North Mountain and Pete’s Cave Hike

We (and by we I mean Jill, Brian, and Bilbo) Hike North Mountain and Pete’s Cave Hike near Lexington VA.  And we learn how to time travel so we can live forever…..


Teaching our Pug to Mtn Bike….Really!!!

To celebrate “May is Bike Month” we started biking with Bilbo, our Pug.  We love biking and want him to get comfortable on a bike so we can take him more often we we go mountain biking.  Now at first I thought it would be in his best interest to ride with me.  Its not that we do anything too hard.  Its just that i am more confident and stable.  Well, the good news is Jill and Bill were fine.  The bad news is, i went head over heels.

It was just stupid and lazy riding.  I was busy riding ahead on our local trails, Rocktown Trails in Hillandale Park.  Then jumping off and waiting for Jill and Bill to come down the trail.  Anyway, I was riding past Jill and looking at her and leaning over the front wheel and hit a rock dead on.  The front wheel stopped dead, but the back wheel decided to continue on down the trail and I ended up in the middle–upside down.  Several bounces later, up i got.  No breaks just a sore left leg.  Worst part is that the Gopro was OFF!!!

Like our first paddle of the year, Paddling the North Fork where we went over in the first decent white water, over I go in the first real biking of the year.  O well.  Crashing and burning before trips seems to be my habit.  Two years ago I broke my arm in May about 8 days before a planned fourth dive trip to Cozumel.  Then about 8 years ago I hit a deer on my motorcycle and ended up with Fib/Tib break and a blown up foot and ankle just 7 days before a Hawaii trip.  Our daughter is soon to get her wings flying USCG Helicopters and we are traveling to Florida in a few weeks for that so an accident is overdue at this point!.

Back to a biking pug…  We have ridden mtn bikes in Colorado, Maine, Virginia, a few other states out west.  We like biking, and are in one of the best places in the U.S. to mountain bike.  However, it’s rocky and mountainous.  While the “mountains” are not towering, the trails are often steep.  And the single tracks are usually very narrow.  While Jill is fearless on the road bike–she flies down hills that make my legs shake and powers up hills that make me cry–she is a tentative trail rider.

So it’s a challenge to find trails that are at our level and that we can enjoy.  Even more challenging to find trails that we would feel comfortable packing a pug.  Anyway, it was great fun.  Bill has gotten pretty used to it and now enjoys riding.  For those who want to know, we have a Ruffit Dog Carrier (not trying to sell this) that seems to fit our dog pretty well.

Paddling the North Fork of the Shenandoah River

Saturday, we decided to paddle down the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.  We went with friends and shared the car pickup and dropoff.  We got in near 211 just past the Shenandoah Academy and planned on getting out at Meem’s Bottom Covered Bridge.  None of us really knew anything about this section.  But we thought the water is high and normally the north fork is low on water so now is the time.

I like to always have one piece of advice in each blog.  Today, it is never follow a kayaker in a canoe.  We (I) busted our kayak slamming into a rock last year so we took the canoe. Well the kayaker we followed said “go this way, this way” we went that way, went over a foot high drop and slammed nose first into another rock about the size of a volkswagen and half a foot above water line.  Suffice it to say, over we went and out of the boat the humans tumbled.  Jill immediately started looking in the water for Bilbo as I quickly righted the boat.  Well somehow Bilbo was still in the boat wondering why we jumped out–stupid Hoomans.  Lesson, always pick your own line

The river was beautiful.  Unlike the south fork, the banks were almost always straight up and anywhere between 10 and 50 feet tall.  And since the river is pretty narrow, visually (except for a few houses) it felt very much like it must have felt through time immemorial–from the stone age through Jefferson.  But the sounds of civilization always crept over the bank.  Of course, going under roads is normal in this part of the country, but paddling under a majorly busy interstate (I-81) as it was split was a bit surreal.

Another bit of the surreal was when we rounded a bend in the river and saw some junk–a hub cap, tire, even a car door.  But then, rounding the next bend, we see a 100 yard long wall of cars on river left bank.  Not just any cars, but old cars from the 50’s 60’s, 70’s and 80’s stacked on top of each other starting from water right on up to the top.  It seems that these cars are probably part of the river restoration and protection of Chesapeake Bay watershed.  In all likelihood, our tax dollars at work to protect the Bay!!!!  I guess….

The river, itself, was quite enjoyable.  lots of ripples, water was high enough (the Luray gauge was at 4.5 ft), and a few slow sections where you could sit back and just close your eyes and float until you hear the next white water.  The only downside is that all the land is privately owned and the banks were straight up so there were very few places to pull in for a lunch.  We found a spot, avoiding the poison ivy and oak, and ticks.  Got back into the water.  Eventually the Meem’s Bottom Covered Bridge came into view and the adventure was over.  Nice, nice day.

Getting home, we cleaned up and had a few drinks, sat in the hot tub and finally had dinner.  Jill used the flea and tick comb on Bilbo to make sure he didn’t have ticks.  Sat downstairs and read.  Turns out that the only one that was carrying a visitor was me–tick crawling up my leg.  All that after a shower, hot tub, dinner, etc.  Jesus was wrong–“The ticks will inherit the earth”

Hiking Cole Mountain


Hiking Cole Mountain near Buena Vista–that’s pronounced Byoona Vista, BTW, Virginia is an extraordinary experience.  The fire of November 2016 is long put out.  However, the black ground, lack of fall leaf ground cover and the charred trunks of trees attest to its ferocity.

Yet, I can truly say that it has done a world of good.  The floor of the forest is teaming now with low grass, flowers, and undergrowth.  There are mounds of brand new baby pines poking out of the black charred earth where the pine cone fell.  One sprout will eventually dominate the others and become a towering evergreen.  The amount of flowers is astonishing for this time of year because the thick brush was burnt off leaving space for the more tender plants.  The views through the forest are just as dramatic.  Now that the undergrowth is burnt away, it looks like a set from a movie.

We hiked the route suggested on Hiking Upward (always a go-to source of good info).  Hiking down the “Hotel” trail you get a sense of dark forest–evergreens pine needles.  Ascending, we finally walk into a clearing on a ridge that has several campsites widely spaced.  Hiking Upward calls it one of the” prettiest back country campsites in the Blue Ridge” and we agree.  We then passed another nice camping area on a small creek about .3 miles from the intersection with the AT with a shelter and water.

Once on the AT, we turn back north.  Now the trail heads up to the ridge and–Voilá–you are in a meadow with vistas for mile and miles.  It is said that it is like Scotland or Switzerland.  (Maybe, extended hiking in both of those are on the bucket list!!).

We are trying to get the pug, Bilbo, used to his Ruffit backpack so we can increase our mileage.  We put him in about 10 minutes before a stop for lunch so he can provide some positive reinforcement when we let him out (see picture)  He can hike 7-8 in cool weather but more mileage or heat starts stressing him.

Anyway, we stop for lunch in the meadows, and proceed up and down the AT.  it is a completely different trail.  more like the rocky, steep trails we are used to in this area.  Clearly most folks walk up that, get to the meadows and then return the same way.

They are missing a lot by not doing the clockwise loop suggested by Hiking Upward.  It provides many different ecosystems and a more leisurely upward hike.  This would be a perfect backpacking trip for late Fall through early Spring.  But it would be cold.  Jill was cold today with the high winds and the sun behind the clouds.  Great to pair with the Mt. Pleasant hike the week before.

Keep on Puggin’…..

Poppin the Bubble: The first time for me and my wife and Five Important Dive Lessons

PICT0013 by briancckbrn
PICT0013, a photo by briancckbrn on Flickr.

It’s 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Jill and I get up, kiss the kids bye, and tell them, “Be good. We’ll be back on Friday.” The first hour of the ride is fairly quiet as we both wake up and struggle with the whether or not we did the right thing. Are kids going to be ok? Should we have spent all this money on BC’s, regulators, fins masks? Is it selfish to take this trip without the kids—(we’ve never gone anywhere without them since the birth of our first child?) Is this their college money we are spending? Neither of us asks these questions out loud, because it is too late. As the plane lifts off from Dulles, I say, “No turning back now.”

Arriving in Cozumel, of course, we get selected to have all our bags searched. “Why me?” We have an hour and fifteen minutes to get to Hotel Cozumel and Resort before our first of two open water referral classes today. “Rent a car?”, “take a tour?”, “want to buy property?”… We run the gauntlet finally arriving at the desk to buy a taxi ticket for each of us. I thought I was supposed to relax after the manic 50-hour work week before. We get to the Resort and SSSssss… a colorful drink in my hand a few forms to sign,. Many “Buenos dias’s” and “gracias’s” later, we step into our room. Thirty minutes to first dive. LESSON 1: DON’T SCHEDULE A DIVE WITHIN 3 HOURS OF ARRIVAL

Walking through the aqua blue tunnel festooned with underwater scenes to the dive shop, I am a bit nervous because I’m on antibiotics and Prednisone for what might be an ear infection (turns out not to be, but still, the last thing you want is not to be able to descend at least twenty feet to finish certification!!!). We meet our instructor. He shows us the tanks and we begin to put on the regulators—wait the BC’s go on first. Are we that tired? We walk the few feet to the training area and Dive Paradise dock. To be honest, I don’t remember what our instructor just said, but just hope I figure it out in the water. We step in and…you know the feeling…Aaah…Its all good!!! We talk a little above and down we go. It’s glorious! Water pours into my mask through my smile lines. I can’t stop it. O well, I can clear. I can do that! I look at Jill and she is wide-eyed and loving every minute—she’s really beautiful when she’s happy.

After training (which included plenty of just swimming around)—Yea, my ears were no problem—we went to unpack and relax. We have been up for seventeen hours and are a little punchy. We walk to the courtyard pool area and…its beautiful. I didn’t have time to look at it on our way in—clean, well-maintained, uncrowded, and the piece de resistance a naked gold woman taking a shower (can’t beat that for decor). We sit down and a waiter asks if we want a drink. Now, I am a simple fella. Having someone come up to me while I lounge around the pool and ask if I want a drink is… We have one and then another—this is the Caribbean, right, sand and water and rum AND ITS ALL INCLUDED.

One night and two more training dives later and WE ARE CERTIFIED. We have a temp card and all the papers to mail. We get an afternoon boat dive as a graduation present. So we show up at 2:45 and board the boat along with about 12 other divers. Most have lots of dives under their weightbelt. We are the newbies to the big ocean. The boat votes for Villablanca Wall . They ask me and all I can say is “How deep is it?” The Divemaster is giving instructions, people are putting on gear. It feels all new. Is this my mask? Did I hook up my BC hose? Did I turn on my air? LESSON 2: ON A BOAT DIVE PUT ON FINS BEFORE BC. Trying to get fins on in a dive boat bouncing off strangers after being loaded down with tank and 18 pounds of weights…bad idea. Fins first! It was a beautiful dive. A wall dive of supreme beauty, Villablanca gives you the opportunity to observe the life above the wall while looking into the abyss below and the coral directly in front. It was an amazing first dive.

A couple who are veteran divers from Maine saw us taking pictures and graciously offered to take a couple with us both in it. Back on the boat they and the divemaster asked where we were trained because we sure didn’t look like new divers. Come to think of it so did our instructor for our training dives. LESSON 3: CATHY AND PAUL ARE OBVIOUSLY GREAT DIVE INSTRUCTORS.

I won’t describe in detail the other dives. You can find all kinds of info and pictures of all the dives in Coz on the Internet. I will just list what we did. Tuesday: Palancar Gardens (our max. depth 96), Punta Tunich (our max. depth 64), and Cozumel Hotel Shore (our first solo diving). Wednesday: Columbia Deep (our max depth 101), Delilah (our max depth 61). Columbia Deep was probably our favorite. At one point we went through a twenty foot twisty tunnel and emerge right over a huge drop into the dark blue—stunning!!!

Delilah also deserves some mention, not because of the reef (beautiful too), but because of our constant struggle. I use more air than Jill so while diving Delilah, I used her octo for about five minutes to try and even out our air use. I am sure the Divemaster had a bit of an adrenaline rush when he looked over and saw us. But, I signaled “ok” and on we went. LESSON 4: JILL IS GOOD AT CREATING NEW DIVING HAND SIGNS. There are two in particular that she used. They both are used on land but clearly mean something else underwater. One is to make a fist with your hand and stick up one of the middle fingers. The other is to make an “L” with one hand and put in on your forehead. Despite what they mean on land, underwater they mean “You effin’ airhog. I hate you. I still have at least 1000 psi and you’re making me come up. I want a new dive buddy.” That’s saying a lot for one quick sign.

After our Wednesday diving, we just kicked back and enjoyed the resort because we had to fly out on Thursday. During our layover at DFW, we get a text from our oldest daughter. My father is in the ICU. My sister doesn’t think he will make it, he is bleeding from burst veins in his esophagus and they can’t stop it and surgery is too risky. LESSON 5: DON’T WAIT. Life is fragile and sometimes shorter than we want. We don’t know. While we were gone the kids were ok. We have been lucky with college expenses so far and we’ll make it work in future. Buying our own gear gives us a sense of security no matter the cost. To go when we did, to spend the money we spent…I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Tomorrow, something might happen and Jill or I might be unable to travel ever again. Who knows? But whatever happens in the future, we have memories that are irreplaceable.

Yesterday, my father called. He has been moved into a regular room. Jill and I are planning our next trip.