PADI Open Water Dives – Day 2

We got up, loaded up our vehicles with all of our worldly goods, or at least the ones we brought with us, and headed out for breakfast. After refueling our bodies and vehicles, we went back to Balmorhea to finish off our final certification dives. The weather was already starting to turn, with yesterday’s spring-like conditions being quickly replaced by a return to winter.

The final dive in the PADI Open Water certification is a little more relaxed, in that I got to plan the dive and actually do some exploring instead of working around the skills reviews and tests. By the time we got in, the air temperature was at 58 and the wind had really kicked up. The water, held in the low 70s by the spring outflow, felt great and we quickly got below the surface.

We revisited some of the spring sources and explored more of the pool than we had before, did some underwater navigation, and really just enjoyed ourselves. I had some trouble with the navigation due to the compass being mounted in the gauge console and me not able to get it to a comfortable position. I’ll work on that when I put together my own gear. But overall, didn’t screw anything up badly, and my instructor passed me.

When we surfaced, the weather was turning decidedly nasty. The air temperature was down to 53, and it was starting to rain. The run for the lockers, in cold wetsuits, was pretty unpleasant, but it felt good to be in dry clothes. Gear was loaded in to vehicles as quickly as we could manage, log books were updated, paperwork was filled out, and we hit the road.

The drive back was anything but uneventful. By the time I hit Pecos, it was raining steadily and the temperatures were in the high 30s. After a quick stop in Odessa to get some lunch and top off the Jeep’s gas tank, I was back on the road. Before I’d gotten to Big Spring, it was below freezing and ice was starting to build up on the Jeep. The ground was still warm, so the roads, while wet, were still clear. Outside of Sweetwater, I had to stop to get gas and break ice off of my mirrors, wiper blades, and radio antennas. It was still raining and sleeting, with air temperatures in the high 20s, but the roads were staying wet instead of icing over, so I pushed on. My last gas stop was in Weatherford, by which time the temperatures had come up a little and were hovering right around freezing. The roads were still clear, and the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful, if a little slower than I would have liked. I pulled in to the driveway, unloaded the gear, and curled up with my sweetheart to watch the weather report.

PADI Open Water Dives – Day 1

I loaded all of the gear in to the Jeep and headed out to have some breakfast with a couple folks who were out to work on their Rescue Diver certification. After that we all headed over to Balmorhea State Park to get checked in and start in on the diving. Check-in went smoothly, the rates are reasonable, and the staff was friendly and helpful.

Unloading all of the gear was a good warmup exercise, and the weather was wonderful, with air temperatures in the mid-70s and rising. We had a little bit of a scheduling bobble, so I didn’t get in the water until after lunch, but it really wasn’t a big deal. We got started, worked through the skills in three separate twenty minute dives, and did some exploring while we were down there. I didn’t have any real issues, other than communication, but that’s something to work on. The PADI Open Water certification requires four open water dives, but PADI limits you to three dives, maximum, per day. So I’ve got one more to do tomorrow.

Balmorhea is a spring fed pool, and during part of our explorations, we got down to one of the places where the water is bubbling up from the ground. It was pretty amazing to see the sand dancing in place and feeling the current. I also got to see a couple catfish, which were pretty chill about the whole diver swimming around with them, and one crawfish who decidedly wasn’t and disappeared as soon as possible.

Balmorhea State Park

The pool at Balmorhea State Park

After finishing up the diving for the day, I loaded the Jeep up and headed back to the motel to unload, update my log book, and chill before heading out to dinner. While I was there, I called home and checked in. It was probably a good thing that I did, because Heather let me know that a pretty severe ice storm was going to hit tomorrow. Now in scramble mode, I talked to the inn keeper, who was completely understanding about canceling my reservation for Sunday night. After finishing that, it was back to packing the Jeep and getting everything else ready to go in the morning. The new plan is to get up, eat, get the last dive in, and hit the road for home as soon as possible.

Big Bend Brewing Company Tour

I decided to leave a little early so that I could get out to Big Bend Brewing Company, over in Alpine, for their tour and tasting. Big Bend Brewing Company is currently the most remote brewery in the U.S., but has ties to Austin, where Steve Anderson brewed for Live Oak. I actually got there in time for the tour, about fifteen minutes early in fact.

Big Bend Brewing Company

Big Bend Brewing Company

The crew livened up the standard brewery tour by doing the tasting while we were touring, as well as discussing more of the brewery technology and processes than is typical. Usually you get some variation on “these are the ingredients, this is the process, let’s drink beer!”. We talked about the equipment, their expansion plans, the difficulties of getting ingredients on short notice due to the remoteness of the brewery, as well as the mentoring that’s being done to help make the next generation of brewers.

The first beer we tried was their Tejas Lager, a German Pilsner style lager that was light, crisp, and with just enough malty sweetness to offset the delicate hopping. I’m not a huge pilsner fan, but this is one I could definitely put in the rotation.

From there, we sampled the Terlingua Gold, a golden ale. It was hoppier than the pilsner, as expected, but still in balance for the style. This is a style I’m going to have to brew at home, because it’s one I can serve to people not that familiar with craft beers. In fact, if you can get it, this is definitely a good introductory beer for helping people move away from the fizzy yellow stuff.

Next up was the Big Bend Hefeweizen, which was a delicious example of a hefe. There are a lot of esters in this, lots of clove especially, that make it a wonderful beer for a warm summer day. This would pair well with some green chile enchiladas, some fajitas, or even fish tacos. And it’d be another good introductory beer for people looking to branch out.

And then we got to taste a real treat, the Pasión Peppermint Porter, a variation of their No. 22 Porter that they brewed for the Valentines in Valentine party that Big Bend Brewing Company puts on in Valentine, TX. I haven’t been a huge spiced beer fan, but beers like this are changing my mind. The peppermint wasn’t overpowering, but was definitely there, and went well with the chocolate notes from the roasted malts.

By this point, the tour was done and we were still tasting the rest of their offerings, including the La Frontera IPA, a bold, well hopped example of the style. Weighing in at 5 IBUs, it’s on the low end of the hop bomb trend, but it’s a delicious IPA that deserves a purchase every so often.

The final beer in the tasting series was their Winter Warmer, another spiced, higher ABV, ale. It was a treat to get to try two of their seasonal offerings, and this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a riff on a doppelbock, with some orange peel and coriander for additional flavor. This would definitely be nice with a big slice of mincemeat pie on a cold winter evening.

At the end of the tasting, we had the opportunity to fill our pint glass with any of the beers they had on tap. Sadly, I had to pass on that because I still had to drive to Balmorhea, about fifty miles away, so I did a little shopping before heading back in to town to pick up six packs of each of their beers to bring home with me.

It’s definitely a haul, but if you’re out in west Texas, you really should stop in and visit Big Bend Brewing Company. Trust me, they’ll make it worth your time.

PADI Open Water Confined Water Dives

I drove down to the Kirby Creek Natatorium this morning to do my PADI Open Water certification’s confined water dives. We started out by doing the swimming test, 200m with no mask, fins, or snorkel. After that, we put our gear on and got our heads under water. Breathing under water was a very interesting experience, but I have to admit that I freaked out a little bit the first time. And the second. But, the third time was the charm. Thankfully my instructor was patient and understanding. After I got over that, we proceeded with working on the skills.

There are a variety of skills that you need to work through, including clearing your mask underwater, handling running out of air, recovering your regulator, swimming and diving with a snorkel, and hand signals for communication. I made it through all of them, though I’m going to have to practice using my snorkel a little more as I’m having trouble getting comfortable with it.

After finishing off with treading water for ten minutes, I packed up the gear and headed out to meet Heather for lunch. With the classroom and confined water sections done, all I’ve got left are the open water dives, which are going to happen next weekend, out at Balmorhea State Park.