Getting Down & Dirty with a Wild Guy

Getting Down & Dirty with a Wild Guy

Normally, I don’t write about experiences unless they’re my own. But when Hubs returned from his annual Memorial Day weekend motorcycle trip with the guys, he asked me to do a post about something they did on their trip. So here it is: how to have a muddy good time going caving in West Virginia with the help of Lester Zook of WILD GUYde Adventures.

Hubs’ Adventure

Planning for Hubs’ motorcycle trip starts months in advance. They look for a route that will provide them with lots of good riding (the curvier the roads, the better) and a round trip total of about four days. One guy has to get a tee shirt at every Harley Davidson store on earth, so they look for those. A couple of the guys like to visit relatives along the way, and stay with them to cut down on lodging costs. And once they have a route tentatively planned out, they look for things to do.

Ready to roll!

When they they started looking for things to do in or near Franklin WV, one of the guys suggested going on a caving adventure with Wild Guyde Lester. As it turned out, he had gone on a similar trip before and liked it enough to go again.

As he was packing up his stuff to go on the trip, Hubs mentioned that he was told to take clothes that could get dirty/ruined. I’ve been to Luray Caverns before and couldn’t figure out how they would get that dirty in a cave. But this was his trip to plan and pack for so I didn’t ask. (Lest we forget, I am a bit prissy, so the thought of people squeezing through dirty, confined spaces for fun never even occurred to me.)

The Wild Guyde Philosophy

I asked Lester about his background and how he came to be a Wild GUYde. He said, “I  started backpacking and climbing in high school, and worked at summer camps as a counselor and outdoor trip leader all through college.  I have been an educator for over 30 years, first in elementary and junior high school, and then 27 years as a university professor.  I started the guiding business 15 years ago, to go alongside my teaching career.  Then I resigned from formal teaching four years ago, so now the outdoor business is my sole career.  I view guiding simply as an extension of my role as a teacher, using the outdoor environment as a classroom.”

Lester Zook of Wild Guyde Adventures, who offers (among other things) caving in West Virginia.
Lester on the South Summit of Seneca Rocks, WV

I love Lester’s approach to outdoor adventures! From his website: “First, we believe that our lives are best lived as an adventure:

  • Facing into challenges and obstacles,
  • Taking a risk and walking into the unknown,
  • Ready to exert ourselves to the utmost, and then trust beyond ourselves and lean on others when our personal limits are reached.”

“Second, we believe that the outdoor world is wild and powerful; it is not sentimental or sympathetic, and it doesn’t suffer fools, it is unpolluted and undiluted, beautiful but not tame. It can teach us both mastery and humility.”

Safety First!

Hubs and his friends met Lester in town just after lunch, then followed him to a rest stop. Once there, Lester issued them each a whistle and a helmet with a lamp. (Hubs was very thankful for the helmet as they all bumped their heads often while moving through the cave.) Lester also advised them to leave behind anything that they didn’t want to become wet or dirty.**

Lester let them know what safety measures were in place. They were entering the cave at a specific time, and were expected to exit at a specific time. If Lester did not check in with his wife shortly after the expected exit time, she had instructions to call rescue personnel and provide them with the details (exact location of cave, how many were in the party, when they entered the cave, etc.).

Lester tied a guideline to the guard rail and they began to go down the slope. There were two openings into the cave. One was small enough to require that you bend over to enter. To go in via the second, smaller hole, you would have had to crawl.

** This means most of them left their cell phones in their motorcycle’s storage while they went caving. The one who didn’t leave his phone behind had it inside a plastic bag. That’s why I have not-the-greatest pictures to accompany this post. My apologies!

The “before” picture – about to enter the cave

Caving in West Virginia: Hubs’ Account

Hubs said he could feel cool air coming out of the cave. Once inside, it was as you might expect: damp and shady. The interior of the cave consisted of jagged angles made by rectangular shaped rocks. In some areas, there were drops of several feet. According to Lester, every cave has a “basement”. And while that may sound strange, Hubs said that every now and then he could see through a hole in the floor of the cave, about 15 to 20 feet down.

Lester taught the guys about caving techniques and safety along the way. For instance, how would they get out if they got lost? All you need is a compass and a map of cave (which, of course, Lester had). The cave map showed the elevation, shape of the passages, intersections, clearance height, etc. Cavers must point their compass north, then align the map with the compass. This would enable you to figure out where you were. Along the way, Lester shared the map and compass with different people so they all could learn how to do it and lead the group.

Another thing Lester taught the guys was how to navigate tight spaces by wiggling their bodies through it. The technique is to place your left hand forward/up and your right hand back/down to make your shoulders less of an obstruction in a narrow passage. As they approached the end of their adventure, knowing this technique proved useful. They had to crawl on their hands and knees 20 feet through a passage where rocks had fallen. Hubs said it was like poking your head up out of the floor underneath a bed and having to pull yourself up onto the floor, then crawl out from under the bed. All this in a space two feet high!

Having managed to successfully navigate that tight passage, they reached their final destination. Local tradition holds that cavers make little figures out of the mud and leave them as their mark. Because of these ‘sculptures”, this area of the cave is known as the art room.

Q: What’s the difference between a cave and a cavern?

A: None. (Although Hubs says a cavern is bigger by two letters.)

Actually, Lester said that for an area to be considered a cave, it must meet three criteria:

  • It must be big enough for a man to get in.
  • It must be naturally formed, not man made.
  • There must be areas that sunlight does not penetrate.
The “after” picture – just out of the cave

What did he think of it?

Hubs said he had fun thinking about his real life experience caving in West Virginia, comparing it to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn running through their fictional cave with torches and no map. As a former role-playing gamer, he also enjoyed thinking about scenarios in a similar setting to the WV cave. This also led him to realize how unrealistic RPG scenarios often are – most RPG caves have plenty of room to stand up, swing a sword, and walk around comfortably!

Oh, and did he really need to take clothing that wouldn’t be ruined by a little mud? Well, take a look at his (formerly blue) jeans and shoes:

It’s a wonder there was any mud left in the cave!

More about Wild Guyde Adventures

Lester offers a wide variety of expeditions within 90 minutes of their base of operations in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That includes:

  • Day hiking to peaks and waterfalls in the George Washington National Forest / Appalachia.
  • Rock climbing and rappelling in the North River or Lee Ranger Districts, along Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge, or at spectacular Seneca Rocks, West Virginia.
  • Wild caving at locations in West Virginia. (Did you know there are over 5000 caves in the state of West Virginia?)
  • Canoe paddling on the south fork of the Shenandoah River, or on the Potomac in West Virginia.

When I asked Lester about his most memorable client, he said, “I love to see parents exposing their kids to the outdoors, and creating meaningful shared family memories.  I love to see folks challenging their weaknesses and fears.  Last summer I took my oldest (I think) caving client through a river cave in West Virginia with his grandkids – he was 78 years old.”

If You are Reluctant to Try This…

I asked Lester what he might say to someone who was perhaps scared to try an underground adventure. His response:

“Mark Twain said, ‘I’ve worried about a lot of things in my life, and most of them never happened!’  Fear is like a fog that you cannot seem to see through, but when you reach out and push your hand against the fear, your hand goes right through it – there is nothing there!  When you push against a fear, you discover that it has no power over you.  But if you turn and run from a fear, the next time you face it, it becomes bigger.  So my trips give folks a chance to learn a way to respond to fears in their lives. Our purpose is to create and lead authentic adventures that invite folks to learn grow, and celebrate.”

So if you’re interested in exploring someplace dark and quiet, and you don’t mind getting a little (!) dirty, give Lester a call. He comes highly recommended!

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Summary
Caving in West Viriginia with a Wild GUYde
Article Name
Caving in West Viriginia with a Wild GUYde
Description
Ever think of going caving in West Virginia, but not sure where to start? Wild GUYde Lester Zook takes people of all skill levels (including those with no experience at all) on underground adventures.
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Publisher Name
Travel As Much
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