Spent the morning on the beach with Max then headed south, back towards Cape Canaveral.
We had planned to hit Cocoa Beach, but we first stopped at Merritt Estuary near Kennedy and found it so full of wildlife that we spent the afternoon here.
NASA/Government owned all the marsh land in this area, and the parts they did not use, turned into a wildlife refuge. It was like going on Safari for birders. People would follow this 7 mile road as it wrapped through the sanctuary and climb on top of the roof of the car with cameras to get shots of all these unique specimens.
We saw tons of birds that we could not recognize, a few alligators, but our favorite were the pink Spoonbill Cranes. I know this is where I insert a picture of the spoonbill, but my iphone camera just wasn’t cutting it.
We also saw a wild pig traipsing through the marsh. Little did we know that next month we would spend a month with one who looked just like him.
The following day we did a urban hike in a nearby neighborhood in Ormond Beach and hit the Fish Fry
It was Saturday and time to reconvene with my dive-mates for the second phase of training. We met up at Deleon Springs for day 1 of 2 open water dives. Amy and Max came along
Ok, last weekend I had no issues. I breezed through the training. Today was not my best work. I have always had a problem with my ears. I had not been diving before but often when I fly in airplanes or change altitude while driving through the mountains I have a tough time equalizing the pressure. I had heard there are some people that just can’t equalize and therefore cannot dive. You see, for every 10ft (or something like that) you drop under water the pressure increases 3x. So when your swimming it really is not too bad as most pools don’t go deeper than 10ft and even in a lake or Ocean you rarely swim deeper. So I knew it might be an issue……and it was. This spring was 20ft deep. As soon as we started to descend I was having issues. Basically the pressure is pushing in against your eardrum and the pressure on the inside of the eardrum is still at surface level. To “Equalize” you need allow air, at the higher pressure, to enter the internal ear canal to match the increased pressure on the outside of the canal (eardrum). Most people achieve this by squeezing their nose and gently blowing. I tried, this, but as in the past it only works for one ear. I must have some anatomical issue with the other side. If you can’t equalize it is extremely painful. It is not something you just ignore. Either you equalize or you can’t go down. Well, I tried to push through. I was blowing through pinched nose, grinding my jaw, slapping my head, sticking a finger in my ear. Nothing. Meanwhile the instructor was continuing with the class. Keep in mind we are underwater, so there is no talking. Before we left the surface, he ran through 4-5 drills we would do down there before resurfacing. Now we were at the bottom of this mirky soup and I was so focused on my pain that I had no clue what we were supposed to be doing. He makes a bunch of signals with his hands then points at me. I try to do Jazz hands and some added flare with my hands and point back to him in some sort of pass “back to you!” move. It did not go well. He pointed for me to go to the surface. When I got up there my nose was bleeding from the pressure. He looks at me and says, “You have to equalize!” Thanks Carl! Why didn’t I think of that? Obviously I was not able to equalize. I went back down, lost in my own circle of hell. I crashed to the bottom and he repeated some Helen Keller signals. I was supposed to act like oxygen was out and could not inflate my bladder, leaving me with only option to dump some weight and kick to the surface, then manually inflate my bladder. Instead I just floated there and decided to stop breathing. I slowly ascended. After a while Carl just grabbed me and took me to the surface. He asked if I was ok. I said, yes I was just taking my time on the ascent. He said, well you almost looked too relaxed that I thought you were unconscious.” I basically was.
We closed out the day. I had homework. If I could not equalize, I could not pass. Tomorrow we were headed down over 60ft and there was going to be no faking it at that depth. I forgot to mention that I had tried to get an appointment with an ENT earlier that week to clean any wax out of my ears in case that helped (was not able to get appt). Also one of the dive instructors told me to pour hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol into my ear. We did this, but then I realized, after watching some youtube videos that clearing your outer ear canal has no bearing on your ability to equalize. It comes down to what I mentioned above, popping open your inner ear canal. So I tried everything I could find online and eventually by blowing my pinched nose while tilting my head to the right I was able to slightly open the canal. I hoped it would be enough.
We left the next morning at 5am. For some reason we had to drive 2 hours to get to this dive site: Blue Grotto. This we be extremely annoying if I could not pass, but still spent 4 hours in the car. I spent the entire time chewing gum and equalizing. I mean I would go over a railroad track and equalize. Was that another dip in the road there? Gotta equalize! Amy thought I had lost my mind. It looked like some handicapped version of a classic N’Sync dance move as I tilted my head to the right and pinched my nose.
We arrived at the park, checked in and looked at the map on the wall
WTF. I just wanted to get certified to dive over a coral reef in the Caribbean, I was not interested in rescuing a bunch of Thai schoolboys from a cave! Why on earth were we doing our checkoff here, basically a confined space? Oh well.
I suited up and made sure everyone was aware that when we got in there I was going to go very very slow, while holding a buoy line to slow my descent even further.
It was a Sunday. This place was packed with divers. Basically you jump into this hole in the ground with 50 other people and then it is just mad chaos beneath the surface.
What was cool is that they have these platforms set up below the surface. I followed a line down to the first platform at 20 ft. I was able to equalize. Man that felt good. The 5 of us got our bearings at that platform and then everyone just kinda jumps off into the darkness down at a 45 degree angle. I mean if the person in front of me did not go, there is no way I would ever head off that ledge into the nothingness. I just tried to remain calm and follow them down. We are now in between some boulders over 60ft down. You can’t see shit and there is cave ceiling above you with a bunch of oxygen bubbles running along it. You try not to think about the fact that if something goes wrong down here it could be real bad. Then people just kinda do their own thing. Everyone swims off to explore. I get turned around and find this man-made airpocket (bell) where you can stick your head in and breath air. I go in there with another trainee. I ask him if he has seen the instructor? He says, “no I thought you were the instructor, I was following you” Great. I mean you could easily die down here and no one would have a clue till you were back on the surface 30 minutes later. The assistant instructor found us and kept hand signaling to me and grabbing shit on my tank. When we surfaced, I asked what was going on. He said I was not kicking my legs enough and needed to get more horizontal to enjoy it. Man, don’t get me all worked up and touching shit on my pack just to try and improve my diving experience. I am focused on not dying. If you have something to tell that relates to not dying please pass it along, otherwise I have too many balls in the air as it is.
Well, I survived and we did anther dive that day, but I don’t think I am down for this cave stuff. I am glad I completed the training and look forward to diving in less than 40ft of crystal clear, wide-open ocean in the not-so-distant-future.
The next day I took the bicycle and rode the Spruce Creek Trail out near Port Orange. I had left the street tires on, thinking it was pretty flat based on the pictures on the trail app. It was not. The trail was full of roots and I forgot to download the map so the route was impossible to find. I am not sure if this is a lesson in being better prepared or if I have become to used to being prepared that I now can’t navigate out of a paper bag without a map app.
We only had a few days left in FL. We took a day and drove out to Captain BBQ out near where I had done Mountain Biking the first week.
Then drove around to see the X-mas lights on display
One more morning along the shore
It was Dec 20th. We were going to slow play it across towards TX for Christmas in Houston and then on to Scottsdale AZ by the end of the month. We enjoyed our time in Florida. Amy liked it a bit more than me. I get a little stir crazy without hiking or sources of physical activity. But these are good practice for me as I get older and I wont be able to do much more than sit by the beach and enjoy the tranquility. The people were friendly and had fun in the town of Flagler Beach. I am not sure how people live inland in Florida. It is a whole different world in there. You drive through there and you understand why you hear all these crazy stories on the news about someone from Florida doing something nonsensical.