Categories
Geocaching Hiking

Geocaching Goals

I’ve been geocaching regularly for 8 years now. While I used to enjoy doing it for its own sake, over the past few years, it’s become more of an excuse to get outdoors for activities such as hiking, kayaking, etc. One of the things that’s really cool about geocaching is that it brings you to outdoor locations you might not otherwise visit. For example, if not for geocaching, I likely would never have visited Liberty or Prettyboy Reservoirs, various remote areas of Patapsco Valley State Park, or any number of other out-of-the-way places in the area.

One aspect of geocaching is the concept of a “challenge” cache. This is a cache that you can only “find” if you have met an arbitrary goal chosen by the challenge cache creator. One simple geocaching challenge might be to find, say, 100 other caches, which would make you eligible to find and log an associated challenge cache.

I have a love/hate relationship with challenge caches. The rules for constructing challenges used to be fairly arbitrary, which led to some interesting and creative challenges. A few years back, Groundspeak, the company that runs the most popular geocaching listing service, tightened the rules for what constitutes an acceptable challenge. While well-intentioned, the result has been kind of a dumbing-down of geocaching challenges, and lately, there has been an explosion of somewhat frivolous challenges, to the point where “power trails” of 20 or more challenge caches have popped up in various areas. Challenge caches by themself are not an issue, but when they begin to saturate a given area, they can become a “barrier to entry” to new players in the area who want to pick up the hobby. I know that, when I was new to the game, I would have been discouraged if I had looked at the geocaching map, and seen that most of the caches near home were challenges that I would be ineligible to “find” until I had been caching for many years. One way that Groundspeak could address this might be to add a special “proximity rule” for challenge caches that is much greater than the 0.1 mile for traditional caches: for example, only allow one challenge cache per square mile. I think that would level the playing field nicely, allowing for challenges while preventing them from becoming too prevalent in a given area. But, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many challenge cache aficionados will vehemently disagree with me.

Now that I’m off my soapbox, I’ll talk about a type of challenge that I enjoy. Several years back, one of my goals was to find a geocache for each day of the year. It was a very effective motivator to get me out of the house. I finally completed that quest on Feb. 29, 2016. Once that’s done, you can try to find two caches for each day of the year (which I still have yet to accomplish, thanks to Christmas Day), and on and on. I have friends who are working on 5 caches/day, 10 caches/day, etc. Then you can move on to finding one of a specific type of cache for each day. My current project is to find a puzzle or “mystery” cache for each day of the year, and my goal is to do so by the end of 2022. While you could argue that it’s a “frivolous” or “arbitrary” goal, I’ve planned several bike rides, hikes, etc. around finding mystery caches on specific dates, and it’s been a good motivator to get me outdoors during these crazy times. Once I’m finished, I’ll have to find another “arbitrary” goal to pursue, just to stay motivated.

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. 😀
  • 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 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 53°, 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 Geocaching

Murphy’s Law

Today was a Murphy’s Law kind of morning. I had my heart set on biking to UMBC and taking a hike in the CERA nature preserve to find a cache I had had my eyes on for awhile (why I specifically wanted to find it today is beyond the scope of this post 😀). Yesterday, we had a ton of rain, which tends to make CERA muddy, but today’s forecast was clear. Of course, in spite of the forecast, I woke up to drizzle. OK, fine — I can deal with drizzle. I put on my rain gear, loaded everything up on my bike, and got all ready to go, only to find that my front tire was flat as a pancake. OK, I haven’t ridden this bike in 8 days — maybe it’s a really slow leak. I went ahead and inflated the tire. It seemed to hold air, so I crossed my fingers and hit the road.

Well, the weather for the ride to UMBC actually wasn’t too bad. The drizzle let up, and it looked like it might be starting to clear up. I rode through Patapsco Valley State Park and up Gun Rd, which, although hilly, is about the shortest possible route I can take. I arrived, and my tire still had some air in it. Great. I locked it up, grabbed my GPS, and headed to the CERA trailhead.

CERA had some puddles here and there, but I’ve seen it muddier. I hiked the short loop, found the cache, and headed back to the bike. Of course, by this time, the tire was flat again. So much for a slow leak. But, if the bike got me here, it would probably also get me home. I dusted off my frame pump, inflated the tire again, and got back on the road. I took a slightly longer route through Relay to avoid the white-knuckled descent down Gun Rd on wet pavement. The rain mostly held off, and I made it home without further incident.

Looks like I’ll be patching a tube tonight. Between last Friday’s broken spoke and today’s leaky tire, I’m really hoping my next ride will be uneventful!

Categories
Biking Climbing Geocaching

2020 Memories

I’ve been reading through some of the stuff I wrote here back in 2005 and 2006, and it has brought back memories of things that happened back then that I had subsequently forgotten. 2020 has been such an extraordinary year, that I thought it would be worthwhile to write something about it while it’s fresh on my mind, so I can wax nostalgic in another 15 years or so.

I have been working from home since mid-March. I never thought I would do well as a full-time telecommuter, because of my ADD, but it has worked out better than I had expected. Having a dedicated office in the basement has helped, and over the past 8 months, I’ve slowly improved it, to the point where it’s now a better workspace than my office at UMBC. In early October, I bought an under-desk treadmill, something I had been considering doing even before COVID struck. It has been a real game-changer — it took a week or so to get used to it, but I’m now able to walk for several hours a day while working, which I find really helps both with concentration as well as my overall mood.

I’m obviously no longer commuting to the office by bike, but I am still riding a few days a week. One of the happy consequences of the pandemic (if there is such a thing) is that it has taken a lot of traffic off the local roads, which has made road biking much more pleasant. Some mornings, I ride my regular commuting route to UMBC and back home before work. Other days, I’ll ride somewhere else, like Columbia or the BWI loop, or I’ll take the mountain bike out and do a loop through Patapsco or Rockburn. On weekends, I’ll often head out early, take a longer road ride, and find a geocache or two. I haven’t been caching nearly as much as I did during my heyday of 2014-2018, but I still enjoy the hobby. Now, though, it’s more about getting exercise or spending time with the kids than it is about caching for its own sake.

In summer 2019, we joined the local climbing gym, and have been going pretty regularly (with the exception of 3 months it was closed this year during the shutdown). It’s another great way to stay in shape, but when you’re my age, you really have to take your time and focus on learning correct technique to avoid getting injured. I’m kind of jealous of my 14-year-old son, who is on the advanced climb team and can easily climb circles around me with seemingly no consequences. I hope he enjoys it while it lasts. 😀 We’ve also done top-roping outdoors, which carried a bit of a learning curve, and required an investment in equipment. Once I got to the point where I could safely rig top-rope anchors, the kids and I have been able to go out and have some fun at various local crags. That is something I had been wanting to do for quite awhile, so I’m really happy we eventually got to that point.

We got a LOT of use out of our pool this summer. Someone was in the pool almost every day, and I myself probably used it more times than I did the past several seasons combined. Swimming proved to be an effective substitute for my afternoon rides home from the office, particularly on hot days (and we had a lot of hot days this year, especially in July). I tried a swim tether this year, and found that I liked it a lot. Our pool, while on the large side for a backyard pool at 40′ long, is still a little too short for swimming laps, and the tether let me swim for long periods of time without having to keep turning around.

Well, that’s enough for now, but I am going to try to get back into a habit of writing here regularly again. We’ll see if it actually happens.

Categories
Geocaching

Top 10 Geocache Finds of 2019

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?

Categories
Geocaching Uncategorized

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2018 Edition

Once again, I had to make some tough eliminations to trim this list down to just 10. I’ll list the “honorable mentions” at the end of this post. Without further ado, in no particular order:

  • Hyndman’s Mail Path Cache (GCNXM9)
    A classic traditional hide on a mountaintop outside Hyndman, PA, which is due north of Cumberland, MD. This was a great hike in an out-of-the-way rural area, and a great find on a cache that had been lonely for 2 years. It got a couple more well-deserved visits after I found it in July, though.
  • Huh? Too (GC373XV)
    This is a puzzle cache hidden on an island in Liberty Reservoir. It took me quite awhile to get the final coordinates. The challenge was not so much figuring out how to solve it, but rather, where to look to find the solution. Thanks to NCPositronics, I had the opportunity to paddle a kayak on Liberty Reservoir for the first time ever (along with Alzarius, who joined me in NCP’s tandem kayak).
  • Diablo Point Cache (GCFE)
    A December 2000 hide located near the peak of South Mountain, just outside Phoenix, AZ. Quite the adventure hiking/scrambling 5 miles up the mountain in the 100° desert heat, but I came prepared, and lived to tell the tale.
  • USS Midway (a Virtual Reward Cache) (GC7B69J)
    This is my favorite of the virtual reward caches I have found to date. A very well-done scavenger hunt aboard the U.S.S. Midway, a retired WWII aircraft carrier which is now a floating museum on San Diego harbor. A definite must-do when visiting there.
  • Psycho Urban Cache #7 – A Good Day to Die (GCQHBH)
    What top-10 list would be complete without a PUC?? This was a fun urban spelunking adventure just outside Frederick, MD. It was noteworthy in that we completed it in the rain. The stage 1 tunnel was dry when we crawled down it, but after making the final find, we noticed water pouring out of it. I guess we finished in the nick of time!
  • Tarryall (GC18)
    This is the oldest active cache in the state of Colorado, placed in July 2000. I made the drive to it from Golden (just outside Denver) in February, dealing with some really dodgy weather along the way. Again, I lived to tell the tale. As with much of Colorado, the area around the hide is beautiful and bucolic. This find completed my first loop of the famous Jasmer Challenge.
  • VALHALLA (GC4YJD6)
    This is an extremely fun, creative puzzle/multi located in southern Maryland that doesn’t get nearly enough visits. The field puzzle by itself is worth a favorite point, but the hike is just as awesome.
  • The Catoctin Mountain Geology Tour (GC7R9VC)
    An ambitious EarthCache in Catoctin Mountain National Park that features some incredible views and a really nice hike. Definitely not one for the “numbers” cachers. 🙂
  • Extreme Geocacher Challenge (GC4N1EW)
    Another crazy adventure in Middle River, MD that involves doing fun, dangerous stuff. What more do I need to say?!?
  • The Ghosts of DelMar (MD/DE Virtual Challenge) (GC3VJWF)
    You might say that 2018 was a slow year for caching for me, but I did complete a few challenges that I had been working on for a long time. One of them was this one, which requires finds on every virtual cache in Maryland and Delaware. It was quite an adventure going after all of them, but well worth it.

Honorable Mentions (because I couldn’t just leave them out, could I?):

  • The Maryland and Delaware DeLorme Challenge (GCR7CH)
  • Ever changing Island (GC7B7XC)
  • Thousand Steps Cache (GC59AF)
  • DO NOT Release the Kraken: 1 (GC7WA3N)
  • Puzzle Prep – Cryptography (GC5JJ5H)
Categories
Geocaching

Caching in the Sonoran Desert

A couple of months ago, I found out that I would be going to Phoenix, AZ (specifically, the town of Gilbert) for a short business trip in mid-May. I immediately did what I always do: I checked the area for any geocaches of interest that I could target during my free time. Turns out that there are 3 caches that were hidden in the year 2000, all within 30 minutes’ driving time of Gilbert: Geocache (GC57; Arizona’s oldest active hide), Diablo Point Cache (GCFE), and Senda de Tonto (GCED). Being a huge fan of older caches, I put these on my list, in hopes I could get to a couple of them. My day job was on a Tuesday and Wednesday, so I booked my flight out for early Monday morning, and my flight home for Thursday mid-afternoon. That would leave Monday afternoon and evening free, and Thursday morning. Could I possibly squeeze all three of these in?

Monday afternoon: Diablo Point Cache

GCFE is located in South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in Phoenix. It’s a short 15-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. From a timing and driving standpoint, it made perfect sense to attempt it immediately after arriving, as it’s much closer to the airport than it is to Gilbert. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 9:20am, leaving almost the entire day free. The down side to this plan was the weather forecast. The predicted high for the day was 97°F, and I would be out during the hottest part of the day. I reasoned that if I wore a hat, dressed appropriately, used lots of sunscreen, and drank LOTS of water, I should be OK in the dry desert heat. I’m in pretty good shape, and am used to stifling east coast humidity. A few days prior to leaving, I plotted the hike out on paper using OpenStreetMap trail maps. It looked like about a 4 mile out-and-back hike, assuming I started at the Mormon Trailhead, which is along East Valley View Drive at approx. N33° 21.982′ W112° 01.814′ (conveniently enough, there’s a cache right at the entrance to the parking lot: GC78F3K). While 4 miles is no problem, the tough part would be the roughly 700′-800′ of elevation gain between the parking area and my destination. What could possibly go wrong?!?

For water, I packed my Osprey Manta hydration pack, which has a 3-liter reservoir. I also packed two half-liter water bottles, for a total capacity of 4L. My flight arrived right on time (thanks, Southwest Airlines) and I filled my pack and bottles at an airport bottle-filling station before leaving to pick up my rental car. I had the car by around 10:45, and arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 after a quick stop at Subway for lunch. At lunch, I pre-hydrated with about 20oz of Gatorade, so I was as ready as I’d ever be.

The hike started out easy enough. The trail was dry and rocky, with a steady uphill grade and a few switchbacks. I thought I’d be the only person crazy enough to be hiking this trail during the heat of the day, but I passed an older couple slowly working their way uphill, and a woman heading down. After about a half mile, I approached the first cache along my hike: GCCE2F, “Camelback View”, which was placed on 02/01/2003 and named for its view of Camelback Mountain off in the distance. The area also has a great view of greater Phoenix, including downtown and the airport. After some scrambling around, I located the cache, and rested under a shady rock while I signed the log. From here, the distance to GCFE was a scant 0.83 mile, but distances can be deceiving!

The second phase of the hike was relatively flat. A breeze was stirring up, which felt really good. The area was quite beautiful, with Saguaro cacti dotting the landscape, and a very cool natural rock tunnel as well. Soon after that, the going got tough, though. I left the Mormon Loop trail and hiked a short distance on the National Trail, before taking an unnamed shortcut up the mountain to join a trail called Midlife Crisis. The shortcut trail was steep and mostly rock, and I lost the trail in a few places as I scrambled ever higher. My GPSr was a big help keeping me on course, though, and eventually I found the much-easier-to-follow Midlife Crisis. This trail took me up to a couple of peaks with incredible 360° views. You know you’re doing something right when you can see for miles in every direction. Well worth all of the hard work getting up there, even without the cache!

As I closed in on the cache, I had to lose some of my hard-fought elevation. That’s always tough on the morale, as with an out-and-back hike, I knew that I’d have to regain that elevation again! The cache itself was several hundred feet off the trail, near a large rock formation. I won’t give the hide away, but I will say that I read a few logs in advance, and had an idea where I might need to focus my search. After checking a few other places, I looked in the right spot and found the cache. What a hike!! I sat for a good 10-15 minutes resting and savoring the find. As of this writing, the cache still has its original log from December 2000! That kind of longevity definitely is the mark of a good hide.

After signing the log and replacing the cache, I had to hike back to my car. After all that work, it was hard to fathom that I was only halfway through my hike!! I considered taking an alternate route back, which would have taken me past more caches; however, not being familiar with the area, I decided to go with “the devil I knew” and return the same way I came. I was getting a little tired, and wanted to make sure I could get back without running out of water.

The hike back was faster, but still difficult, as anyone who has had to hike a significant distance downhill while tired will tell you. I was really happy when I finally got back to the parking area. All told, I had hiked 5.5 miles with a total elevation gain/loss of around 1500′-1600′. I went through about a gallon of water. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, the temperature gauge in my rental car read an even 100°F.

All in all, this was a great hike with a nice payoff at the end. Perhaps it was a little ill-advised to do alone, but I lived to tell the tale!

Thursday morning: Geocache and Senda de Tonto

The great thing about these two caches is that they are only about 6 miles apart, so it’s easy to combine them into one trip. I had a flight out at 2:10pm, and sunrise was at 5:20am. The parking area for GC57 (along Bush Hwy in Tonto National Forest) was about a 25-30 minute drive from my hotel in Gilbert. I figured that I would get on the road at 4:15 (easy to do, as my body clock was still on eastern time) and by the time I arrived, I’d have enough predawn twilight to begin my hike, and plenty of time before I had to catch my flight. I packed my breakfast to go (a “Which Wich” sandwich that I bought the previous evening) and left right on time. When I pulled up to parking, the temperature was a pleasant 62°F. A far cry from Monday’s hike!!

The area where GC57 is hidden is known as Bulldog Canyon. The parking area has a gate, and beyond the gate is a dirt road that is suitable for most vehicles (although from the looks of it, I think you’d want something high profile to get through some areas). If desired, one can get a free permit from the Forest Service (which includes gate combination) and drive to within about 0.6 miles of the cache. However, I figured I would just park outside the gate and hike in. From the gate, the cache is about 4 miles round trip. The terrain is much flatter than South Mountain, but a little over a mile of it involves bushwhacking through the desert. There are several other caches sprinkled along the road, and I found 3 or 4 of them en route.

The desert bushwhack was lots of fun. It’s not difficult to navigate, though you do have to choose your path wisely and watch your step. The primary hazard is not what you think: yes, there are cactus spines, and you will get some stuck in your shoes. It’s impossible to avoid. However, more so than the spines, there is horse poop literally everywhere!! Apparently, there are herds of wild horses that roam the desert; I wasn’t lucky enough to see any, but I sure saw plenty of evidence of their presence. Aside from that, the area is beautiful, and the views are breathtaking. It’s hard to imagine a better time of day to be there than dawn.

After about 20 minutes of winding my way between prickly plants, I closed in on GZ and found the venerable GC57. After performing the usual rituals (including releasing my own trackable), I worked my way back to parking and found a few more caches. Total hike time was about 2.5 hours, and total temperature gain was around 15 degrees, as it was in the mid 70s when I got back to the car.

Next stop was Senda de Tonto (GCED), which is about 6 miles west of GC57, right along Bush Highway. Of the 3 caches, it’s the shortest and easiest hike. The terrain is hilly, but the hike is only about a quarter mile each way. The cache is along a well-used trail, and I saw several hikers and bikers. There are some beautiful views along the trail, as well. Some of the Saguaros in this area still had blooms, which look to be popular with bees. I wrapped my hike up just past 8:00am, and got back to my hotel a little before 9, early enough to enjoy the free breakfast, finish my packing, and rest for a little bit before leaving for the airport.

I was really happy with the amount and quality of caching I was able to fit in during my limited free time on this trip. I wish all of them could be this successful!

Categories
Geocaching Travel

Jasmer Challenge

One of the more popular geocaching “side games” is called the “Jasmer Challenge”. The goal: for each month since geocaching began in May 2000 (when Selective Availability was turned off), find at least one geocache that was placed in that month. As of this writing, that means finding 214 caches: one placed in May 2000, one in June 2000, one in July 2000, etc., all the way up to February 2018. It’s a difficult challenge to complete, because of the travel required, and the scarcity of some of the months. For example, there are only four remaining active hides in the world that were placed in August 2000.

I’ve been working on this challenge off-and-on for about 3 years. Many people, including some of my friends, have taken “geo-trips” specifically for finding caches to help them fulfill the Jasmer Challenge. Geo-trips aren’t really an option for me at this point in my life (not that I’m complaining by any means), but I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel for work several times a year. Work travel often gives me opportunities to work on my geocaching goals, including (you guessed it) the Jasmer Challenge. In 2017, I found myself with only two months left to go to qualify: July and August 2000. I was able to find the latter in April 2017, and the former in February 2018.

April 2017: GC36, “Geocache 612” (hidden 8/21/2000)

“Geocache 612” is one of the four remaining caches from August 2000. It’s located in Kalkaska County, MI, which is in the northern section of the lower peninsula, about 3 to 3.5 hours north of Detroit. My opportunity to find it came in April 2017, when I traveled to Ann Arbor for a work gig at University of Michigan. Upon arrival, I rented a car and drove 7 hours round-trip, with the weather threatening the entire way, and made the find. The full story of this find may become the subject of a future post…

February 2018: GC18, “Tarryall” (hidden 7/2/2000)

“Tarryall” is the oldest active geocache in the state of Colorado. It’s located about 2 hours out of Denver, in a rural area at about 8600′ elevation. I’ve had my eye on it for a long time, as work seems to bring me to the Denver area every couple of years. I had plans to find it in 2016, but decided to drive east and find another old cache instead.

Late last year, I learned that I would be heading to Golden, CO for a few days in early February 2018. Now, if I had my choice, I’d rather get sent to Colorado in spring or fall (note to readers: I am not a skier). I just figured that Colorado at 8600′ in February would be, well, snowy, and to maximize chances of success, it would be better to eliminate snow as a potential complicating factor. No such luck, but I decided to plan a mission to Tarryall in spite of it, and hope for the best.

First thing I would need would be a car. I’ll throw in a plug for Zipcar, a car-sharing service which I’ve used for several years. It’s great for just this kind of thing. As long as there are Zipcars available nearby, they can be rented by the hour, 24/7, and there are no rental counter lines or pushy agents to deal with. Just reserve, find your car, and drive. On this trip, I was happy to find that Colorado School of Mines (the site of my meeting for the week) had cars available. I reserved a 4WD Ford Escape, which I figured would give me the best chance for success should I have to deal with any bad weather.

I chose the first full day of my trip (a Monday) to make my attempt. My day job didn’t start until 12 noon MST, and by body clock would still be on eastern time. I figured I would need 2 hours for the drive out and 2 hours for the drive back. If I left at 4:30am, and planned on being back by 11, that would allow 2.5 hours for caching.

Departure day arrived. The weather forecast in Colorado looked beautiful, with highs above freezing, and no snow predicted in either Golden or the area around Tarryall. Maryland was another story, though: we had an ice storm the day I was scheduled to fly out. No significant flight delays, though, other than to de-ice the plane. I arrived in Golden, got my stuff ready, and went to bed early.

After about 5.5 hours’ sleep, I was up bright and early and making preparations to head out. I left my hotel at a little after 4, found my Zipcar, and was on the road at 4:30, just as scheduled. It was very windy around Golden, as a front had gone through overnight; but the weather at the lower elevation was a balmy 50°F (considerably warmer than back home in Maryland).

The drive was dark. Really, really dark. At about the halfway mark, I drove through Kenosha Pass, which has an elevation of 10,000′. This was the one area where my careful planning failed me. I had checked weather in Golden, and in Tarryall, but not here. Here, it was snowing. Not a huge amount of accumulation, but heavy enough to coat the roads and reduce visibility. Thankfully, the wind had died down, but it was snowing. And dark. And my car was out of windshield washer fluid. And did I mention dark? I was having a hard time seeing the road. The truck in front of me decided to pull over to wait it out. Morale was slipping, and I considered turning back.

I decided to soldier on. In spite of the snow coating the road, I could still see the yellow lines, so I knew it wasn’t deep. I stopped to manually clear my windshield, which helped with visibility. The Ford Escape seemed to be having no issues with traction. Braking was still crisp and responsive. There was no one else on the road to worry about. I cut my speed and drove carefully. Eventually, as the elevation dropped a little bit, conditions improved. I started to see the first glimmers of light in the east. The roads were no longer snow-covered. I might just make it!

I pulled into the parking area for Tarryall at about 6:30am, right on schedule. I had read that with a 4WD vehicle, it was possible to drive on the unpaved ATV road up to about 0.1 mile from the cache. Instead of doing that, I elected to park near the main road and walk from there, which was only about 0.5 mile. I hiked out; I found the cache; I did my happy dance. By now, the sun was up, and the area was just beautiful. I’m not saying that Maryland isn’t beautiful, but we don’t have stuff like this. I hung around for another hour or so, and found another cache, before returning to my vehicle for the drive back.

The drive back was uneventful. I stopped for several more caches. It was hard to resist the urge to stop for even more caches (fellow geocachers can relate to that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling), but I had a deadline, and couldn’t be late getting back. It was still snowing at Kenosha Pass, but the plows were out doing their thing, and the drive was much less daunting in full daylight. I made one more stop, for gas and a really bad gas-station sandwich. I rolled back into Golden with plenty of time to spare.

So, thus ends my quest to complete the Jasmer Challenge. It was fun, and it sent me on a couple of crazy adventures! If you thought it was over, though, don’t fret: once one has completed the Jasmer Challenge once, the next step is to complete it twice. I’m already crossing my fingers that work will send me to Atlanta, where I’m told another August 2000 and another July 2000 hide are lurking…