Lowering oneself down an eight-foot vertical hole in the ground, and then crawling through an opening at the bottom of it into a long tunnel and then crawling on one’s belly to freedom wouldn’t have been so difficult if only I had gone down head first, as the candidate before me had done.
But for some reason, probably because I am, by nature, a cautious person, I descended feet first to the bottom.
As a result, I found myself standing atop several dead animals at the bottom of a very narrow shaft with about three or four feet of dirt between the top of my head and ground level. The problem was that the shaft was too small to turn around in, and crawling back up and starting over seemed impossible. So I did what anyone else in my situation would have done.
I worked my feet and legs into the opening of the tunnel, sat down on my ass and began shimmying my way feet first– and flat on my back through the tunnel to safety. There was no light, and I had no idea how long the tunnel was. It was an uncomfortable and awkward way of crawling, to say the least, and with every movement I made, dirt from the tunnel dribbled into my wide-straining eyes and into my open and gasping mouth.
I took some comfort from the knowledge that I wasn’t that far behind the candidate in front of me, who grunted and groaned as he moved along. He couldn’t see any better than I could, but there was really only one direction in which to crawl to escape, and at least he had the advantage of crawling on his stomach and crawling head first.
When he realized my predicament, I remember him asking me, there in the darkness, “…why the Hell are you crawling on your back instead of your stomach?”
His question was quite valid, but it had the immediate effect of making me feel quite stupid. I didn’t know what to say, or how to answer him. I’m not sure if I even knew how I had wound up in this position, myself. Plus, it didn’t really seem like a good time to be discussing it, so I just grunted a little louder with a tone of slight desperation, hoping to elicit some sympathy from him instead of derision.
Fortunately, I don’t think we had to crawl more than about twenty or thirty yards before we began to see some light– and shortly, we came to the end of the tunnel. The tunnel ended abruptly at another vertical shaft, but this one seemed to be only about five or six feet deep, which meant that we had been crawling slightly uphill. It’s hard to gauge angles when you’re scrunching along flat on your back with a face full of dirt.
There was just enough room at the end for him to pull himself out of the tunnel and into a small circular sunken pit about three feet in diameter. When I got to the end there was only enough room in the pit for my legs. There was no way I could scrunch up the side of the pit feet-first. Fortunately, before I had time to realize how dire my situation actually was, I felt two strong hands grab me around the ankles and with some difficulty, they pulled me up out of the pit. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground next to my “contemporary” and we were free. He was not from my battery and I didn’t recognize him. For just a moment, I wondered what I would have done, had the situation been reversed. He could have easily run off and left me there. But he didn’t.
I didn’t even thank him.
It was just getting dark. Standing up, feeling the blood return to my legs and actually walking was a really great feeling, which was fortunate, because, even though neither one of us knew it, we still had ten or fifteen miles and a mountain to cross before we would sleep that night. But none of that bothered me. I was free and feeling great and I wasn’t about to be captured again.
As luck would have it, there was even a full moon.