Father and son cavers discuss what matters most in life

June 15, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Stephen, left, and Jerry Bowen stand next to the main entrance of Whitings Neck Cave in West Virginia. The father-and-son cavers have been inside many caves together.
By Rowan Copley/Special to The Herald-Mail

Jerry Bowen's lessons for life come from solid foundations —  his father's example, his church's teachings and from the living geology of Earth.

 Bowen, 60, of Hagerstown, is a caver, something he picked from his father.

"My love for caving was instilled at a young age, when my dad took us out when we were kids. I was 10, 11, 12 years old, somewhere in that neighborhood," he said. "My dad had three boys and a daughter, and we were all geared for adventure. He took us caving with flashlights and tennis shoes."

Bowen's father died four years ago. Jerry Bowen shared caving with his wife, Mary, son, Stephen, and daughter, Melissa. Together, they have explored caves near and far. But now that Melissa has two children, Nowen said, she and Mary stay closer to home.

Stephen, 33, and Jerry still climb into caves. Jerry keeps a log with hundreds of entries describing cave trips in 32 states. Later this month, the father and son plan to attend a regional caving convention with 1,500 or more attendees near Lewiston, W.Va.

Stephen and Jerry sat down with The Herald-Mail earlier this week and talked about caving, love for life and doing things as a family.

Learn from Dad:

Jerry Bowen: "When I was growing up, my dad had polio. So I shoot my bow and arrow left-handed — that was the only way my dad could hold a bow. He could never play football, shoot passes, throw baseballs or catch, because he had a lame arm.

"Because of that, I was never much into sports. But we try to make up for it in other ways, by doing weekend things as a family — different kinds of love of life."

Show kids that church is important:

Jerry Bowen: "Going to church — it was all improtant to me. We are Seventh-day Adventists. I was raised that way, and my kids were raised that way. When you have values (connected with) going to church, you want to pass that off to your kids. So mostly that would be the first thing to pass on. And then this other thing —about love for life — that is like gravy."

Do things outdoors as a family:

Stephen Bowen: "(I remember going on family) camping trips. Throw on a pack, and walk into the woods for a while. Usually to a cabin. Sometimes to a shelter, or something else. In college, we took a week and walked the Appalachian Trail — all of Maryland."

Jerry Bowen: "We started hiking at Harpers Ferry and walked up to Caledonia. Took a week."

Cherish time with your family:

Stephen Bowen: "I moved away in '98 to go to college. I went to Southern Adventist University, near Chattanooga (Tenn.). I was down there for about six years. And then the school had a program which sent us overseas, so I was in Guyana another 12 months. And then I came back from there and I went to Utah (for work) and was there for three years. So you can't take (time with your son) for granted."

Help connect sons to work:

Jerry Bowen: "I worked at about four gas stations when  I was a teenager. Learned how to change tires, take off carbeurators and put starters on.

Stephen Bowen: "Back when they did stuff at gas stations."

Jerry Bowen: "My dad encouraged me that way. He got me that job at the gas station. The place where he got his car worked on a lot. He told Jim over there, 'Teach him everything you know.'"

Live a simple life:

Stephen Bowen: "(In Guyana) I lived in a hut with grass roof without a road. Anywhere I went, I walked. I probably never got more than three miles from my hut. There wasn't anywhere to go. I loved it. I really wanted to live back in the Dark Ages or something, where you had to actually work to live. This was kinda close. I liked having the chance to live that way.

Jerry Bowen: "They flew him into the bush. No electricity."

Stephen Bowen: "I taught math at a little, tiny high school. I had 14 kids in my class. There were two classrooms. They had industrial training, mechanical training in, like, small engine repair. Solar panels — they learned how to set them up and (troubleshoot them). How else are you going to get energy out there?"

Be careful, but don't worry too much:

Jerry Bowen: "Once, in a cave, we had a flash flood. It was like you were in a leaky submarine. You were walking along, and all of a sudden, you heard a noise, and, ‘Where is it coming from?' then you heard a crash, and all of a sudden, a stream of water as big around as this (cup) came squirting out of the ceiling."

Stephen Bowen: "They're always, 'Are you sure (the ceiling) is not going to come down?' It didn't come down yesterday. It didn't come down the day before. It hasn't come down in the last 300 years. I think we're OK.'"

Getting started in caving:

Stephen Bowen: "I did some recreational caving (during college). Someone said, 'Hey, we've got this cave. We know where it's at.' I had boots that I always wore anyway. (We used) handheld flashlights, no gloves, no kneepads. Nothing to protect you from anything. (I became more professional) when I got back to Maryland from Utah."

Stay in shape:

Jerry Bowen: "I'm kind of laid back now. I'm 60. I'm not looking for these really challenging caves, either. There're some caves that are hard. I mean, really, really hard. When you're in a cave, the floor is a lot like that boulder field (at the bottom of Black Rock along the Appalachian Trail). It's not smooth like a mall floor.

"And you've got to carry all your gear in. If you're going to do rope work, you have to carry all your ropes in and your hardware. It takes a long time to set up ropes. That's a lot of work. It's very strenuous."

Do things as a couple:

Jerry Bowen: "When the kids left the house, we were lookiing for something to do. The kids weren't around anymore. Mary and I had empty-nest syndrome. She went caving with me all the time."

Love your spouse:

Jerry Bowen: "When people ask me how long I've been married to Mary, I'll tell them, 'Not long enough. Not long enough.' I'm still enjoying (being with her).

"I remember the church I used to go to, there was an old pastor. He said the best thing a man can do for his (kids) is love their mother."

Enjoy doing things with your family:

Jerry Bowen: "We lived in Montgomery County (Md.) while the kids grew up. We'd walk through a train tunnel in Mount Airy. We'd go walk up Sugarloaf Mountain in Frederick County. We'd go for walks along the C&O Canal down (near) Poolesville. Go to the Smithsonian Institution, the zoo.

"Everybody wants to go to King's Dominion. Well, we did that too. More than once. Well, King's Dominion — what's so special about that? But it is special when you're there with your family."

The Herald-Mail Articles