Sunday, March 28, 2010

The more things change, they really change.

Our nephew, Overcast_shade, came down to Orlando to spend the weekend with us again. Faced with an amazingly beautiful day, I simply couldn't let either of us waste a Saturday on the couch killing zombies. I decided to take him to one my favorite caches: GC18HQF. I know I'm breaking my policy about naming caches, but it's ok because the cache is easy to find, not so easy to get to. If you recall my blog post The Evelev School of Flipflip Geocaching, I had to cross a creek (by walking barefoot across a log) to get to this cache. It was a blast, and I knew he would enjoy it.

But here was my first clue:

Not so scary, right? Except that last time I was here, it looked like this:

I guess we've had a lot more rain in the last 5 months than I thought. The water was too big to jump across, so we bushwhacked a bit until we found a nice wide log we could walk across. Our next task was finding the log I used to get to the area where the cache is. This is what it looked like in October:

Now? It's 2 feet under water. So we set about finding another way across. This is what we settled on:

"But Evelev, that log doesn't go all the way across." You're right, it doesn't, but it went further than any of the other fallen trees. Overcast_shade went first.

The plan was to get as far as possible, and then leap to the shore. It went basically like this:

I had a very similar dismount, but luckily there was no one back there taking pictures with their iPhone.

Safely across, we set about finding the cache. Actually, he set about it. I knew where it was, so I just hung out and did a little dance to keep the spiders from crawling on me. I didn't see any, but I know they're watching me. Always.

Anyway, he found the cache pretty quickly, and then we headed back across. He went first so he could take pictures of me this time.

Here's me, standing in the water, on the log. Yeah, I'm super cool.

And here's me trying really hard not to fall down. Contrary to what you might believe, it's actually a lot easier to walk on the log while it's under the water. I thought the current might unsteady my footing, but that was not the case. Coming out of the water onto the dry log was a bit challenging.

Funny story, about that stick, which I still have by the way. When I first stepped on the log (before we found the cache), I was curious to see how deep the water was. So I plunged the stick into the water by the shore. My hand got lower, and lower, and I damn near fell in. So, I don't really know how deep the water least as long as that stick.

Oh, by the way, my leg is went from when I tried to jump off the log and onto the shore. I didn't pee myself, let's just be clear about that.

One cache down, we set about finding another in the area. Brian and I tried for this other cache a few months back, but didn't find it. Someone has since updated the coordinates, so we decided to try again. The map showed that we were .09 miles away. Cool, let's bushwhack. I'm game. After all, I remembered the cache being just a little off the path. 20 minutes later, we were still .08 miles away, and somehow ended up back at the log we used to get to the first cache. Oy. We headed back to the car.

And then it hit me. The cache was right off the path...just not the path we were on. I had forgotten that Brian and I had taken a different trail. So we walked (on the outside of the woods) to that trail, bushwhacked for about 10 minutes, and found the cache. If I gave a prize for the cutest log, it would be this one:

After that, I had yet another goal. Flashback for just a moment to November, The Honeymoon is Over, when I was stung by a wasp while looking for a cache. In my frenzy, I lost a travel bug I was going to release. I've been meaning to go back and look for it, seeing as how no one has come across it. We weren't right next to the cache when this wasp-incidence occured, but I was hoping that someone else in their quest might wander by my travel bug.

We didn't find it either. Too much new leaf cover. I might go back with a metal detector. What we did find this owl, just hanging out on a branch. I think it might be a barred owl, but I'm not sure. We we were about 30 feet away when I saw it looking at us. It was about 5pm, so I suppose it just waking up. Owls are so elusive, I was surprised to see one so calm, and out in the daylight.

We did a few more caches after that. We had the unfortunate experience of accidentally wandering into private property, twice. The first guy was clearly annoyed, and rightly so. We apolologized profusely and left quickly. I'm not 100% convinced it was his property, but I wasn't going to argue. At the next location, the guy was really nice, and even let us keep looking for the cache. I apologized, and apologized, but he didn't really care. The land is undeveloped and for sale, so he didn't see that we were doing any harm. We didn't find the cache, but I probably won't go back. Even if he didn't mind us being there, I was embarassed.

We did some more bushwhacking today. For some reason, today's cache locations were fraught with thorny vines. I wore jeans, but I might as well have been bare-legged. Oh, and the mosquitos are definitely back.

On our way to the first cache, the Groundspeak app went down...again. I've found it doesn't really do Sundays. To kill a little time, I took Overcast_shade to grab some of the caches I've already done. I was reminded again how fast things change in a few short months.

This cache used to be a bird. Now it's a charred marshmallow with an attitude. Looks like somebody overcooked their peep. Happy (almost) Easter.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ick. Eek. Nasties.

It's been a couple of weeks since I got out to do any real geocaching. This weekend was a nice reprieve. It started on Friday evening. I was setting down on the couch, wallowing in the crumminess of my week, when my iPhone buzzed with an email. Cache posted, 2/10 of a mile away. I leapt (yes, leapt) from the couch and ran out of the room...quickly realizing that I probably shouldn't leave my little snack where the dog could grab it. I scrambled back into the living room, gathered up my cheese and crackers, plunked them on the kitchen counter, and ran out of the room, again. I slipped-on a pair of sneakers. No time for socks. On my way out the door, I asked Brian if he wanted to come, he declined, and I was off.

I arrived at the location to find this crappy-looking bog. The terrain rating is a 3, so I put on my backpack and prepared to bushwhack. But then, in a stroke of genius, I looked a bit further and found a neat, manicured path to GZ.

At GZ, I got an up-close look at the bog. I felt like Frodo at the Dead Marshes (formerly the battlefield of Dagorlad). If you don't know what that means, pat yourself on the back for being less of a nerd than me. Anyway, with a 3-star terrain rating, I thought I was going to get even closer to the bog. Thankfully, I didn't.

There's a funny thing about FTFs. I think I get cache-blindness because I'm so spazzed that someone else is going to run up behind me and snag the cache. Neurotic? Yes. Immature? Of course. Justified? Absolutely. Don't judge me.

The happy ending is that I did finally find it first. It just appeared, dangling right in front of my eyeballs.

On my way out, I ran into mljungquist, so I hung around while she found it, and then we caught up for a few minutes.

When I got home, our nephew (Overcast_shade) and two fellow Marines had arrived. Two of the three stayed with us for the weekend. Had I not intervened, they would have spent the entire time playing xbox. I think I did them a favor.

I was supposed to spend yesterday studying, but the weather was just too nice to pass up. Plus, it rained all day today, so I had plenty of time to hit the books.

The first cache we visited is about a mile from my house. It's one I've wanted to do since I started geocaching, but was apparehensive because of the previous logs and the fact that it hadn't been found in over a year. I've had it on my watch list, and a few weeks ago, someone logged it.

The water near the car was stagnant and icky. Further down, it was clear but deeper with a bit of a current. We started out on the east side, but soon had to cross over to the west side on this downed-tree. The path ahead was dense with trees and had a high probability of spiders. Plus this log was like 2 feet wide and very easy to cross.

Here, overcast_shade and his buddy cross the stream in front of me. That's the benefit of caching with Marines, they try everything first.

On the west side of the creek, there was a well-beaten path leading almost to GZ. The description had noted that there were two ways to approach - wet feet or bushwhacking. We had unknowingly chosen wet feet. Not to worry, the creek looked shallow, so the three of us took off our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and waded across. It was almost as shallow as it looked, except that the sand was soft, so we sunk a few inches lower than we'd thought. But no harm done, really.

I spotted the cache almost immediately on the other side. It's some kind of box with a cool locking mechanism and a bunch of ferns glued to it. The description says it from a helicopter (minus the ferns). That's all cool, except that helicopters aren't made to be in water, and neither is this cache. It's absolutely disgusting inside. We couldn't even find the log, I think it broke down into it's original elements. Nasties.

This is the cache in it's "natural" habitat. Blends quite well, but I suppose some wanderer could come across it eventually. We saw ATV tracks. The nearby mobile home park is called Sherwood Forest, so the greatest muggle of all, the Sheriff of Nottingham, might obscond with it one day. Avert your eyes, I just got a little dweebier.

Then we moved on to a cache Brian and I tried almost a year ago, but didn't find. Turns out, the coordinates were off by a good 20 feet. Also, the clues were misleading or just irrelevent. I have to wonder if this cache isn't where it's supposed to be. Anyway, overcast_shade finally found it. There was a yay and an eek at the same time - the camo was covered in enormous red ants. You can just make them out in this photo, which should show you that these are no ordinary ants. I was ready to give up then, but the Marines brushed the ants aside and extracted the bison tube.

Not far away was another cache. The coordinates put us in the middle of the street, but obviously it wasn't there. The clue made reference to hanging, so we scoured the trees nearby. No cache. I was getting ready to call it a DNF, when I made one more loop around the trees and spotted the cache hanging from a piece of fishing line attached to a cinder block fence.

We found two more caches before we had to had home to a very hungry Brian. It was my first DNF-less day in a long, long time. Fingers crossed we get nice weather next weekend. I'd like to do some of the kayak-only caches in the area before it gets too hot and buggy here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The kindness of cachers

As some of you know, Brian and I have been all-consumed with moving into our new house the past few weeks. Sadly, it hasn’t left a lot of time for geocaching. This is especially disappointing because right now we have some of the best geocaching weather of the year. The spiders have already begun to make a resurgence, which means I’ll have to dust off the old spider-whacking stick.

Anyway, we’re almost moved-in. Up until yesterday, the front room remained unfinished. I decided to make it a library, and spent the last few weeks shopping for the right bookcases. The night I was supposed to bring them home, my friend with a truck had a bad experience with bleu cheese and had to bail. Ick.

In my desperation, I turned to Facebook. Who replied? Local geocaching legend, War1man, of War1man and Mimi. Both War1man and Mimi met me at the furniture store, hauled the bookcases back to my house (in the infamous white geo-van), and helped me bring them inside.

Less than a year ago, I was pacing (stomping, a little) around the Casselberry dam, cursing the day they ever decided to hide a cache there. If you told me then, that one day War1man and Mimi would be helping me move bookcases…I don’t know what I would have done, but I wouldn’t have believed you. It was surreal, to say the least.

It really speaks to the community of geocaching. It shows me, once again, that this is no ordinary hobby. I’ve never met an unfriendly geocacher (though I hear they’re out there), but I was not expecting cachers to come to my rescue that night.

Funny thing is, the next day I told some people at work about this. I was expecting them to reply, “Wow, that’s super cool.” Actually, they were like, “are you out of your mind??” I guess I never considered that.

Again, thank you, War1man and Mimi. Now, if I could just figure out what makes you tick, I might find a few more of your caches.

For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure of finding a War1man and Mimi cache (or even if you have), they have a blog called Geocaching with War1man and Mimi.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reputations and Ramifications: What geocaching means to everyone else

We all know the drill. The driver puts the car in park and everyone scrambles out. We stifle the urge to break into a sprint, but the result is a jaunty I’m-not-speed-walking shuffle in the direction of the cache. Any remaining fear of the unknown is brushed aside as we expose ourselves to any number of geohazards. These risks we accept gladly if it means finding the cache before someone else. And if the cache has never been found before, well, it’s on.

If you've never been that person, surely you have witnessed this behavior.

The Reputation

Sometimes we forget that all we are looking for is Tupperware containing a sheet of paper. Just a few months ago, a geocacher in Spokane Valley, Washington slipped on pine needles at the edge of a cliff and fell over 100 feet to his death (full story here). As a continual reminder, a cache in California (GC9135) is dedicated to the memory of another fallen geocacher.

We’re a bit of a nuisance to the public, too. On occasion, geocaching makes the news when the local police department blows up a “suspicious package” or locks down a high school. If you're not convinced, just google "geocaching and police."

Ever since I saw Geocache (a documentary by David Liban, 2006), I’ve done a lot of thinking about the geo-reputation. We all know someone who thinks it’s dorky, and a lot people have never even heard of geocaching, but until I saw the documentary I didn’t realize that anyone disliked it on a professional level. In Geocache, Liban interviews a representative from the Natural Resources department of Larimer county, Colorado, who makes it very clear that geocachers can be troublesome. I had to wonder if he was an outlier, or a true reflection of the public opinion. What I found is that after nearly a decade of geocaching, our reputation definitely precedes us.

The Ramifications

I often visit the logs of geocaches I’ve grabbed in the past, and was surprised to find that two were recently archived. A note on the cache page explains that bill H3794 now prohibits geocaching on all wildlife management areas, heritage preserves, and all other lands owned by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. We certainly didn't feel like we were imposing on the local wildlife, but the state of South Carolina believes otherwise.

A bit of digging revealed that other states also have established guidelines and prohibitions regarding geocaching. For starters, it is not uncommon for caches in sensitive environments to be registered with a local agency.

My search began with a letter against a potential ban on geocaching in the Badlands Wilderness Study Area in Oregon. According to the author, the proposed ban stemmed from a concern about damage from potential geotrails. The author's argument is that the geocaches in question are visited an average of two times per month. He claims this is not enough to create new trails because the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planners can provide no evidence that geocaching is directly responsible for damage to the landscape.

Today, geocaching in the Badlands is allowed. The existing seventeen geocaches were grandfathered-in, but no more caches are to be placed. They also issued guidelines that geocaching must be of a casual (as opposed to commercial) nature and not harm public land or water. The BLM now lists geocaching in their brochure as an activity. Although, rather than list it with hiking and biking, they list it in the “other activities” section, along with the things you’re not allowed to do. Charming.

Other areas require special permits and/or “cache request” forms in order to hide a geocache. The Minnesota Division of Parks and Trails (MNDNR-PAT) requires an annual permit for geocaches placed on their land. Prior to hiding a cache, the geocacher must also meet with a park ranger to determine a suitable place for the hide. The part of the form I found most interesting is that four individuals must approve it, including an archaeologist. Indiana Jones does indeed have the power to ruin your fun in Minnesota.

Parks Canada takes a slightly different approach. Geocaches placed within their jurisdiction may not include trade items because certain items attract wildlife. I imagine this rule stems from an unfortunate incident including bacon of some Canadian variety. Further, the geocache is required to have an educational message, such as a story about the location where the cache has been placed. In order for a cache to be approved, the cache owner must meet with a Parks Canada staff person (they even tell you what to bring to the meeting) and obtain an authorization seal.

Referring back to the individuals featured in Geocache, I got the impression they feel geocaching is a right and park rangers should be appreciative of their contributions. I agree with this in-theory, but in the real world we as geocachers have a responsiblity to be respectful of our surroundings and cognoscente of the bigger picture. This means dropping the Black Friday-stravaganza attitude and paying attention to what we’re really doing. Although the geocachers I’ve crossed paths with are wonderful, decent people, it takes far less than a majority to ruin a reputation. If we have any chance of correcting this, we have to show everyone that we’re more than FTF-hungry number-fiends.

As supplemental reading, I also suggest an article by geoSquid: “How to keep geocaching from being banned." It’s probably not anything you haven’t heard before, but it is certainly worth the read.