Categories
Geocaching

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2020 Edition

2020 isn’t technically over yet, but the odds of me finding another top-10-worthy cache in the next 10.5 hours are pretty darned slim. This year, I used caching as an excuse to get out on my bike. Bike caching limits me to about a 30 mile round trip from home, and I had no business travel this year, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that all of my top-10 finds were in Maryland this year — the first time that has ever happened. I’ve really missed traveling, but on the plus side, I’ve discovered all sorts of new biking routes all over the area. Prior to this year, I only really biked between home and work. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when I start going back to the office, which presumably will happen some time in 2021, though I’m not expecting it to be before summer. Anyhow, I’m going off on a tangent. Here’s this year’s list of caches. Interestingly enough, 5 of the 10 are multi-caches:

  • CAM 2020: Lone Cedar Point (GC8GPW9)
    I don’t think I’ve ever included a CAM cache in this list, but this is certainly a good one to start with. A wonderful hike on the beach with great views of Assawoman Bay and Ocean City. Strangely enough, the trailhead is in Delaware, but the point (and the cache) are in Maryland. We found this in March, at the beginning of CAM, and right when the pandemic was really starting to kick into gear.
  • Gutzon Borglum (GCRJF4)
    I found this, along with several other caches, in February during a 6-mile hike on the AT. It’s a fairly typical Vizardo hide, but it makes the list because it’s a 2005 cache with its original container and log book, and I have happy memories of hiking on that warm February day before COVID was even on my radar.
  • MoCo Clue – Billiard Room (GC81Z9J)
    This was another pre-COVID find which I made with luvinlif2k and our respective kids. It’s one of my all-time favorite multis. It felt just like playing a larger-than-life-sized game of billiards.
  • MoCo Clue – Final (GC816TP)
    This series probably was my caching highlight of 2020. It was well-crafted and well-executed all around, and the final was the icing on the cake. We found this, as well as all of the prerequisite caches, with luvinlif2k and family. We made 3 or 4 trips to MoCo to complete the series, and it’s well-represented with 2 entries on my top 10 list.
  • Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos… (GC259YA)
    This is a crazy paddle-multi on Zekiah Swamp in Charles County. I’m sure the CO intended it to be a peaceful paddle through calm waters, but when we tackled it, unbeknownst to us, the area had recently flooded and the entire second half of the paddle was against a raging current. Several kayaks flipped over, others got pinned by the current, and we ended up completing the journey by hiking and wading. The paddle back to the launch was fun, though. ๐Ÿ˜€
  • Red Run Stream Stroll (GC8NVFT)
    This was a well-executed walk/hike along Red Run in Owings Mills. There was a bit of a weird vibe to the hike, as it was early May and the whole COVID thing was really taking off at the time. But, it was great to get outdoors, and we even saw a few snakes.
  • Tip & Tie (GC8WH5A)
    Another paddle multi that I did solo. I enjoyed paddling on two different reservoirs and finding the cache at the end. I’ve been using one of the photos I took on Rocky Gorge reservoir as my Zoom background. In the past couple of years, caching to me has become more about the journey than the actual find, and this was a great journey.
  • Tracey’s Store (GC1NJH5)
    The second Vizardo cache on my list, this one is a 3-stage multi at Prettyboy Reservoir that is rarely found. I really enjoyed the hike, and the final container had some of the best swag I have ever seen in a cache.
  • Where the Rivers Flow North (GC7QPWG)
    This made the list partly due to nostalgia. It’s a fairly typical ProgKing hide at Liberty Reservoir. It’s not right on the reservoir itself, but has a great view of one of the feeder streams (Morgan Run?). After hiking countless times at Liberty in 2019, I only made it there once this year. I have lots of memories of hiking and caching there, culminating in the great Liberty Battleship series last year. There aren’t many caches there left for me to find, so I savor every opportunity to go back.
  • Who Stole Sammy’s Nuts Adventure Lab BONUS (GC91QY5)
    2020 was “year of the adventure lab”. Several well-done adventure labs popped up in the area, and I enjoyed all of them. It was tough picking just one for this list, but I settled on this one because it was a fantastic hike along Buzzard Rock Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park. PVSP is my home park, and I spend tons of time there doing everything from hiking to caching to mountain biking to rock climbing, but Buzzard Rock is a trail that I don’t hike on often. I completed the labs and the bonus over two visits before work, and had a great time.

That about wraps up 2020. What does 2021 hold in store? We will find out soon.

Categories
Biking

Henryton Hike

I had a really fun time hiking with the family in Patapsco Valley State Park yesterday. We hiked west from Henryton Rd. on the through trail, for a total out-and-back distance of about 4 miles. I had only hiked here once before, back in 2014. It’s a very nice, less busy area of the park just east of Sykesville. We found several caches along the way, climbed a few trees, and Andrew got to do some bouldering with his new crash pad. I keep telling myself that one of these days, I’d like to through-hike the entire park from Halethorpe to Sykesville. If planned correctly, it could probably be done as a 1- or 2-night backpacking trip.

This morning, I had planned to ride my mountain bike, which I haven’t done since early December. The predicted low was 24ยฐ, but once again, the actual temperature ended up hovering within 1 or 2 degrees of freezing, so I bagged it and took a road ride instead. When I actually got outside, it seemed colder than my weather app had indicated, and I suspect the trails probably would have been OK. I saw a lot of people in the park, including several groups of mountain bikers, which is unusual for a weekday morning. I suspect things will return to normal next week, when most people will be back at work. I’m really hoping that January will bring some colder mornings that will solidly freeze the trails. In the meantime, I’m going to either have to put up with mud, or hit the pavement instead, as I did today. I ended up going about 24 miles and looping through UMBC. Not a bad ride, even if it wasn’t what I had planned.

Categories
Biking Miscellany

Boxing Day

Another Christmas has come and gone. I remember the days when the kids would get all excited and wake up early to open presents. We even have the video to prove it, which I shot on our then-state-of-the-art MiniDV video camera. Nowadays, they are nocturnal teenagers, and it’s hard just getting them out of bed. A few years back, I came to the realization that I enjoy the advent season, or the weeks leading up to Christmas, more than the day itself. This year, however, was probably the most laid-back Christmas we’ve ever had. Times sure have changed. Next year may be slightly more “normal”, but the kids aren’t getting any younger. I’ll miss those days, but I also like our new, lower-stress holiday routine — and when I’m feeling nostalgic, I can always go back and look at our old videos.

With the kids sleeping in, I considered riding yesterday morning, but decided to go today instead. The temperatures were down in the low 20s again (the freeze cycle of our flood-freeze winter), so I kept it under 20 miles, and rode a quick out-and-back to downtown Columbia to find a cache. I’ve gotten quite familiar with this route since I started riding it regularly back in the spring. I wore 3 layers on my upper body, which I think was one more than I needed, as I was sweating a little bit by about 30-45 minutes in. Interestingly enough, though, my toes never really got cold. I wore my usual waterproof Altra Lone Peaks with warming insoles, but added a second layer of socks this time. I’m not sure if the socks did the trick, or if the extra upper-body layer kept my core warmer, thus keeping my body from leeching heat from the extremities. I suspect it was a little of both. That said, sweating when it’s below freezing is not something you really want happening. I need to find the sweet spot where I don’t sweat, but my toes still stay warm. Winter riding is very much a balancing act. I’ve been doing it for 13 winters, but I still haven’t perfected it.

Categories
Climbing Miscellany Weather Work

Xmas Break

It’s that time of year again, when work shuts down at the end of December. Most years, this is a complete break from my daily routine, with a 2-week absence from the office, and all of the usual holiday gatherings and activities filling our family schedule. I always look forward to the holidays, but usually, by January, I’ve had my fill, and am ready for things to get back to normal. It’s definitely a tiring time of year to be an introvert. This year is going to be quite a departure, though. My office is right downstairs in the basement, so I’m not really physically leaving it. We’ll celebrate Christmas with a couple of really small family gatherings, but other than that, the calendar is clear. The “holidaze”, as I’m fond of calling them, aren’t going to seem much different from the daily grind this year, other than the fact that I’m not working — and even that isn’t guaranteed, as I’ll be visiting the “office” occasionally to get some time in on my treadmill desk.

After a couple of mild, dry winters, it looks like we’re in for a wet one this year. I’m not sure if we’ll get much snow, as we’ve been in a “flood and freeze” pattern thus far — warm weather, followed by flooding rains, then a deep freeze, then a warm-up, whereupon the cycle repeats. Occasionally, an ice storm creeps into the mix. We’re due for a snowy winter, so it will be interesting to see if this pattern continues into January.

I’ve gotten myself into a pretty good routine of climbing once a week at Earth Treks. This morning, I climbed 8 routes: a 5.7, 5.9, 5.10a, 5.10a, 5.9, 5.10b, 5.8, and 5.9. Two of these routes were new to me, and the rest I had climbed previously. Most had a moderate amount of overhang, but I did tackle one rather slabby 5.9. 8 is a pretty good number for me for the time I was there, and I cleaned all 8 routes, so I’d say it was a good day. I guess I’m slowly getting better at this. I’ve been alternating between my newly-resoled La Sportiva TC Pros and my Scarpa Force Vs. I like them both. In the gym, I haven’t noticed a ton of difference as far as climbing goes. The Scarpas have velcro closures, and are easier to put on and take off. The TC Pros are lace-ups, but are more comfortable than the Scarpas, so there’s less need to take them off in between climbs. I have yet to climb outdoors with the Scarpas, but it will be interesting to see how that goes. I suspect the Scarpas will end up being my gym shoes, and the TCs will be my outdoor shoes. But you never know.

Tomorrow, we’ll be in the flood phase of our flood-freeze weather cycle, but I’m hoping the deluge will hold off for an hour or two so I can get a run in. If not, I guess I’ll be running Christmas morning. It’s not like the kids get up early any more. ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

Categories
Biking Weather

Ice and Slop

Among many other things, 2020 has had a profound effect on my daily routine. Before this year, I almost never rode my bikes for exercise. 99 times out of 100, if I rode, it was to get to work or get home. Once in a blue moon, I would head out on a weekend morning and bike a loop around the airport. A few times a year, I’d take the bike somewhere to find caches, or to use as a shuttle for a one-way hike or paddle, but that was the exception, not the rule. Almost all of my rides were 15 miles or less. Nowadays, it’s the complete opposite. I don’t commute any more, so I bike to stay in shape. Almost all of my rides are round-trip, starting and ending at home, and most are between 20 and 30 miles. This is kind of how I envisioned life after retirement, except I’m still working.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is Maryland weather. The past few days have been wet and icy. This past Saturday, I ventured out for a ride to Odenton to find a cache. The temperatures were in the low to mid-20s, making it my coldest ride of the season thus far. While I’m no stranger to commuting in those temperatures, I don’t think I had ever taken a ride just for the heck of it when it was that cold out. Strange times indeed.

After a run on Sunday, I returned to the bike this morning. Temperatures were several degrees above freezing, with a chilly fog hanging over everything, turning most of the snow and ice into messy slush. The exception was River Road in Patapsco Valley State Park, which faces north, and was still a solid sheet of ice. The warm-ish air temperature actually made it even more slick. It kind of caught me by surprise. After 12 winters riding through there, I’m aware that it gets icy, but given that the ice storm was 5 days ago, I thought that more of it would have melted. My studded front tire got me through some of it, but I elected to walk other parts of it in the interest of staying upright. I could have ridden most if it if I had had studs on the rear wheel, but I didn’t think I would need them. Live and learn, I guess.

Categories
Climbing Running Weather

Winter Weather Fun

It’s been a fun week of weather here in central Maryland. As predicted, we got an icy, slushy mess on Wednesday. NWS did a pretty good job forecasting this storm. Earlier models showed the potential for more snow in our area, but predicted amounts were dialed back as the low pressure center showed signs that it was going to track farther inland. Ultimately, we got pretty much exactly what was predicted for the area. A few days back, I read an interesting article that explained one of the reasons why snowfall totals in this area are so difficult to predict. Apparently, it’s because we live along the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line, which is where the Piedmont meets the Atlantic Coastal Plain. I hadn’t really thought about that before I read the article, but it makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday morning, before the weather, I managed to get out to the climbing gym. Weekday mornings are always a good time to go, and I feel like I climbed pretty well, tackling a few overhanging routes rated 5.9 to 5.10a. I still need to work on my upper body strength so that I can climb longer on these kinds of routes without getting as “pumped”. Yesterday afternoon, I ventured out onto the mean streets of Elkridge for a run. It was my first afternoon run in awhile, as I usually go early in the morning; but yesterday, I was concerned about icy roads. There were still some icy spots in the afternoon, mostly in shady areas, but it was not as bad as I had feared. I was able to follow my usual 5-mile route. I brought YakTrax along for insurance, but didn’t need them. Yesterday was also unique in that unlike my morning runs, I had already logged a couple of hours on the treadmill desk before I went out. I was definitely a little more tired at the end of the run than I usually am.

This morning, I was hoping to get out on the mountain bike, but unfortunately, it never got quite cold enough to freeze the trails. The predicted low was 26ยบ, but when I woke up, it was still hovering at 31ยบ. I went outside and saw that the puddles in our driveway were still liquid, so knew the trails would be a mess. I think the overnight cloud cover is what did us in. Next week is not looking promising for frozen trails, so it might be awhile before I get back out there. Maybe we’ll have a Christmas miracle. ๐Ÿ˜€

Categories
Biking Geocaching

Studs

Looks like we’ll be getting our first dose of wintry weather tomorrow, although the latest forecast I saw has dialed back on the snowfall totals in our area. Looks like another trademark central Maryland ice-fest. Whatever we get in the way of precipitation, it’s going to be turning colder. This morning, I was debating either running or biking, but then I remembered that there was a new cache in Catonsville, which swayed me to the latter.

We got a bunch of rain yesterday, and it dipped into the upper 20s overnight. That’s a great recipe for icy roads, so I decided I should ride with a studded front tire. It turned out to be the right move, and actually, I was kind of wishing I had studs on both wheels. I’ll swap the back wheel out before my next wintry ride. As usual, the iciest roads were in PVSP, but there was ice outside the park as well, as many roads hadn’t been salted (that will change tonight, I’m sure). This is my 10th winter riding the same set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires, and they are still going strong. I’m sure that one of the reasons they’ve lasted is that I have a second wheelset that I use in the winter, so I don’t have to mount and dismount the tires at the beginning and end of every season. It also makes it easy to switch back and forth between studded and regular tires during warm spells.

This morning, I covered around 23 miles. It went well, except I was reminded why I haven’t historically done much caching by bike in the cold. I was only off the bike for about 5 minutes to find the cache and sign the log, but that was enough to make me really chilly for about the next 15 minutes of the ride. I might have to get used to that, because there’s probably more winter bike caching in store for me this season.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to get a run in, as well as a quick trip to the climbing gym, before the weather hits. I guess we’ll see if either happens.

Categories
Biking Climbing Geocaching Running

Longer than planned

With temperatures still pushing into the 60s, and Old Man Winter slated to arrive this week, I really wanted to get some outside time today. I already had a 5-mile hike planned with our Scout troop, but also wanted to get some biking in before tomorrow’s predicted washout. So, I headed out of the house in the predawn twilight and biked a loop through Columbia, Savage, and Jessup. The route took me past Lake Elkhorn, along the entire length of the Patuxent Branch Trail, through Savage, and back home via Corridor Rd and Dorsey Run Rd. I even found a couple of caches along the way. I ended up notching over 31 miles, which was more than I had planned. When I left the house, the temperature at BWI was 53ยฐ, and based on that, I decided to wear shorts. I was regretting that decision for about the first 10 miles of the ride, but things soon warmed up enough that I was comfortable.

By the time I got home, it was after 10:00, leaving me about an hour to rest before I had to round the teens up to head to PVSP Hilton Area for our troop hike. We hiked a loop that took us along Santee Branch Trail, down Vineyard Spring, west on the paved Grist Mill Trail, and up Sawmill Branch, where we rejoined Santee Branch and followed it back to the starting point. The park was (predictably) busy, with Grist Mill being the busiest of the trails we hiked — nothing like it is on weekday mornings, when it’s just me and a few regulars. Other than that, though, it was a great hike, and the other trails didn’t feel crowded at all. There’s a lot of room out there in the woods.

Based on the weather forecast, tomorrow is shaping up to be a treadmill day. I’m hoping to get a ride or two in this week, as well as a run, and maybe some climbing at the gym, but we’ll see how much of that the weather will allow.

Categories
Biking

Freeze Thaw

Last year was my first-ever experience with mountain biking in the winter. Back in the ’90s, I was a casual, weekend-only, warm-weather mountain biker. Nowadays, in Patapsco Valley State Park, it’s all about avoiding the crowds. That means riding on weekdays, usually in the morning, and often in the cold.

One of the first things I learned about mountain biking in the winter is that I stay warmer on the trails than I do on roads. My first few times out, I dressed essentially the same way I do for cold road rides, and found myself getting hot and sweaty. I’m not sure why this is, but it probably has something to do with the slower speeds involved, as well as the tree canopy and terrain, all of which combine to reduce wind chill. Mountain biking is also more like interval training than road biking. There are short stretches of heavy exertion, alternated with downhill bursts, and occasional dismounting to get around obstacles. On top of that, you have to move around on the bike a lot more to keep a stable center of gravity through technical sections. All in all, it’s a much more dynamic activity than road biking, and involves a lot more muscle groups (particularly the core muscles). The upshot of all this is that I’ve learned to dress somewhat lighter than I do when I hit the roads. Of course, the only problem there is that whenever I do hit a short stretch of pavement, I get cold really fast. I try to minimize riding on pavement when on the mountain bike, but a certain amount of it is unavoidable.

The other thing I learned about is the strange phenomenon known as the “freeze thaw cycle” that affects the trails during the colder months. Overnight and in the morning, the trails are frozen, which makes for fantastic riding conditions. However, once the sun warms the ground above freezing, all of the moisture thaws out, and the trails turn into a muddy mess. This was a constant problem when I was commuting by MTB. The morning commutes would be total frozen awesomeness, but my afternoon rides would be mud baths. There were a lot of days where I rode home on roads, in the interest of staying off the trails. Of course, with my current work-from-home situation, this is not really a problem — I just stick to riding in the mornings.

We’re just now starting to get into the freeze-thaw cycle for the winter of 2020-2021. This morning, with the temperatures hovering right around freezing, the exposed trails were frozen, but the trails deeper in the woods were still thawed and a bit soupy in places. Trail conditions have been less than ideal lately because of our extremely wet fall weather, so I’m counting the days ’til the overnight temperatures fall down to the low-to-mid 20s, which will freeze everything up really nicely for my morning rides.

Categories
Biking

MTB

I bought my first mountain bike in 1994. Actually, it was the first bike I ever bought for myself, having cut my teeth on 10-speed beaters provided by my parents. I rode it off-road for awhile in the 1990s, and it sat neglected for most of the 2000s. In 2010, I fixed it up to use for winter commuting, replacing the old, blown air/oil suspension fork with a rigid front fork. However, that pretty much meant the end of the bike’s days as an off-road, single-track bike.

For awhile, I didn’t miss mountain biking, until a few years back, when I started hiking to and from work. From where I live, it’s about a 5 mile hike, about 90% of which is in Patapsco Valley State Park. Problem was, it took me 90 minutes each way, and I didn’t have 3 hours to spend commuting every day. As a result, it became a once-a-week thing, and most other days, I took to the roads on my bike, amongst the ever-worsening rush hour traffic.

PVSP is one of the premier mountain biking areas in the region, and during my hikes, I would always see MTB riders. Eventually, I got to thinking that if I bought a new mountain bike, I could use it to commute on the same trails I was hiking. It would be faster, so I could do it more often, which would mean less time spent on congested roads. In late 2019, I finally took the plunge.

It was a bit of a learning curve picking mountain biking back up after 20 years. It’s a completely different skill set from road biking, particularly when riding steep, technical trails like those in PVSP. But, I soon got into a pretty good routine commuting back and forth from work on single track. Then, COVID hit, and as with everything else, it shook up my mountain biking routine. Now that I’m working from home, I’m not using my bikes for commuting any more, and that includes the MTB. There’s less traffic on the roads, making road biking on weekdays (at least temporarily) more palatable than in recent years. It’s also been a very wet year, and the trails have been muddier than usual. All of this has meant less mountain biking this year than I had planned, though I still try to get out once a week or so. I’ll usually try to wait until 48 to 72 hours after it has rained (tough to do this year), and then I’ll ride a 10-to-15-mile loop before work.

One thing I will say about mountain biking is that, while harder to master than road biking, it is fun. There’s nothing like the thrill of a fun, fast descent, and a long ride on a flowy trail brings on a zen feeling that’s kind of like a runner’s high. You don’t really get that on the road, and it’s been a nice outlet this year. I’m glad I bought the bike when I did, and am looking forward to some point in the future when I can use it for commuting again.