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C is for Cookie (and Catastrophically lost)

"How do you remember all that?"

People ask this of complex cave navigation when we talk about dives that have 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 navigational decisions.

I don't. I don't remember all that. At least, it's not short-term memory.

I've done the dives involving the first 5 navigational decisions so very many times that I don't need to remember those. I know them in my soul. I can, sitting here on my couch, close my eyes and envision exactly what each of those jumps or Ts look like. I know how long it will take to get to them and - more importantly - back to the surface and safety FROM them. I know them better than the streets of Hamilton, NJ where I grew up at this point.

I only need to file the 2 or 3 past that point into short-term memory. "On the way home it's a T left at about minute 75 and then clean up a jump left at about minute 110. Then I'm back in familiar territory."


"I'm going to make 10 navigational decisions and then follow my cookies home."

If you are following a trail of bread-crumbs you're too far into the cave.

I like to talk at great length with my students that unless you know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, where in the cave you are and how long it is going to take you back to the atmosphere... you are too damned far into the cave.

I remember, a few years ago, bumping into a relatively newly certified cave diver in the parking lot at Ginnie reviewing a complex dive plan to a spot called The Ice Room. The direction they were going involved 12 directions. They had it written in wet notes. They were staring at the sexy Hancock map with their notes beside it and repeating it back to themselves over and over and over.

No chance in hell they were going to actually remember it.

So my question is: why?

What the fuck is wrong with following the mainline or making one jump (maybe two) until you know all of that so well that you have dreams about it?

What's with the impulse to be a badass? A thrill-seeker. To be cooler than thou?

Just so you know: if your goal in cave diving is to be the awesomest and to push past safe limits, I wouldn't even take you as a student.

My favorite answer to, "Why are you undertaking this training?" is "To be a better diver."

That's why I've loved this week. My student this week is humble as hell and working damned hard on being a better diver.

He has put in a ton of effort to earn his new Full Cave certification. And, as a reward today, I led him on a dive involving 5 navigational decisions (where we were never more than about 15 minutes from a usable exit).

"I was so lost," he said as we surfaced. "Yeah, that was the point." "No... seriously. That was so hard! I was pretty sure I could get out if something happened to you... but that was really, really challenging." "Yeah, I know. Fun, right?" "I think I'm just going to stick to one or two jumps for a while." "I think that's an excellent idea and that you're very sensible. That's why you passed the class."

My job is awesome.

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