Saturday, September 24, 2011

Geocaching Adventures: Beech Mountain

 - or - 

How I Lost My Trusty Hiking 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?

Monday, September 19, 2011

CacheCrazy Interview

As you may be aware, the folks over at have republished my Bears Across America series on their blog over the last few months.   Yesterday they posted an interview they did with Yours Truly.  Go check it out!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Geocache Camo 101: Lock & Locks

There are many geocache containers, and many more ways to hide them.  Depending on the local terrain features, the caching containers may require some custom camouflage to protect them from being seen by muggles, or simply to increase the difficulty for the finder.

This post is a tutorial on how I give my containers some spit and polish so they blend into their non-native environments.  There are many ways to paint up these things, some better than others.  Some of my containers have been in the field for well over a year and their paint job still looks good.

My most common container is plastic "tupperware"-like containers (tho I never use the actual Tupperware brand).  I recently acquired a set of Lock & Lock brand plastic containers.  They are rugged, waterproof, and last a long time in the field.  I am going to use one of these as a base.

So start with picking up a plastic container from the local container store (Walmart, Target etc.).  Try to get quality containers as the cheap ones (think Dollar Store quality) will break and crack quickly in the field.  The temp ranges from 100f to 4f that I've seen in my 3 years in North Carolina is really hard on plastic.

Step 1:  Rough up the outside.
As I am sure you are aware, paint comes in literally every colour.  This gives a hider infinite possibilities to tailor make the camo to fit the environment as perfectly as possible. So select the paint colours that make sense for the area you are placing the cache.  For the purposes of this post I am going to assume that this cache will be placed in a forest, so I will go for a standard green camo job.

The techniques should work for any (as an example, I have used greys and browns to simulate a cache that looks like its made from cement).  For all paints here, get ones with flat finishes, and except for the spray paint, I use exterior latex for the various colours and apply it with a brush.  The reason is that the can paint can be mixed to any colour, and using the brush allows finer control over where the colours go.

Step 2: Spray paint base coat.
My camo job will use 3 colours, dark green, lighter green, and brown.

 The first step is to rough up the outside of the container.  This gives more surface area that gives the paint something stronger to hold on to.  It also adds some texture to the smooth plastic which often helps with the camo.

The second step is to apply a base coat of paint.  I use Krylon brand spray paint as it sticks really well to plastic containers.  You only need to spray the outside of the container, and really only the parts that are visible when the cache is closed.  So don't worry about painting the underside of the lid flaps.

Step 3:  Add a base colour over the entire cache.
This coat is really just a primer so you don't need to be picky with the colour.  The choices of colours in spray paint are limited, and it will be covered up with the proper camo colours anyway.  I tend to pick black or dark green, but any will do.

Also take care with any of the paint to ensure you don't add too much paint around the connectors. If they get too thick with layers of paint they may not close properly.  Use your best judgement here as it will vary from container to container.  Let this coat dry completely before going on to the next steps.

Next add a base coat. I use exterior latex and apply it with a brush.  It doesn't really matter which colour is used, but I tend to start with the darkest colour and work my way to the lighter ones.  So I paint the entire outside of the container with dark green.

Step 4: Add sand to add texture.
The nice thing about camo painting is that you don't need to worry about an even coat.  Actually you probably want an uneven coat for additional texture.  Just be careful to keep the areas that snap together clear of paint.

Once the dark green is everywhere, I sprinkle on some sand from my back yard into the wet paint.  This adds some extra texture which helps break up the light and makes the camo that much more effective.

Let this layer dry.  I use a hair dryer on the container to get the paint to dry faster.

I dab some paint over top of the sand to help adhere it to the container.  I don't worry about covering all the sand with paint as having some exposed adds to the realism.
Step 5:  Selectively add layers of colours.

The next step is to start dabbing on the other colours.  Start with the light green, and dab it around the container so every side has some light green spots on it.  Be random with your strokes, and don't cover up all the dark green.

Once you are done with the greens, do the same with the brown.  Dab some colour all around being sure to be random, and to not cover up the other colours.

I don't clean my brush between these steps.  This allows the colours to run together, which adds additional colour tones, and helps blur harder edges. You are going for a muddled, random look.  Let your inner child be free and go nuts.

Step 6: Black on the bottom for visible labels.
Another tip, once all the colours are applied I take the original colour (dark green in this case), and apply a very small amount to the brush and dab it out on a peice of paper, so there is barely any paint on the brush.  I then brush down the container, leaving a hint of the dark green. This tends to smooth out any areas that are heavy with light greens or browns.

Once this is all dry, flip over the container and paint the bottom with a thick layer of black paint.  This gives an area to write on some information on the outside of the container to label it as a geocache.  I use a silver Sharpie to do the writing.

Once all that is done, let it dry for a couple days before placing it out in the field. The finished product will look something like this:

Friday, September 09, 2011

GeoSnippits - A Geocaching Video Tutorial Series

Are you looking to start out in the game, the sport, the obsession, known as Geocaching?  Been doing it a while and looking for some tips on your first hides?

I have been thinking of doing an "Introduction to Geocaching" series on my blog when I realized that it has already been done, and much better than I could probably do.

HeadHardHat is a cacher from North Carolina who has produced a really nice series of videos to help you with all your geocaching questions.  So if you a new, or new at heart, to geocaching you may wish to check out HeadHardHats GeoSnippits videos.

If you don't want to, well that is your choice I guess.  It is a free country (I am assuming you are in a free country - if not you should try it  - its nice).  However you are missing out on some excellent geocaching information! So what are you waiting for?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Geocaching Adventures: Western North Carolina

We have spent this Labour Day weekend (well, most of it) exploring the western half of North Carolina.

Why go west?  I give you two reasons.  First is the standard: eh, why not?  The second requires some explanation. I am currently doing the North Carolina Delorme Challenge.  This challenge requires one to find a cache on each of the 77 pages of the Delorme North Carolina Atlas. Once all of the pages are found, the cache owner will send you the coordinates to one final victory cache.

Before this weekend I have found qualifying caches for 23 pages.  West of me were 4 unclaimed pages strewn about the western half of the state.  This weekend was to correct that and fill in all the bits.

After church on Sunday we piled into the van and headed north to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Our destination for the day was a hotel just south of Asheville NC, near the Biltmore area. Along the way we stopped off at Mount Mitchell, which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi.  The best thing: you can drive within 500ft of the summit.

One would think that this would lead to an awesome post of amazing views of mountain ranges, and stunning vistas of things seen for miles and miles.  Sadly this is not the case.  You see the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee had moved inland from Louisiana to North Carolina, and brought with it an amazing amount of rain and fog.  So most of our views were less than stellar.

We did get to see why the area is known as the Smokey Mountains tho. The views reminded me of the Misty Mountains from The Hobbit fame.

So once we finished Mount Mitchell, and claimed the virtual AND earthcache on its summit, we headed strait to the hotel.  Once checked in we spent the rest of the afternoon caching in the general area, and claiming the first of 4 Delorme pages in the process. We then did some shopping for me (REI - hello!) , and for Zeke (Toy Store - yeah baby).

Since our adventure reached an intermission, it seems only fitting to add one in my post. So I give you...


The next day we headed north to the Smokey Mountain National Park and did the only easily accessible cache on that Delorme page at the Mingus Mill.  Along the way we grabbed another cache to claim another Delorme Page. 

At this point there is only one page left to claim for this trip, and it was the page on the western most point of the state. So off we raced to the western-most points of North Carolina and made the grab. Our mission complete there was only one thing left to do:  Cache our way home.

One of the features of our drive west was the Nantahala River, which is a windy fast flowing river used by white water rafters.  Due to all the rain the area received in the last two days, the river was full and fast flowing.  We stopped to check it out on the way back.

We arrived home at 8:30PM soggy after braving the wind, rains, and mountain passes of North Carolina.

What a great way to spend a labour day.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Jim Gaffigan on Cake

I have a new favourite comedian.  His name is Jim Gaffigan.  His performance is a mix of his own observations mixed in with his impression of what the skeptic members of his audience is thinking.  It is, in my opinion (tho really, given it is my blog, who's opinion would you expect it to be?) some hillarious stuff.

Here is Jim doing 5 minutes on one of my favourite topics: cake.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Hollywood Computer Literacy

There was an interesting discussion at work about how Hollywood is awesome at getting technology so so very very wrong.  Since it was all public information I decided to share the essence of that discussion with you all, my loyal reader.   If you are a geek, prepare to cringe. If you are not, prepared to say "what is wrong with that?"

First some double typing in NCIS to avoid a "hack".


 CSI:NY provides us with the awesome "I'll create a GUI interface using Visual Basic,  see if I can track an IP address"... or, you know, use the existing traceroute, or tracert in Windows, or the hundreds of existing free apps to do the same thing.


 Then there is Numb3rs rather bizarre description of IRC. Luckily she speeks leet.

So there you having. Three stunning examples of Hollywood's amazing grasp of technology.  I do like the theory that maybe they are just trolling us geeks :)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Misunderstood Lyrics

Ever wonder what those words to that song really are?  Too bad.

These are not correct either.