Sunday, September 27, 2009

This Week in Geocaching

So I didn't get to do any geocaching this week. Even though I worked through most of my vacation, I was still slammed busy when I got back. Then I spent yesterday moving offices, and today doing homework. Today, I created clay models of the various nuclei in the human brain...somehow they all look like phallic abstract sculptures. Ever see Clockwork Orange? If not, forget I said anything.

Moving on. I dread off-weeks like this, but it gives me a chance to discuss tidbits from the world of geocaching.

Last week (technically), Groundspeak released an app they should have released a long time ago: Geocaching Intro. It's a free, extremely toned down version of the classic Geocaching app. In a nutshell, it allows you to locate the three closest caches, view the description, and see a blue-dot-to-green-dot map to find the cache. The only real downsides (in my opinion) are that you don't get to read recent logs, see a satellite view, or log finds in the field.

When I first took an interest in geocaching this past March, I relied heavily on the google maps iPhone app. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed, but I didn't want to plunk down $10 for the real thing. I figured if I couldn't cache without the app, I probably wouldn't be good at geocaching. But then my Dad told me to stop being so cheap (paraphrasing...) and download the app. So, I did it. And a geocacher was born. Then when Groundspeak finally integrated the satellite maps, the app went from beautiful to god-like.

Had I not spoken to my Dad that day, I may have given up on geocaching as "just not my thing." Groundspeak must have picked up on that mentality, because geo-curious iPhone users can now have a genuine geocaching experience, for free! Groundspeak will finally capture all those people who said, "Ten bucks?! Eff this..."

Plus, now Brian and I can each use our phones to search for a cache. Since he only caches with me, we never saw a point in him downloading the $10 app. We have a system: I navigate and he jumps in all the scary bushes. I'll let you know when we try out this app. I'm curious to see how our accuracy compares being that I have a 3G and he has a 3GS.

Enough with the app. Here's the big news: Geocaching may be a household name. The family featured on Extreme Home Makeover this week are into geocaching, so Ty hooked them up with a new GPS and sent them on a Hawaiian caching adventure.

Let's be clear. I don't watch Extreme Home Makeover. I was watching the 6 o'clock news on ABC and left it on for Zazu while I went to finish packing up my freaky little nuclei. At some point EHM came on and I happened to overhear Ty explain my beloved hobby to all of America like they were a class of pre-schoolers.

I died a little inside knowing that Ty Pennington has been introduced to geocaching. All we need is muggles with freaking megaphones. While I am kinda sick of explaining geocaching, I don't really want everyone to know. Muggles serve a purpose in this game. One of the reasons I love geocaching is that it's kind of like a secret society. For now, geocaching is like Mac - yet to be crushed by it's own popularity.

I'm sorry, Doomsday Ev is on the loose again. Geocaching is definitely not everyone's thing. Even when it does get popular, a lot of people just won't care. But, just like PC, it only takes a few haters to screw things up.

The flip side is this could mean a rebirth for geocaching. It might force us to get even more creative, devious, and obsessed. Koolaid, anyone?

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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Caching around a storm

Much to my dismay, it was totally overcast when I woke up this morning. This normally means it's going to storm (hard) all day. I confirmed my prediction on A huge mass of rain was working it's way from west to east and would be in Casselberry within the hour. It was shaping up like a good day for homework, but then I had a thought. If I just cache east, I can stay ahead of the storm.

Off I went. The first cache of the day was one I visited a few weeks ago and was not able to locate before some employees taking a smoke break scared me off. Here's your evelev tip of the day: If muggles startle you, haul ass back to your car. Nothing looks more suspicious.

Turns out the cache was exactly what I thought it would be, I just hadn't looked in the right place. The cache location was a ledge just within (my) arm's reach. Had I not used my mirror to look where my head could not, I never would have made the grab.

Second cache of the day was in the same parking lot, always a bonus. I had some serious muggle issues with this one. When I pulled up I couldn't get out of my car because a guy was lugging around at least four clear trash-like bags filled with hamburger buns. I didn't see where he went with them...I don't really want to know. Then as I was digging through the bushes, these two ladies with a kid in tow flew out the back door all screaming at each other. I scampered back to my car. Finally I located the cache (below), but as I was signing the log, two employees arrived for their shift and decided to chat and smoke for 15 minutes. Inconspicuous? Not so much.

So, here's the cache. My first (and maybe last) snail cache. I kinda knew what to look for, not specifically, but the logs told me it was a decoy. As a result, I poked every lizard and frog I saw...just in case. When I came across the snail shell, I had a moment of hesitation. In true Brian fashion, I grabbed it anyway. Pretty sweet. Homemade decoys are so much better than the manufactured variety.

Here's what the cache looks like in it's natural habitat. It really does look like it's perched on the side of this telephone pole. In reality, the attached vial fits snugly into a hole the width of a pencil.

After that I swung by a super easy 35mm-in-a-sign cache. The was a little spider living in the lid. Gross! Then I spent the next 30 minutes looking for a cache I never found. It was located near (or possibly on) a fence. I hate those, you never can tell which side the cache is on. By then the rain had caught up with me, so I went back to the house.

A mere two hours later, the storm had passed enough that I was able to cache to the west. I learned a valuable lesson in paying attention to more than just nearby streets when accessing a cache. I drove up to an area within 10 feet of the cache...but between us there was a barbed wire fence. Not cool. Upon closer inspection, I realized there was a park on the other side of that fence. Needless to say, the parking there was a little hike from the cache.

I spent a decent amount of time hunting around trees today, which was not cool with the iPhone's gps. I walked in lots of circles. Other than the snail shell, I didn't see much novelty in the caches today. Lots of camo-taped containers and 35mm film canisters. I did, however, find this cool geocoin/busted necklace in one cache (see below). I'm tempted to keep it...but I won't, I promise.

I finished the day with 12 finds and 3 dnfs. The clouds were a blessing...when I wasn't getting rained on.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Geocaching

This day of caching was long overdue. We went up to the Sanford/Lake Mary area, intent on finding the cache you see above. A friend of ours found it several months ago and keeps telling us how great it is. Great is not the word I would use...

First, started out the day with a DNF. Then we went on to find the cache above. Had no trouble parking, got out of the car and started walking along a creek. Suddenly my iPhone was telling me I was a few feet away. According to the satellite view, this cache was hidden near some trees, but I was out in the open. So we decided to explore the trees about 50 feet away. It was then that Brian pointed out the No Tresspassing sign, and the fact that someone was currently mowing the grass (on the other side of this massive property). My reply, "whatever, he didn't mow by the creek, I think this is public property."

Upon arriving at the next trees, the lawnmower sound got closer. It just didn't seem right, so I consulted the satellite view again, only to realize that there were two creek-looking bodies of water, that happened to run parallel to each other. We were on the right side of the wrong creek.

Now the lawnmower was roaring behind us. Sure we hadn't been spotted, we figured we could wait it out. After about 10 minutes of hanging out in spider-infested trees, we decided to come clean and apologize if we were approached. Turns out, the lawnmower guy could not have cared less. In fact, I don't think he even lives there, looks like he was just hired to the take care of the grass. Note to self: Don't be such a spaz.

I headed for the other side of the creek. Sure enough, there were trees where the gps was telling me there should be trees. As I walked by a cabbage palm, something rustled in the fronds just above me. I assumed it was a squirrel and went about my way, searching the tree. Suddenly I noticed a snake head at the base of the tree. "Cool! A snake cache!" I thought, and reached out the grab it. But then I thought, "this snake cache is incredibly realistic...and aren't I looking for an ammo can?" For several minutes, neither of us moved. "Must be a cache," I thought, but resolved to throw a stick at it to be sure. Lo and behold, it was a real (pissed off) snake. I apologized and went about my way.

I honed in on the cache shortly after that. I was so excited, everyone raves about this cache in the logs. The reason it's so cool: apparently it whines at you when you open it. The lid was stuck and I actually had to hold down the main part of the can with my foot and push with my arms to get it open. Silence. The cache was all wet inside (first wet ammo can I have seen) and the "whiner" seems to be broken. So much drama, and all I got was this stupid, silent, ammo can.

We moved onto the next cache, which was a super-easy, pill-bottle-at-the-bottom-of-a-sign cache. Our fourth cache-attempt of the day was the one you see above. You may or not be able to tell from the picture, but the column you seen on the right is actually a cover for the column on the left. This lock-and-lock was hidden exactly where it is in the photo, and the cover was placed over the top.

I've never seen anything like this before no did I have any idea that those things had covers. If it weren't for the fact that there were literally no other places to hide a cache of this size, I never would have found it. Out of sheer curiosity I nudged the column, and it swiveled. The more I cache, the more I realize that you really have to just pull and push everything you can get your hands on.

Except for the fact that it would be impossible to get while the business is open, this cache is really quite brilliant. I had to lift that bright blue column well over my head to reveal the cache. I'm sure people driving by saw me do it, maybe even called the cops, but whatever, it's part of the game.

This is another one that makes my top 10 coolest caches. It's a camo-egg. Pops open just like an Easter egg. You probably can't tell, but there are real live ducks by the pond.

This cache was easy to find, but tough to spot. Needed my mirror, for sure. It was clevely hidden in a little make-shift nest of Spanish moss, as you can see in the picture below.

All in all this was a decent caching day. We spent about 4 hours and found 7 caches. Only 1 DNF. The great thing about caching on a holiday is that most of the businesses are closed, which definitely made for a mostly muggle-free day. Happy labor day!