2022 NSS Convention trip report by Bill Gee
The 2022 NSS Convention was held at the Central States Fairground in Rapid City, South Dakota June 13 through 17. I have attended several conventions in the past. The last two years (2020 and 2021) were held on-line only due to the Covid pandemic.
I left for the convention several days early so I could spend some time visiting friends in central Nebraska where I grew up. From there I drove across the Sandhills area of Nebraska. There are miles and miles of miles and miles on that drive. The Sandhills is a semi-arid desert with far more cattle than people. Cherry County in north-central Nebraska is bigger than the state of New Jersey, yet has a population of only 6,000. Most of them live in Valentine, the only city of any size in the county.
I arrived at the NSS Convention Saturday morning about 9:00am. Surprise! There was an overlapping event going on. A demolition derby was being held, which meant the campground on the east side was completely full of old wrecked cars and the trailers used to transport them. I had to take a temporary spot on the pavement near the registration booth at the west end. Other early arrivers were stuffed into a small field which would become the noisy camp. There were some other grassy areas that were used for Saturday night only.
I did not attend the demolition derby event, but I sure heard them. Those cars mostly do not have mufflers and so were very loud.
Sunday morning the demolition derby people started clearing out. Enough of them were gone by 9:00am that I could move to the official camping area. There was plenty of room. Half of the area was still open even after all the convention attendees had arrived. One corner of the campground had about 40 or 50 RV sites with full hookups. I did not take one of those.
Sunday afternoon I saw that caving trips for much of the week were posted at registration. I signed up for a Wind Cave trip to the Club Room on Wednesday and a cave sketch practice session for Thursday. As it turns out, there were many additional trips posted each morning.
I asked several people at registration about WiFi in the campground. No one knew of anything that was available. I could see a dozen access points on my computer, all of which were password protected. Walmart appears to be the best option. The closest Walmart is about 2 miles from the convention site. On Monday one of the vendors shared the password for the vendor WiFi with me, and so I was able to get online sitting in the Event Center.
Sunday night a storm threatened, but in the end we got only some high wind. Storms also came up Monday and Tuesday nights. There was only 3/10 of an inch of rain for the whole week. Winds got fairly high, over 30mph, for several hours. A lot of people lost awnings. The tent pitched next to my camper had one of the poles snapped. Those people wound up sleeping in their car for the week.
Monday morning I attended the Communications and Electronics Section meeting. There were several interesting presentations including one on a project to run a wireless network a mile into Ft. Stanton Cave. That system consists of about 50 repeaters all running on batteries. Interesting – and very expensive. The budget is over $50,000. I thought I would get a chance to talk about the cave intrusion detector, but time ran out.
After lunch I went through vendor row. The vendors were all in the Event Center. The usual suspects were there – OnRope1, Inner Mountain Outfitters, NSS Bookstore, Speleobooks and a few others. I tried on some cave coveralls, but none of them fit me.
The rope contest was up and running, so I signed up for 30 meter rope walker and 30 meter frog. I did the rope walker first with a time of 1 minute 56 seconds. I was a bit disappointed since that was 10 seconds slower than my time at the 2019 convention. However, this year it was enough to make me the overall winner. The prize was 150 feet of rope. Nice! I took second place in my age group for the frog climb with a time just under 4 minutes.
The howdy party started in a big tent near one of the outdoor stages. Dinner was served, consisting of the usual cheap meat, potato salad and chips. Nothing there for me. From there we took busses to Rush Mountain Adventure Park. It was a longer ride than I expected, about 35 minutes each way. The park is privately owned. They have a cave (Rushmore Cave), a roller coaster and some other rides. There is also a nice gift shop. This was a private event for NSS Convention only, so we had free access to everything except a 3D maze that was closed. That was the only ride I was interested in. I stuck around for an hour and took the first available bus back to the fairground.
Tuesday morning I attended the U.S. Exploration sessions. Dan Lamping was the second speaker with a presentation on the survey progress at Carroll Cave. After lunch I spent several hours working through the rebelay course. I did both of the courses twice, once with rope walker and once with frog. It was good practice, and I learned a few new techniques.
After dinner was a reception for NSS Fellows at the Journey Museum, about a ten minute drive from the fairground. As with the Monday night party, this was dedicated to NSS people. We had the place to ourselves. I looked through the entire museum. Most of the exhibits are about the history of the area around Rapid City. They have a room dedicated to the 1972 flood that destroyed a large part of the city.
Wednesday I went on a cave trip at Wind Cave. It was a bit of a drive, almost 70 miles each way. We all met at the elevator building at 9:00am. Besides the trip leader, we had five other people. It was a fun trip of almost five hours. We went slow, and we took a wrong turn at one point. Wind Cave is a 3D maze with five distinct levels. The trails are marked, but we missed one turn. Bonus cave! On the way out we passed by another NSS group heading in.
I was back at the fairground by 3:00pm. I cleaned my gear at the decontamination station in the Event Center. The gear was not muddy at all. Wind Cave is a dry place. The sun was out, so laying gear on the grass dried it in just a couple of hours.
Another trip through vendor row, and this time I found a coverall that fits reasonably well. It is a ladies size large. I don’t like the velcro flap and wish it had an inside pocket for a survey book. Otherwise it looks good. I also got a tube of Aquaseal and applied some patches to my old coverall, knee pads and elbow pads.
Thursday was survey sketch practice. I wanted to learn more about TopoDroid. The morning session was held at the fairground. The presenter ran through the basics of both TopoDroid and paper sketching. He had paper sketch books for all who needed to borrow one. I had to step out early so I could attend the Vertical Section meeting and get my certificates from the climbing contest.
After lunch I met up with Alicyn (last name unknown) to carpool to the survey sketch practice cave. It was about 20 minutes drive. The cave is a former show cave called Unnamed Cave or No Name Cave. It no longer operates as a show cave. We were working in a section of the old tourist trail, so no cave gear beyond a few extra shirts for warmth. The survey legs had already been marked and the data collected. Each station had a card with data for the next shot. We could simply record the data in our books and proceed immediately to sketch.
I used my tablet with TopoDroid. The practice was very useful, and I managed to get a good feel for how TopoDroid works. I think electronic sketch will eventually be useful, but it is not quite there yet. TopoDroid has some glaring omissions that make not usable for much of the survey work I do. It does not have many of the symbols I need such as passage height. It also works much better on tablets with an active digitizer which most of them do not have.
After about two and a half hours, Alicyn was getting very cold. It was almost 4:00pm, so we decided to call it a day and went back to the fairground.
Friday I started at the lightning talks session. I talked for five minutes about the cave intrusion detector. Several people expressed interest.
After lunch I attended the Cave and Cartography session. Two interesting talks covered CaveWhere and MapWhere. They were given by the programmer who wrote them. I don’t have a use for either program, but CaveWhere might be useful to people who do their sketching in Xara or Illustrator.
The last item on the agenda was the Awards Banquet. Dinner was served, but as usual nothing that was on my diet. I ate dinner at the camper. At the banquet I sat with Bruce Smith and his wife Jenny, and also Wm Shrewsbury and his wife Carolina. The discussion was interesting. Both of these men are luminaries in the caving community. I left about 8:30pm so I could get a decent night sleep before driving on Saturday.
Saturday morning I did my usual exercise walking, then packed and hitched the camper. I was on the road by 9:00am. There was a strong cross-wind which increased my fuel consumption a lot. Pulling the camper costs me a lot anyway, and the cross-wind made it worse. It was also very hot, almost 100 degrees. I got as far as Sioux City where I camped on a Walmart parking lot overnight. The next morning I was up early for the rest of the drive home.
Totals for the trip – 1617 miles. 135 gallons of gasoline. Average price of fuel was $4.64 and fuel consumption was 8.35 gallons per 100 miles (11.98 miles per gallon).
NSS Convention for 2023 will be in Elkins, West Virginia. This is a retry from the canceled 2020 convention. I don’t know if I will go. The Convention is always fun with educational sessions and good vendors. Elkins is a long drive, though. It is over 900 miles each way from Olathe.