The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of adventure that required my beloved Subaru, Riddick, to cover more than 1,400 miles (with some help from my Mom’s Subarua…so maybe it was 1,200 miles, but still you get the point). The first half of the adventure consisted of the annual trip to Maine – more on that later. After more than a month of working more than 50 hours each week (which, if you include commute, is an almost 60+ hour week), relaxing in my favorite state was welcomed with open arms. But this post is dedicated to the end cap of my two-week adventure – diving in Lake Champlain, Vermont.
Thursday morning, after packing up my gear, enjoying some delicious eggs + lobster and bacon, and bidding my family farewell, I began the trek to work. Three plus hours later, I rolled into the lab…as I’m sure you can imagine, it was quite the shock. A week of shorts and flip flops was rudely interrupted with the need for jeans, closed toe shoes, and a lab coat. Nine and a half hours later, I’m rolling into my house (after a stop to the Tap Room…because why not?) and crashing into bed. Friday morning, I grabbed some clean underwear, topped off my dive tanks, and headed back to work. Then drove four hours to Bristol, Vermont. I say all that to explain that I started off the weekend on bingo fuel.
Welcome to Vermont
Friends and family have regaled me with stories of this magical land called Vermont, but up until this weekend, I had only visited in the winter (which, in all fairness, was a pretty rad experience in and of itself). Keeping true to form, it POURED for a solid portion of my drive. I was afforded a pretty sky as the sun set, then as soon as darkness descended, the heavens opened up and torrential downpour graced my drive. I was headed to the house of my very good friend, Fox. I’d never been there before so I was positive that I was gonna get lost at least once on my way there. Twisting backroads, rain, and the absence of street lights definitely makes for tricky navigation.
I was about an hour away when I decided to text (just ignore the fact that I was texting and driving…) our friend Pete who was also on his way to see how close he was. His response was “Route 7 North, 25 miles from 116“. I looked over at my GPS, it said I was 25 miles from next turn (which happened to be 116). I looked in front of me and saw a RV, figure thatwasn’t him. Looked behind me and could see lights, but couldn’t make out the car. So naturally I responded with “Are you right behind me?“. I’d like someone to figure out the odds of us leaving at different times, from different places, and then ending up on the same stretch of road at the same time. haha. So I had him pull in front of me and rid myself of the possibility of getting lost. Though, I realize I made the assumption that he wouldn’t get lost. haha.
Soon after arriving (and running to the bathroom…it had been a long gatorade filled 4 hour drive) beer was poured and it was like we’d seen each other days before, rather than months. Soon yawns were unable to be hidden and we all called it a night (0200 is still considered night, right?). Morning arrived, coffee was poured, then I began the “short” trip (it was only an hour haha) up north to Burlington. I met up with the others on the trip, we checked in, geared up, and set out on the lake. The boat I ended up on was a landing craft – it was pretty cool as a dive boat. Once we arrived on site, our captain, Larry, simply lowered the front ramp and we did a giant stride off the bow.
The first wreck we tied up to was the OJ Walker. A schooner-rigged sailing canal boat, it sunk during a storm in 1985. It was carrying brick and tile which is still present today. We had some great visibility (though if you ask the locals, it was pretty bad…it’s all relative I guess!) to view the ship. Covered in freshwater mussels (some being the invasive Zebra Mussels) it sits upright in the water, so it’s easy to envision what it might’ve looked like at the surface. Her one of her masts still stands pointing towards the sky, while the other is lying on its side. The ships wheel is still intact and there were quite a few dead-eyes eerily staring at us. Reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. (Is there a freshwater equivalent to Davy Jones’ Locker?) A few fishies swam about, otherwise it was just myself, my buddy Ryan, and the other four members of my boat. Light penetration here wasn’t the best, but as I would learn it certainly wasn’t the worst!
39 minutes | 50 ft (average), 60 ft (max) | 51ºF at depth
The sun was out, but flirting with the clouds for our surface interval. A quick motoring brought us to our second dive of the day, the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry. I’m not sure if they know for certain when she was built or sunk, but apparently these vessels were popular in the mid-1800s. It was basically a treadmill for horses that powered the paddle wheels. Those wheels are still visible and pretty interesting. Of the three dives of the weekend, this was my least favorite, but still a fun dive. Just not a lot to see if you aren’t archaeologically inclined. Ryan and I did manage to lose the anchor line (due to some stirred up sediment) and after a few loops trying to find it, I went from a little cold to pretty cold. So we did a straight ascent, which I’m comfortable with, but haven’t done from that depth in a while. For me, diving is one of those things that comes naturally and comfortably, as long as I stay out of my head. haha. The little “will I be able to stay in that 15-20 foot range for my safety stop comfortably?” thought wiggled it’s way into my head. Then I start to overanalyze things. And when you’re surrounded by nothing but green water, it can get a little eerie. All I can say is I’m thankful for dive computers, experienced buddies, and a great instructor. Cuz I managed the safety stop without any problems. Easy peasy, lemony squeezy.
41 minutes | 40 ft (average), 47 ft (max) | 56ºF at depth
After we made our way back to the boat, we road the short distance back to shore. In a remarkable feat of perfect timing, we got our gear off the boat and into the waiting vehicles before the heavens once again opened up and gifted us with a torrential downpour. Envision mini-rivers forming in the streets kind of rain. The folks at Waterfront Diving Center were super accommodating and soon we were (relatively) dry and waiting for the storm to pass. By now we were all hungry and thirsty, so as soon as the skies turned to a drizzle we were packing gear into our respective cars and began the search for food. My group ended up at the Vermont Pub and Brewery – I had a delightful IPA and a super yummy bowl of mac ‘n cheese. Then it was nap time (and I’m not even joking haha). After a quick hour at the hostel, Ryan and I met up with Fox, Pete, and Kristin…then it was a night of shenanigans. Burlington is pretty awesome in the summer. We hit Foam Brewery and quite a few bars/pubs. I did double the steps I normally do in a day…I was thankful for that nap, let me tell you! haha.
Dinner at some place with Planet in the name…I think? I basically let the locals direct me around to all the good spots.
We found Champ! I wanted a picture to send to my aunt (who warned me that Champy inhabited the lake)…didn’t realize those two hooligans were in it until afterwards. 😛
While at one of the bars, Kristin mentioned that one of the guys looked like our friend Sam’s friend…with only minor creeper-ness (aka I snapped Sam a picture inquiring if he knew the person in the photo…) we managed to determine that yes, it indeed was one of Sam’s friends. Sam had strep throat and was unable to hang out with us…so we hung out with his friend instead. haha. (but in all seriousness, you were dearly missed Sam!)
At some point later in the night, we bid our farewells to Fox, Pete, and Kristin and made our way back to the hostel. I brushed my teeth and promptly passed out. It was an exhausting, but delightfully wonderful day.
Sunday started off with gatorade and goldfish (breakfast of champions I’ve been told), then we loaded up our gear and set off to the lake again! Our original plan was to hit the Coal Barge and then a string of wrecks, however, our other boat made also decided to do the Coal Barge. After some discussion, we decided to dive “some random barge” at our captains suggestion. This one turned out to be my favorite for a few reasons. Sitting at more than 75 feet it was shrouded in complete darkness. COMPLETE. DARKNESS. Which, in the right circumstances, can create an amazing dive. This was one of those situations. When your entire existence revolves around the scene illuminated by your dive light, your focus sharpens and the rest of the world fades away. This was the third dive of the weekend and I was feeling comfortable in my gear (I’d only recently acquired a backplate/wing set up and hadn’t tested it in freshwater yet). I’d gotten reacquainted with a comfortable breathing pattern and had my buoyancy down pat. Add to that a strong trust in my dive buddy and you have a recipe for a good dive. Portions of the wreck were covered in lost fishing line…much more than Ryan or I could’ve cleaned up without risking entangling ourselves. But there the percent coverage of mussels was much lower than at the previous wrecks. There was a good deal of vegetation…not sure if it was viable or just decaying matter that floated along the bottom. The lack of mussel coverage allowed for us to see the actual wooden structures which was wicked cool. Apparently this wreck was intentionally sunk…after it was first set on fire. Rather than consuming the entire vessel, the fire ate away at the upper decking and left charred remains behind for us to view. Beams and planks stuck out at odd angles….I most definitely almost swam into a few. This was the deepest and darkest of the three dives, but oddly enough, it was probably my most comfortable. Moral of the story: dive as often as you can. haha.
24 min | 57 ft (average), 76 ft (max) | 50ºF
I opted out of the final dive of the day…I’ll admit I was being a weenie and didn’t want to get any colder. haha. Our captain also said there wasn’t much to these wrecks…just a few masts lying in the sand and whatnot. I’d already gotten my pole diving specialty at Dutch Springs, so I was all set. 😛
After packing up all the gear and saying farewell to the crew, Ryan and I headed over to Shelburne Vineyard where Fox was working the Tasting Bar. I am not a wine drinker by any stretch of the imagination…but this stuff was pretty good! I’ll definitely swing by next time I’m in that area. They give you a card with each wine on it and encourage you to rate each one by marking a smiley, neutral, or frowny face. Mine ended up with mohawks, mustaches, sideburns and bushy eyebrows haha.
We then convinced Fox to give us a tour of the facility. Grapes, vines, crushers, giant fermentors, barrels of aging wine, and the bottle machine (which only requires three people to run).
I was just as tired as I look in that picture as I bid farewell to the guys and started the trek home. Thankfully conversations with friends and music helped the 3.5 hour trip seem like a breeze (and by some magical voodoo, I hit almost ZERO traffic!). I rolled into my parents house some time after 8pm, scarfed down some food, chatted with the folks and the family that was visiting, then went to bed and enjoyed a solid, uninterrupted sleep. Monday it was back to the world of influents and effluents…but after such an amazing week and a half, it didn’t even matter. I was a bit of a zombie…but by some alignment of the stars, it was a light day. haha.
Thanks for sticking it out through this novel of a post! Cheers. 🙂