Middle of Nowhere (Spring VAR 2007)

Some may consider Durbin, WV to be in the middle of nowhere, but fans of the Green Bank Observatory, old-fashioned railroads, and caving know better. I showed up Friday night after registration closed, during the party where Smiling Bob Gray and his wife were spinning the tunes. It was incredibly cold, and I lost one leg of my convertible pants, the only long pants I had brought along. The folks I knew at VAR were mostly already signed up for trips and weren’t planning pickup trips of their own. I didn’t think my options were looking very good unless I wanted to join Dwight Livingston on a Cassell Cave through trip.

However, I was pleased to find a cancellation on a horizontal trip with Doug Medville with possible surveying or ridgewalking. Score! On top of that, it was only a few minutes drive away. A drive up a forest road until the cars could penetrate no further and then a 1.5-mile hike. Normally that long a hike in caving gear would be unpleasant, but the cold temperatures and heavy clouds made the suit quite comfortable. The hike along the forest road was filled with foot-deep mud puddles that the ten of us avoided whenever possible.

I was hiking at the front with Doug when we neared where he thought the cave might be. His only trip into the cave had been in 1973, and the surface drainage had changed a bit since then. He knew that a pit was nearby but didn’t know if it went anywhere, so Van carried along a cable ladder. We found the pit easily, and I free climbed down without any problems. At the bottom the echoing lead with water beyond it was too small for me to fit into. I spotted a shorter person down the climb, but it was too small for her as well.

Just up the stream from there, Doug remembered the cave we were headed for. Unfortunately it seemed to terminate after about 20 feet. Maybe he was wrong. In any case, the hillside hadn’t been well ridgewalked, so we had lots of opportunities to find the cave. Doug found another entrance just below a pair of springs. I dropped down into it, saw a lot of water dripping from the stream above followed by a 9.5-inch high crawl. We elected to save this lead for the hike out.

We ridgewalked for another hour or two, finding lots of springs but no reasonably sized caves. Five of the party had headed back to the cars, not that Cheryl Suitor had a key to get her clean stuff from my car. Back at the wet tight lead, two folks explored it while I dug at one of the nearby springs. As it turns out, they found the place we were aiming for: Middle of Nowhere Cave. It was fun naming the other FROs we discovered along the way: East Edge of Nowhere, Going Nowhere Fast, etc. We chose not to survey that afternoon since half of the party had already departed. Everyone liked the idea of going back at OTR or Fall VAR when it’s drier. Maybe Lisa should add that cave to her trip list for the Fall VAR.

When we returned to camp early in the afternoon, Ericka Hoffmann and I wandered through Durbin with her camera shooting some interesting black-and-white shots of the railcars and store fronts. I put on one leg of the convertible pants and explained to the Baltimore folks that it seemed that the best way to find the other leg was to advertise the missing one. Fifteen minutes later someone returned my missing leg. I now have my own Cinderella story.

I got even luckier later that evening. Gordon Birkheimer set up a poster showing twenty different cave entrances, and the goal was to name as many as you could. I teamed up with Ericka, and we nailed ten of them. That was enough to tie Craig Hindman and Carol Tiderman, and a coin toss won us a T-shirt, some stickers, and the title.