Monday, February 25, 2013

The Black Worm of Henderson County

On Saturday after I conquered Slaughterhouse Curve, I had a few hours to kill, so I headed west to check out an old arch bridge called High Bridge.  There I found one of the oddest collection of giant man made objects I've seen in quite some time.

The first is a giant black tube (about 8ft in diameter) that snakes along a mostly dry creek bed. It carries water between two dams used for power generation.  The cache descriptions near this tube call this the black worm.  It seems like an apt description.  I do not know exactly why this tube is needed as there seems to be a perfectly serviceable creek to run water down between the two dams, but there it sits anyway.

The worm runs along the bottom of a gorge.  Going across this gorge is two bridges, one of which is still in service. The other bridge, an abandoned arch bridge, still spans the river and is mostly used for foot traffic these days.

The view from the abandoned bridge is quite spectacular, as you'd expect from a high bridge spanning a gorge deep in the Appalachian Mountains.

The third object is a large, old stone dam used by Duke Power to, one assumes, generate hydroelectric power.

I found 5 caches in and around the gorge, with locations ranging from  top of the bridge, beside one of the dams, and along the worm itself. Several trails run along the top and sides of the gorge, so if one is inclined to billy-goat themselves under the steep hill under the bridges, one can get a great view of all three of these impressive made made constructs.

This is the view from the eastern side of the arch bridge. It is about a 1/10th of a mile across, and probably half as high.

Another shot of the black worm snaking its way through the gorge. You constantly hear the flow of water through the tube, and if you get close enough you can feel it.  It feels almost alive.
These are nuts of some kind - not sure which kind (tho I have been described as nuts many many times, I am not an expert on them).  I didn't realize they grew in clusters like this on trees.  You learn something new every day while geocaching.

I have always been a sucker for trees that seem to grow from rocks.  This one near ground zero for a cache is a good example.  It is amazing to me that life can find a foothold even among what seems to be a completely inhospitable location for a tree.  Life finds a way.

This dam looks to be incredibly old.  You can see places where the dam appears to be leaking (look low on the left hand side).   It is a spectacular view tho.  To find the nearby geocache you have to pick the right level.  This is the highest level, and not the right one, so I back tracked a bit.

Once on the right level for the geocache, you are met with an imposing view from the middle of the dam.  Given how old it looks one spends a good deal of time hoping it doesn't collapse on you. It is a pretty impressive experience.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Slaughterhouse Curve

Near the town of Saluda North Carolina lies Saluda Grade, the steepest section of rail tracks in the eastern US.

To give you an idea of what "steepest" means, a grade of 2% is considered steep, however this section of track hits 5% in places.

There were many reservations about building this track, but it was the only way to connect Spartanburg SC with Asheville NC so they proceeded with construction in 1877.

Trains have run along these rails from 1878 to 2003, including the Carolina Special passenger train. 27 men lost their lives working this section of track over the years. In 1893 a train crashed on a sharp curve, killing 3 men and maiming another. The wreck left a mess of coal, steel, timber, and a carload of cattle on the tracks. This section of track is now home to a rather difficult 8 stage multi-cache that is named after the nickname of this deadly location: Slaughterhouse Curve (GC1M2DA).
Slaughterhouse Curve

On Saturday I went out on an adventure with 20(ish) other cachers to claim a smiley on this complex and tricky cache.

Each stage brings you to a different place along 2 miles of the infamous track.  Acquiring the coords for the next stages requires going into abandoned buildings, tunnels, up poles, out on train trestles, and walking miles of track. The cache is rated difficulty 4, terrain 4, and it earns it.

I had re-injured my knee moving office furniture on Thursday, so I was thankful to be in a large group that was full of folks that could do the more strenuous parts I was unable to do.  Otherwise I would not have been able to complete this amazing experience.  I am glad I went tho, as the scenery was amazing, and I was literally walking in history.  It is not hard to see why folks would buy tickets to the passenger line simply for the scenery.

It took us about 3 hours to complete all 8 stages.  Along the way several members of our group reached milestones: 200th, 500th and 2000th by various members.  If you are in the area I highly recommend trying to get this cache, but be prepared to get dirty, and bring company - you'll need it.

I will leave you with some more pictures from the day, starting with this shot of a rail switch, with some cachers in the background.

There are very few long straight sections of track, most of it is in the process of curving in one direction or another, often with very steep drop-offs on either side. Strewn along the tracks are chunks of coal, and left over brake pads.

A group of very determined looking cachers on their way to stage 4.

Climbing a pole to get the coords at the top.

How many cachers does it take to find a geocache?

AgentHop searching for the final.  This was his 2000th milestone.

Some cachers stashed their vehicles near the final to shuttle us back to our cars parked 2 miles up the track near the first stage.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Exploring Elkin

On Monday, to celebrate Presidents Day (do Americans actually celebrate this holiday? I am from away so it is hard to say) I headed over to Elkin NC to do some exploring and geocaching. I basically took this advice from the marquee at the local movie theatre:

The centerpiece of the town was some old box cars stretched out in a field.  It was unclear to me if these were abandoned or just being stored, but the tracks were a bit rusty.  I stopped to take a few shots, then went on to investigate the historic downtown.

Allow me a bit of artistic license to give a slightly different view of the same scene...

As I explored downtown, I ended up at a 'world famous hotdog' place. One can't make a claim like that and not be challenged so I decided to test their assertion by ordering lunch.  The dogs were pretty tasty, but I'm not ready to give them 'worlds best' quite yet.  I did try one with slaw (my first slaw dog), which was mighty tasty.

After lunch I grabbed my 2000th find.  Afterwards I went to a nice park in the middle of town that ran along the Elkin River.  One of the geocaches I found was simply hanging from a tree in a camo'd mesh bag.  I've not seen this particular hide style before, but it seems to be effective enough.
 The cache was hidden at the easternmost point of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Nearby was the muster point for the Surrey County Patriot Militia during the Revolutionary War on September 27th, 1780.  The trail commemorates the route the militia took on their way to the Battle of Kings Mountain, and the turning point achieved there.  It always amazes me the history that exists around every corner of this state.

I followed the trail (there being a geocache 1/3rd of a mile down that was begging me to find it).  Suddenly the slowly meandering Elkin river was broken up by this man made waterfall.  The markings were unclear, but I suspect this was part of an old power generation scheme.
 I certainly wasn't expecting to see something like that.  I also wasn't expecting this interesting scene where the river took an abrupt right turn a few hundred feet further down the trail:
I was so caught up with the natural beauty of the river I almost forgot to grab the geocache nearby.  When I opened the 5 gallon bucket that served as the cache, I was greeted by this charming fellow:
At this point I had run out of time, as I wanted to get back home for supper, so I hiked a mile or so back to the Geo-van of Destiny, and headed out of dodge.  This was the last thing I saw of this rather charming town.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

More Scenes from Saturday

Sometimes when you go geocaching and exploring you hardly find anything worth talking about, or taking pictures of.  Other times you get so many they don't fit into a single blog post.

Saturday was one of those days.

As you may have read here, we spent the day in Gastonia and the Latta Plantation.

The first cache of the day was a micro by the fabric store.  It was a unique container, and Zeke helped find it.

 The following are some more pictures from that day, starting with Zeke playing by the lake.

After nap time Mommy and Abigail joined us by the lake.

Zekey and Daddy walking through the woods, just before the snow came.

In the woods were a large number of gnome holes, some of them elaborately done with gardens, ladders and bridges.  It is universally understood that Gnomes are preferred tenants over faeries in woodland housing because faery dust gets into everything.

The lake during the snow storm.  A vast difference from the clear view only a few minutes before.

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, February 18, 2013


== Milestone alert: debaere logs 2000 cache finds ==

So I accidentally hit a milestone today. I got my 2000th geocaching find in the bag. w00t!

I say accidentally because I didn't intend to hit this milestone today.  I have had my eye on a multi-cache up in the mountains that I am planning on hitting next weekend that I was going to use, but it wasn't meant to be.

Todays run was supposed to get me enough finds to get to 1999 in prep of hitting the milestone on that multi-cache in the mountains.  I needed 8 finds, which annoyingly I got just after lunch.

This left me in a bit of a dilema.  Should I stop at 8, or keep going?  I was having too much fun, and I did have an entire afternoon to kill,  so I decided I should keep at it.

My entry in the cache log book
I normally like to pick a special cache for a milestone just to give things a sense of occasion, and to have an interesting story to tell.   So I spent a few minutes quickly examining the favourited caches in the area, picked the most interesting looking one, and decided to hit that up as my milestone cache instead.

The cache I chose is called The Hero Cache (GC24VPY) in Elkin NC.  It is a simple 2 part multi-cache in an out of the way park.  The best part was the large sized container at the final.

With my signature on the cache, and my milestone in the bag, I still kept going. The total at the end of the day was 14 finds, and one disappointing DNF.  Well beyond the 8 I needed, but I certainly had a lot more fun than I would have if I quit early (tho I think I wore out the dog... she's snoring in her bed beside me. Oh well, thats the price you pay for an amazingly fun day out on the trails).

Now, on to the next adventure!

A Magical Moment

Ask yourself this question:  What would get a family of Canadian expats dancing around the woods of North Carolina?

If you guessed a snow storm, you would be correct.

We were out at Latta Plantation Park, just north of Charlotte North Carolina, around 3PM, taking a short hike in the woods.  It was a cold but dry day, with just a slight hint of wind.

Suddenly the wind picked up quite dramatically.  Both my wife and I looked northwards and saw the trees in the distance rustling.  In less than a minute we started seeing snow flakes, and a few seconds later the snow was falling heavily in large fluffy flakes.  It only took a few minutes for the ground to become white.  The snow came on so dramatically, and so suddenly that it felt like Mother Nature threw a surprise party, just for us.  It can only be described as a magic moment.

We were geocaching, so we kept going to find the cache, all the while getting more and more excited to finally be in a snow storm again. For a couple of Canadians who haven't been in a proper winter in 5 years, walking through the woods with falling snow was absolutely fantastic.

We sung, we danced, we laughed, we giggled, and we took lots of photos - savouring every moment.  Being in the south we knew it wouldn't last (indeed by the time we drove the hour home the snow was gone), but for a wonderful moment we had our own winter wonderland... and it was absolutely amazing.

I'll leave you with some more pictures from the experience.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

But I Digress...

I need to tell you something.  Please sit down and brace yourself. It is quite shocking and not for the weak of heart.

 Ready? Here it goes:

As strange as this may sound, geocaching is not the most important thing to my wife.

Thats crazy right?  Normally I would not speak of such things in polite company, but it is an important revelation that must be fully dealt with in order to completely come to terms with the events that happened to me yesterday.

At 9AM or so we all piled into the Geo-van of Destiny and headed south to Gastonia in search of... adventure quilting supplies.

Yes, my wife is a quilter.  She quilts. She is a lady of the pieced cloth.  She is quite good at it, and sometimes she needs to get new fabrics. Gastonia has one of the largest fabric stores around so it was a good place to get the things she needed.

But thats not what I came to tell you about.
You see by 2PM we had collected all of the fabrics that my wife required  to feed her nefarious quilting habit, and had even managed to feed ourselves and let the kids have some play time.  So we pointed the car northeast to the Latta Plantation Park on beautiful Mountain Island Lake to go hiking, and even to find a geocache or four.

When we arrived 30 minutes later both kids were asleep, so my wife stayed in the van while I went out to find a cache on my own.

I was approaching GZ when I heard gunshots not terribly far off in the distance. Not an unusual sound when living in the South, but this was pretty close, and unusual given I was in a park. At first it was just one shot... then two... then some automatic fire from a different gun... soon it sounded like a pitch battle was taking place nearby.

Well I have never been thrust in the middle of combat while out geocaching before, so with a puzzled look on my face I found the cache and signed the log (priorities first) before heading off to see what the fuss was about.  Shockingly my worst fears were soon confirmed.

I found myself in the middle of a war.

You see, It turns out the Plantation was being used by a group of WWII re-enactors, and they had been re-enacting a battle (not sure which one given the western front was in Europe, but I am sure it was terribly exciting). There were many people dressed up as American and German soldiers milling about and doing interesting historically accurate military things.

But thats not what I came to tell you about.

You see, when the kids woke up we all headed off into the woods in search of a couple of geocaches.  We had some bumps and bruises along the way (tree roots being the main nemesis of the adventuring toddler).  We had a wonderful time picking ourselves up, brushing ourselves off, and bravely fighting back tears, as we walked farther down the path, heading deeper into the woods.

Amidst a rather magical moment of nature we located the geocaches in question, and had a rather good time. Our mission complete we headed back to the van.

It was getting late, and my wife and I had a date night planned, so we headed back home.  Along the way we saw one of the most dramatic sunsets I have ever seen.

...and that is what I came to tell you about.