Another weekend in Missouri. Since Gerb could not be there I resigned myself to being a third wheel on this trip. Mentor Mike and I loaded up (in the rain) Friday afternoon and were on the road by 1:00 pm. After 6 LOOONG hours of driving in constant rain we arrive in St Robert, Missouri. Checked into the Budget Inn (more on that later) and went off in search of sustenance. Warning #1. Missouri concepts of TEX-MEX are VERY different from these Okies. (Cold beans and rice, anyone?). Then back to the motel.
Saturday am. I'm up at 5:30, do my walk/jog. Then meet Mentor Mike back at the motel where we load up gear and head over to the spring. We sign in at the Sheriffs and note that Rick and Mike Ridgway have beaten us by an hour and a half. Get over there, gear up and get in. My Polar bear seems to be staying dry this time- good news so after watching the students (M.M. and Rick) do their tie ins I hang back. My job is to play spoiler. I'm the diver with the sudden emergency. I work on my buoyancy, general practice stuff waiting for signals from Ridgway. As it happens, I'm not needed. Mentor Mike and Rick and happily creating their own. NEITHER has bothered to do any sort of orientation dives with their new gear configs, which include wings, dry suits, hose routing, etc. Instead of swimming up to be the anxious/OOA/OX_TOX diver, I'm watching a bad example of over weighted, zero control flailing about, wondering IF I'm going to have to save someone's a** for real.
Two 45-minute dives like this and I'm pooped, M.M. and Rick are beat, but somehow Ridgway stays upbeat and positive. We change, log our dives and head over to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. We can't wait so we take a table in the smoking section. Dinner was good; we avoid the temptations in the store section and head to the hot tubs.
Now let me splain this part. St Robert is the Base town for Ft Leonard Wood. Since this Base provides transport training for all branches of the service, you have A LOT of off duty, and very young personnel out on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, M.M.'s and my room was next to some of these gentlemen. At 2:30 AM, after the bars had closed, the stores stopped selling booze, and the X-rated Pay Per View had expired, they decided it was time to bust up their room. Management was called, then MPs, but sleep did not return until about 4 am.
Up at 6:30, at the spring by 9. Ridgway wants me to get used to swimming with stages so I wait and let them gear up and finish their checkouts. With them out of the way I get my stuff set up, and answer the locals questions (is it dark back there, has anyone died in there, how much training does this require, is that gear heavy). The students are done with the advice that they really need to get some OW practice on these gear skills before doing anymore supervised cavern dives. Now its time for Ridgway's and my fun dive. The plan is to dive solely using our stages, then decompressing on our back gas. As we are getting this together a couple of pickups pull up. OK more divers, plenty of room for everyone. One truck proceeds to back down the trail to the waters edge, effectively blocking it. OK time for Diver-to-Diver Cordiality. Smiles, How are yous, etc. We do an s-drill, bubble check, submerge, and enter. I overcompensate for the weight of the stage, BANG against the ceiling. Sigh. I raise my inflator, dump air, and drift down. Hit the inflate- nothing. Look down. The Lp hose has come off! I signal Ridgway. He comes and fixes (I used the dry suit to stop myself). All secure, we head in. This is Sweet! Some flow to push against, but now my buoyancy is good, and with a bit of work my posture and frog kicks are good. We reach the end of the upper tunnel, and head down the 'stairsteps'. At this point I'm 80 ft down, 400 ft back. Rock formations are incredible, more colors than could have been imagined, ranging from Pitch black to Marble white, with deep reds and burgundies, all sculpted into fantastic shapes We’ve reach thirds, so its turnaround time. We cruise along, letting the light flow carry us. Up ahead at the sign where there was once daylight- nothing but pale green light beams from dive lights. We hit a solid wall of silt. Vis goes to nothing. What the h*ll is going on. At forty feet the visibility returns slightly, we stop and switch to back gas. I look back and from the waving lights it reminds me of ricocheting tennis balls. 10 min slow ascent breathing back gas, then out and surface. I try to make the best of it but now Ridgway is P.O.'ed. He apologizes for what happened and promises a second dive, but it's past 1:30, he and Larry still have their fun dive, so I take a rain check. So here we are, each in full cave rig with clipped stages, and no way out. I get my fins off, clip everything down, and start to walk out. A gal in the pick up looks up and goes oh, are we in the way? Duh. Larry (bless him) runs up, and pulls our stages off so we can at least get by.
Back at our vehicles, Rick and M.M. explain. This bunch is from a local shop, with 2 cavern students and an OW student doing 1 day PADI cavern check outs. Sure enough, one of the students is having the basics of buoyancy explained (lay on the bottom, then put air in your BC until only your fin tips are touching). Sigh. One has never dove dry before. Double sigh. Ridgway and I go up to them to answer some questions. We come back with them distinct impression that we are being regarded as trespassers in their cave.
I'm done; Larry and Ridgway are getting ready for a 2,500 ft trimix push with scooters. Our friends, spotting what's going on, inform L. & R. that they are here to shoot a promo video and please stay out of their way, they don't want the scooters to mess up the vis! At this point M.M. and I leave before the bloodshed. All in all, aside from a lack of useful sleep, I had a good time. A lesson in humility was learned (anyone can have minor gear probs, that's what your buddy is for, along with the louder the mouth, the lesser the experience HMMM!) Home by 8:15 pm, gear rinsed by 9:00, in bed by 11. To quote Ridgway a bad day of cave diving beats a good day of Open water. I have to agree.
Back To Start