GUE Tech 2-Grief and The Allure of The Pacific Northwest

The summer months following my decision to register for Tech 2 were mainly focused on preparation for the class and finalizing the dates with Guy, Jon, and Kelvin. We settled on October 25 to 30 2021, because the boarder was likely to be open by then. However even that seemed too soon and risky. Just when you thought things were getting back to normal, we’d all be back in lockdown because of some new Omnibetacron critter running around. Also I’d been fully vaccinated and actually got COVID sometime at the end of July but was feeling pretty healthy (somewhat bulletproof) afterwards. However, I mentally prepared myself for the class to get canceled or delayed. At the same time, I couldn’t help but to be excited as the idea of traveling to BC started to be more and more real.

I have Canadian heritage on my Dad’s side. I grew up in West Virginia, but at least part of my extended family still lives in North Eastern Canada; they were lobster fishermen, and a hearty bunch at that. So as much as I like to tease my Canadian friends, I do have a real fondness for the country. I’ve spent time there as a kid. I play Ice Hockey, and love the taste of maple syrup. Some unseen force truly does draw me north, to the cold, to Canada, almost like going home. Though I’d never been there, the Pacific North West has been something of a magical mysterious place to me for a very long time. When I was big into snowboarding back in High School, I had magazine cutouts in a collage on my bedroom wall, of big mountain resorts like Whistler as inspiration to travel and see the world. I remember fantasizing about living as a snowboard bum on the mountain, working a lift, and blasting cork 900’s off some huge kicker. I’d also watch climbing and snowboard videos featuring stunning images of snow peaked mountains and just felt connected to the area. In a sense I’ve been in love with BC sight unseen for quite some time. The excitement grew with the thought of finally getting to see some of these places with my own eyes. Ironically I never would have predicted I’d to go to BC for diving.

I was also worried about the cold and didn’t know what to expect as far as exposure protection needs go. I had an old Santi heated vest, a 9ah Light Monkey heater pack, and various undergarments such as: BZ200, XM450, Fourth Element Arctic; to choose from. I also needed to get re-acquainted with dry gloves and opted to go with the Santi Ring System; so I ordered those. I spoke with Guy about what he recommended for gear and he suggested the BZ200 with the heat on all the time. I planned on taking the BZ200 and my XM450 just in case I needed a little extra. The water temperature that time of year was likely to be low 50’s high 40’s °F and after being in Florida for the past 6 years, I was pretty worried my thin Southern blood would cause me to freeze. Not to mention the last time I dove was dry gloves was in Texas and the water temp was in the 50’s. “What was I getting myself into?”, I thought.

I avoided booking my flights until class got closer and I was more sure it was a go as there was a real fear of the trip getting canceled at the last minute. However, I was pretty successful at getting all my gear in order and feeling mostly confident that I was prepared gear wise. By late August I had everything I needed for the trip, including a freshly serviced set of regs. I’d had a chance to play with dry gloves in Blue Grotto a little bit too, but I didn’t run through any Tech 2 specific skills like bottle rotations, because I didn’t want to develop bad habits prior to class. But I did do a hand full of valve drills and S-drills with the dry gloves on to make sure I could manipulate the valves. Getting used to the dry gloves again wasn’t as bad as I though it might be. Luckily, because of my experience diving in the cold lakes of Houston during the winter, I had my dry glove and liner combination pretty well figured out. It was just a matter of getting used to the lack of dexterity again. The difference this time is that I’d be dealing with a lot more gear. The difference in diving with dry gloves in the relatively warm 72° spring water of blue grotto and 48° ocean water could make a huge difference in my ability to perform though.

Larissa and I working on skills.

Larissa and I working on skills at Blue Grotto

September 2021.

A few days after the weekend at Blue Grotto, I received a phone call from a family friend that My Mom was in the hospital. She felt faint and called for an ambulance. It turns out that she had a mild heart attack. The Cardiologist explained that she had a blockage and would require a Stent. I was worried but at the same time, my Mom was always tough and seemed to pull through whatever life threw at her. She’d battled illness for quite some time but seemed invincible in my mind. The stent was a success and she went home the following day. I laughed as the told me about how she conned the nurse to bring her extra chocolate pudding cups like she thought she was getting away with something. Mom never really understood cave diving but at the same time she never forbid it. She always supported my adventures and even sparked much of my explorer mindset. I was backpacking alone in the wilderness at 12, fully self sufficient.

I spoke to my Mom almost daily the following days to make sure she was ok. We had good conversations and I told her about my plans for Tech 2. I’m not sure she understood it but she seemed engaged as I told her. Deep down I was worried, but had a feeling like Mom dodged a bullet like she’d always done. However 1 week later to the day, I received another phone call. This time it was from an employee at the local grocery store. Mom fainted and they were calling the ambulance. Somehow she’d unlocked her phone and asked them to call me. She had been stubborn and decided to go get groceries alone. Shortly after she arrived at the hospital I got a call from the Cardiologist and the prognosis wasn’t good. I wasn’t sure if I should go see her this time because I was in denial that it was a serious thing. Larissa encouraged me to get on a plane that evening and she came along to help me drive. Getting back home at a moment’s notice isn’t easy. It’s a flight from MCO to Dulles then a 3.5hr car ride to Cumberland Maryland (the closest city to where Mom Lived). I finally arrived at the Hospital around midnight and even though the hospital was on lockdown with COVID, they were extremely nice and let me in to see Mom. She was unresponsive and on a ventilator but the attending nurse was hopeful. My sister couldn’t get on a flight out of Boston until the morning but I encouraged her to come as soon as possible.

The following morning I went to the hospital and spoke to the Cardiologist directly. I learned that mom had another heart attack but this one was serious. Nobody knew what the outcome would be but things weren’t’ lookin good. I was the medical POA and had to keep my shit together to make good logical decisions for what was best for Mom but as my sister rushed in from Boston, It became apparent that mom was taking a turn for the worst. My focus shifted from making decisions that would hopefully bring mom back to making decisions to keep mom comfortable long enough that my sister could say goodbye. My Sister finally arrived and we spent the last few hours with mom. She passed, surrounded by family. I was devastated and in shock. I felt truly lost. Larissa was right there beside me the whole time and truly the thing I needed most in that moment. The rock that I leaned on to stay upright.

The weeks following Mom’s death were filled with the initial stages of grief. Depression, anger, and everything that goes along with losing someone, occupied my world. I didn’t tell anyone outside of my immediate family because I was just in shock. 2020 was hard enough, now this shit? Fuck the universe. Diving was out of the question. Fuck diving, fuck Tech 2. Tech 2 was less than a month away and I was broken. I already had my plane tickets, the dates were set, and everything was ready but I was very much considering sending a text to Guy and dropping out. The class would be hard enough let alone to have this weighing on my mind. I needed to be able to focus.

The water has always been a place for me to reset, maybe even heal. It’s something I’ve been connected with for almost as long as I can remember. I could swim since about the same time I could walk and it’s no surprise that I found diving in life. Cave diving and the ocean have become therapeutic and possibly the only place my brain truly turns it’s self down to a point that I don’t have a million thoughts all at once. I suffer from sometimes debilitating attention deficit and diving is one of the things that actually let’s me focus on one thing at a time. Once the initial shock of losing mom wore off, I began to wonder what she would want me to do. Would she tell me to stop following those passions, and not go at least try my best at Tech 2 even if I failed miserably? Would she have discouraged me from doing something she knew I’ve been working towards for a very long time? No, she’d have wanted and even encouraged me to do it; after all she’s likely a big reason I’m adventurous anyway. I just needed to convince myself that I could mentally be a safe diver, a good buddy, and focus on the tasks. Tech 2 is not an easy class and I’d already be in unfamiliar waters literally. After some mental tug of war, I decided to go. I decided I was just going to go do some diving in a cool place with some good friends and I might learn a thing or two. It was no longer Tech 2. It was a soul searching journey, an adventure, therapy, and I needed it.