Monday, April 27, 2015

Geocaching Adventures: Beech Mountain OR How I Lost My Trusty Walking Stick, But Still Found a Cache

It is Saturday, and I am both a) not on call for work, and b) not on the hook for babysitting a toddler.  So... what is one to when faced with such a predicament?  Yep, time to go caching!

Todays adventure brought me to the town at the highest elevation east of the Mississippi:  Beech Mountain North Carolina.  Near the town is the Creek Pond Trail.  My mission for the day was to hike that trail and find all the caches today.

I don't want to ruin the suspense, but let me start by saying that I did find 10 caches today. However the most interesting one was the second one, and is the focus of this blog post.

The cache is located 528 feet down the Creek Pond Lower Trail, a very rough and rugged trail that follows the creek through a series of small waterfalls.   It had rained the night before so the trail was muddy, wet, and slippery.  Armed with my geo-bag, my GPSr, and my trusty hiking stick I started down the path, not knowing what adventure awaited me down that trail.

I knew from the cache description that the cache was in "something resembling a cave".  When I got semi-close to GZ (ground zero) I did indeed notice a rocky structure that resembled a cave.  However I was still 40 feet away from GZ so I kept going.  A bit further down the trail, real close to where my GPS said was GZ was another cave like structure down near the creek, about 10 feet below where I was standing.

This second cave like structure looked promising, so I diligently started working my way down the bank and got to a point where I was standing on some wet rocks close to the creek...  Oh, remember when I said it was slippery?  I wish I had.

Picture in your mind a dancer who gracefully pirouettes and spins around as if touched by angels. With precise fluid movements she moves around her environment with poise and ease.  Can you picture it?  Well if you can, you have got the exact opposite image of what happened next.

My legs slipped out from underneath me and I hit the rocks on my butt. As luck would have it  I kept sliding right into the creek with a thundering splash.  I ended up thigh deep in the clearest mountain water one could ever hope for. 

If you are wondering (and I am sure you are) It was at this time that I lost my trusty hiking stick.  As I fell I tossed the stick away so I wouldn't land on it, and it went flying down the next waterfall, never to be seen again.  I liked that stick.  It has been my trust companion on many a hike.  It will be missed.  Someday it may float into the Gulf Of Mexico, so if you see a stick headed south in a river that looks like it was owned by a Canadian, let me know.

After splashdown, I quickly regained my composure and thankfully nothing was hurt but my pride. I slowly got up and sloshed back onto the bank, sans stick, and went to investigate that cave.  Since I was already wet and dirty I slithered under the rocks without hesitation to check it out. But alas I was foiled. No cache. Hrm... nuts.

I clambered back up the bank to where the trail was, and figured I'd go check out that first rock structure that resembled a cave.  I crawled into the cave mouth, spelunked my way deeper (I'm a big boy, slithering into small cave mouths isn't exactly what the Good Lord was thinking of when he designed me) and found the more glorious of sights.  An ammo can. 

So with a sigh of relief I signed the log, put it back, spelunked my way out, and sloshed back up the trail, soaked to the skin from the waist down, and dirtier than I have ever been.  When I got to the trailhead I raised my hands in victory for I knew I had just conquered the most challenging caches of my career.

However my day was not yet complete.  This was only my second cache!  I had 8 more to go.  So I headed up the Pond Creek Upper Trail and continued on with the days adventures.

I learned several things today:

1) rocks are slippery after a rain fall
2) Hiking boots help, but are not to be completely trusted for traction
3) Mountain streams are cold
4) Sometimes it pays to go with your gut
5) To paraphrase Bilbo Baggins: "It's a dangerous business, going out your door to cache.  You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." - a very wise Hobbit.

I was also reminded of the thing I like most about being a geocacher: going on an adventure that you would have never done otherwise.  This adventure definitely qualifies as one of those adventures that stretched my abilities, gave me new experiences, and memories that will last a long long time.

There were benefits of getting soaked: my third cache of the day was called "Will You Cross The Stream?" and it involved crossing the very same creek about a mile up stream.  Since I was already soaked to the bone it was an easy decision.  A quick trudge through the creek bed and I had my third cache of the day in hand.

As I headed back down the mountain on my way home I was treated to this lovely vista.  Isn't geocaching grand?


 This article was written by Dave DeBaeremaeker. If you liked this post please feel free to check out some of his adventures and hi-jinks on his personal blog: Only Googlebot Reads This Blog.

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Tribute to Caching Buddies! A guest blog by Noxencachehunter

A Tribute to Caching Buddies!

Recently I (noxencachehunter) and my ten-year-old son Ben(KingChewie) had the awesome opportunity to attend the Allegheny MEGA with some friends from NEPAG. It was an awesome weekend, ending in well over a hundred caches found and a lot of fun and laughs getting there. The real story for us, starts on the last Sunday of the event- at the pancake breakfast. As we were finishing, one of our crew by the name of Angel sits down and says: 'Hey, what are your plans from here?" I told her that I thought we were pretty much packing up and headin' out. She replies:"Well, JohnGalt, ScarletWitch, and I are going to swing over and catch The Spot (GC39) It's the oldest cache on the east coast." I glanced over at my intrepid caching partner. Apparently he had been infected with the "one more cache" virus over the weekend. His little head was bobbing in the affirmative. "Let's go, dad!" So off we went.

About an hour into our trip across Rt. 86 I began to feel a strange vibration coming from the front end of the truck, followed by a growling noise. As we got off the highway at our exit, we noticed SMOKE coming from the front of my vehicle! Pulling over, Angel hopped out of her car and poured water over the front tire. JohnGalt and I got out the jack, removed the tire, and discovered that the caliper, brake pads and rotor had all fused together- and the wheel barely moved! My day was over.

As I phoned for a tow, I told the rest of the group that we didn't want to mess up the rest of their day. THEY REFUSED TO LEAVE. Unbelievably, Angel pulls out her phone and makes reservations for my son and  I at a nearby hotel. She and her husband covered the bill. The group waited an hour for the tow truck with us, and as the truck was being picked up, a pic was snapped with the tow truck driver. About a minute after the pic was posted to Facebook, I got a call from Nishollow, another cacher who was with us over the weekend. He wanted to make sure everything was o.k. After the truck was towed, we actually continued on with our plans and managed to make it to The Spot! The truck was fixed the next day, and Ben and I were back on the road by late morning.

What's the moral of the story? Caching is an amazing hobby, but I can honestly say it takes a backseat to meeting some of the most amazing, caring people I have ever met. I consider myself fortunate that I was not alone during my escapade. It also made me think of the times I was tempted to cache alone for hides that were better found in a group- not only because of the fun, but also due to the danger present due to terrain. I'm glad I had others along then, too!

So thank you JohnGalt!, Angel, and ScarletWitch. I consider myself a richer man for knowing all of you- and I look forward to caching with all of you many more years.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Underwater Clean Up In Santa Pola with CrazyCris

Well that was interesting! And EXHAUSTING!!! A couple of hours in the sun, on the boat or in the water, are always tiring. Add the trash collecting and no wonder I'm so dead!

I got up at very early o'clock this morning, and zipped along the coast to the other end of the Alicante Bay to Santa Pola, to join in the 1st annual clean up organised by ANTHIAS, the dive club I've been going out with this summer, for "Clean Up Your World Day". 10 conscientious divers answered the call. We got our equipment ready as quickly as possible, piled it in the boat, and got the general instructions for the day's work.

Our target:
the breakwater protecting Santa Pola's harbour, favourite haunt of local amateur fishermen.

The A-Team gets geared up to start on the first section:

They're off!

Those of us on the boat (B-Team) watch them bobbing up and down between the seabed and the surface, while the fishermen look on wondering what these crazy people are up to.

While filling up several trash bags with cans, juice boxes, plastic bags (by far the big winner), fishing lines, our friends occasionally bring us back some of the most random objects, way to big to fit in a bag!

abandoned fishing gear never really stops fishing! :s

du-dun, du-dun... (cue Jaws theme)

it was a plastic barnacle-covered table top!

would anyone like half a chair?

Halfway down the line we switch places. A comes up for some sun, B jumps in the water!

Main problem with this clean up? Crappy visibility!!!

Can't see much, can you? The bottom is all silt, so it finds itself easily in suspension in the water column (one good kick with the flippers and you're blind!). You have to get really close to things to be able to see them at all...

Quite disturbing!!!

Even looking up it's hard to make out the boat!

While we were doing our watery part, a few others worked along the rocks, braving the wrath of the fishermen who didn't like being interrupted, but who couldn't be bothered to clean up after themselves! grrrr....

I don't know what the final tally is, but we brought up a lot of shit! Hopefully next year more people will join in.

And now I'm turning in early... have to get up at bloody early o'clock again to go hiking!
I must be crazy... :p

Visit CrazyCris's blog, Here and There and Everywhere and read more great adventures from this wonderful author, adventurist and just a great person. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Interview with the reViewer

How do geocaches get published? Anyone who has tried to hide a cache knows that there are mysterious people called Reviewers who review and publish geocaches. For many people, that is where the extent of their knowledge ends.
With this question in mind, I recently had the opportunity to interview my local reviewer, who goes by the name of OReviewer. (Reviewers generally use a different account than their main account to review and publish geocaches.) OReviewer was more than happy to take some of his undoubtedly limited time and help shed some light on the mystery surrounding the sometimes enigmatic review processes and practices.
George (me): Are you a geocacher yourself? If so, about how many caches have you found?
OReviewer: Yes, I am a geocacher, with 12,000+ finds.
G: How long have you been geocaching, and how long have you been a reviewer?
OR: I have been caching since 2004, reviewing since 2006.
G: On average, about how many hours a week do you spend reviewing caches (including publishing, rejecting, archiving, etc.?)
OR: I spend too many hours on the Geocaching site. I can't begin to estimate the amount of time. It is a lot of 10-15 minute spots while doing something else rather than long hour-plus spans of time. For the most part, I am reviewing at least a couple of hours a day seven days a week, if not more.
G: How many submissions do you get during a typical week?
OR: I probably see 200-300 listings in a given week.
G: Do you get paid for being a reviewer?
OR: I do not get paid; this is strictly a volunteer position. I guess I am paid in t-shirts and thanks if that counts.
G: Do you get the final coordinates for multi-stage or puzzles caches from your reviewer account?
OR: I'm not sure I understand your question. As a reviewer, I have access to all of the final coordinates. If you are asking if I use these to skip stages of caches and not do puzzles; no. This would go against the reviewer code of ethics as well as my own.
G: If you hide a cache, do you have to approve it yourself?
OR: Let me make something clear, I don't approve or disapprove caches, I publish them. Approve or not is an opinion or judgment that doesn't play into how I review. There are many caches I've published I don't approve of but if they met the guidelines (even if barely,) they were published.
To answer your question; yes, have published my own caches. Most of the time I have another reviewer check it over to make sure I've not missed anything then either I publish it myself or have them do it.

G: What do you do if you have to take a vacation/family emergency/otherwise unavailable for a while?
OR: Usually I just ask one of the other reviewers to look at the queue if I am going to be away. Most of the restricted areas are pretty well marked.
G: How big of an area are you responsible for, and how many cache listings do you get a month?
OR: I review everything east of Latitude W77 in Pennsylvania, all of Delaware and I review in New Jersey.
G: Are you responsible for publishing all cache types?
OR: I publish all regular cache types except EarthCaches.
G: What do you like most about being a geocache reviewer?
OR: I enjoy helping the community getting their caches published, working with my fellow reviewers and promoting/protecting the hobby.
G: What do you like least about being a geocache reviewer?
OR: People who take the hobby too seriously and get upset over minor things. I don't like having to play the bad guy at times disabling caches for problems. I don't like having to say "No."
G: What is the worst experience you have had as a reviewer?
OR: My worst experience was being cursed at and threatened by a cacher because I wouldn't publish their cache. I've also had some...uncomfortable interactions with unhappy cachers at events. It comes with the job; people sometimes have trouble realizing it is just a game.
G: What is the top thing (or things) you wish cache submitters would do more or less of when submitting new caches, and what tips would you give to a new cache hider that would make your job easier?
OR: 1) Spell check your cache page; this is being published for the world to see and will be there forever.
2) Check for proximity yourself (what you can). Clicking the "...all nearby caches" will show you if you are less than 528 feet from another cache.
3) Include a detailed reviewer note about how and where the cache is hidden as well as well as how to solve puzzle or anything else that you think will get your cache published faster. The more you tell, the less back and forth there needs to be.
4) Look at the map of your cache. Does it look right? Do you see anything on it that might make me question your cache?
5) Location, location, location. Just because you can throw a film can in bushes, do those bushes really deserve a cache? What are you trying to show with your cache? Imagine this was your first find, would you continue caching if this was your first find?

G: What, if anything, would you change on or about the reviewing process?
OR: I would prefer to see there be a max number of caches per cache owner; be it by number of finds (sort of like how favorites work) or a strict "X amount of container caches out at a time".
G: How did you come to be a reviewer? Who asked you if you wanted to be a reviewer?
OR: I was asked to join the group by MissPlaced, the eastern PA reviewer at the time.
G: Can anyone become a reviewer? If not, what are the qualifications? (Note: Groundspeak has additional guidance at
OR: I would imagine almost anyone could become a reviewer. The requirements are pretty simple. They are listed at the link above. It mostly comes down to does the area need another (or more) reviewer(s). Our area seems to be doing well; I don't have trouble publishing the caches in a timely matter.
G: Why do you do it? (Reviewing geocaches)
OR: This game gave a lot to me when I started; it got me out of the house, showed me new places, helped me make some good friends and overall, and improved the quality of my life. I wanted to be able to do the same for the game. I started by helping to lead SEPAG (our local geocaching organization) and that evolved into becoming a reviewer. Now, I get to help my local community as well as the greater community (i.e., the areas I review.)
Hopefully, you now know a bunch more about the reviewers and review process that go into this game, and have a higher appreciation for just how much work is involved. Why not take a moment to drop your reviewer a line and say "thanks" for all their hard work. It won’t kill you, I promise!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

GUEST BLOG - Jeff from NUCCI6 - The Mystery of the Speckled Hen

Join me for a special treat and a great story as told by Jeff from nucci6. He shares with us an interesting adventure and a twist that still has question marks all over it.

The Mystery of the Speckled Hen
 A summer vacation story from the 2010

Part 1: In the Middle

"Dead zone.... nothing but a giant dead zone" I mumbled under my breath as my friend Tom hurled us at a mile a minute towards our destination, a small park in a small town plopped almost in the middle of nowhere. Certainly a wireless dead zone. Neither of us had bothered to preload our GPS units with the coordinates of our destination. Tom forgot to press save, I relied too much on technology. In the dead zone, there was no way were getting the coordinates over the air. We were going to have to rely on Tom's memory and geo-senses, having found dozens of geocaches like this in the past.

Having located this particular cache before, Tom recognized the park but not GZ, ground zero, the holy grail of any cache hunt. I eyed up the park gazebo, the usual suspect for these little park caches. There would be no such luck as neither the construction or the landscaping gave any cues. I wandered about with the Pre held high in the air desperately looking for signal while Tom wandered about with his GPS. No signal, no coordinates, not even a description of what we were looking for. Oh to have had pencil and paper and have written this all down when we were back in the so-called civilized world of too much technology.

A couple of teenagers and the park groundskeeper were about. I wandered over to a bench surrounding a tree thinking it was a likely cache hiding spot, having given up on 21st century technology in lieu of common sense. Imagine that. Not seeing any metal on the wooden bench, I wandered over to some nearby electrical equipment -- a likely place for any magnetic key holder to be hidden, the most likely cache type to be located in a park hide like this.

By now we attracted the attention of the groundskeeper who was looking for a break from the back and forth motions of his grass cutting. "You guys geocachers?", he shouted from atop his industrial mower. Busted. "You were a lot warmer over by that tree than over there" he smiled as he motioned towards the electrical boxes. Busted. At least now though I stood a chance of finding the cache, a high tech treasure hunt using low tech knowledge and a friendly municipal employee.

With the log signed and a new smiley on the map Tom and I set off for a local micro-brewery. Eschewing technology for an old-fashioned map we did our best to either get further lost or towards our destination, trying to correlate squiggles on the map to what road we were on, roads with no names and no proper signage, no sense of north or south. Why bother? The locals knew where they were. After a few false leads around the town square we were just about on the correct road. I was on the lookout for the highway signs. That's when I spotted it, a little square blue and white sign with a picture of a chicken on it, with the works 'The Speckled Hen' and an arrow imploring us to go in that direction.

Part 2: In the Beginning

"Chick-CAAAAAAAAAN" the kids shouted from the cramped back seat of my little blue coupe, putting an extra emphasis and drawing out the second syllable, "Chick-CAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!" "Don't worry, daddy!", they shouted in unison, "every time we see the sign we'll shout out Chick-CAAAAAAAANN!!!! and you'll know to make a turn!!". It was mid-August, 2006, and the kids and I were on vacation while my wife remained home as she unhappily lacked the vacation time to join us. She was furious and let me know at every turn. Going out on an adventure, even if it was just for dinner, was almost a means to an escape as we headed out of cell phone coverage. Being alone with the kids for a week I thought it would be a treat to try out 'all you can eat pasta night' at a restaurant that advertised heavily in the free newspaper. My only GPS was a primitive hand-held unit that lacked any mapping function other than to let us know we hadn't yet driven off a main road. I called ahead to get directions, was told 'it was complicated', and to just look for the blue signs guiding the way. Relying on paper maps in these pre-dashboard navigation GPS days I had not much else to go on to span the 14 or so miles we needed to cover until we got close to those blue signs I was beginning to wish I never mentioned.
Paper maps and two over-enthused children shouting "Chick-CAAAAAAAAN!!!" and how they were going to guide me to our destination. Paper maps, road signs, and dead reckoning. And kids in the back seat shouting "Chick-CAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!" every time they were going to see the blue and white road signs with the picture of a chicken and an arrow. My 'back seat GPS units'. "Chick-CAAAAAAAAAN!!!" the kids again shouted, reminding me over and over that whenever they see a sign they'll be SURE to let me know. We passed at least 3 Speckled Hen signs, none of which they saw, all the while reminding me of their plans to diminish whatever hearing I had left by shouting "Chick-CAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!". They never once did either see ANY sign or call out a proper direction change. But by now had my ears ringing with the sound of "Chick-CAAAAAAN!!".

Tossing the maps aside and relying on the blue and white signs, back seat GPS notwithstanding, we managed to get onto a narrow and winding dirt road more akin to Children of the Corn than what I thought to be a popular place based on its heavy advertising.Certainly there would be a large crowd on all you can eat night. We pulled up alongside an old renovated farmhouse with a giant sign with a picture of a chicken on it, located next to a field with some old trucks and smokey and smelly trash fire burning. "Chick-CAAAAAAAAAAAAN" the back seat finally clucked properly, this time on target but too late to be useful. If I had relied on them we'd probably have been in Canada by now, still clucking. We had arrived at the pinnacle of our journey, something we were talking about all week, The Speckled Hen and its all you can eat pasta night. Counting the three derelict trucks, there were 4 vehicles there, including us, in the middle of God's country, at a small renovated farm house calling itself The Speckled Hen, along with a smokey stinky fire and a farm yard full of animals.

Inside I could hear spaghetti sauce bubbling on a stove and a local radio station softly playing. I felt more like I was inside someones house than an actual working restaurant. We sat down at a table overlooking the trash fire, got some menus, and found out how complicated it was going to be to order all you can eat pasta. We chatted, our food came, and we enjoyed the atmosphere of dad and two kids enjoying a special time together. We had to. The food was... ...OK. Not the best experience, not the worst, certainly the sauce was just not to my liking. After the anticipation, the build-up, the excited trip, the all you can eat part was simply anti-climatic.

Post-dinner we were invited to go outside and see the animals, something which my son and daughter enjoyed more than the meal. My son took to the goats, petting a more tame one, even bestowing upon it a named he held in reverence, 'Bitsy Thomas', a name he modelled after Thomas the Tank Engine. My daughter was more into the chickens, running back to the kitchen to obtain stale bread to feed to the fowl. We stayed for what seemed like hours, a magic time in a magic place that made me forget that I probably just ate what I considered to be the worst spaghetti sauce of my life. Two bowls of it at that.

The evening was soon sadly over. Somehow we made it using pencil, navigating there by map and pencil and paper and road signs. Road signs they somehow never saw while excitedly telling me how they would inform me of their presence. The 'back seat GPS' was giving about as useful directions, it would turn out, as my main GPS unit would years later on a return trip. Full and tired we navigated back by memory, nobody interested in the slightest peep of "chicken..." Instead we all simply chatted about the future of Bitsy Thomas and the hens in the barnyard and that we'll visit again next year. A visit that never happened later that year. Or the next. Or the next.....

Part 3: The End

Summer 2010 marked when we'd finally make a return visit to the Speckled Hen. As far as summers go it was not the best. The weather was not cooperative combined with generous amounts of life happening. On a sunny Wednesday afternoon we made a late start for a day's worth of activities that was to be capped off with dinner at the Hen.

The first mistake was trusting the Mio GPS because the damned thing would have us drive off a cliff if it had calculated doing so would save us .07 seconds off the trip. As we drove deeper into God's country it soon had us driving off paved roads and anything resembling civilization and on dusty gravel roads, with no buildings or power poles visible anywhere. I got the feeling this wasn't going to end good. Sure enough it was soon announcing we had arrived at our destination, the middle of nowhere, and likely with no human beings around for miles. We continued on our way hoping to end up SOMEPLACE. The collection of back roads took us to nowhere in particular although we did stumble back upon human civilization, but only after we encountered a lone cow leisurely walking along the road. Not coming to the Speckled Hen we backtracked, going past the point we turned onto the one road, thinking maybe the GPS meant RIGHT instead of LEFT when it was busy barking out its orders. Our hunch proved correct and we soon came upon a familiar looking building that had a big sign, YES WE ARE OPEN. Everybody missed the smaller FOR SALE sign, the unkempt bushes, the weeds, and the wreck of a barn yard.

As we pulled into what was left of the parking area the look and feel was all wrong. It was closed, and a look inside the windows revealed an empty shell, a sad reminder of what once was but is now no more.

The Speckled Hen was gone.

We returned the way we came, looking for another place to eat. The kids openly wondered about their animal friends, former residents of the now overgrown barnyard which lay a silent testimonial to that magic evening of a few years earlier.

Later on I turned to 21st century technology to learn more. The Hen's web site was useless, still listing a menu, giving an e-mail address, and some old reviews, a ghost ship luring us to come visit its apparitions of summers past. Frustrated by limitations of the present I went to the past, using 19th century technology, the telephone, to find out what was going on. I dialed the number but it turns out it was disconnected.

I found the property listing on an on-line real estate site, offering us the Hen for a mere $65,000. With its matter of fact coldness the web page offered us no clues to the mystery, just square footage, number of bathrooms, and a few other facts and figures. The remains of the Hen were reduced to just numbers someone could crunch and plug into a spreadsheet, its soul stripped away and tossed upon the winds.

I wonder if we'll every know whatever happened to The Speckled Hen.


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