A lot of times, people will say that single people are “Missing Out” on the partner experience. What they generally mean by that is that I do not experience some of the things that have brought them joy. They assume because they want these things, that I must want them too, and must be suffering from their absence.
They think that I’m missing out on having children.
They think that I’m missing out on waking up next to someone in the morning.
They think that I’m missing out on sex.
They think that I’m missing out on someone to share the pain with.
They think that I’m missing out on laughter and love and those hundred little intangibles they couldn’t live without.
I’m not. I’m not missing out on any of those things. I’m not really interested in any of those things. I have to assume that the people who think I’m missing out were driven to obtain those things, and feel that a hole in their life was filled by them. But I feel no such hole.
However, there is one that I have missed out on because I’m perpetually single. It’s stuck with me over the years, and it stands out as the only thing I can honestly say I’ve missed out on because I was alone.
The Jot Dean Ice Cave.
I should point out that I travel. Not travel, as in the globetrotting fly to Europe and take a cruise around the world kind of travel, but travel as in pack up the car and go driving kind of travel. I’ve been to places you’ve never heard of that are down roads you’d be reluctant to drive. I routinely find myself in places that are untouched by cell phone signals. I’ve seen some amazing things and been to places that will stay with me forever. Control room of a nuclear reactor from the Manhattan Project? Been there. Watch the sun rise on the Equinox in Chaco Canyon? Done that.
But the Jot Dean Ice Cave?
No. I turned around because I was alone.
The Jot Dean Ice Cave lies in the backwoods of Northern California, among the lava fields of the Medicine Lake Volcano. It’s halfway between Lava Beds National Monument and nowhere in particular. The partially paved road that passes it is empty. In one section, I drove for an hour and didn’t see another car. If it’s solitude you’re after, this is probably a good place to go looking for it.
There are many lava tubes in Northern California. That’s what Jot Dean is. In many cases, the thrill of exploring a lava tube is enough of a reason to break out the flashlights and put on the bike helmet. But Jot Dean has an attraction beyond simply going underground. Jot Dean is an “Ice Cave”, which means that there’s ice in the cave year-round. Normally, this means that there’s a slightly puddled ice sheet at the far reaches of the cave, but not here. Here, in Jot Dean, there’s a massive ice wall. Six inches thick and eight feet high.
And I didn’t see it.
I didn’t see it because I didn’t go in the cave.
Because I was alone.
I missed out because I was alone.
See, the Jot Dean Ice Cave is not a developed cave, where there’s a nice lighted trail and steel stairs leading from the surface into the depths. There are no tours, there’s no interpretive signs, there’s no gift shops, there’s no elevator back to the surface. The entrance is a hole in the ground, filled with massive boulders, the jumbled remnants of the collapsed ceiling. It’s friendlier than some caves, sure, but I’m an uncoordinated city dweller, not a mountain goat or a seasoned caver. To get to the cave, you have to scramble down into this pit of loose rocks. I started down, reaching about halfway, before I realized where I was.
I was in the mouth of a cave. A bee-infested cave. On a loose pile of sharp boulders. In the middle of nowhere. With no one else around.
Certainly, the likelihood of something going wrong was low. But if something did go wrong, that would not be a good situation.
I could get attacked by the swarm of bees. I could get bit by a rattlesnake. I could twist my ankle or break my leg on the rocks. I could fall and hit my head. I could slip on the ice and dislocate something.
And no one would find me.
There was no one else there. I think I’d passed one car on the road to the place. There was a very good chance that no one else would stop at the cave that day.
I pictured myself lying badly injured in the cave. In the dark. In the cold. Screaming. No one would hear me. Not a chance. Maybe -just maybe- a ranger would drive by, see my car in the parking lot, and check the cave. But would they get there in time? I might have been there for hours.
Even if it’s a less serious injury, and I’m able to crawl back to the road, no one’s driving past to be able to help. And it’s probably a two hour drive to the nearest hospital.
And so I said no. I’m not going in there. Yes, there’s an amazing ice wall. Yes, I’m only a hundred feet away. Yes, I’m probably overreacting. But no, I’m not going to do it.
Because I’m alone.
What’s especially important to notice is that I missed out because I was alone, not because I was alone. I didn’t say, “I’m not going to do this because I’m not in a relationship”. I said, “I’m not going to do this because I’m probably the only person for miles and I don’t feel like dying in a cave while I’m on vacation”. It really wouldn’t have mattered who was there, as long as someone had been. Strangers on the trail would’ve sufficed.
People in relationships have an automatic buddy system. You slip and fall and break your leg in a remote ice cave in Northern California, your relationship buddy will drag you to the surface and race you to the nearest hospital. I am missing out on that aspect of a relationship. Thing is, that’s one of the few aspects of a relationship that I actually find appealing. Other people want to get paired up for the love or the companionship or the sex, but I look at getting paired up as a Fairy in a Bottle or a Second Chance perk.
Here’s the other thing that most people don’t mention. By “Missing Out” on one thing, you often open a window on something else. Had I actually gone all the way into the Ice Cave that day, everything the rest of the day would have been shifted back by about half an hour. That means I wouldn’t have made it to Fleener Chimneys for the sunset. I probably would have been someplace far less spectacular. So, in the end, did I actually miss out at all?