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Johnny Vardeman: Valentine Days leap into Lake Lanier a ritual for pals
Cason Farr, left, and Rik Moore sport T-shirts marking their 40th year of taking a midwinter Valentine’s Day dip in Lake Lanier at a popular cove near their alma mater, Gainesville High School.

For decades, it has been a tradition and rite of spring for many Gainesville High School students to take a dip off “the pipe” on a Lake Lanier cove not far from the school.

In the summer, young people, and perhaps some older ones, from all over gather there, parking their jet skis or boats just to hang out more than swim. Kind of a “cocktail cove north,” though hopefully minus the cocktails.

Two 1977 Gainesville High graduates take it a step further. For the first 10 years after they graduated they met at the pipe on Valentine’s Day to challenge the waters, no matter how frigid the temperature.

Forty years later, Rik Moore and Cason Farr did it again this Valentine’s Day. But after the first 10 consecutive years of the tradition, they decided to do it only at 10-year intervals. “Life got so hectic we couldn’t do it every year,” Moore said.

Moore and Farr were athletes at Gainesville High, both playing football and wrestling. Their senior year on Valentine’s Day, they were sitting in Moore’s CJ5 Jeep outside the gym, a warm sunny day, unusual for the middle of winter. “Let’s go swimming,” Moore remembers suggesting, and they went to Farr’s house to get some old cut-off football pants and headed off for the pipe, a swimming hole they and fellow students frequented during spring and summer.

After a semester of college, they ran into each other Christmas break, and talked about going swimming in the cove next Valentine’s Day. That started the tradition of meeting there every Feb. 14, no matter the circumstances, for the next 10 years. After that, they have continued every 10 years instead of every year.

“Luckily, both Rik and I had understanding girlfriends at the time,” Farr said of spending Valentine’s Day without them.

The tradition is so strong between the two that Farr has driven as much as six hours from as far as Hilton Head Island, S.C., and Mobile, Ala., to meet Moore at the pipe.

It was 65 degrees this year when Farr and Moore took the plunge. Farr had T-shirts made to commemorate the occasion. One year, snow lay on the ground, and the water temperature was 39 degrees. Still the guys took their usual three dips from the pipe, one of them always staying out of the water to watch the other. Then they towel off and look for some place warm.

The road they used (which will remain unnamed to protect the neighborhood) in later years was blocked off; once Farr and Moore had to scale a barbed-wire fence to get to the lake. There are other access points, which also will remain unnamed, but the recommended way to get to the cove is by boat.

The pipe is a sewer pipe that crosses a cove of the lake, and getting on it and jumping off isn’t recommended, though it has been a favorite spring and summer pastime for teenagers looking for something to do.

When asked if anybody had ever run them off the pipe, Moore replied, “Not yet.” Farr said he figures since their escapade occurs only once every 10 years, nobody would mind.

Tim Roberts, a 1977 Gainesville High classmate of Moore and Farr, recollects good times at the pipe, but declined taking part in the Valentine’s Day ritual.

“I’ve been at the pipe a bunch of times, but never in February,” he said. He well remembers his two friends’ jumps from years past.

There usually isn’t an audience when the two take their mid-winter plunge, although they have invited others to participate. But no takers. One of Moore’s daughters came one year just as a spectator. Another time, a Times photographer and reporter covered the event, and another friend has taken pictures.

Farr is 57 years old and Moore 58. But they have no plans to discontinue their tradition. However, since both would be in their late 60s in another 10 years, Farr said they probably will resume their pipe dream five years from now.

Farr is in the real estate business in Kennesaw. His mother, Jo Farr, taught almost 25 years at  Gainesville High School. Moore, who lives in Royston, is a teacher/coach at Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett County. Their families presumably accept their periodic pipe plunge.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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