Monday, January 17, 2011

Meet the Travel Bug Bandit

Gather 'round, boys and girls, muggles and (number) fiends. Meet the Travel Bug Bandit.

Thousands upon thousands of travel bugs circle the globe each day. All but a few that stray into Travel Bugmuda Triangle. Travel bugs enter with the grandest of aspirations. Some want to visit every state, while others will benefit a charity, but most exist for the pure joy of discovery. All of them wait patiently, yearning for the opportunity to do something. An unlucky few cross paths with the Travel Bug Bandit.

They go willingly, begging to be moved. Any cache, any distance is a step closer towards meeting the goal. Travel bugs don't have mothers. There is no one to teach them self-respect or self-defense. There is only the goal and a distant owner who may or may not follow their progress. And so they go. First into the backpack, or maybe into a pocket. Darkness that will surely lead to the light of rebirth in a new cache. The bug is patient - it can wait a few days, even a week. After all, not every cacher caches every day. Weeks go by. Other bugs arrive, crowding the space between. A bottle of suncreen explodes, which prompts a thorough scrubbing of the backpack's contents. Hope lies in the indignities, but so does disappointment. Such is life in the hands of the Travel Bug Bandit.

It was not always this way.

Many a-cache ago, a wide-eyed neocacher discovered her first travel bug. Inside a swampy, arachnid-infested quagmire, lay a lock-and-lock that was home to GI-Wanna-Go-Caching (a GI Joe action figure with bendable appendages and a thinning layer of paint). It was like opening a box of cereal to find a slinky, or scratching a lotto ticket to find 3 liberty bells in a row. Joyous! The travel bug was posed for photos, logged, and promptly dropped in the next accommodating cache.

It continued this way for a time and the geocacher did her part to help bugs reach their goals. She even released a few of her own into the wild. This how she learned the truth about this whole travel bug ownership thing. No one pays attention to the goals, the bugs sit in the same cache for weeks, people rarely post pictures. These neat little treasures are nothing more than pieces of flair, masking the dignity of waiters and waitresses everywhere. The Travel Bug Bandit reared it's ugly head.

One day, while caching on vacation, the cacher and her boo discovered a geocoin clearly marked "DO NOT REMOVE." The Bandit tossed the coin in her backpack. The boo protested, but the Bandit would not be denied. When she returned home, she was met with insecure dogs, dirty laundry, and guilt. The tag did not mean "do not remove the tag from the coin," it meant, "do not remove the coin from the cache." She could see this now. The cacher immediately emailed the owner, apologized profusely, and mailed the coin back to it's rightful place. The Travel Bug Bandit momentarily lost it's hold.

But like a recovering addict, the urge was always there, barely in-check. The demon just under the surface waited for a moment of weakness. Occasionally a particular coin would pique it's interest - an ornately designed coin, or a super-cute travel bug necklace. If she didn't log the find, who would be the wiser? But she resisted, always passing travelers along in a timely fashion, unaware that the Travel Bug Bandit lurked on the horizon.

It gained strength with each passing day. A bug here, a coin there. Toss them in the car, move on to the next, get busy, don't cache for a while, add another traveler to the collection. It continued this way for moons and moons.

Do not abandon all hope, for this is a tale of redemption. One humid, sunny morning, the Travel Bug Bandit found itself at a tree much older than travel bugs and geocaches. A tree that pre-dated GPSr units, satellites, and even electricity. It had survived hurricanes, witnessed civil war, and laughed at Ponce de Leon's quest for a fountain of youth.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Near the tree was a cache holding a homemade paper geocoin. It was printed with the words, "Bad Karma." The Travel Bug Bandit faltered, but did not lose it's grip.

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

The coin made it's way to the car and settled in the cup holder. It stayed here for weeks, a daily reminder of the Universe's ability to restore balance (to the force). One by one, the kidnapped travelers resurfaced - one in the backseat, another in the trunk, a coin mixed in with a pile of mail, and a couple at the bottom of the backpack, coated in some unknown goo. The Travel Bug Bandit revealed itself for the awful creature it truly was. The cacher brought them all together, washed off the goo, and planned a bunch of bug-friendly caches. In a matter of hours, months of abuse came to an end as each traveler was reintroduced to its former life.

The final test came when the cacher crossed paths with a cache holding a geocoin. She thought about leaving it. Avoiding all temptation was surely a way of preventing future transgressions; however, this was also a chance to find out if the Travel Bug Bandit was truly gone. Not only was the cacher successful, but shortly after logging it, she received an email thanking her for finding the seemingly lost coin. Apparently it had encountered its own bandito. It probably would again, someday, but for a brief moment it's owner knew exactly where it was.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Phobia

A few days ago I discovered that I was a mere 32 finds away from 400, so I made it my goal to reach that mark before the end of the year. Like many, I had Friday off, so I decided to do a newly-posted numbers run. It was wonderful - one of the best caching experiences of my life. The weather was perfect, there were hardly any muggles around, and the caches were super easy. I walked over 5 miles and eventually I reached my goal.

We had plans to go out for New Year's with EyeoftheSeeker and his wife, so as soon as I got home I headed for the bathroom to shower. There, I discovered, a few inches above my navel, a black lump. I tried to brush it off, thinking it was a wood fleck or stray fuzz, but it didn't move. I looked down and saw tiny black legs. I gave it a little tug, but the tick was firmly embedded.

I immediately went to Brian, shirt in hand. "I have a tick. I don't know what to do," I said, pointing to my stomach, voice trembling.
He just looked at me, unfazed, "You have to take it out."
"Yeah, I know THAT. I don't know what to do. This has never happened to me before. Do I use a lighter? A match? Is that an old wive's tale? I don't know."
"Get a butter knife and a lighter." He said this with stone cold apathy.

I grabbed a butter knife, a paper towel, and one of those long lighters you use to light a grill. I've never seen this done before, but I had the impression that you tap the tick on the ass with something hot, he dances out, apologizes like a freakin' Canadian, and submits to a swift execution.

I held the butter knife in the flame until Brian told me to stop, and then I hovered over my belly with it. Realizing I was not capable of this, I handed the knife to Brian and looked away. With one hand he braced my stomach, holding the knife with the other. He tapped the tick and its legs kicked wildly. I whimpered. "Here it comes," Brian said, but it didn't. He did it again, same deal. This time he also tried to brush the tick away with the paper towel, causing it to do something that hurt very much. I yelped and owww'd and finally started to understand what our pets go through at the vet. We tried this several more times while I hyperventilated and grasped the counter for moral support. "Just get it out! I don't care!" This time, Brian grabbed it with the paper towel and with a smooth yanking motion the blasted thing was out.

Brian told me to put all my clothes in the washing machine, with extra cycles. After that, I did a very thorough tick-check and took a shower. We went out, watched the ball drop from the comfort of our living room, kissed at midnight, and drank champagne, yada yada yada. I checked the bite occasionally, which is now all red and welty. I did a fair amount of research on the subject and learned that we should have used tweezers, but whatever.

Today was destined to be low-key. I woke up at a reasonable hour, but lazed around in my pajama pants and watched movies with Brian. About halfway through Jaws I adjusted my position on the sofa and felt an achy pain on the back of my leg/butt cheek. Yeah, I said it. Butt cheek. I went to the bathroom and discovered an implanted and very swollen tick #2. The area around the bite was all red, telling me this thing had been there for a while. There's no way I missed it during my tick check yesterday, so this one got on me later. I went back to Brian and announced this with as much profanity as possible.

I went around the kitchen again gathering the necessary tools, as well as a pair of tweezers and a baggie so we could keep this specimen. This time, I was nauseous. I gave the stuff to Brian, grabbed a blankie and laid face down on the carpeted living room floor (the BEST place to be handling an open flame). I balled up the blanket and hugged it, watching Brian's reflection in the glass door of our tv console as he heated up the knife. We went through the same tap and squirm routine. Again, I whined in an exaggerated fashion. This little guy REALLY didn't want to let go. I felt extra sick when the tick ripped in half, terrified that I would now have to go to the ER and have this thing surgically removed. Brian, ever the skilled surgeon, was able to extract the head, thankfully. This tick had definitely been in for much longer, so it left a visible puncture that is very sore and stung like hell when I cleaned it.

This time, the post-extraction activities included stripping the bed and spraying the inside of my car with bug spray. We also did a tick check of eachother. It wasn't nearly as fun as the Brad Paisley song makes it out to be. Brian had the presence of mind to check the shoes I wore yesterday. Like a huge moron, I took them off and left them in the laundry room. When he sprayed my shoes, another tick came shooting out. I think (hope) that's where tick #2 came from.

The last time I dealt with ticks was when we went geocaching in South Carolina and ended up covered in seed ticks. I was lucky that none of them attached. I had no idea this is how the whole tick thing goes down. Now I get to watch for signs of Lyme disease and panic every time I get an itch.

Interestingly enough, when my sister-in-law came down with Lyme disease, I did a little blog post about it. Apparently I forgot all my own advice:

To prevent Lyme disease, Wikipedia recommends wearing long-sleeved shirts, trousers, and a hat. Light colors are recommended because they allow you to see the ticks if they do hitch a ride. Pants should be tucked into boots or socks...but unless you're a commando, that looks pretty dweeby. I don't personally recommend it. Plus, I can tell you from experience, ticks go right through socks. You don't want them exposed. Wikipedia also recommends reducing the local deer population. I suppose you could take it upon yourself to do that.

If you do find a tick with it's head burrowed into your skin, pull it out with tweezers. And for God's sake, don't twist! I've always heard you should apply a flame to the tick to make it back out, but I would imagine that is advised against. Brian's preferred method is "draining" the with a needle. Or, "pop it like a grape."

Anyway, I have all kinds of other stories from yesterday, but we'll save that for another posting.