Risk!

Adventure day wouldn’t be the saga that is has grown to be without apocalyptic weather phenomena, spectacular car crashes, banquets of fried pig, and the fall of the entirety of Europe to Iceland. Our well-conceived plan, as all good intentioned meticulously configured Latitude 38 plans go, began to fall apart when the East Coast woke to find themselves buried in hundreds of millimeters of frozen hell. The switch boards lit up as, soon to be action hero, Jeff Erkelens phoned to confirm that he would be picking me up any minute. I attempted to persuade him, but the allure of trying out his new four wheel drive won the day.

After some time had passed and I was beginning to feel certain I would have to hitch my crew of snow dogs and set out in search. However, to my surprise, Jeff made it with only a few less horses in his windshield wiper motor. After the opening credits, we began our journey across Middle Earth. At the bottom of Whippoorwill Hollow, I commented to Jeff that, “this is where everyone gets stuck.” This statement is apparently the toggle switch on the universe for at the exact moment we began sliding sideways into a powdery ditch. Our attempts to rescue the car were thwarted as any attempt to escape were met with freezing, fluffy quicksand. On the bright side, Jeff managed to scrape clean enough road with his snow shovel to safely land a 747.

Eventually we both made it into town. The rest of the crew was already elbow deep in bacon and eggs supplied by Master Chef Joey. Breakfast bliss was broken with news that an entire redwood tree had fallen in the middle of the street and the Super Friends 38 would be required to clean it up. Jack and I took a stroll down the street in time to move a few twigs off the road, watch Jack fall in a snow puddle, and help save a car from an unscheduled trip to the IGA on its roof. Good deed for the day done, Eagle scouts returned to Latitude headquarters.

At that point, a heated discussion of the strategic disadvantages of Kamchatka began to take hold. Risk began, most of the crew left, having never rolled higher than a 2 in their lives. Tom stayed until he remembered he needed to wash his hair. Jack was next, after his triple front war fizzled in Great Britain. DeBellis surrendered as he was in a complete daze the whole game. He later reported that he had been smacked in the face by one of his “friends,” and ruptured his eardrum. This was not a Latitude 38 friend, we solve our differences with hugs. Game given to Jeff and I, we called a cease fire. The mere action of ending our war had the effect of parting the clouds and bringing warmth back to the Earth. The snow melted and Adventure day ended.

– Devin

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Risk!

Fourteen Miles with Buddha

Thought I”d go with the weepy character study this time. The “Musings of an Asshole” shtick was getting kind of tired.
– Tom
Adventure Day V: Fourteen Miles with Buddha
Fourteen miles of rapids and our boat never protested so much as when he climbed aboard. He wore a biker”s skullcap, a mustache like the Saint Louis arch and had

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the stout, leathery limbs of someone who rolls boulders through the countryside in their spare time.

He gave no name.
But the guides piloting the other rafts here on the Gauley River in West Virginia-fit twenty-somethings-called this elder riverman Buddha. Sitting with paddles at the ready in his looming, gumdrop shadow, we noticed a vague resemblance to the ancient sage. We imagined, however, that the name pointed towards something more than mere appearance.
He ordered us to paddle and our boat entered the current.
“I”m from right here, a West Virginia hillbilly”, he informed us after bringing us through the first rapid. “A long time ago, my brother convinced me to take a raft guide training course with him. I found myself falling in love with the river. My brother dropped out of the class. He works for the phone company now.”
“Falling in love with the river….” We were on a brown stream through chopped-up, nameless hills; the smoke of distant coal stoves hung in the air. This was not the Colorado or the Nile.

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“That cable up there is all that”s left of the old miner”s bridge. There was a ferry here, but it was too expensive for most miners. So they built themselves a bridge. Tied up their horses on one side every morning

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and walked across. Then hiked up to their mines back in the hills. Sometimes for miles.”

Things hadn”t changed much. Every year when the river season ends, Buddha told us, he follows the valleys south, up to the high-country christmas tree farms of North Carolina. With flurries swirling down, standing on a sidehill at three-thousand feet, he spends the winter chopping Firs and Spruces for the Home Depots of the world.
All for another season on the Gauley.
He was, it seemed, a Real Man of the Interior. The type of person one only encounters in the mountains, on the prairie or perhaps on the open ocean. By never lifting his feet from his home range, he had paradoxically

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“The New comes down from Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The gorge in West Virginia is two hundred miles distant. But she”s under the sun that entire time, so she”s mighty warm if you happen to fall in.”
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long enough- like Buddha had- and the local river becomes a giant snake, sunning itself across three states. A conception that would make the Australian aborigines proud. But not one a person would ever learn from the voice in their GPS.

Buddha was too expert of a guide that day. Instead of the advertised adrenaline buzz, we came instead to river”s end with a deep sense of relaxation. A celebratory round of beers with the day”s other rafters and guides only added to the hypnosis. As an old bus carried us back upriver-rocking on spent springs through minor mountain passes with the wind throbbing in the windows- everyone finally surrendered to the hot-eared fizz that comes of spending a day between water and sun. A burbling stream of aimless conversation filled the cabin. A guide napped with gaping mouth. The driver held his hand against the low orange sun, his beer still waiting in the cooler. And in the seat right behind him sat Buddha-alone. He had removed his skullcap, revealing a cropped, native-style mohawk. His hands were clasped in his lap and he stared straight ahead through the windshield.
Photographer”s note: Not the greatest pics

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this time around on account of not wanting phone to get soggy. Believe it or not, we did actually go through white water.

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Fourteen Miles with Buddha

Frisbee Golf: A Good Drunk Spoiled

Carnival season is here and with it the urge to dress in costume, flaunt open-container laws and generally upend the natural order of things. And so we found ourselves recently at the Walnut Creek frisbee golf course; with a golf bag full of booze, dressed like morons and about to do the only thing that could embarrass our gangly group further: throw frisbees in public.

By the end of the first hole Devin alone was on the green. Tommy was so

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So established, this Montesorri school-picnic atmosphere lingered through the round and reached an apex on the final hole when a freak breeze carried two of our disks over the park”s reservoir, where they

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Safely ashore and the final score was revealed, with Devin taking the round. Costume honors for the

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was the perfect carnival procession: Under the sun, with friends, and sixteen beers deep before the noon whistle.

– Tom Hughes

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Frisbee Golf: A Good Drunk Spoiled

hot off the presses

Another adventure is in the books. It will probably be a week or so until Mr. Hughes spins today’s adventure into golden prose, so I figure I’d throw up a photo to build up the anticipation.

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on hot off the presses

Scouting trip for our next adventure day…

Ross McDermott, photographer extraordinaire, photographed today at the Blue Lagoon in the Faroe Islands, sportin’ the turquoise version of the Latitude shirt.

 

 

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Scouting trip for our next adventure day…

Adventure Day III: We Deserve A Raise

We took to the sky recently with the Boar”s Head Hot Air Balloon Service, which offers dawn rides from their swank country club on the western

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Once off the ground our fleet of three balloons immediately drifted into the restricted airspace around Charlottesville Airport, which wouldn”t have been an issue except that our pilot couldn”t contact the control

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Our pilot was unconcerned:

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Then: “Where is the other balloon? Does anyone see the other balloon!”

It was a thousand feet down atoledo and directly beneath us, adding to the normal frustrations of the morning commute by hot dogging over a busy intersection.

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surprisingly, immediately began to be dragged across the asphalt by the huge craft.

“I”ll move my car!” yelled a well-meaning mother in the process of dropping off her kid, as our giant shadow engulfed the entire plaza.

Clearly, the ground crew was going to need some assistance. With a pull of a rope our pilot blew off some hot air and the basket momentarily touched down in mom”s just-vacated space.

A composed command issued from the flight deck:

“Would the five gentleman on the

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left side of the basket PLEASE GET OUT AND HELP MY SON STOP THIS BALLOON!!!”

With Cory, Jeff, Tommy, Devan and Bryce overboard, the unburdened airship unexpectedly leapt into the heaven”s again, almost clipping a parking lot light tower on the way up. As a father with an “Oh, the humanity!” look on his face stared up along with his transfixed and nervously waving three-year old, our anchormen managed to tease the towering rainbow menace over a planting of Dogwood trees to a final touchdown in the empty lot of Carmike Cinema 123.

After almost meeting our maker

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at the Boar”s Head with an understandably tense and awkward sparkling cider toast in the club”s English Nightmare-themed Ordinary Room.

It was only eight AM.

We were planning on spending the rest of the day quarry jumping; but after a morning like that we decided we shouldn”t push our luck.

Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Adventure Day III: We Deserve A Raise

Further Surveys Along the 38th Parallel with the Design-Build Adventure Corps

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So it would be, then.

A fortnight later, as the Commandant and company lured several idle townspeople to the service of the expedition by enticing their appetites with a morning feast, I, in order to confirm the expedition's overland route, set off astride

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have, quite truthfully, described any wilderness glade between New Netherlands and Mission San Diego. But upon tying my steed to a handsome Walnut some hours later (Since such time I have learned tethering is not necessary for petroleum-horses) I became filled with gratitude that He had led me unerringly to the watercourse that, single among many in this unpeopled waste, terminated with fearsome suddenness at the base of a rocky defile, of no apparent source. As agreed upon earlier, I then set several hundred hectares to conflagration to direct the corps to my position

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waters and then into the mountainside itself. Upon seeing this unnatural sight a distraught Tommy, our excitable draftsman, lay into a nearby Pine with the aim of fashioning the Commandant's coffin; but before he had driven even one wedge into the resinous giant we heard an unmistakable baritone emerge from within,

“Come quick then, all is clear!”

At this command we tumbled into the watery entrance like so many prairie dogs in path of a Buffalo excitement, and soon emerged onto a rocky shelf with a brooding low ceiling; the one world we had known all our days now only a weak glimmer behind us. Our electric lanterns were no match for this country, and served only to cast a sickly pall across the frightened faces of the outfit. We were able to deduce from the combined efforts of all our lanterns that we were in a high-ceilinged vault with the river running off to our left, and thus seeing our course set off upstream over a series of rocky insults for the headwaters.

Within a quarter online casino hour's time, though, the enterprise had fallen to pieces. The Commandant was nowhere to be seen, apparently having returned to the surface to begin a lucrative speaking tour regarding his discoveries. Our several guests, not used to our brand of discipline, wandered away over numerous perils like so many drunkards on wage-day. In kind was a cocksure Tommy, who took leave down a rocky cleft in pursuit of a second stream on a lower tier of the cavern. Meanwhile steadfast Cory, ever the voice of reason, protested that we could not possibly reach the head of the stream, doubtlessly in the Orient, before our lanterns lost their vigour and our bodies their vital heat. Surveying this dissolution of order from above was a Devil-may-take-it McDermott, seated on a precipice with lower limbs dangling, casually cleaning his pipe stem and reaping great humor from man's endless folly. The

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For this reason I have little in the way of impressions of our journey beyond this juncture save that we made it back to the surface through some brand of miracle; emerging from this earthly womb, whereas formerly strangers, now a dozen brothers and sisters birthed from the same calamitous undertaking.

Certainly the entire course of the Peloponnesian War could have been recounted with the amount of India ink spilled on this record of just a single day; so I will bring us to a swift conclusion by informing the reader that we were safely reunited on the surface and, after wildly upsetting the local suspension bridge with our boisterous celebrations, made a safe return to Charlottesville and our awaiting parade and private audience with Mr. Jefferson.*

*On Friday, October 1st 2010 we spent a great day with great friends exploring “Aqua Cave”, a partially submerged cavern in Highland County, Virginia. No woodlands were torched during the course of the day, and in fact we even picked up some trash on the way out.

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Category: Adventure Day · Comments Off on Further Surveys Along the 38th Parallel with the Design-Build Adventure Corps

Between a Rock and a Dark Place

Photos by Ross McDermott and Joey Conover

“Adventure Days,” a semi-regular series of strenuous exploits in the out-of-doors, was recently instituted by The Dear Leader as an opportunity for the common working man to regain his vigor by momentarily relaxing his burden and lifting his eyes to the wonders of our uncommon Commonwealth. In other words, sometimes Jeff just needs everyone out of the house while

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the insulation is blown in.

Our first destination was a given: Quiz any adventurer in Central Virginia about the best place to get away from the general public and explore an underappreciated example of elegant design and master craftsmanship and most will reply,

“Well, if you don’t mind getting dirty, wet, a bit frightened and possibly contracting Tetanus, then probably a Latitude 38 jobsite.”

But that’s their response only because they are blissfully unaware of the death trap known as the Crozet railroad tunnel.

By the grace of the maker alone, a younger and more naïve Latitude crew made it through the abandoned tunnel once before; we saw fit to return on our inaugural Adventure Day because this festering, mile-long borehole under Afton mountain is soon to be converted into a slick and sanitized recreational path; providing families and fitness enthusiasts with a rare opportunity to escape the sunny Virginia climate and exercise in an inky granite tomb.

And trust us, potentially home-buying public- It is dark in there. The comforting view back out the tunnel mouth doesn’t last for long, first becoming bent and distorted like a religious apparition by hanging tongues of water vapor before being snuffed out completely less than one hundred yards in from the entrance. Fortunately, we were accompanied this time through

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by A Rouge’s Gallery of C-ville Notables who wisely provided petrol-soaked torches to light the way as well as to touch off any lurking pockets of flammable rock gas- a quick incineration always trumping a helpless suffocation among spelunkers.

Speaking of incineration and suffocation, work started on the tunnel

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in 1850, at a time when OSHA was a village in Wisconsin and the field of “Worker Safety” concerned itself primarily with how the upper classes could remain safe from their workers. The grey matter behind the operation was Honorary Latitude 38 employee Claudius Crozet, a decorated French military engineer who relocated to central Virginia, no doubt drawn by the pleasing year-round climate, cultural amenities and world-class shopping at Barracks Road (then Barracks Rut). But a life of wine-tastings and schmoozing at Friday’s after Five wasn’t in the cards for ole’ CC, who was quickly approached by the Blue Ridge Railroad Company to construct a line across the mountains to the Shenandoah valley, a region that in 1850 was still best reached by birth. In addition to being a brilliant engineer, Crozet apparently also had a flair for the dramatic, and so hired two gangs of Irish workers to build the tunnel that would be the crux of his route. From the west side chipped and blasted a group from Northern Ireland, and from the East dug a Protestant group from County Cork, working towards each other’s throats at the achingly slow rate of playanalyzed.com 19 feet per month. They holed through deep under Rockfish Gap on Christmas Day, 1856. During the subterranean holiday fracas that no doubt ensued Crozet excused himself to check the tunnel’s alignment and…

Triumph!

The two excavations, each half a mile in length, were off by only six inches.

In contrast, when a replacement tunnel was dug in the 1940’s using state-of the art surveying and measuring tools, the two sides missed each other by six feet. Yet another argument in favor of leaving the awkward tool belt at home and “jus’ eyeballin’ it” on the jobsite (Kidding!).

But enough with tales of sturdy workmen and captains of industry almost lost to us in the depths of time-we have a group of the same lost in the depths of Crozet tunnel as we speak! Torches lit and dripping hot kerosene down our forearms, we discovered that the first quarter mile of the shaft was navigable by canoe. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a canoe. But we did have each other-specifically each other’s shirt collars and pant’s legs, which were stretched and pulled low as we grabbed out at our fellow man to arrest plunges into the thigh-deep, wall-to-wall pool of stale

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rock drippings. Suddenly the expansive echoes were stolen from our voices and the culprit loomed up out of the darkness- a huge bulkhead wall across our path, the only way ahead appearing to be a belly crawl through a body-sized drain pipe streaming rusty water. As Staff Photographer McDermott set up shop capturing unflattering portraits of rear ends attempting to enter a confined space, shivering bystanders noted numerous spray paint tags claiming

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this space for “CORY”, “KOREY” and also “COREE”, giving us further proof (as if we needed it) that one of our newest co-workers isn’t being entirely forthcoming about his leisure time activities (or his spelling abilities).

At this point, a source close to the author (this phrase takes on a fresh meaning while crawling through a cast iron pipe) informed me that the wall (along with an identical one at the tunnel’s far end) is a remnant of a daft 1970’s scheme by the city of Waynesboro to use the interior of the defunct tunnel as a storage vault for a huge quantity of pressurized natural gas, to be purchased on a low market and stored for a rainy day. When the proverbial rainy day arrived, however, workers realized that it probably wasn’t rain but rather natural gas falling outside, as the entirety of their investment had escaped upward into the surrounding rock, luckily not destroying Interstate 64 and the Blue Ridge Parkway, both of which run directly overhead. After a stern reprimand at City Hall, the responsible party transferred to BP’s promising new deepwater drilling division.

Beyond the wall we found ourselves in a disconcerting acoustical funhouse filled with the mid-Atlantic’s largest lode of unredeemed beer cans (ME-VT-CT-MA-CA-IA-$28,034)., As past footfalls and conversations ricocheted overhead we slowly spread out; exploring at our leisure the hand-hewn walls and dynamite drill holes, all the while stumbling over the fins of rock that lay across our path like giant fallen dominos.

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It was then, in the deepest bowels of the tunnel, most of us lost in reflection, some of us just plain lost, and all of us at our most emotionally vulnerable, that Tommy, somewhere up ahead in the murk, innocently banged an admiring hand against some rusting hulk of Americana lying on the tunnel floor. Before the trembling vibration he had set in motion could reach even his ears, it escaped into the void and was forgotten about, only to return a minute later, wildly distorted by the half-mile long chamber, sounding like what can only be described as the building roar of C and O Ghost Locomotive No. 24- straining into the tunnel entrance with a load of West Virginia coal, Kentucky bourbon, Barnum and Bailey circus lions and a Pullman car full of cigar-chomping Midwest dignitaries bound for Washington. Now, I would like to imagine that upon hearing this shrieking thunder announcing our demise everyone fell to their knees in horror, but I suspect it might have just been my gullible self. I was about to run ahead and show our Show-Me State friend a thing or two but reconsidered, remembering that if not for his generous loan

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Apologies, as the above was certainly neither here nor there; but, then, neither was our group until with great relief we spotted the first glimmers of the

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western tunnel entrance ahead and soon emerged into the spectacular light of day, all of us immediately taken with the beauty of the spring forest. Far above, a symphony of water dripped from the decorative stones of the tunnel facade; nearby, saplings swayed in the honeysuckle breeze like Radio City Rockettes; and Jeff, to this day, maintains that he saw a chipmunk dressed in a tiny pair of engineer’s overalls beckoning to him from a distant tree limb. Perhaps the copious radon fumes we had all just inhaled played a role in this spectacle, but, suffice it to say, nothing allows one to experience the Virginia countryside in a new light

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quite like spending two hours inside the Virginia countryside with no light.

In closing, while an outing to the Crozet railroad tunnel can hardly be recommended for a first date (Please give me a second chance, Tammy), it was an ideal destination for the first of hopefully many Latitude 38 Adventure Days. Inside Crozet’s masterpiece we found new friends (and promptly lost them in the darkness); and we took a welcome break from our hard-knock world of swaying scaffolding and potentially lethal power tools to explore a place infinitely more dangerous. But most importantly, we were again reminded of the bounty of Latitude 38’s eponymous parallel. Joey managed to best summarize the journey before it

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had scarcely begun, as our group set off towards the tunnel with the beautiful Rockfish Valley spread out far below us-“This… is why we live in Virginia.

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