Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Blue Ridge Weekend

There are few places on earth that I like more than the Blue Ridge Mountains. This weekend I spent two half days exploring those very mountains.

The first time was Saturday Morning.  I took Zeke up with me, and we did some geocaching.

There is an age old (if anything in geocaching can be "age old") axiom that you never know what will happen when you go geocaching.  This is doubly true when you go caching with toddlers.

The first cache was at a rest stop along highway 221.  The cache was just a few hundred feet away from where we parked, so I just grabbed Zeke, handed him my spare GPSr, and headed towards GZ.

The cache was just inside the treeline, in a big rhododendron bush. As we pushed our way through the branches I commented to Zeke that we should have grabbed our walking sticks as they would have been useful to push back branches.

He enthusiastically agreed, and despite being 5ft from the cache,  he turned around on the spot and headed back to the car, completely determined to grab his walking stick.

I convinced him that we should probably stop and sign the log first. He reluctantly agreed, then he made a bee line for the car and retrieved his walking stick.

Successfully armed with his walking stick (and insisting I take mine) he started exploring the rest of the area, checking out every rock and stick, with the intensity that only a toddler can muster.  Exhausting all there was to see, we piled into the car and moved on down to the next cache.

We had a 300 ft walk through a nicely mowed field before we got to GZ, which was tucked just inside the woods behind a bandstand.

Once we slipped behind the band stand,  I noticed the GPSr was pointing at some rocks.  I moved towards the rocks. I pointed at the rocks. I said "Zeke! the cache is in the rocks!" But alas, Zeke was not ready to rock.

Zeke was much more intent on the path that lead back deeper into the woods.  He kept going... and going... and going.  I figured I could live with an impromptu hike, and I want to foster a spirit of exploration in the boy, so I followed him down the trail.

It lead to a creek.  Zeke started tossing in stones.  So did I.  He then jumped into the water (he never could resist a puddle, and this was just a giant flowing one to him), and starting climbing over the rocks, completely soaking his shoes (but this rarely stops a cacher - he's training is well in hand).

Eventually time was getting short and we had to head back, so I coaxed him out of the water with the promise of McDonalds for lunch, and we trudged back soggily to GZ.  We retrieved the cache, signed the log, traded for some swag, and headed home.

We had had a completely unexpected but completely awesome adventure together.

The next day after church I headed up the mountains to grab some more caches.  Most of these caches can be summed up by the description "Fun drive down windy mountain roads - amazing views!", so I will spare you the details.

The notable exception was a cache that is part of a series that highlights picturesque silos on mountain farms.

The cache was along a wooden fence.  The other side of the fence was a couple cows, just hanging out, chewing things, and being cows.  As I approached the fence one cow spotted me, and trotted over to check me out.  Her buddy soon joined us.

They stood just a foot away from me, and stared and huffed. Kinda like puppies (but way more delicious).  I got a little nervous until I remembered they are cows (I checked - udders all around), so they were probably fairly docile, and I had a wooden fence lined with barbed wire between me and them. I still refrained from making "steak" jokes  - it's not polite to remind food of how they will look on a grill.

I did some hunting for the cache, and when I looked back at the cows I noticed that the crowd had grown.  Pretty soon I had a whole herd of cows checking me out.  I never felt so popular while caching.
I figured the cache location's secret was safe with the cows, so I kept on hunting, and found the cache beside a fence post.

Finally I said good bye to my newfound caching herd, and moved on down the windy roads to some more majestic mountain views, peaceful waterfalls, and ammo cans.

I'll leave you with some more pictures from my day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Geocaching Shore Raiding Party

A month or so ago our admin at work announced that this years company picnic would be on a lake, and one of the activities would be boating.

This piqued my interest immediately, so like a good obsessed geocacher I immediately looked up caches around that lake, looking for a specific type of cache.  As luck would have it, I found one.

What was that type?  Caches on islands, of course. More specifically a cache that requires the use of a boat to get to said island.

I have always wanted to do a cache by boat, but I have never had the combination of a) access to a boat, and b) in an area that had island caches.  Today was that day.

The boats in question were 12 passenger pontoon boats, so I had to convince the other guys on the boat, most of whom are not cachers, to indulge my little obsession and let me take time to grab a cache.  They were all for it, and 4 of them, all muggles, even volunteered to join me on the hunt.

As we pulled up to the island, we dropped anchor 250ft off shore, and waded on a sandbar out to the island.  I then led my raiding party of muggle recruits 150ft inland and grabbed the cache - a nice tupperware container.  I also grabbed a geocoin as "plunder".

Armed with our booty, we then headed back out to the boat, and headed on our way around the lake, and eventually back to the dock for some tasty foods.

So that was my first cache by boat.  Found with 4 muggles. Followed by burgers and an open bar.  Best. Company Picnic. Ever.

I'll leave you with some pics of the day, starting with Abigail, who enjoyed her first boat ride ever.


Out on then hunt.
Today marks my 4th anniversary as a geocacher. Not that such things are really celebrated, however...

Since I started blogging about my caching adventures only a couple years ago, I figure now may be a good time to retell the story of how I got into this crazy thing called geocaching.

So take a seat, and come back in time with me.  Yes, my friends, it is story time.

Regular readers of this blog (or anyone who has read my profile :) knows that I am Canadian, and I now live in the US.  Armed with this knowledge you may jump to the logical conclusion that I started geocaching somewhere in North America.

You would be, of course, completely and horribly wrong.

I actually started caching in Belgium.  I was halfway through a 4.5 month work trip to Europe, and very fortunate to be able to bring my wife along.  A co-worker  (helixblue, tho I didn't know it at the time) from the US was visiting the same office I was at for a couple weeks.  He asked what we were doing that weekend, and suggested we go geocaching.

I had heard about it previously but never gave it much thought, but it sounded like a great idea so we made plans to head out on the weekend to grab a cache.

Parc du Waux-Hall - site of my very first geocache.
Our first cache together was in a small park in Mons, Belgium.  Helixblue showed us (my wife and I) the ropes, and off we went across the park, following an arrow on a GPS to find this cache thing.  It was a film can hidden in a tree - a pretty basic hide today, but at the time it was fresh and new to us, and it caught our interest, so we decided to go grab another one.

So we loaded up another cache into the GPS and headed off. The cache descriptions were in french (Belgium is half french, half dutch, with a sprinkling of german), so we were going on Google translations of the descriptions, so they were not exactly accurate, so we only had a vague idea of what we were getting into.

The next cache was about 20KMs away, so we stopped for lunch along the route.  While we were eating we pulled out the GPS to see what was around, and that was when we discovered that we were accidentally in France.

France.  Seriously.  A whole other freaking country.  Granted in the EU crossing country lines is really no different than crossing state or provincial lines, but still, this was an entirely different country, and I didn't plan on being there.  I didn't even know about it until a GPS told me. This geocaching thing was getting interesting.

View from the top of an old mine slag pile in France.
When we arrived at the park where the second cache was, we discovered that it was a puzzle cache.  We started wandering around, following that GPS arrow, looking for the first stage.  We walked around this rather large and imposing hill for a bit when we realized that the first stage was on top of the hill.  The hill was a slag pile from an old coal mining operation.  It was probably a good 100ft of very steep, loose rock, to get to the top.  However at this point I wasn't going to let that stop me, so we climbed up.  To that point it was the hardest climb I've ever done (and being uneasy at heights, one of the more nerve-wracking ones).

The reason why we had to be at the top became apparent when we translated the page and discovered we needed to find information to solve the puzzle from dates painted on the top of barn roofs.  So after catching our breath, we scanned the horizon and found the answers we were looking for.

Mining tower in France
So there I was.  In a country I didn't expect to be in, on top of a pile of old, overgrown mine slag, staring out over the french countryside, with an old tower in the foreground.  I was hooked. But we had a cache to find, so we headed down the hill - by a nicely groomed path that snaked down the backside of the hill (my second cache, and already I ran into the cliche of "hard way in, easy way out").

We arrived at the coordinates, and searched... and searched... and searched.  No luck.  Our second cache was a DNF.

It was getting late in the day, so we headed back to the hotel.

The next weekend Helixblue's wife (Sallad) came to visit him, and we ended up grabbing a few caches in Brussels. The most remarkable was a cache in a small park hidden behind a block of houses.  One could walk around that block  for a week and not know that there was this awesome public park hidden behind them (accessible via large swinging gates).

Helixblue headed home the next week, so we were on our own.  We only had a car GPS, and not the awesome trail GPS that Helixblue had, so my interest waned a bit. (caching with a car GPS can be done, but its not really my style).

Yours Truly rubbing the monkey in Mons - supposed to be good luck,
and also a stage of a puzzle cache.
My wife and I ended up only doing one more cache in Belgium before the end of our work trip, and we had to head back to Canada.  The cache was a complex puzzle cache that took us on a 10 stop tour of Mons, Belgium.

Armed with my Nuvi we walked around Mons, checking out the various features of this old, quaint town, and gathering information to solve the puzzle.  It ended up being a really awesome tour.

Finally, with the results of our investigation in hand, we sat in an outdoot cafe in the town square and, over chocolate covered waffles, we set about solving the puzzle.  It turned out that the final was really close to the first stage (convenient!) which was in a garden beside a large cathedral.

Egyptian currency from  the first cache we did on our own.
When we arrived at GZ we started looking around for the cache.  As we did we kept hearing meowing.

We looked around a bit more. Another meow.  We located the cache (a micro) and signed the log.  The cache also had an Egyptian 1 pound note, which was really cool - I've never seen Egyptian currency before.


Put the cache back.


We finally looked way up in a tree (the same tree the cache was in) and saw a small kitten stuck up high in the branches.

The rescued kitty.
We decided we couldn't leave the cat there, and had to help. However it was too high up for me to reach, and it was too scared to get down on its own. So we started trying to gain its trust and coaxing it down to a lower branch so I could grab it.

It took about 15 minutes, but the kitten finally moved down a few branches and soon after I had him in hand.  He was a very friendly cat, and both my wife and I commented that if we were not staying in a hotel, we'd probably keep him.  But we finally set him down and let him go on his way.

So I can honestly say that my geoaching has saved a life... well, one of nine at least.

That was our last cache in Belgium, and I didn't end up doing another one for 252 more days, when we finally got settled in North Carolina, and purchased the same model of GPS that HelixBlue had (Garmin 60CSx).  I have been caching like a fiend ever since.

So that is the story of my first caching experiences.  What were yours like?  Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rocky Face Mountain

I discovered a hidden gem in nearby Alexander County, North Carolina today: A new park called Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area (and when I say "new", I mean it - it first opened in May 2012 - still has that new park smell.)

The entrance to the park is an old quarry, so you are immediately greeted with a large rock wall that dominates the landscape. From there, 5 miles(ish) of nicely groomed hiking trails (0.3 of them are paved, the rest dirt), snake up the side of the quarry and end up on a small mountain.
It is the top of the mountain where the true gem lies.  The views are spectacular.

The coolest attribute of the park is that it is very friendly to geocachers.  There are 12 caches hidden in the park, many of them by the park staff themselves, and the daily sign-in sheet has a category for, among other things (are there other things to do in parks?) geocaching.

While I was on my way up the mountain, I ran into a pair of geocachers, 2icehikers, that I had not met before (I couldn't figure out why they clued in that I was caching at first, but then I realized I had on my Geocaching North Carolina t-shirt, and had my GPS hanging from the strap of my pack - duh me).   It turns out that they have hidden several caches in the park, including an earth cache.  It is always a good day when you meet cachers out on the trail.

Despite the summer temps (90f, no wind) I spent 4 hours in the park, and logged in 5.75 miles of hiking (thank God for Gatorade!). I found 9 of the 12 caches.  Not to shabby, if I do say so myself.

I highly suggest you check out Rocky Face Mountain Recreational Area.  Bring your GPSr, and your camera.  You won't regret it.

Until you get a chance to get out and experience it for yourself, I'll leave you with a few pictures.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The $5 Cache

I have been jonesing for an adventure all week, so today after work I piled into the van and headed north to the Blue Ridge mountains.

My first stop was a cache that was published yesterday.  It is on a windy road in a remote part of Watuga County.  It was just a guard rail cache, but it gave me some amazing views (<-- see?) so I didn't mind so much.

I was also First To Find. Apparently cachers don't go out here that much (given the remoteness I am not overly surprised).  The FTF prize was 5 one dollar bills. Cha-ching!   I've never made money from a cache before - not to shabby for something I'd go out and do anyway.

Armed with newfound gas money, I continued up the mountains to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I did some more caching, and grabbed some photos for a photography scavenger hunt I am participating in (more on that later).

Frequent readers of this blog will know that the Blue Ridge Parkway is my absolutely most favourite road to be on.  The views are always amazing, and today did not disappoint.

I only had a few hours to explore, but it was enough to satisfy my urge to explore - at least until tomorrow.

I'll leave you with a few more pictures from my (rather short) adventure in the mountains.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ontario Elephant

Did you know that there is an elephant hidden in Ontario? Take a look at this map of the southern tip of Ontario... you should see that the land mass looks like an elephant standing on its head, outlined mostly by the great lakes:

See it? It helps to turn your head to the left.  If you are still not getting it, this may help:
  • Detroit (southwest corner) is the tip of the trunk.
  • Sarnia (west) is the top of his head.
  • Buffalo NY and St. Catharines ON (southeast) is the front foot .
  • Toronto and Oshawa (east) make up one of the back feet.
  • Barrie and Wasaga Beach (northeast-ish) is the second back leg
  • The tail starts at Highway 6 (upper middle), also the location of Owen Sound (not labelled).
  • And last but not least Hamilton ON (not labeled) is the armpit of Ontario (right below Burlington).

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Contest: Name That GeoBaby

Already on the hunt...
Note: contest is now over, and the winner is in!

<-- This is my daughter Abigail.  She was born into a caching family.  She needs a caching name.  Can you help?

Unlike her older brother, Tonka Tyke, Abigail is too young to find containers in the woods, but she has already attended 3 geocaching events (including Geowoodstock X, and a flash mob!).   I am using her account to keep track of the geocaching events she attends until she is old enough to find some physical caches on her own.

She does, however, need a better caching name.  I have been using the name A Big Alien (for reasons best explained here).  However she is going to need a better one, and I need ideas.  This is where the contest comes in.

The contest is simple:  Suggest a geocaching name, and get put into a drawing.  On August 1, 2012 I will pick a name at random from all those that entered.  The winner will receive a prize.

Ye Olde Prize.
At this point you may be pondering: "What is this awesome and amazing prize?".  Well I am glad you asked.  What you are playing for is a hand-painted (by yours truly) geocache container, with a log book and pen.  It is a 34oz (traditional size) Lock'n'Lock tupperware container.

So, what are the rules?  They are simple:
  • Suggest a name by posting a comment on this blog. Comments on G+, or any other social media will not be considered (mainly because I don't want to compile lists from multiple sources.  Yep, I am lazy, but it is my contest, so deal.).  Include with your suggestion your caching name.
  • You may enter as many names as you wish, but please just one name per comment. i.e. if you have 5 names you want to suggest, you need to make 5 comments.
  • The drawing will happen on August 1st, 2012. (or whenever I get around to it after that)  It will be a random drawing (?). 
Daddy and Abigail on the trails.
  • The winner will be contacted via their profile, so be sure to include it with every comment!
  • The contest is open to anyone with a account.  I have no affiliation with Groundspeak or This requirement is simply an easy way to be able to contact the winner. (see point about me being lazy)
  • I reserve the right to reject any names I feel are inappropriate, based entirely on how I feel at the time.  There is no guarantee I will use any of the submitted names for her caching name, but since it is a random drawing, there *will* be a winner!
  • By submitting the name, you grant me the right to use it forever, without any expectation of renumeration, or whatever other legalese I choose to add here.  
Here are some Abigail facts to give you some ideas for names:
She is Canadian by genetics, American by birthplace.  She is a North Carolina girl.  Her last name has the word "bear" in it if you pronounce it right, "beer" if you don't.   It is too soon to determine favourite sport, team, political affiliation, or book, but suggestions are welcome. Her project code name before birth was "Squid".

So put your thinking caps on and name that baby!

"You sure you want to call me that?" 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Alien Invasion Continues

Some more alien travel bugs have landed and are racing back home. So far 7 alien travel bugs have arrived (still waiting on the Australian one, but hey, it is on the other side of the world...), and most have been placed in caches already.

(Update: Just got word that the Australian drone just arrived, so all 8 are accounted for)

 The following are some more pictures taken by the awesome cachers who have helped with this project.

 Note: If you are new to this whole alien travel bug race thing, you can learn about, and keep track of, the travel bug race here.

The first picture was taken by idajo2 with Drone #1.  It is taken at her bird feeder in Washington.

This guy is drone #3, released by darrylw4 (host of, and taken at his post office box when the travel bug arrived in Michigan.

Drone #4 was dropped off at Breakwater Lighthouse in Maine.  Astute readers may remember brdad as being the creator of the most excellent travel bug, In Casus Ursus.

Drone #5 was the first alien to make it overseas.  Released by Luminesence, it is pictured here at the first cache the alien visited, a nano.  He is currently on a small tour of Britain before being placed in a cache to start his portion of the race.