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Old-fashioned swimming holes are exhilarating.
Will Evans, 10, sprints for the Blue Hole--Mill Creek swimming hole and, after a chilly dip, curls
PHOTOS BY EDIE GROSS/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY EDIE GROSS
The water was so cold that, for a moment, I couldn't catch my breath.
So shockingly cold, in fact, that I was seeing spots.
I'd just driven more than six hours to find this secluded Tennessee swimming hole, and I was determined not to leave until I'd taken the plunge. But the water, only waist-deep at this point, was so icy, I gasped. I could feel my resolve slipping away.
And truth be told, if my husband hadn't been videotaping me, I might have called it a day.
But no one wants their cowardice recorded for posterity. So I braced myself and slipped off my rocky perch, into the frigid pool.
'SURROUNDED BY NATURE'
Like a lot of families, we combat the summer heat with frequent visits to crowded pools, beaches and water parks.
My husband wanted to try something a little more old-fashioned this year, so he turned to swimmingholes.org.
The website, maintained by Alexandria resident Tom Hillegass and Dave Hajdasz of Connecticut, features descriptions, photos and detailed driving directions to natural swimming holes and hot springs throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Hillegass, a retired engineer, lived in Oregon in the '80s and enjoyed swimming in rivers. When he moved back East, he started collecting information about swimming holes, mostly in Virginia and West Virginia. He'd stuff articles and passages from hiking books into a file so he could visit those spots later.
When his daughter helped him start the website in 1994, it included information about 35 swimming holes. With help from readers, the list has expanded to include more than 1,000.
His website lists about 85 spots in Virginia alone, including the Falmouth Beach along the Rappahannock River.
"A lot of people have a hobby like collecting stamps or spotting birds," said Hillegass. "This is a hobby--we collect swimming holes. And we have over a million people a year enjoying our hobby."
It takes a bit of an adventurous spirit to visit a natural swimming hole. They're often off the beaten path, nowhere near restrooms, snack bars or lifeguard shacks.
But if you find peace and quiet a refreshing change, there's nothing better, said Hillegass.
"When you're in a swimming hole, you're surrounded by nature, and it's really nice," he said. "The feel of the water on your skin, it seems to last for hours."
Swimmingholes.org, a website maintained by Tom Hillegass and Dave Hajdasz, features descriptions, photos and detailed driving directions to more than 1,000 natural swimming holes and hot springs throughout the U.S. and Canada. The site also includes links to information about campgrounds and public gardens as well important safety tips.Blue Hole-Mill Creek is abbreviated BLUM on the site's Tennessee map. It's about a 6-hour drive from Fredericksburg. If you go, be sure to stop off at Due South barbecue restaurant in Christiansburg (duesouthbbq.com). You're probably also better off camping in Cherokee National Forest so you don't have to drive back on the same day.
We also visited Mountain Run swimming hole near Harrisonburg, abbreviated MOUN on the Virginia map. This pool, about 2 hours away, was chilly but not nearly as cold as Blue Hole. However, reaching it meant scrambling over a rock field and getting a bit turned around along a wooded trail, so it might be tough with very small children. Still, it's a beautiful spot to relax with a picnic.
If you visit Vermont, you might be interested to know that Hajdasz has just written a book called "Take The Plunge: An Explorer's Guide to Swimming Holes of Vermont," available from publisher Huntington Graphics for $16. All proceeds support the Vermont River Conservancy.