Monday, February 24, 2014

South Fork Rail Trail


On Sunday I headed over to Lincoln County NC to do some geocaching.

While I was there I ran across the South Fork Rail Trail, which is a member of the Carolina Thread Trails project.

At just 0.8 miles this is a very short, but well groomed trail.  It runs along the southern fork of the Catawba river, so it has some beautiful scenery.

It is also home to two geocaches, which is what brought me here in the first place.

The rest of this post is a small taste of what the trail is like, starting wit the trail itself:

The river is large and fast flowing:

The main feature of the trail is this amazing waterfall, which looks main made.  I believe there is an old mill across the river from here.

It is a short and easy trail, but I enjoyed it.  If you get a chance, I recommend getting out of the house and exploring this, or any of the other thread trails in North and South Carolina. You never know what interesting gems you'll discover.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I <3 Geocaching - Adventures in Lab Caching

On Friday I received a link in my email inbox that pointed me to a web page with this on it:
This is a Groundspeak lab cache.  In an effort to play around with different geocache ideas, in the month of February any premium member of geocaching.com was allowed to create one cache, and one person could find it.  The cache could take any form, without the restrictions of the normal geocaching guidelines - the world is the geocache hiders oyster.  They call it I <3 Geocaching (the 'lab cache' comes from the experimentation part). The caches are logged by entering a code that is determined by finding a container, or as in this case, solving a puzzle.

I had arranged to swap lab caches with a local cacher who goes by the name of NinjaChipmunk.  I had created a cache for her (a puzzle involving exploring a parking lot - yeah, I'm *full* of awesomely mediocre ideas).  She in turn created a lab cache for me.

So when I got the link in my email I immediately opened it up and was greeted with this:


It was at this point I started to suspect collusion with my dearest wife.  You see she had informed me a week ago that she was going to take me out for dinner in Hickory on Saturday (she never does this - she often suggests we go out, but she never plans it ahead of time), and she had casually mentioned she wouldn't mind if I found a geocache on the way (I talked about filling in my geocache calendar so it didn't seem odd at the time).  So when the cache said "bring a companion" on our already planned date night, in the same town 35 minutes away we already planned to go... my spidey senses were tingling... something was afoot.  I didn't know what tho.  It turned out to be awesome.

So my wife and I leave the kids with the grandparents (conveniently in town, tho I suspect this part was actually a coincidence), and headed off to Hickory.  We arrived at the location, which turned out to be a parking lot.  I set about solving the puzzle (Spoiler alert: its 'breath'), and used my phone to enter in the answer.  I was then greeted with this:


I look up from my phone to see my wife holding an envelope in her hand.  It turns out NinjaChipmunk gave us a gift certificate to an Irish Pub (which was in the plaza we were parked at - convenient!).

So we went inside, and had a cracking good date - helped in part to a lab cache.

Ninja said she wanted us to have a good time, so we ordered drinks ('tis date night after all).  I was faced with a plethora of tasty looking scottish and irish beers, so I decided to get a sample platter of 4 different beers.

So many thanks to NinjaChipmunk for a great night, and a super awesome lab cache.  This one is for you.

Cheers!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Clearing Rocky Face Mountain Park

Thanks to General George Washington beating the British to the First to Find on the United States Presidency, and the modern times celebration thereof, I had the day off work (thanks George!).

I decided to head over to Rocky Face Mountain Park to clear out the four geocaches that were published there since I cleared it out early last year.

So I loaded up Bailey the wonder puppy into the Geovan of Destiny and headed 30 miles east to the park.

When I got there a park ranger informed me that one of the trails was closed due to ice and snow on the trail.  This wasn't a problem for me as the caches I wanted were not on that trail, however it did highlight a theme for the day, which is dealing with snow.

Not just snow - melty snow.  The worst kind for slipperiness. It is basically walking on wet muddy hillsides with some frozen water on top.

Not letting such things daunt me (cause life is too short, and with care, such things can be safely overcome - indeed the entire day I never slipped out of control), I started down the trails to the first cache.

The trail I took was indeed snow covered, but not that bad.  When I went off trail to go to GZ I had to slide down a snowy embankment, but I stayed on my feet the entire time.  All in all it went well.
The rest of the caches were up the mountain.   0.5 miles as the crow flies, but 1.5 miles after all the switchbacks the trail takes to wind up the side of the hill.
 The third cache was 800ft off the trail, down the hill, and across some rocky outcroppings.  Due to the melting snow the rocks were quite wet in places.  I carefully worked my way across the outcroppings to get to ground zero.  What would normally be a 10 minute stroll through the woods took twice that.  It was a lot of work, but I was rewarded with a log sheet to sign, and a lot of awesome views.


The cache also contained the coordinates to a bonus cache - which is posted as a puzzle cache with coords in the parking lot.  The cache is actually near the summit, conveniently on my way back down, so off I went.

The final for the puzzle was also about 800ft off the trail, and down more hills and rocky outcroppings.  I spent a good 30 minutes gingerly picking my way through the maze of wet rocks, snow patches, fallen trees, and other obstacles, winding slowly down the hill, seeking out solid footholds as I went.  This was a proper terrain 4 cache, so it was already challenging - the snow made it that much harder.

It was actually quite tiring and a little nerve wracking at times.  However I made it to GZ without major injury to person or pride (actually, major increase to pride).  Once there I quickly found the geocache, signed the log, and put it back.
The rest of the trip was simply walking well marked yet slightly snowy trails back to the van.  

Oh, if you ever wondered why the place is called Rocky Face, this is the view from the parking lot.  It is the face of an old quarry.

So that was my day.  As days go, it was tiring, but a great deal of fun (good times were had by all furry creatures, both two and four legged). I walked 4.5 miles, and found 4 caches (which is 1.1 MPG (miles per geocaches), not to shabby).  I'm just kinda sad that there are no more caches in this awesome park to find.  Maybe a local will fix that for me (there are a few spots left near the top...).

If they get published, I'll be back.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Snowpocalypse 2014: The Ride

After this weeks snow storm passed, I went out for a ride to see what biking in 6" of wet snow is like.

I had biked to work during the previous snow fall with great results.  This time we had twice the snow, and the temps were warmer so ice was more of a factor.  Still, it was a rare chance to experience this sort of riding.

Turns out ice was not much of an issue, but slush was.  Under the snow was a half inch of slush.  When I was riding in untouched snow this was not a problem (tho the snow itself was hard to push through), however when I was riding in tire tracks (or on the plowed roads), the tires would randomly break through the slush and make things unstable.

Here are some scenes, starting with the view of the main ride through town.
I looped back down the Greenway, which is paved under all that white stuff.  Someone had, apparently, gone cross-country skiing the night before.
Snow buildup on the tires was more of an issue this time around.
The requisite mug shot to prove it was me on this ride.
Took a picture of the bike on the bridge to match a similar one from last time, so you can compare the differences in snow coverage.
Someone drove a 4-wheeler on the Greenway, which is illegal.  However he went out in the snow, so despite being a monumental jerk, he is at least an adventurous one.  The packed slush from the tires made riding on this part of the Greenway a lot harder than it needed to be.
One last look at the slush covered roads.  I am actually quite convinced that plowing, at least without sanding and salting, actually made them much worse, at least in the short term (plowed roads do melt faster, but thats a delayed benefit from this rides perspective).
So that was my ride.  6" of heavy wet snow with a slushy base is likely my limit for snow riding.  It was a great experience tho.  I am glad I did it, tho I am also glad that I made it back home to eat second breakfast, cause man was it exhausting.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snowpocalypse 2014: The Play

As Canadians living in the southern United States, we tend to end up missing snow in winter, especially the fun that it can bring.

Since Mother Nature decided to bless us with 6 inches of the fluffy white stuff on Wednesday, we got the chance to play in the snow on Thursday.

More importantly, at least for me, our kids got the chance to play in the snow.  It is a rare event to get enough snow to actually do snow things like build snowmen, and go sledding.  It will likely only last a day or two, so I was itching to get out and make the most of it.

So come along and join us as we experience the joy of a winter wonderland thru the eyes of my kids.  We'll start by the classic snowman construction. This snow was excellent packing snow, so it only took a few rolls to get a large snowball to use as the base.
Abigail was too little to push snowballs, but she spent a long time picking up snow and squeezing it between her mittens.  Also, if you notice the snow goes up to her knees... explains those stories your Grandpa used to tell about walking to school with snow up to your knees, uphill both ways, eh?
Building the second layer.  I went inside to get carrots and some dark chocolate to use as the eyes. Oh, and the hat.
Abigail went to play in her playhouse.
All the kids at play, with a snowy guardian to watch them.
Soon we headed off to the hill beside our house to try our hand at sledding.  This was the first time either had really used a sled before.  They took right to it.
Zeke really loved it.  Luckily for us he also enjoyed pulling the sled back up the hill, most of the time.
Abigail enjoyed herself too, tho she was a little unsure of all the wicked speeds.
Sometimes I pulled them back up the hill on the sled.  Sometimes the sled tipped over by accident.  This time I think Zeke tipped over on purpose.    Sometimes falling off the sled is more fun than staying on it.
So that was our day.  It looks like the snow may still be around tomorrow so hopefully we'll get more adventures.  You have to pack in as much fun as you can when your winter wonderlands only last 2 days.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snowpocalypse 2014: The Storm

So you may have heard about the snow storm that hit the southern US states yesterday.  I live in the center of that storm, and I have lived to tell the tale (really it wasn't that hard - my survival strategy was "wear boots and a hat")

Before the storm started I put out a home-made snowgauge so I could see for myself how much snow we got.  I also set up an impromptu  time-lapse camera to capture the blow-by-blow excitement and adventure starting yesterday before the first snow flake until sundown tonight (36 hours-ish)

So the following are some pictures of the storm in action, and how my house looked during and after most of the snow fell.  First some pics, starting with my house.
A rough idea of how much snow fell between noon and 8pm(-ish).  Clearly something to be feared.
Looks like the birds will still have something to eat.
 The road was plowed before I got up at 7:30.  Impressive for a town with one snowplow.

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for. This is 36 hours of a 'catastrophic' southern US snow storm. The computer the camera was attached to went to sleep at midnight, so I lost some early morning footage, but I think you get the rough idea.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Geocaching Adventures: Murrays Mill And Balls Creek

I have been under the weather for the past week. I am not at 100% yet but today I was anxious to get out of the house and go on an adventure.  The place I selected was on the Carolina Thread Trail at Murrays Mill in North Carolina.

The Carolina Thread Trails are a series of trails that run across 15 counties in North and South Carolina.  Typically these trails are interesting, and relatively easy, so it seemed like a great place to get in a hike, and do some geocaching.

The day broke down into two parts.  First was a leisurely stroll along Balls Creek along the Thread Trail.  The trail also skirts along some privately owned corn fields.  The stroll was very pleasant, which was good because I completely failed on finding the cache.  After a 30 minute search I called it quits on the cache.  The trail itself was worth the walk tho.

The second cache was across the road from the mill.  The trails connect, but the trail is not a part of the Thread Trail system.  This was evident as the trail quickly faded into the underbrush, and I spent the last 500ft guessing at where the trail was.

The cache was near a small falls along Balls Creek.  My GPSr was bouncing everywhere, and previous logs indicated that the coords were off by up to 65ft.  So I resorted to depending on clues in the logs and the hint, and using my geosense.

It was a tough grind, but I stuck in using nothing but raw determination to not go home empty handed.  It took me 65 minutes, but I eventually found the cache.  Relieved I signed my name to the log, and headed back to the van.

So it was a good day. Along the way I saw some interesting sights, starting with Murrays Mill itself.
At the mill were also some old homesteads. Some looked like fairly new but abandoned houses, others, like this one, looked much older.
One interesting piece of history was that the cornfield I was walking along was the same cornfield that Junior Johnson, famous NASCAR driver from the 50s, used to get his corn that he used to make moonshine.
Now I am not a NASCAR fan in the slightest, but Junior Johnson was also a bootlegger, which means part of his story was the inspiration for the Dukes Of Hazzard, something every boy child of the 70s and 80s cares about.

Moonshine and Bootlegging - oh yeah, baby.
Near the falls at Balls Creek I saw something I had never seen before. So, you know how when some trees fall their roots bring up a lot of dirt with them? (sure you do!).  I have seen this hundreds of times - 5 times today in fact.  What I have never seen is two trees that fell in opposite directions from the same spot, in exactly opposite directions.  Thats what this picture shows.
I can't even imagine the mechanics of how this formation came to be. It is truly a wonder of nature.

Another wonder of nature is this carpet of greenery over the leaf littered forrest floor.  It was a lot of green for still being early February.
So that ends my little adventure.  Really, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Creative Cache Containers Part IV

This is the fourth installment of my creative cache series.  All of these caches have been spotted in the wild during my various cache hunts.  I post them in hopes to inspire others to hide quality caches of their own, instead of tossing pill bottles under lamp skirts.

First off is this old apple, found in an apple tree.  The apple was made of foam.
A simple birdhouse hide.  The owl makes it art.
An electrical box attached to a pole.  This cache was out in the open.  The combination is one of the numbers on the pole.
Ye olde fake brick.  This took me a long time to find since the bricks were behind some bushes, so they were not easy to see.
The classic garden gnome.   I love seeing these guys out in the field.  It seems a much better life than guarding some garden somewhere

You can check out the rest of the posts in this series by clicking here: Creative Cache Containers: The Series.

Go forth and create. Make the geocaching world a more interesting place.