This year’s warm, wet winter has given me a lot of opportunities to break out my rain gear for my commutes to and from work. For years, my “rain suit” has consisted of:
- Patagonia rain jacket with hood
- Waterproof Gore-Tex biking gloves
- Novara rain pants (REI house brand)
- Regular, non-waterproof Altra sneakers with neoprene shoe covers (booties)
I should point out here that I ride flat pedals exclusively, having given up clipless a few years ago.
While neoprene shoe covers are useful as an extra insulating layer on extremely cold days, I’ve never been particularly enamored of them as rain booties. They do the job, but they’re bulky, and the soles get soggy and gunky if you have to get off the bike and do any walking. Also, the cuffs of my rain pants tend to slip off them while riding, leaving the tops open and often resulting in wet shoes and socks. On top of that, I’ve never been able to find a pair that’s large enough to completely fit over my Altras, so there’s always a slight opening at the back, providing more of an opportunity for moisture to get in.
This year, I bought a new pair of waterproof Altra Lone Peaks. These are marketed as trail running shoes, but I bought them with the intent of using them for mountain biking (I wanted something that was going to keep me dry when I occasionally stick my foot in the water during a stream crossing). Since they’re waterproof, I decided I’d see how they work for rainy bike commutes. My last few times out, I left the old sneakers and booties at home, and wore the waterproof Altras with gaiters instead. No more bulky neoprene shoe covers, and my feet and socks have been bone-dry after every ride. The shoes have nice, tough soles, and will hold up much better than booties if I have to do any walking. It’s a win-win all around, and I find myself enjoying my rides in the rain a lot more.
I should add that gaiters are essential in this setup. The rain pants go over the tops of the gaiters, which in turn go over the tops of the shoes. That way, there’s no way for water to get in. Without the gaiters, there would be a gap between the pants and the shoes, allowing water to seep in around my ankles. The Altra Lone Peaks have a convenient metal loop below the laces that is designed for gaiters, making them especially well-suited for this application.
I did a lot of caching in the first half of 2019, but the second half saw the beginning of a slowing trend that has continued into 2020. With work and family commitments, my caching time has always been limited. I commute to work via bike most days, which limits opportunities to run out and find a cache at lunch time. I’ve already found most of the caches near me, so finding caches I consider “interesting” now requires driving at least 30 minutes one-way on Maryland’s congested roads. I usually do a lot of caching while traveling, but 2019 was a fairly light travel year (2020 is looking better in that regard). On top of all that, I’ve taken up climbing and mountain biking, and have become more active in my kids’ Scout troop, all of which cut considerably into the spare time I used to dedicate mostly to caching.
That’s not to say I’ve stopped caching, or have any intent of stopping. I’m still doing it; I’m just doing less of it, and I’ve become much more selective in choosing which caches to seek out. I’m also cognizant that my kids aren’t getting any younger, so am trying to maximize family time as much as I can. That often includes caching, but the kids don’t have quite the appetite for the hobby that I had during my heyday in 2013-2018. While I do still occasionally cache solo and with friends, I figure there will be plenty of time for that in the coming years when the kids are out of the house, and even more when I eventually retire.
What’s my point here? I’m not really sure. But in spite of my slowdown in 2019, I did find some pretty memorable caches. Here are my 10 favorites. As usual, these are in no particular order.
- Merrygun (GC6WQTE)
I figured it was about time I featured a cache by Vizardo on one of my lists. Vizardo’s caches are all very well-done, and tend to be physically challenging. Most of them are rarely found, probably for that reason. Merrygun was placed in 2016, and to date, has been found only twice. After the initial find, it sat lonely for a little over two years before I came along. It’s a multi-cache which requires hiking a few miles on the NCR trail. The final is in a great spot and has a lot of really interesting swag inside. If you’re ever looking for a challenging hike with a nice payoff at the end, check out one of Vizardo’s caches – you won’t be disappointed.
- Double Dare – Fizzy Challenge (GC2PZXD)
I used to be a big fan of challenge caches, but I’ve soured on them a bit lately, for various reasons that I won’t get into here. This cache made the list because I really liked the location and the hide. It is located outside Colorado Springs at around 10,000′ elevation, at the top of a large rock outcropping. Probably nothing special for someone who lives in that area, but I found getting there to be a fantastic adventure.
- Orlando’s (GC82ZMB)
Truth be told, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this cache. It’s a typical hike at Liberty Reservoir that leads to a classic hide with a nice water view – pretty standard stuff for Liberty. It’s on the list as a representative of the Liberty Battleship series, which is possibly my favorite geocache series ever. Between February and April, I made countless trips up to Liberty, hiking dozens of miles and finding over 100 caches, all leading up to this final find, which I saved until October. There are many caches in the series with even better hikes and better views than this one, so think of this as a nod to all of them. Actually, this probably deserves more than one entry in the list. Instead, I’ll compromise and give a nod to:
- Walking Home From Tumble Down (GC864P9)
This one is on the list for both the puzzle and the hike. The puzzle was unique – sort of a virtual letterbox, as I think I described in my log. The hike was long, but the views at the end were worth it. It’s easy to get spoiled by water views at Liberty, but there was something about this peninsula that made it stand out, that I can’t quite put into words. Tranquil? Serene? Doesn’t quite do it justice – you have to be there. This is another one that won’t get nearly the number of visits it deserves (it sat for 13 days before the first find) but perhaps that’s a good thing.
- Psycho Urban Cache #13 – Impossible! Give Up Now! (GCY72P)
Not much to be said here – how can you find PUC #13 and not put it on your top 10 list for the year?!? Truth be told, I was just along for the ride on this adventure (OK, I did help others out with the ascending rig), but even so, nothing quite beats the thrill of making it to the top and spending a couple of hours up there soaking in the views. Of course, I only hung out for so long because I was petrified to start the rappel. But, I’m still alive to tell the tale. And later on, there was a really cool rainbow.
- Great Egging Island (GC7B6HR)
This was an awesome paddle-virtual that I tackled with my family. I had never paddled at Assateague National Seashore before. This particular area was calm, shallow and very warm in the summertime – lacking a kayak, one could easily reach the island with a SUP, or even a cheap inflatable boat or raft. The island itself was very peaceful and serene, in stark contrast to the launch area, which was packed with bathing-suit-clad muggles. On top of that, there were very few bugs on the day we visited, so we were able to hang around for awhile. Just a great spot.
- Lee, Key, and Teddy (GC7B6WV)
Continuing with the paddle-virtual theme: this one is located along the Potomac in Washington, D.C. I tackled it on a very hot, hazy, humid day, but got out early and was able to avoid the worst of the heat. It was really neat to see some of the D.C. monuments from the water. There are also nice views of Roosevelt Island, as well as Rosslyn, VA, among other sights. It was a great urban kayaking adventure.
- America the Beautiful-The Final (GC4Q3R6)
AtB is a series of caches in Gunpowder Falls State Park. The hike is several miles through rolling terrain along the riverbank, and the caches feature a wide variety of creative containers and hides. I tackled it on a sunny, seasonable January day after a very busy week at work. It was just what I needed to unwind and clear my head.
- It’s all downhill from here… (GC27265)
In mid November, a group of us tackled a hike on the Mason-Dixon Trail in York County, PA. This was our penultimate find of the day, and (surprise, surprise) my favorite of the day – because who can resist scrambling up on a rock?
- 7/16″ (GC7M1TK)
This is a hide by coiledpigeon near Loch Raven Reservoir. While this perhaps could be called “easy” by coiledpigeon standards, my kids and I had a great time hiking out to it, figuring out the first stage, and scrambling to the final. It’s always great to find a cache that we can all enjoy, and nothing beats quality time spent with my kids, especially nowadays, when they’re usually off doing their own thing.
That about wraps it up for 2019. I wonder what 2020 holds in store?