22 October 2012

And what a weekend it was!

I went off last weekend to the Fall RASSFest. RASS is short for the Richmond Area Speleological Society - note: cavers and caving...not spelunkers and spelunking...as our bumper stickers say, "Cavers Rescue Spelunkers" - whom we consider to the t-shirted, tennis-shoed crowd with a single flashlight apiece and way too much booze in them to be safe in any cave! I've been a member of this particular grotto (chapter) of the National Speleological Society since 1986. I spent about 12 years on the board of directors. One of the more contentious issues was the idea of buying some property to be used as a base camp, somewhere west of the Blue Ridge Mountains where caving country starts in Virginia. Finally, in about 1993, we found Eden in the Virginia mountains. In a place called Green Valley, we discovered 26+/- acres, and a motivated seller who did NOT want the property going to the adjacent landowner so he could expand his hunting guide business. We bought the property for next to nothing and set out to improve it.
The house the lady lived in needed extensive repair. We re-roofed it, put on a front porch that wasn't rotten, repaired the stoops, chimneys, and floors, and built bunks in all the rooms other than the kitchen. Upgraded the electrical service. The bunk house was born. We repaired the well, and beefed it up to provide water to the newly constructed bath house that included two flush toilets each for the men and women, and two shower heads for each gender. Hot showers are a godsend after a wet, muddy cave trip. Later on, some electricity was added for campers, and a pavilion was built for our gatherings to have a central spot. We have an official bon fire pit (since moved once we bothered to look UP and see that it was directly under the power lines serving the bath house). We are very careful with fire, and all campfires are required to be in metal rings, plus, we comply with all county fire bans, etc. After about 20 years of using this property, I posted this to the group's Facebook page yesterday:
An Open Letter to the members of RASS:
I admit I haven't been as active as I once was, but I was on the Board at the time we decided to look into purchasing some property in caving country. There were months of back and forth, pros and cons, and finally, we bought the RASS Field Station. 
The reason I write is to make sure one of those "forths" and "cons" has been put to bed:
I was thrilled to see the condition of the Field Station this weekend. WOW! RASS members and their guests have done an exceptional job of maintaining this property in pretty much pristine condition. I would like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has helped maintain the buildings and systems, and to everyone who has been so careful with maintaining the roads and camping areas, and have left it in better than they found it condition after visiting. It would be hard to uphold the old argument that "it'll just get trashed and ruined" after seeing the property after nearly 20 years of continuous use by RASS, VAR, members and guests, and so many others! It's GREAT to be a member of an organization that cares so much about the things they have that make their caving and camping and socializing and everything else so much easier. You all deserve the highest praise for that accomplishment!
NSS #####RL FE (I blanked my membership number because that can lead to some very personal information...RL means I am a Regular Life Member of the National Speleological Society, the FE means I am a Fellow of the {National Speleological} Society)
It really was great to be in this pristine spot in Green Valley camping with some of the nicest people I know.
As you read above, I haven't been particularly active with the cavers - and haven't been underground in a lot longer, but once a caver, always a caver.

One thing that my long absence from camping allowed me to realize was that there were four basic reasons why, as an Official Olde Farte (OOF), camping wasn't as attractive to me as it once was. The first of those reasons was that I am tired of sleeping on the ground. I don't care how expensive your "ground pad" is, if it is 7/16" of an inch thick, it will NOT be a comfortable thing to sleep on if you are a bony old man like me (even though I am pretty well padded). The second is that I have to, as an OOF, get up to pee more times than I care to count in the night. As a younger Olde Farte, I used a pee bottle - camp with me, never drink out of a square Nalgene bottle! Sleeping in a tent makes the use of a pee bottle almost mandatory in the winter - even the late fall months in the mountains. Number three..."Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three"...I am tired or dressing and undressing in a structure that is 36" high. Even my high dollar, top notch, best of the best mountaineering tent that I used in snowstorms with 50MPH winds and 12-15 inches of snow being dropped overnight, is only 44" high in the center. Getting dressed as an OOF in a freaking tent sucks in those conditions. And then there is the whole crawling out of a tent thing. Nothing like starting out the day officially damp...you get to crawl out through the dew/rain/snow. In any case, you are wet before you even start the day. Ugh. When I was young, OK, I could cope, deal with it, whatever. Now, not so much fun.
 So I went out and I bought a tent! But a different kind of tent. It attaches to the back of my Xterra. Now I can sleep in the back of the truck, off the ground, on a nice fat air mattress. I can slide out, and stand up to get dressed. Here's a  picture of my "spaceship":

The exterior
The interior (the mattress isn't pushed fully
into the truck)


My LED headlamps are hanging from the hooks at the top. The sleeping bag is a down filled, zero degree bag. I sleep on the mattress, and use the bag as a blanket. COMFY!!! I like comfy. And warm.
Dinner on Saturday was a real treat. I helped cook since I'm still not in any shape to go caving. Big, round and oddly shaped is a disaster waiting to happen in a cave. The cooking crew started at 11AM chopping vegetables, and threw it all into a 20 gallon cast iron cauldron over the fire.
This is the pavilion as we started dinner prep at 11AM.
Everything is so nicely laid out!
I chopped about 50 full cloves of garlic, 20 onions, lots of
celery, a bunch of yellow, green, red and orange peppers,
then about 10 pounds of smoked sausage.

Here's the veggies softening.
This turned into 10 gallons of spaghetti sauce! Here, the smoked
sausage and the 140 meatballs have been added to the mix.
Stirring is an art, so you bring out the flavors of the eye of newt
and tail of dragon!
This is the bread topping...they are slicing the tops off about
50 full cloves of garlic, which are then soaked in olive oil and
slow cooked for about 3 hours...then the garlic is squeezed to
get the meat into the dish, mixed with butter and some Italian
seasoning, and spread over Italian Pugliese bread. 
Here, Bob, John and Rich pour out the last
of the 20 pounds of spaghetti into serving
pans, the garlic bread is in the foreground. 
One of RASS' younger members ladling out
some of the ten gallons of spaghetti sauce.
There was none left after the line had gone through.
Remember that empty pavilion? Here it is at about 7:15PM as
80-85 people chow down on spaghetti, sauce, bread, salad (36
quarts worth) and...yeah...just wait...
Dessert was four "dump cakes"! 
Top to bottom: Apple and Pineapple with
Coconut topping, Apple and Pineapple with
Nuts and Coconut topping, Apple and Pineapple
with Nut topping, and Apple and Pineapple with
no topping! These were heavenly!!!
After the dinner, we gathered around the fire. It's a big fire. Ten feet in diameter, and soooo warm. 
The fire. 
Some of the crowd. 
We have some professional musicians in the club, and
they entertained us around the fire. 
And I leave you with this:
My feet. The bottle of Evan Williams is just out of sight to
my right! 

No comments:

Post a Comment