Sunday, September 20, 2009

South Carolina: Geohazard Capital of the World

Last Wednesday we headed up to South Carolina to celebrate the graduation of our nephew from US Marine Corps boot camp. What started out as a pseudo family reunion turned into a cachestravaganza. We recruited two new cachers and learned that caching here in Orlando is positively wussy compared to caching in South Carolina.

Herein, I declare South Carolina the geohazard capital of the world. You heard it here first. We encountered spiders, ticks, mosquitos, crabs, ants, thorns, and razor-sharp palm fronds. The only thing I didn't get was a sunburn.

Day 1: No Dice

I had the itch to cache the moment we crossed into Georgia. I held it in until dinner, at which point I accidentally recruited ZykoMike. We decided to try a few quick caches to get his feet wet. At that, we were successful.

We headed out just before dusk. Upon arriving at the site, we discovered it required a short hike on a nature trail. But just as I was honing it on GZ, it got completely dark. I had a flashlight, but it just wasn't enough for three people to make an honest effort. All we found was this spider, which I think is a Carolina wolf spider. It happens to be the state spider. Lucky us.

So we moved onto another nearby cache, which took us down a road darker than the depths of space. The way in required a teeny amount of bushwacking / weed stomping, but it was dark, and I was in flip flops, so I decided to wait it out in the car. Brian and ZykoMike took the flashlight and headed down the path. They came back 20 minutes later empty handed, but not empty legged. ZykoMike, who had worn shorts and flip flops, soon realized he was covered in seed ticks. Munchy, munchy seed ticks.

This doesn't do it justice, but should give you a rough idea of the volume. The ticks are all those little brown dots. This was only the top of one knee, there were plenty more.

And here's a close-up of the little bastards. In an effort to de-tick as quickly and painlessly as possible, we headed straight for the pool when we got back to the hotel. The chlorine did a decent job, but ZykoMike's mom had to finish them off. In his own words, he spent some time up on the sink in the "naughty kitty position." Brian volunteered fo a tick-check also but came up clean.

Day 2: The Locals Fight Back

The next afternoon we went back and brought ChrisHilton03 (newly recruited) with us. This time I saw all the spiders I didn't see the night before. Below, a man-eating golden silk spider tried to eat Brian. I whipped out my phial containing 'light of Earendil's star' to scare it off. It's an essential of any cacher bag.

A moment later, ZykoMike made the grab. Here he is, taking a picture of his first find, a black spice jar perched in the hole of a tree.

We headed further down the trail for another cache. Again, ZykoMike is credited with the find. While the rest of us were walking around in circles with our wonky iPhones, he used his tracking skills to find a geotrail, which lead right to the cache.

On the way back to the car, ZykoMike bent down to look at something ChrisHilton03 had pointed out. I can only assume he inadvertantly stuck his face in a web (not the first time that day), because a moment later a gigantic spider was making a bee-line from the ground to his face. He jumped back, narrowly avoiding the angriest spider south of the Mason-Dixon. For me, it was a blur of emotions. Terror at seeing a spider try to eat someone's face; Relief, because it wasn't me; And finally, hilarity, which Brian echoed ten-fold. I wasn't fast enough to snap a photo, but you get the gist.

Two for two, we headed back to the tick cache, armed with bug spray and appropriate footwear. It was now dusk, but the description indicated that this one should be easy at night because the cache was decorated with a reflector. No luck. After about 30 minutes, ChrisHilton03 and I realized we were alone. We headed back to the car, expecting to find ZykoMike along the way, but we didn't.

Just as we were about to go back and look for him, he came running out of the trees on the other side of the road with a different cache in-hand. Apparently he had given up long ago and gone after another cache, which he found in the dark, bushwhacking by the light of his iPhone. I tried to follow him back in to rehide it, but I gave up about 3/4 of the way. Between the spiders and the darkness, I was spazzed to the limit.

Below is said cache. It's a glass jar. Fascinating.

At this point, we decided to go back to the hotel, regroup, and maybe go out later. It wasn't long before my ankles started to itch and I knew I had ticks. I picked a few off my pants in the parking lot, thinking that was it. But when I got in the shower, I found ticks up to my hips. Despite the jeans, socks, and spray, these bugs were well on their way to sucking my brains out. Somehow, Brian and ChrisHilton03 stayed mostly tick-free.

We ended the day with 3 finds and 1 DNF.

Day 3: The Cachers Get Serious...Kinda

For the first time on this trip, we actually tried to formulate a plan. We drove over to Hilton Head to hit the caches there, which were all within a few miles of each other. The first required only a modicum of bushwhacking, but we made it harder than it was.

Then we walked to a nearby cache, and then another. We soon found ourselves a mile from the car and unable to get ahold of our driver (Vikki4FSU's husband). Along the way we saved a caterpillar from ravenous ants, and then revenge-fed some other ants to an antlion. If you've never witnessed an antlion capture it's prey, I highly suggest it. I had no idea these creatures even existed. I really thought ZykoMike was messing with me until the ant disappeared into the sand. We also encountered a "lumpy" squirrel. According to the University of Florida, it was infested with eggs of the tree squirrel bot fly. According to ZykoMike, this is totally different than the standard bot fly. Regardless, it was gross.

On the way back to the car, ZykoMike took a moment to channel the Matrix. ChrisHilton03, just along for the ride. What you can't see is that this fountain (?) is slowly spinning. There was no "please refrain from re-enacting movie scenes" sign. We checked.

The next cache required the most bushwhacking I have ever done. We decided to be lazy and cut through a back yard. The consequence was that we didn't enter the right trail and ended up wading through neck-high bushes and palms (as you can see in the picture below). I didn't see any spiders, just lots of big red ants. You can imagine my terror when I fell down, and then fell down again. I managed to avoid the ant nests, but I did scratch up my arms pretty good. We never found the cache, but it hasn't been found in months. What we did find was this cool bug-catching contraption. It's a series of black funnels with a pink liquid in the bottom. I don't know if it was intended to catch bugs, but that's what it was doing. If anyone knows what this is, please enlighten me.

We were able to squeeze in a few more caches before dark. We even met another geocacher. The cache below took a bit of hunting in the dark, but it was plain easy compared to the next cache. It's a matchstick container with camo-tape. Getting the log out took some finagling.

All four of us spent over an hour scanning the trees with flashlights for this next cache. We knew it was a 1 x 3" black tube, hint: high in the sky. Naturally, we were looking up, way up. At one point I found a large caterpillar stuck to a branch. I thought, "high in the sky, maybe they mean like Alice in Wonderland?" I poked and squeezed it to make sure it was real. Note to self: caterpillars don't like to be manhandled.

It was sheer vigilance that got us this cache. Vikki4FSU and ChrisHilton03 had gone back to the car, and Vikki4FSU's husband yelled "DNF" at me more than once. But ZykoMike and I continued scanning the branches. Suddenly, I found myself face to face with a green paperclip. Bingo! The paperclip was holding the cache to the tree. During the day, this would not have been hard. But when everything is black like the cache, it takes a while to finally cross it with a beam of light.

We finished out the day with 8 finds and 1 DNF.

Day 4: All Good Things Must...Blah Blah Blah...

Our final day in South Carolina had arrived. I had never expected to do this much caching, yet, I was not satisfied. We were planning to leave at noon, so myself, Vikki4FSU, and ZykoMike met for breakfast at 7 am to get in a final string of caches. We plotted out a course (sort of) and off we went.

Despite a short little hike, I might still call the first cache a park and grab. It was an ammo can hiding under a log. The only tough part was stomping the spider that had spun a web right over it.

The next cache took us only a few minutes. ZykoMike honed in on the frog and flipped it over to find...nothing. The description made reference to the "prince" watching the cache, so we looked in the direction the frog was looking, and there was the cache. So creative!

After that we finally came across an urban hide: a micro on a fence - hallelujah! Forgot to take a picture. For some strange reason, it was rated a 3 for difficulty. Up until his point, the 1/1's had taken hours, and this 3 took about 3 minutes.

The fourth cache of the day was a bit tricker. Mosquitos and thorns abound! We circled the oak tree several times before I looked down at this piece of bark (outined in red) and noticed it just didn't look right. Sure enough, I jiggled it and the bark came right off, revealing the log.

Edit: I only outlined half the cache in red, it's actually a bit longer. Goes to show just how well it blended, even I can't tell where it was anymore.

Below is what the back of the bark cache looks like. This makes my top 10 for clever camo.

The next cache of the day took us to this little area on the water littered with crabs. My coordinates were off about 20 feet. Had it not been for ZykoMike expanding the search, we may have logged a DNF. Here's a view from my GZ.

Our next "attempt" wasn't really an attempt. We got out of the car and quickly realized that a marsh, potentially filled with lost souls, lie between us and the cache. So, we bailed.

I'm surprised it took me 150 cache finds to run across a skeleton. This should have happened loooong ago.

We found one more cache before our cache-a-thon came to an end. It was an ammo can. There was a moment of panic after I re-hid the cache and ZykoMike realized the keys were missing. Someone contributed them to the cache. We ended the day with 8 finds.

All in all, we snagged 17 caches in South Carolina...and 7x that many bug bites. And yet, it was the best caching experience I've had thus far. I know that because this post took hours to compose. And because I emerged far less afraid of bushwhacking than I was a week ago...but not less afraid of spiders, let's not be hasty.

Thanks to Vikki4FSU for helping with the pictures, and to ZykoMike and ChrisHilton03 for tagging along with an open mind. And to Brian, for letting me get into bed even though I probably still have ticks on me.


  1. As always your blog did not disappoint. I love to sit and cache. That was by far the best caching I have ever done. Plus we added 2 new recruits to the caching family. I heard Zykomike still hasnt made it home, because he is caching along the way. Chris93555 has been out and found one near his house. Funny these urban caches, near me just arent as fun as the ones we did in SC. Im checking my calendar for a caching weekend coming to a city near you! Im ready! Thanks for making the trip so much better than it would have been.

  2. I cannot imagine how you avoided the snakes, especially at night. I don't mind non-poisonous snakes but this year the copperheads are so bad that I'm afraid to walk the dogs at night ever since they managed to find a live one relaxing on the road in the dark.