Spring Break Scuba Trip. March 2014. This spring break took Tyler and I south into Florida. I spent 4-5 days in Orlando attending classes for decompression and trimix technical diving. After the classes I headed south and met up with Tyler in Key West, spending a few days there. On the way back north we stopped in north Florida and explored some of the local springs.
During the 2014 spring break from the forestry college I attended, I traveled to Florida to attend technical diving classes with Dayo Scuba in Orlando. Diving in the caverns and springs was quite a different experience from the frigid waters of the Great Lakes. During the following semesters, I contemplated how to return to Florida after graduation. Having built up a significant volume of diving experience since my last visit, I felt ready to tackle a new challenge: Cave diving.
Not being one to simply “dabble” in any of my interests, I decided that to accomplish this new goal I would need to fully immerse myself in the cave diving community. This would require me to move to Florida for a couple of months, and dive as much as possible During the semesters following my last trip, I worked an absurd amount of hours at my two Paramedic jobs. I drank cheap beer, I ate plain white rice, and I saved enough money to make this trip a reality.
This page is an archive of blog posts. For chronological reading, start from the bottom and work your way to the top! (oldest to newest).
After a few days of diving with Tom, Chris joined us and Tom departed for Orlando. Chris stayed an extra day and we explored Rock Bluff cave some more, getting a feel for this restriction-filled system. I returned to Orlando on Monday night, just in time to enjoy one last Mexican food night with the gang from Dayo. After dinner it was time to get back to packing, and getting my trailer ready for departure (throw everything in the back and hope for the best).
I left midday on Tuesday, heading for my brother and fiance’s home in Charleston SC. I spent the night with them and was back on the road early the next morning. My dad attempted to meet me in VA, but couldn’t get a seat on the plane. We didn’t know this until I was in Dulles at 8:30pm, having driven all day to get there on time. When I got the news, I decided to surprise Kayleigh and drive through the night. I arrived in Rochester around 3:30am, exhausted.
The two months I spent in Florida were absolutely incredible. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Tom and Denise at Dayo for making the dream a reality. I dove many cave systems including Devils Ear/Eye, Eagles Nest, Rock Bluff, Peacock, Cow, and Telford. I dove about 70 times in the 2 months, including over 30 full cave dives after my training. I dove in the ocean, I dove with manatees, I dove 293′ deep in a cave, I completed the “Grand Traverse” at Peacock, I crammed through the restrictions at Rock Bluff…. I had so many awesome experiences, and learned an incredible amount. Thank you so much to Tom, Denise, Carol, Chris, Bob, Nash, Tyler, and everyone else at Dayo. Thank you to Carl and Sharon, Neil and Jim, Tyler and Kayleigh for coming to visit me, and going on some of the best dives with me. Thank you also to my parents, for all of your continued support for all of my adventures! Thank you!!
Unfortunately for me, my time in Florida was coming to an end. To mark the occasion, Tom and Denise helped me to pack in a week full of some really awesome dives. To start it off Denise and I went to check out a Dayo favorite, Blue Springs. This is an awesome dive site, with a nice cavern zone and a first magnitude spring at about 110′. The flow was so strong coming out of the spring, I literally could not stick more than my face over the opening without being blown away. It was an amazing thing to see! You could toss rocks into the spring, and watch them blow away as if they were leaves in a strong breeze. Even though I had been cave diving in Florida for 2 months, I had just dusted off my sidemount rig and had the folks at Dayo help me set it up. Blue Springs was a great place to get familiar with the rig again, and there were lots of nooks to cram myself into.
After diving Blue Springs all day, we returned to Dayo, I topped off my tanks, and Tom and I set off for cave country. Since the shop had been quite busy with classes in the time I had been around, Tom and I hadn’t gotten much time to do any fun diving. Since Tom is a full time instructor, he also rarely gets to do non-working cave dives, so we set for a few days of fun. Over the next few days we did several awesome dives, and Tom took a lot of fantastic photos. We started off at Peacock, and did a great circuit from P1 to Pothole, through the sidemount tunnel, to Peanut tunnel, through the cavern to the secret entrance for the well, down the well to the end of the line, and back for our deco. In the afternoon we did the “Grand Traverse”, a 4500’+ traverse from Orange Grove Sink to Peacock Springs. In this traverse you can surface at a couple sinks, which we did. It was a beautiful day, and Tom got some really great photos.
The day after our Peacock adventures Tom took me to a cave system that is very rarely traveled, called Rock Bluff Spring. To get to the spring you need a boat, and a good eye to find the cave entrance. Tom quickly found it, and I went down to tie our line into the mainline. The entrance to Rock Bluff is extremely tight, and required a bit of digging to be able to wedge yourself through the restriction, even in sidemount! The moment I squeezed through was one of the best moments of the whole trip, and the rest of the cave was just as awesome. After Rock Bluff, we cruised the rivers looking at a few other cave entrances, but they were all running too dark so we didn’t dive any others that day.
The following day we were joined by Chris, my Intro Cave instructor. To start out the day we went to Telford Spring, and went up mainline to the first jump, and jumped left. There have been some floods here recently, and so there is quite a bit more sediment in the system than normal. We followed the line through a shallow bedding plane (with about 18″ of clearance from bottom to top) until the line disappeared into the mud. We turned and continued up mainline until hitting thirds. After Telford we got fills, and went to check out Cow Spring. Cow is owned by the National Speleological Society, and you have to be a member to dive. The membership is well worth it (as well as for other reasons), the cave is amazing. Visibility is as good as Ginnie, but there are way fewer people. The flow is fairly strong, and there were some snug restrictions. One of the highlights of the dive was seeing the clay banks, where the stratification of layers is extremely prominent. Unfortunately there have been some misplaced handprints in the banks, but they remain largely intact.
The following two days Chris and I remained in cave country, diving Rock Bluff Springs. We explored a large portion of the system, and saw some cave that is rarely traversed. Unfortunately for me, these were my last dives in Florida, since I needed to return to NY. I owe Tom a huge thank you, since this last trip with him was the highlight of my adventure.
After having a few days in Orlando to let the nitrogen off-gas from my tissues, it was time to head back to cave country. My good friends Jim and Neil were in town doing some dive training, so we met up in Luraville where Jim was finishing up his Intro Cave Diver course. We all wanted to try for Telford, but unfortunately my DPV wasn’t quite up to the challenge of pulling me up the river to the spring, so we quickly abandoned that idea and went to Peacock. Neil, Wayne and I had some good dives in Peacock, exploring P1 towards Cisteen. In the evening we all had a great dive in Orange Grove, practicing some skills and enjoying the last glimpses of daylight filtering in through the duckweed.
The following day we went to Ginnie Springs so that Jim could sink his teeth into some high-flow caves. Being the good friends we are, Neil and I suggested Jim run the reel in through Devils Ear, the most challenging entrance to the system. Jim did a fine job, and we had a few very nice dives on 1/6ths. After a couple of cave dives, Jim and I took off on our DPV’s for some fun. We went from the Ear/Eye run to the Ballroom run via the Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe is extremely tannic, so visibility was quite poor. It was my lucky day though, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a GoPro on a pole amongst some debris! I turned it on, and it fired up! I was actually able to use it to record a bunch more of the dive. When I eventually got back to the dive shop, I posted on the Ginnie Springs Facebook with a selfie of the owner. It was shared by around 350 people, but nobody could identify the owner. I even contacted GoPro with the serial number, with no success. In the evening Neil and I did a full-cave dive, making a few jumps as we wandered about 800′ into the system. We came out to the pouring rain and a ton of fish in the run, I even had a 3’+ Florida Gar swim right into me!
After a nice trip back up to cave country, I returned to Orlando to work at the scuba shop for a few days while the others were on other adventures. On Sunday a large group of us headed down to West Palm Beach for some ocean wreck dives. We did two dives on two different wrecks. Lots of fish, and excellent visibility. A great time for my 4th and 5th ocean dives! We also got Chipotle on the way down, best day ever.
As my time left in Florida began to wind down, the amount of diving and training I was doing started to ramp up… big time. We stayed in cave country through the weekend, and on Monday drove around scouting some real estate for Tyler. Some of the land we looked at was surrounded in deep swamp, and most of the “roads” leading to the properties were quite an adventure in and of themselves. After scouting for the morning, we returned to Ginnie Springs so I could do some more cave diving. I had a couple of excellent solo dives up mainline, and finished the day off with a jaunt up mainline with my new friend Mark. As the sun set, it was time to make the journey back to Orlando.
After driving late into the night, we arrived at the shop and snuck in a few hours of sleep. Tuesday was the best day of the year at the shop, because it was St. Patrick’s Day! It was awesome. Beer, pizza, friends, and scuba. It doesn’t get any better than that! Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t indulge too much… we had diving to do in the morning.
We were up bright and early Wednesday morning, and made the drive to Venice Beach so we could meet up with my friend Bob. Bob is a friend from up north, and is a hell of a diver. Bob had been down here for a while now, and was trying his luck at shark teeth diving. Venice Beach is infamous for their “boneyard” of fossils and megalodon teeth, so we figured we’d meet up with him and try our luck. We did two dives in less than 30′ of water, sporting drysuits and double 80’s. We did two hour+ dives, and our success varied. Tyler really hit the jackpot, scoring an awesome megalodon tooth in the first 15 minutes of dive #1. I scraped by with about a dozen small teeth, plus some dugong bones. It was a lot of fun, and as ashamed I was to admit it… these were my first two scuba dives in the ocean. Ever. I’m sort of an anomaly, because up to that point I was a Trimix/Full Cave Diver/Divemaster who had never dove in the ocean.
After diving Venice Beach all day, it was time to head to Key West. It is a bit of a drive, and so we didn’t arrive in Key West until well after midnight, and we had a boat to catch at 9am. We quickly unpacked, Tyler went to bed, and I spent an hour or so getting ready for a pretty big dive on the USNS Vandenberg. The Vandenberg was a 524′ troop carrier turned missile tracking ship intentionally sunk in 2009 to become an artificial reef. The wreck sits in about 150′ of water, but the super structure is so tall that you hit the wreck around 70′.
Most dive charters do two single-tank recreational dives on the wreck, spending about 25 minutes in the water followed by an hour on the surface, and then another 25 minutes on the wreck. That didn’t really seem like a lot of fun for my friend Curtiss and I, so we called around looking for a tech-friendly charter. We finally found one, Captains Corners. When I called and asked if we could bring doubles, a scooter, a few decompression bottles and a rebreather aboard, the kind lady on the phone said “you can do whatever you want”… Music to my ears. Curtiss and I decided to descend with the first group, and spend about an hour on the wreck, and another hour or so decompressing. Unfortunately Tyler couldn’t join us, but he did have some great dives as well, just a bit shorter. The dive went off without a hitch, I spent about 70 minutes circling the wreck from all levels on my DPV, and penetrated a deck and the engine room with Curtiss. Curtiss even got a nice tour of the wreck, holding onto me while my DPV did all the work. After 70 minutes at a max depth of 159′, it was time to head back up. I spent about 50 minutes decompressing in the warm Key West water. Unfortunately my GoPro froze, so I didn’t get a single photo of the dive.
After a few hours of rest, it was time to return to Orlando. On Friday I started my TDI Advanced Trimix class, the highest open circuit scuba certification there is. The class trains you to plan and execute dives using mixed gasses to a maximum depth of 330′. For the class we planned two deep dives, both in Eagles Nest. In the cave diving world, Eagle’s Nest cave is considered the “Mount Everest” of cave dives. The site is remote, the passages are enormous, and the cave is extremely deep. These factors together make it a significantly challenging cave dive. Planning a dive here takes great time, and the specific plan must be followed. Due to the depths in this system we used mixed gasses to combat the narcotic effects of nitrogen, as well as the toxic effect of oxygen at depth. For the dives I carried double tanks on my back, a travel gas, and three decompression tanks. One of the tanks wasn’t factored into our plan, and was instead there as an added layer of redundancy in case anyone needed it. My bottom gas (in the backmounted tanks) contained so little oxygen (due to planned depths) that breathing it on the surface would cause hypoxia, so another gas must be breathed from the surface until a certain depth. The entrance to the cave is through a small, vertical tunnel that drops you into an expansive “ballroom”. On either end of this ballroom are the upstream and downstream tunnels, each starting at a depth of about 200′, as well as being over 200′ from the center of the ballroom. Our first dive on Saturday was in the downstream tunnel, past the Lockwood Tunnel to a depth of over 270′. The following day we dove the upstream tunnel, to a max depth of 293′. These were the deepest dives I had ever done, and they were both incredible.
What is one of the first things a trimix certified full cave diver wants to do? Eagles Nest. Eagles Nest sink is an expansive cave system located in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, very close to the ocean. The cave starts at an inconspicuous looking pond deep in the forest, and quickly splits into two large tunnels. This cave is considered the “Mount Everest” of cave dives because it is deep. The shallowest part of the “ballroom” is well over 100′ deep, and the upstream and downstream tunnels don’t even start until 200′. On a midweek break from work I had the chance to dive the downstream tunnel, and we had a great dive. Since I was diving open circuit (tanks instead of a rebreather), and also since most of the cave is too deep for current level of training, we didn’t venture far into the cave system.
Following Eagles Nest, I returned to Orlando for a day of work. After a long, hard day of work it was time for more diving. On Friday I got to help out with a diver who hadn’t been in the water for three years, I took him to Alexander Springs and looked for the alligator. Unfortunately we didn’t see him. On Saturday my good friend Tyler arrived in Orlando for his spring break. We had a late night and were up early Sunday morning to make the drive to cave country for Tyler’s Intro to Technical Diving class. Of course, we couldn’t leave Orlando until he broke into his truck to get his keys…. His class was held at Ginnie Springs, so after assisting with his class I had a few nice solo cave dives in the Devil’s Cave system. This cave system is “high flow”, so it takes considerable effort making any forward progress. Since I was solo, I chose to dive using only a 1/6th of my gas supply for penetration, leaving me plenty of reserve. I also decided to stay on the mainline, avoiding any jumps or otherwise complex navigation. Sunday was a busy day, I ended up doing five dives.
After a relaxing few days with Kayleigh, it was back to cave country for more training. The final training course for cave diving is the Full Cave Diver course, which trains you to safely plan and execute cave dives with fewer limitations. The course builds on the Intro Cave Diver course, repeating emergency skills and adding additional skills such as complex navigation. When learning to cave dive there is a major focus on analyzing past accidents, and figuring out what lessons can be learned from them. There has been an extensive amount of research done into the cause of cave diving accidents throughout the history of the sport, and almost always there was one (or more) of five major rules being broken. These rules are reiterated throught the course, and include:
- Always maintain a continuous guideline to open water
- Carry a minimum of three lights
- Follow the rule of 1/3rds for gas management. This means using 1/3rd of your gas for penetration into the cave, 1/3rd to get out, and 1/3rd in case your buddy loses his gas (or you need it). This rule is primarily for spring diving, where you are swimming into the flow at the start of the dive. This rule needs to be adjusted when diving into other types of systems, such as siphons (where water flows into the cave)
- Do not exceed level of training (so for me, primarily no using my scooter in the cave…yet)
- Observe depth limitations (including limitations based on training, experience, and gas blend
Our first day of full cave class included review of line drills such as lost buddy and lost line, and the introduction of protocols for jumps and gaps. A jump is when you move from one permanent line in a cave system to another, usually to explore side tunnels. Since you are moving from one line to the next, you must run a line to make a temporary connection. This connection must also clearly show which direction is out. We also learned gaps, where the mainline stops and then starts again after a ‘gap’, usually because the cave will surface into another sinkhole where open water divers may be present. Creating a gap in the mainline helps ensure that untrained divers won’t try and follow a line into the cave.
After some land drills we did our first few dives in Peacock 1. For our first dive we went down the peanut line and through the crossover tunnel towards Olsen Sink. We set up for a circuit, where we would enter in one tunnel and come back in another. To safely complete a circuit you need to ensure you have enough gas (so we place a cookie at our furthest point of penetration on the first dive) and you must also ensure the cave passage can safely be traveled through. On the way back we did some skill, including a scenario where the entire team had complete light failures. In this situation we must always have the line in our hands, as we swim towards the exit. I found it surprising that instead of getting stressed about exiting the cave in complete darkness, I actually felt an incredible sense of relaxation. Even in future dives where we had lights out and would be sharing air with an “out of air” buddy, it was all quite calming when it was completely dark.
Over the 4 days of the course we dove about 12 times in Peacock Springs. We completed lots of skills as well as some complex dives including traverses, circuits, some tight backmount restrictions, and low/no visibility passages. Coming into the course I was certified as a Trimix technical diver, as well as a Divemaster. My Full Cave Diver course was something completely different, and it was quite challenging at times, but it was a very rewarding experience. In four days I learned a lot of new skills, and felt confident to be able to safely plan and execute cave dives.
After nearly nonstop diving for almost two weeks, it was time to finally relax and watch some TV. JUST KIDDING! After finishing up with my full cave course, I went right into assisting my instructor in a Rescue Diver course at Alexander Springs. I very much enjoy assisting with this class, since it incorporates my love of emergency medicine into my life of diving.
After a day away from the caves, I needed to get back. Luckily for me, my friend Dan happened to be in town and was looking for a dive buddy. So on Sunday Carol and I headed up and did some dives with him at Ginnie Springs. Diving with Dan was comical, since he was on his rebreather and DPV, literally zooming circles around us. It must have been quite entertaining for him to watch us struggle through this high flow cave!
Week 4 is when things started to get really good for me. The first three weeks were a lot of fun, and I got to do a lot of diving with some awesome people. But- week 4 is when I got to finally got to start what the whole trip was all about…. learning to cave dive.
Training to become a cave diver starts in the cavern zone, the area of an overhead where ambient light is still visible. Cavern divers run a continuous line from open water at all times during the dive, and must always be able to see their “primary light”, the sun. Training for cavern diving introduces you to the overhead environment, running reels, using lights etc. With my existing background in open water technical diving, most of the skills weren’t so new to me, so the class progressed quite quickly. Carol was my instructor for cavern, and my partner for the course was John. It was a blast learning with John, and I was incredibly impressed with his level of improvement throughout the course.
Immediately following cavern training, I started my “Intro Cave” diving course. This is the second step towards becoming a cave diver, and builds on skills learned in the cavern course. As an intro cave diver, you plan and complete dives well into the cave, but within certain parameters. Diving at this level, we must stay on the permanent guideline in the cave (no exploring off of the main tunnel), no complex navigation (no jumps to other lines, no gaps), no decompression, and no deeper than 130′. Another requirement for the intro cave level is that you dive according to the “rule of 1/6ths”. When following this rule, a cave diver uses 1/6th of their gas supply to penetrate the cave, and 1/6th of their supply to exit the cave. This leaves 2/3rds of the overall gas carried for an emergency. Diving on 1/6ths gives you more time (gas) to use if something were to happen such as losing the line or a buddy, and also limits the distance the diver could make it into the cave system. Unfortunately I do not have any pictures from diving for the course, but here is one with my instructors Chris and Carol.
Right after finishing my intro to cave training, it was back to Orlando to get the trailer all ready for two occupants… Kayleigh was coming to town! Unfortunately she was only able to stay a few days, but we had a great time and did a lot of diving. To start her mini vacation, we visited Devils Den for some “open water” diving. Devils Den is a privately owned sinkhole, with a big staircase leading out into the water. This site was perfect for Kayleigh because she could get a taste of what cavern and cave diving is like, within her current training level. We had a great time.
After diving Devils Den we spent the night in cave country, trying to decide what to do next. The following day we ended up going to Hospital Hole, a new favorite of mine. We were lucky enough to catch a few manatees enjoying the warm water, and one was especially friendly. Although we did not try to get close, one of them kept swimming up to us and was extremely playful. A favorite pastime of his was twirling around above us in the bubbles we were blowing. It was great!
The following day we took a break from diving, since Kayleigh would be flying out early the next morning. Although her visit was brief, it was great to have her around again. Up next…. Full cave diver course!
The beginning of week 3 was quite special, since I got to dive with my good friends Carl and Sharon. Carl and Sharon are both divers on the county dive rescue team I am on in NY, and it is always a pleasure to see them. They too timed their trip well, since the dive shop had a day trip planned to the Rainbow River. As you may recall, I used my DPV (scooter) to dive this the first week I was here. This time around, John, a friend of the shop, knew of a place where we could enter the water even further upstream. This gave us the opportunity to travel quite close to the head spring, and see places that few of the other divers get to see. Despite the rain, we had a great time and saw a lot of marine life.
Luckily for me, the following day was “fun day Wednesday”… A day where we close the dive shop and go diving for fun. This week Denise and I decided to go check out Hospital Hole, on the Weeki Wachee river. Hospital hole is a small hole in the bend of a river, with depths in excess of 140′. The first thing I did when we tied up the kayak was to see how deep the hole really was. I followed the line to the bottom, tied in a reel, and set about finding the deepest point. I stopped at 142′ since I could find no deeper areas, and returned to shallower waters. The legend of hospital hole says that marine life comes here to heal, and so it is always abundant. We were lucky to see almost a dozen manatees hanging out that day, and some were extremely playful. When diving around these creatures, we wouldn’t approach them but they would often swim right up to us.
Following an exciting week of work and manatee interactions, it was time for a nice break. I timed my trip nicely, since it was time for the scuba shop’s annual camping trip to Mosquito Lagoon. Thankfully this time of year there are no bugs! Tom and I spent about a day packing up, and headed towards the lagoon after work.
Our campsite was on an island fairly close to the boat launch, about 20 minutes by canoe. Our first night was busy, with Tom and I setting up the entire camp under the cover of darkness. Our first trip to the island consisted of Tom in the ganoe with a couple of dogs and a few hundred pounds of gear, and myself with a fully loaded canoe, TOWING another fully loaded canoe! We cruised down the intercoastal amidst a handful of shrimpers. It was great!
The next few days were spent exploring the island and the waters surrounding us. I was there for several days, but had to make a run back to Orlando for some work at the dive shop. One of the highlights was watching the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9! We were so close, I watched three stages drop off from the rocket as it blasted away.
My first week in Florida was quite exciting. After moving the trailer into it’s new home, I caught up on some rest before jumping right into work at the dive shop the following morning. I’ve worked several long-term retail jobs in the past, but learning the basics of the dive shop business was a new challenge. Luckily I didn’t have to work too hard before my first dive outing, a couple of hours north in Crystal River. Due to a last minute opening on the shop’s “manatee tour”, I got to snorkel around with the Dayo Dive Club members and interact with a few curious manatees. This was my first time in the water with these gigantic gentle giants, and the experience was quite awesome.
Following the dive with the manatees, I traveled another 30 minutes north to a park along the Rainbow River. The river starts at a head spring about 2 miles from the park, and generates a pretty strong flow of water with perfect visibility, and a steady temperature of about 74°F. Most divers pay a small fee and are carried upstream by one of the operating water-taxi services, then drift back down to their starting location. The taxi will bring you about 1.5 miles upstream, giving you a hour or longer drift back down. I decided on a different way up: My DPV (diver propulsion vehicle, or scooter). The scooter can travel at speeds of up to 3MPH (quite fast underwater!) , but with the strong current working against me, it took quite a while to get upstream. I made it about 1.5miles in around 60 minutes, when my scooter went into the low-battery shutdown mode. In this setting, the scooter will only travel at low-speed and will only make it about 20 minutes. I turned the dive, and headed downstream with the current and my scooter assisting, and made it to the park in about 25 minutes. What fun!
The following day I explored Alexander Springs, another high-flow spring head with warm water and perfect visibility. The diving here is shallow, with the deepest point at about 25′. I took my smallest set of double tanks and practiced some skills for my upcoming cave diver training. The dive was exciting, with lots of fish, turtles, and even birds swimming underwater! The commute to and from the dive site was also a lot of fun, and featured about 6 miles of rugged 4×4 mud, gravel and sand roads. I had been “warned” not to follow my GPS through the Forest Service roads, but the allure of “you’ll get stuck” was too much. Luckily, I didn’t get stuck.
JOURNEY TO FLORIDA:
Departure for Florida was even later than expected. I think I ended up leaving Kayleigh’s house around 7:30pm, after visiting my grandmother and enjoying some Chipotle. When I left we had just received about 2 feet of fresh snow, so the roads were a bit dicey for a while, especially with a FULLY loaded truck and trailer.
I made really good progress on the first leg of the journey. I wanted to avoid DC traffic during the day time, and I succeeded. I rolled through DC in the early morning, and ended up calling it quits in Petersburg VA at 5:30am. One of the benefits of towing your home with you is that you can stop literally anywhere and it is perfect. This night’s location was a Walmart parking lot. I slept for less than 3.5 hours before I was back up and on the road.
After leaving Petersburg I headed south on 95 towards my brother Brandon and his fiance Audrey in Daniel Island SC. Last year when Tyler and I drove to Florida we stopped at the biggest tourist trap in the world, so I decided to repeat, for tradition’s sake.
(Florida adventure last year)
I ended up spending Tuesday night in SC with Brandon and Audrey, it was nice to take a rest from the driving. This was my first visit to their home, so it was fun to see and experience what they’ve been up to. Wednesday morning Brandon and I went shooting at the National Forest range, and then I got back on the road. Luckily it rained on the way to Florida, washing away all of the salt and other crap from the truck and trailer.
I arrived at the scuba shop late Wednesday night and got caught up with my instructor, TJ. It took us about 45 minutes of muscles and some creative thinking, but we eventually moved the trailer into it’s new home for the next two months.
PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE
During the past few months I have been slowly preparing for my temporary move to Florida. First challenge was to graduate from SUNY-ESF while diving several times a week and working two part time jobs. Mission accomplished in December, graduating with my B.S. in Natural Resources Management.
Following graduation I began to really focus on saving for the Florida adventure. For a month and a half I worked an average of 60-70 hours a week, and even pulled off a 118hr work week during the holidays. Working as a Paramedic has some great benefits, such as long shifts and plenty of downtime to dream and plan the next adventure. All work and no play isn’t really my style, so I also took a little break in January to go skiing in Colorado with my family.
In order to stay in Florida for two months and dive as much as possible, I must stick to a serious budget. There are a lot of logistics to pay for on a dive trip, such as lodging, food, transportation, charters, instruction, dive gasses and lots more. Most of these variables I have no control over, but some I do. Lodging for example, I have lots of control over. I initially planned on living out of my truck, but thanks to a good friend of mine I will be living large in a borrowed 5-star hotel on wheels. I once lived in a tent for 3 months straight, so this is going to be like the Ritz-Carlton.
One of the other variables I have control over is food. During college I spent an average of $10-$20 a day on food, far more than I’ll have budgeted for Florida. Since a man still has to eat, I went to Wegmans and bought provisions for my two month stay. I spent about $30, so at the moment I’ll be feeding myself for $0.50 a day. At the insistence of my girlfriend, I’ve also promised to purchase some protein and vegetables locally, so that I don’t become too malnourished. Technical divers need to maintain a high level of health, so adding those items to my diet should cost another $2-$3 a day.
For transportation, I have my beloved Tacoma. Tiffany (Tacoma) and I have been on many extended adventures together, and at 177,000 miles old, she’s just a baby. A few days before my departure I was a bit delayed due to a soon-to-expire state inspection. To pass the inspection I had to rewire some electrical components on my truck, and replace the power steering system, pump and rack included. Unfortunately this expense took away about 25% of my overall budget. Looks like the wallet just got even tighter.
Most of the more tedious details out of the way, now I had to get all of my dive gear ready for two months of constant use. Technical diving is an equipment intensive activity, this was especially apparent when packing all of the gear I would need.
About two weeks prior to my departure, I found a great deal on a used Hollis H-160 DPV (underwater scooter). I decided to dip into my savings and purchase it. In Florida, a DPV is a pretty liquid asset, so if need be, I’ll sell it to finance the adventure. First thing I did when I got the scooter was putting these decals on it, and making a wooden stand so it doesn’t get damaged rolling around the deck of a dive boat or even the back of my truck.
Barring any other unexpected issues, I am planning on departing the evening of Monday, February 2nd. There is a large snowstorm rolling into the northeast, so my trip down should prove interesting. Keep posted for the next update of the 2015 Florida trip.