 34

Theme: Things underground

Today I experienced not just one of my top ten fears, but two of them
in one. I have been on the bike four days since a long three days rest in
the truck after my crash. My shoulder is sore but not broken I think.
Though the group has somewhat distanced themselves from me when I ride,
which I can't blame them, the last 4 days have been absolutely
wonderful. Every day I learn something new or prove an old fear wrong
and always make my self go further than I thought I could one kilometer
at a time. Today was no exception but with a new twist. I would
escape this day without great harm to myself.


The first fear I would face was that of being in small dark places.
The second fear would greet me while dealing with the first. We arrived
today in an old mining ghost town called Arltunga. We found that the
town had three open mine shafts that interconnected still available to
venture into at ones own risk. Several members of the group wanted to
go and I knew it would be a good opportunity for me to face my fear of
crawling around under the ground in the dark. So off we went to the
mine site.

Now understand that these mines where made around 100 years ago by
individuals working with only picks and shovels. The mineshafts are
small and not very stable. They were deep enough for the tunnels to be
pitch black from shaft to shaft. There was only two ways into all
three shafts and when you climbed down to the bottom of either shaft you had
to crawl through to get into the tunnels. When we got inside and our
eyes adjusted somewhat we could see small logs vicariously jammed
between ceiling and floor in order to hold the earth above from
collapsing in on us. I, of course, did not go first.


Only a few of us, and not me, had light. We began to explore the
cramped spaces of the mine at our leisure. The only access to the third
shaft, as I have said, was only through the other two shafts. There
were no other ways in or out of the third shaft. Everyone looked at it yet
no one would make the move to wiggle into it. For no reason that I can
think of I made the crazy statement, "Well, I'll go first".

As I got down on all fours and could feel the cold rocks mixed with
dirt and spider webs on my shins and hands, a thought crossed my mind.
"What on earth are you doing!" Unfortunately there was no turning back. I
had already managed to wiggle my torso through the first part of the
small tunnel to the shaft. The size of the hole would continue for two
more feet and than I had to navigate what turned out to be another
small log holding up the white quartzite smothering the top of my body. I
began to panic a bit when the hole got smaller and I had to completely
lie down on my belly and slither through the last part of the tunnel
like a snake. Did someone say snake?

The shaft opened up enough for me to stand up on both feet but with my
back bent over my knees. And stand up immediately is what I did. I
had come close enough to the shaft to get ample light to see. It was a very
good thing because my next step was going to land on a snake basking in
the sunlight coming through the shaft! Just when a calm was coming over
me that I could handle dark spaces I come face to face with, what could
be, a very poisonous snake. We seemed to both have startled one
another and the only way out for either of us was the way I came in. Turning
my back on the snake and laying down to crawl out of a hole was not going
to be my 'A' plan. So I froze and calmly said to the others "there's a
snake in here." The only thing I heard from them was "Ya right." I
repeated myself with great conviction in my voice "I am not joking.
There's a snake in here!" Still I received no hoped response, accept
for Todd who said "don't move, I'm coming in to photograph it." The
snake and I just starred at one another as we waited for Todd to
photograph us. My plan 'A' came in to form. As soon as Todd got here
I would go! However when he came up beside me Todd asked me to get
closer so the photo would have some scale. I told him he should get closer
and I would take the photo! He agreed it was a dangerous request. Right
than the snake turned its back on us and moved slowly away. Todd and I
both seized the moment and out the tunnel we went.


I was so happy to be above ground. Two fears in a row faced. If it
had been my typical day in the Outback the snake would have bit me and I
would have faced a third fear: being trapped in a mineshaft due to a
cave-in that shut off my only escape. But thank goodness this was no
typical day.

'Mick' Roney


Posted on August 30, 2001 1:02 PM