Warning: A lot of this is not about geocaching. I don't really care. It's my blog and I'm certainly not forcing you to read it.
But please do. I like the attention.
A few months back, I was brewing a cup of coffee at work when my manager walked in, presumably to do the same thing. To paraphrase, she said to me, "You deserve an extra vacation day, why don't you take Monday off?" Somewhere in the middle of my brain, surges of paranoia and bliss collided to produce a tiny mushroom cloud. Certainly the Germans have a word to more accurately describe this feeling. After some careful prodding to determine why this was happening, I convinced myself that I probably wasn't losing my job and accepted the offer.
A short time later, I realized that the Space Shuttle Endeavor just so happened to be launching for the final time on this day that would now be vacation. After Endeavor, there was only one Space Shuttle mission left. Ever, which really saddened me. One of the few things I truly enjoy about living in Orlando is our close proximity to NASA, which has allowed me to view (from 50ish miles away) almost every launch over the last 8 years. I know it's geeky, but there's something about seeing $450 million worth of metal, jet fuel, and raw, scientific badass that really gives me a sense of American pride.
Shuttle launches are a big-enough deal that you have to commit 8-12 hours of your time. You must arrive super early, find a place to ditch your car, find a place to plant yourself, be patient, pray that the launch doesn't get scrubbed, and then be part of the road-busting exodus that lasts for hours. The damndest thing is: launches get scrubbed a lot. In fact, this was not the first scheduled launch for Endeavor's final mission. Could I bear the frustration of so much effort for nothing? Is that really how I wanted to waste this gift of a vacation day? No, but that wasn't a good reason not to.
The launch was scheduled for 8:58 a.m. My research online indicated that I should arrive no less than 6 hours early. I talked to some people who'd done it and they told me that since it was a morning launch, crowds shouldn't be as bad, and to get there around 5 a.m. Lest I remind you, I live about an hour's drive from the Cape. Here's how it went down.
3 am: Wake-up.
3-3:15 am: Think about going back to sleep. Argue with self that this is going to be totally epic.
4:15 am: Leave the house with camera, zoom lens, book (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, on-loan from EyeoftheSeeker), iPad, and snacks. I'd heard that sometimes traffic is so bad that people have to watch from the highway, so to avoid traffic I took the not-so-main roads. They were dark and scary, but deserted.
5:15 am: Arrive in Titusville, FL, which as close to Cape Canaveral as I was going to get without a pass (sold out months ago).
5:17 am: Stop at McDonald's...think about whether coffee is a good idea since I won't see a bathroom for several hours...get it anyway.
5:30 am: Arrive at first choice on list of viewing points, Parrish Park. The reason I made a list is that I was afraid my first choice wouldn't be available, which was smart, because it wasn't. Parrish Park is located just off the A Max Brewer Memorial Parkway bridge. I noticed that people were setting up to watch from the bridge, so I decided to find the closest parking and do the same.
5:35 am: Take the LAST parking spot in a lot that isn't charging for parking. That's how I knew this was meant to be.
5:45 am: Arrive at my chosen spot on the bridge. This was my view.
5:45 - 7 am: I don't really remember what I did. It was cold. I think I munched some snacks and played on my iPhone. Oh, I downloaded the NASA app, which made me a very cool person later.
When the sun started to rise I took a photo of myself. That little point of light to the right of the top of my ear is the launch pad. I know it looks super far, it's about 12 miles, but seriously, it's the closest you can get without admittance to Cape Canaveral.
7 - 8 am: Once the sun was up I alternated between reading and taking test shots. I was terrified that it would finally happen I would be too busy fumbling with the camera to even see the launch, let alone take good photos. But then I started to panic that I would take so many test shots that I would drain the battery...so I put the camera away.
8 - 8:45 am: This is when things got interesting. People began to flood in and I finally realized why they tell you to arrive 6 hours in advance. This is also when I started talking to the people around me. An older man and his son camped out nearby and were speculating about whether the clouds would be a problem. Being the nosey spaz that I am, I jumped in with, "NASA just tweeted that the clouds shouldn't be a problem." The look I got back was shock swirled with admiration. Someone next to me asked how I was following NASA on Twitter, and that's when I got to bust out the NASA app. Oh yeah, who's the cool kid now? We watched videos of launch prep, listened to the feed from Mission Control, and for a while we didn't feel like a bunch of dweebs freezing on a bridge at 8 in the morning. From then on I was the source for news from the Cape, at least until a million other people had the same thought and brought the app to a crawl. Then I wasn't so cool any more.
I also bought this neat souvenir coin. There were lots of people hocking crap, but this was actually cool. By the way, the name Kelly refers to astronaut Mark Kelly, husband to congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who had just been released from the hospital after being shot earlier this year. She watched the launch from somewhere at the Cape. This is probably the closest I'll ever be to either one of them. Not that I care, it's just interesting to note.
8:45 - 8:56 am: Everyone starts shuffling. And speculating. Specuating and shuffling. I turn on the camera and take several more test shots, confident that I could not possibly drain the battery in 11 minutes. The NASA app has become absolutely useless, so we wait.
8:57 am: Deserves it's own line because it felt like forever.
8:58 am: Almost wasn't expecting it, but we have liftoff. I begin taking as many picures as I possibly can.
8:58:30 am: And it's gone.
The clouds didn't prevent liftoff, but they did prevent the 2 minutes or so we should have been able to see the Shuttle. Oh well. It was certainly better than nothing.
8:59 am: Let the stampede begin.
This is when my real smartness kicked in. Rather than sit in gridlock with rude people for 3 hours, I decided to do some geocaching. There were several within a mile radius, so I settled on a starting point and began walking.
The first one should have been super easy, but on this particular day it was...difficult, because there was always a single muggle nearby. And when they would leave, another would arrive. Between one such changing-of-the-muggles, I was able to snag the cache from the bushes, but as soon as I signed the log, new muggle! At that point I had to camp out, cache resting next to me, and wait for them to leave. By now the urge to pee was iminent, and I seriously considered taking the cache to a nearby port-o-potty, but it just seemed wrong. I passed the time with stories of a vamp-murdering Honest Abe until the muggles left and I could replace the cache.
Next I headed to Space View Park, which is THE viewing spot for launches. That's why I decided to stay as far away from there as possible. Now that the launch was over, the place was a ghost town. I spent a while looking at the many memorials and tributes to the persuit of space travel. There is also a cache there, which I wasn't able to grab because the one person in the park had chosen that settle down right there. I took some photos, used the restroom (hallelujiah for flushing toilets!), and moved on.
Next I wandered around Sand Point Park, where I left my car, now the only car in the lot. Sand Point Park is also a dedication-park. It used to be the home to a cache that has since been muggled. Maybe by this guy...
I wandered some more, found a few more caches. Here's one that isn't particularly interesting, but definitely different. It worked very well with it's hiding spot.
My last cache of the day turned out to be very fitting. It was challenging, but not frustrating, even though it was hidden under a rock among many rocks on a rocky shore. I had to use some geosense to pointpoint the location.
It also had a TB that had met it's goal. I'm not sure of the proper ettiquette when you find a TB in this condition. I've heard that you should email the owner, but if they care, they should already know it's reached it's goal. Plus, this one has other options - It could go to Houston, or somewhere near Edwards Air Force Base in California, or any of the other plan B landing sites. So, I decided to leave the bug and let it continue it's journey.
I actually have this TB (not this exact one, but one of the Space Shuttle TBs), I wish I'd thought to bring it along to set it free. Also, that bridge in the background is the one I stood on to watch the launch. If you look real close you can see a crane on the bridge, I was near that.
At this point it was about noon and I was hungry; it was time to end my journey on the Spacecoast. This was one of those awesome days made extra awesome because it almost didn't happen. I honestly didn't think I would ever have the chance to see a Shuttle launch from the coast. If I ever have grandchildren, I can tell them about how Grammy Ev got to see Endeavor launch into space. To which they will reply, "That's nice, Grammy," and zoom off in their personal hovercraft.