cancer Diet Coke. His idea of a relaxing weekend is doing a little hike like this one, maybe. (For the record, my idea of a nice hike is one that includes paved paths, like this one) This past Sunday, as I was sitting in front of my computer, cooling off from my workout, he started making his usual “If I don’t get OUT of this house, I’m going to LOSE MY MIND” noises. I said nothing, hoping in vain that he would get over it and wander off to read or watch TV. Silly me. “Want to hike up to Three Caves?” he suggested brightly. The last time he suggested hiking up to Three Caves was early this past summer, and on the way I got pissed at the fact that we never did ANYthing FUN (like go to the movies or go shopping or sit on our asses on the couch – NONathletic things, in other words), and started a fight. (It all worked out well, though – that was the first time we went to feed the ducks and geese at the lake by the university.) Because I knew that there’d be no shutting him up until we hauled our asses up the mountain once and for all so I could see the goddamn caves, I immediately agreed. A few minutes later he twigged to the fact that I was only agreeing to shut him up. “You’re agreeing to go just to shut me up, aren’t you?” he said. I smiled. He got out the map and showed me where Three Caves was located. “We could take the hard hike,” he drew his finger along a long trail that ended at Three Caves. “Or we could take the shorter route.” “How long of a hike is it?” I asked. He traced the route and calculated. “About half a mile.” Well, hell. Even I could do half a mile of hiking, followed by a short rest, a drink of water, and another half mile back to the car. We decided to leave in about half an hour, and both headed upstairs, he to tell the spud we were going for a hike and if she wanted to go she needed to be ready at 11:30, and me to take a shower. Not long after 11:30, after packing everything but the kitchen sink in his backpack (GPS, map, flashlight (no lights in the cave, dontchaknow), 3 bottles of water, and other assorted things), we were on our way. We got to the trailhead around noon and stood around while Fred changed out the batteries in the GPS and marked the location of the Jeep. We headed up a fairly steep trail, and it wasn’t long before I was breathing pretty heavily. Fred kept asking if I wanted to stop and rest, but I was in “Get this the fuck over with” mode, and refused. That whole line of crap about enjoying the journey rather than the destination, by the way, only holds true when the journey is ENJOYABLE. Yeah, yeah, enjoying the journey is a decision, blahblahshutthefuckupcakes. The trail evened out after ten minutes or so (there were some cool sinkholes, but we forgot to take pictures of them), and it wasn’t so bad for a little while. Fred and the spud took turns leading the hike, breaking the spider webs with their walking sticks. Another trail crossed the one we were on, and it occurred to me that we’d surely gone at least half a mile. “How much further?” I asked finally. “Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t mark the location of the caves on the GPS… Oh, wait!” A flash of brilliance came to him. “We can look on the map and see where that other trail crosses this one, and where the caves are!” He dug the map out of the backpack the spud was carrying (they were taking turns), and opened it up. He showed me the path we were on, and then found where the other path crossed. “And where are the caves?” I asked. He showed me, and I gave him a look that, by all rights, should have made his brains leak out his ears. “So, not even halfway.” “A little over halfway!” he LIED. Bastard. We kept going. Soon, the path turned into what was obviously an old stream bed, lined with rocks designed to make me lose my balance. It also went from fairly flat to a pretty seriously downhill path. As we walked, Fred and the spud leaping nimbly from rock to rock, doing pirouettes in the air as they leapt, I tripped along, silently shooting Looks O’ Hatred at his back and wondering if we’d ever get there. He would turn and say “We’re almost there, I can feel it!” with a big grin on his face, and I would wonder how hard I’d have a throw a hickory nut at his back for it to cause pain. He stopped occasionally to pick up hickory nuts to bring home and crack open, and we saw a few cool-looking lizards. “If you want, you and the spud could wait at the road by the cave, and I could hike back to get the Jeep and drive down to pick you up,” he said. The idea cheered me up more than I can express, and I was happy to agree. We reached the path that loops around the caves – amazingly enough named Three Caves Loop – and followed it for a bit before we ended up at the top of a very high cliff.

From there, it was a pretty easy hike along the cliff to the bottom of the caves. We saw some pretty flowers:
and an interesting bush:
If anyone knows what kind of bush this is, please let me know. Fred is curious. You can see the full-sized picture here.
The road at the bottom of the caves is made of gravel. As we walked down the road to the caves, we could feel the cool air pouring out of the caves. It was pretty neat, and the caves were even bigger than I’d imagined. I made the spud pose in the door of one of the caves for perspective.
We went inside and poked around the caves for twenty minutes or so. Fred was holding the flashlight and would occasionally forget that the spud and I didn’t have flashlights of our own, necessitating the occasional cries of “WE DON’T HAVE A FLASHLIGHT, MOTHERFUCKER!” (me), and “FRED!” (the spud). The caves were just awesomely huge, and could easily hold the inhabitants of a city the size of Huntsville.
Fred and the spud. Pardon the blurriness; I had to use the night vision function on the camera.
Once we were done marveling over the size of the caves, we headed back up the gravel road. “Do you want to wait here while I check to see how far the road is?” he asked. I nodded, sat on a conveniently located bench with the spud, and drank some water. A few minutes later, he came back around and motioned for us to come along. We followed him down the gravel road (away from the caves), and as we turned the corner, I remembered (because it was right there) that there was a fence at the end of the gravel road, separating it from the main, paved residential street. There were “No trespassing” and “Do not enter” signs everywhere, and the fence – 10 feet high and made of chain-link – was padlocked close. “How are we going to get out?” I asked. “The fence just goes a little way and then ends,” Fred said, and led the way. The spud and I followed him slowly, and then when he was out of sight, I heard his voice. “Wait!” he called. “I guess the fence doesn’t end over here, it just keeps going.” He crashed back through the woods toward us, told us to follow him, and headed in the other direction. Oddly enough, that fence didn’t end, rather kept on going as well. “Wait here while I go look around,” Fred said. The spud and I stood by the fence watching traffic occasionally go by, while Fred crashed off into the woods and disappeared. When he’d been gone for several minutes and I was wondering whether it was time to start worrying, he came back. “Come with me,” he gasped, out of breath. “I think I figured it out…” We followed him up the path near the caves, and down a small (but steep) hill and came out by the fence a few hundred yards up the road from where we’d been. We followed the fence along behind a fenced off neighborhood pool. “I thought for sure it would have ended here!” Fred said unhappily when we’d reached the other side of the pool, and the fence continued. We followed along the fence further, and saw a lovely neighborhood park. I was beginning to get resigned to the idea that we were going to have to hike back the way we’d come to get to the Jeep, and I was less than thrilled about it. I’m pretty certain “Never going to fucking go hiking with him EVER A-FUCKING-GAIN” crossed my mind at least once. “Fred!” the spud said, stopping. She pointed to a spot in the fence where someone had cut or pulled part of the fence away from the pole, leaving a gap at the bottom that we could fit through, so long as we snaked through on our stomachs. Fred came and examined the gap, then pointed along the fence. “I think it ends on the other side of the tennis court,” he said. “Why don’t you go look,” I suggested, “And we’ll wait here.” He walked off to investigate, and a few minutes later came back to report that the fence ended, but it was attached to someone’s privacy fence. “Let’s just go through here,” I said. And we did. The spud and I sat at a picnic table in the park while Fred walked off to get the Jeep (it was on a street less than a mile away). By the time we got home, rather than the 1:00 or even 1:30 I’d been expecting, it was after 2:30. I was happy just to be HOME. The next time he suggests a hike, I’m going to counter-offer a trip to the mall. And he BETTER not turn me down, that’s all I have to say.
* * *
I’d say this is a pretty good representation of how he looks about 40 percent of the time.