Saturday, May 31, 2014

Long Way Round: Viva Wisconsin

The following post is one of many that documents the adventures of a family of bears as they turn a 10 hour road trip into a week long adventure while on their way to GeoWoodstock XII in St. Charles Missouri. If you are not up to speed, check out the introduction here.

One of the best parts of taking road trips is going to places you have never been to before.  So far this trip have been to places at least one of us has previously experienced.

This was all about to change, for we were to enter the brand new territory of Wisconsin.

We planned to stay overnight just outside Milwaukee.  This means that  by the time we finished finding the oldest geocache in Illinois, Beverly, that morning, we would end up in Milwaukee for lunch, and give us the afternoon to explore the city.

Being geocachers we probably didn't explore the city as normal folks, but normal is boring, so we didn't mind so much.

The first thing we did when we hit town was infiltrate a secret spy safe house.

The Safe House is a spy themed restaurant, and "theme" is a misnomer.  The place lives and breathes spy stuff.  You even need to know the secret passphrase to get into the place.

Zeke spent some time exploring the front door before we were able to gain access.

Once inside the place is full of spy memorabilia... movie posters, props, crazy spy cliche things like secret doors and one way mirrors, and even some actual artifacts from real life spies.

It also has a geocache.

They keep in in a secret place (behind the bar I think) so this was the first time I ordered a geocache from a waitress.  I literally said "Hello!  I would like some deep fried cheese curds, and a geocache please."  Her response:  "Yes sir, I'll go fetch that right away".

And she did!
The deep fried cheese curds were also delicious, if you were wondering.

After the feast we took a walk along the pathways that line both sides of the river that runs through town.
We ended up at another cache near a statue dedicated to all those hard working US Postal Service workers.  This was also the cache where Abigail signed her first log.
The cache led us down the road to another statue, so we moved on to find that one... some of us with a well earned victory swagger over her first cache log signing.
We ended up at a statue of The Fonz.  Author Fonzerelli himself (in statue form).  I touched him - he's still cool.
From there we did some more exploring.  There was a pedestrian bridge that went across the river.  Zeke loves pedestrian bridges so he asked if we could use it.  The bridge went from the second floor of two buildings, so we went off to find out how to get on the bridge.  Getting on it proved to be easy, getting back to the street on the far side proved to be more interesting, and we ended up a whole block away before we saw outside again.

From there we got back into the Geovan of Destiny and cached our way to the hotel.

The next day we kept going west.  Wisconsin is famous for cheese, and we didn't want to leave the state without consuming some fomage de la Wisconsin, so we stopped by a cheese store.
Then it rained.  Oh the rain.  Basically it was extremely wet for the entire day.  We found out when we got to the hotel that night that there was a record rainfall of 2.5 inches - previous daily record was 1.5 inches.

As a result we spent most of the day driving, and not a lot of adventuring.  We did have a lunch of cheese and crackers at a rest area tho:

The rain did put a damper on the day a bit, but thats OK - it was the last time the rain had any significant impact on our schedule for the entire trip.    We spent the night in Minneapolis, which brought us a whole bunch of new adventures, so stay tuned!

GeoWoodstock XII: Group Photo

The GeoWoodstock XII group photo is out.  Can you spot us?  We're in the middle right, just in front of the lamp post, and next to the road.

Here is a closer view:

Did you guys go?  If you did, where are you in the photo?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Long Way Round: Naperville

The following post is one of many that documents the adventures of a family of bears as they turn a 10 hour road trip into a week long adventure while on their way to GeoWoodstock XII in St. Charles Missouri. If you are not up to speed, check out the introduction here.

It always pays to have a local guide when you visit an area.

My guide for the Illinois portion of my trip was by a local geocacher by the name of ewald.  

ewald is an Illinois native, and an all round good guy.  We hang out online all the time - virtual office mates - but we've not met in person until this trip. 

As you expected we got in a lot of geocaching together.  He also showed us this amazing park in the middle of Naperville IL, where the kids, both big and small, could get in some play time.

Once the younger kids played themselves out and headed off for nap time, he took me on a geocaching tour of the park - showing me some hidden containers, and told me some history of the area.

One of the coolest features of the park is the river walk, which is exactly as it sounds, a sidewalk that runs right along the edge of the river that snakes through the area.  The water flows pretty fast, and there are no railings, so you always have the sense that a wrong step will cause you to get rather wet rather fast. 
After exploring the park we decided to try a Dr. Seuss themed in-field puzzle cache near the local library.  The first stage was solved by gathering information near this statue of the Cat In The Hat.
 The second stage was actually in the library, in the [redacted] section in a [redacted].  Trust me, it was very cool. You would have loved it!

The next day we were due to head out of town, but we had one more cache to get:  the oldest cache in Illinois, and the third oldest active cache in the world, by the name of Beverly (GC28).  He met us in the parking lot, and we walked through some amazing woods, and open fields, and signed the log on the elder cache.  It was hidden just 10 days after the first ever cache was placed in Oregon, so it was a brush with ancient Geocaching history - gotta love those.
 After we got back to the car we parted ways. He went exploring some more, we headed north to [redacted]. Yes, *that* [redacted].

Naperville is a really neat town.  If you're ever in Illinois you'd be doing yourself a favour by checking it out for yourself.  If you are there and you need a guide, and no one can help you, and you can find him, maybe you too can cache with the ewald.

As for us, we are on to our next adventure. What will it be?  I don't know (actually I do, but I'm playing dumb (yeah, "playing", thats it) for the moment to avoid spoilers), but based on how this trip is going so far, its gonna be a fun one.
You do like having fun, don't you?

Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Long Way Round: Civil War Days

The following post is one of many that documents the adventures of a family of bears as they turn a 10 hour road trip into a week long adventure while on their way to GeoWoodstock XII in St. Charles Missouri. If you are not up to speed, check out the introduction here.

Dear Diary,

This morning was a busy one.  In just a few hours I met two Presidents, got caught in a battle skirmish, drank some home made root beer, watched a blacksmith make a horse shoe, and checked out some field artillery.

All of this happened before lunch.

It happened at Civil War Days at the Naper Settlement in Naperville Illinois.  Picture a city block full of old timey buildings, and amongst those buildings several encampments, and many folks, from the civil war era.

Given my immigration status, and home address, and given the Settlement is behind Union lines, I inquired if I should identify myself as being from the South, or from Canada.  I was universally told "Canada", so I did.  It saved a lot of bloodshed (and perhaps won me a Nobel Peace Prize).

I started the day taking Zeke to the blacksmith shop, and watched him make some hooks out of metal (to hang pots over fires).

I eventually moved on to check out a lady making some fancy lace.

Moving on caused some problems with Zeke.  He started getting cranky and tantrumy.  I tried to get him to move along, but he seemed to shut down (his version of a tantrum).  I talked to him a bit, and it turns out he *really* wanted to go back to "that man who made the twisty metal things!".  A return trip to the blacksmith shop was promised, and we resumed our day.

We witnessed some 'ye olde ladies' dressed in their finest hoop skirts walk by...

... so we continued down the path as well.  We ended up on the Confederate side, watching a platoon doing drills.

After watching the drills for a while, we kept going and crossed over to the Union lines.  The boys in blue looked very serious, and prepared to lay down a simulated whoop-ass on all those rebel scum.
Eventually I moved on again, but as I walked down the path I looked behind me to see the Union lines advancing towards me.  I turned back forward to find a Confederate canon aimed at me (It's a trap!).  Turns out I was in the middle of a skirmish.  Yikes!  I ducked out of the way, but for a moment I was in serious simulated fear of my non-simulated life. 

In re-enactments, as in life, the best defense is often running away in a panic, so I exfiltrated myself from my simulated precarious predicament and ran(simulated) down the path.  Soon I found myself in the midst of a confederate camp.
The third rule of war (the first being "never get involved in a land war in Asia", second being "never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line") is "always make friends with the cook".  So I spent some time working on rule 3 by watching how food was prepared back in the day (This is the Confederates version of McDonalds).
Oh, about those presidents.  An interesting artifact of the Civil War that I never really thought about before is that there were two presidents during the war.  Abraham Lincoln in the north, and Jefferson Davis in the south.  I shook hands with both.
I even got Abe to quote the line from Bill & Teds Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes!" proving once and for all that Abraham Lincoln was the coolest president ever (even tho he declined my invitation to attend a play at the theatre that evening).

I wonder what adventures I will get into next.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Long Way Round: Little Free TARDIS

The following post is one of many that documents the adventures of a family of bears as they turn a 10 hour road trip into a week long adventure while on their way to GeoWoodstock XII in St. Charles Missouri. If you are not up to speed, check out the introduction here.

If this image looks strangely familiar, you may be a Doctor Who fan. If you are also hoping there is a log book to sign, you may be a whovian geocacher.  You'd also be in luck.

It is really fun when several of your interests converge in an awesome package, and this first stop hit several of mine.

Little Free Libraries have a special place in my heart.  They are, essentially, boxes placed in neighbourhoods on private property where anyone can come "take a book, leave a book".

I've done a Little Free Library cache before, so I was stoked to find another one.  The fact that it was Doctor Who themed made it an instant must-find for our trip.

This Little Free Library, made up like a TARDIS, is in the front yard of a private residence in Lisle Illinois.  We pulled up just after a rain storm at 4:30PM, after driving all day.  When we saw the box we all jumped out of the Geovan of Destiny, excited to take a closer look.

So lets go inside and see whats in there...
The library has 3 shelves of books inside.  The top two are full of novels, and the bottom is full of kids picture books.
I happen to keep a set of novels in the van in case I come across a book exchange cache (that is normal, right?), so I was prepared to swap some books.  After examining all the options, I let the kids pick one story each.  They were stoked to get them.
The quality of the construction is good. Really, really good (puts my TARDIS cache to shame, and I thought mine was already pretty decent). Aside from being half size of the original, I would swear its an accurate representation.
There is, of course, a geocache in the TARDIS in a "secret compartment", tho it really is a quick find (even I could do it). Truth be told, this is likely one of the coolest geocaches I have seen to date (and I have seem some really cool caches in my time).

If you are in the area, I highly recommend checking out "Full of Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey Stuff" (GC4R1TF) for yourself.  You won't regret it.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Long Way Round: Introduction

GeoWoodstock, the premiere geocaching mega event, was held in St. Charles Missouri this year. It is a single days drive, and a relatively straight drive path through Tennessee, Kentucky, and northern Illinois.

Plan A is to make a long weekend out of it. That would be the simple and easiest choice, however we've already driven that route a few years ago, and wouldn't see anything new.

So I came up with a more interesting Plan B: turn our one day drive to GeoWoodstock into a week long road trip!  Along the way we would get to see some amazing sights, meet new friends, and see parts of America we have never seen before.

Plan B won.

This next series of posts will cover some of the more interesting things we got to see along the way.

Since we took a long northern circular route from our home state of North Carolina, through Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa to arrive in Missouri (see attached map), I decided to rename Plan B as the "Long Way Round".

The first day and a half was pure driving through country we've seen before, so we didn't do much exploring.  Just miles of interstate. (really just Plan A rearing its ugly head again).

So, as a result, our first significant stop (covered in the next post) will be in the Chicagoland area, and will be of special interest to any Doctor Who fans in the audience (also any librarians).

In case you are wondering, the point where this trip went from a straight 10.5 hour drive to Missouri to a week of fun happened when we didn't take this exit:

Stay tuned! This is going to be a fun ride.

Monday, May 26, 2014

GeoWoodstock XII: The Joker Of Woodstock

I won the bid in the GeoWoodstock 12 playing card auction, so my blog is now immortalized in a deck of cards!

 Also, I will now always be remembered as The Joker of GeoWoodstock. Seems appropriate somehow.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

GeoWoodstock XII: Caching The Katy

One of the best things about attending a GeoWoodstock event is that it is not just one event.  There are many side events that one can attend as well - it is really a long weekend of fun and excitement.

The day after GeoWoodstock 12 was one such event: biking and caching along the Katy, which is a trail that runs 238 miles north/south along the Missouri River.  The event was held at a bike shop where I was able to rent a bike for the afternoon.

The trail - at least the section I rode - is all hard-packed limestone, which can get really sloppy when it gets soaked. It had rained pretty hard in the morning so many cachers made alternate plans to ride on a paved trail.  However by the time it came to ride the Katy had dried up, so I went on my own with Plan A and road 29.5 miles along the Katy:
Along the way I managed to snag 21 caches - all in 3 hours.  Not to shabby (if I do say so myself).  I also got plenty of views of the Missouri countryside:
Frequent readers of this blog may remember that 29.5 miles is over double what I normally ride in a given day (what do you mean you don't keep track?). So when I got back to the bike shop I was a tired, poor specimen of a bear, and I dragged myself to the Geovan of Destiny for a soak in the hotels hot tub.

Despite the pain in my joints I had a great time, and I would do it again... who's coming with me?

GeoWoodstock XII: Kids Of Discovery

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending GeoWoodstock XII in beautiful St. Charles Missouri.

GeoWoodstock is a great deal of fun for all ages, but it is an all day geocaching event, so it can test the patience of the youngest geocachers.

In our case this was the first time we were going to be spending an entire day at a GeoWoodstock without any scheduled nap times for our two toddlers.  Short attention spans can make for bored cranky kids, and long frustrating days for parents.

So, as you can imagine, we were thrilled to discover that the GeoWoodstock organizers had thought of the children, and placed 12 kid-appropriate geocaches around the park for the young ones to do.  So for two hours we managed to combine all of our goals (geocaching, kid distraction, exercise, family time etc.)

The caching was done mostly by Zeke and Yours Truly, but the first few caches we were accompanied by my wife, and Abigail (her short legs make a walk in the woods an epic adventure all unto itself).
The caches came in many shapes and sizes, but the majority were painted bright rainbow coloured 5 gallon buckets that could be viewed from a long distance off.
Zeke thought this one was a little too visible, so he picked it up and scooted it further behind the trees.  He had a mischievous look on his face, so I am not sure if he had an unusual display of deviousness in trying to make it harder to find, or if he remembered that I had to ask him to re-hide a previous cache a little better after his attempts to re-hide it.  Either way the "hide the same or better" mantra has been well established in this young geocaching padawan.
Each of the 12 caches were full of swag - everything from plastic figures, to stickers, tattoos, balls, wristbands etc.  At each cache the kids could take one bit of swag, which they took full advantage of.
 To prove a find, each cache had a stamp. Zeke loved recording each find on his tracking sheet.
As per normal Zekey modus operandi, he was very meticulous to ensure he got the stamping done right, checking out each one before pressing it onto the page.
Once all 12 caches were found, the completed tracking sheets could be traded in for wooden geocoins. Both of the kids received one.
The kid caching feature of GeoWoodstock was a great experience.  It was geocaching at its purest form - not about the numbers (these are not official caches, so they don't get recorded as stats on - but about the hunt, the experience, and the adventure... not to mention a little about the swag.

I want to sent a special thank you to +Dane Morgan, who I know did a lot of the work on placing these hides (Dane: please extend my thanks to anyone who helped you).  It made a special day even better for both kids and parents alike.

FYI, if you are wondering how the kids did all day - they did amazing.  Despite spending 11 hours in the park, plus an early wake up, they had a great time, and (for toddlers) were very well behaved all day.  The true testament is that after one of the longest, most active days they've experienced so far, and a day that completely exhausted us adults, they still didn't want to leave the park.  That, my friends, is a sign that today was a good day for everyone.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

GeoWoodstock XII

Today, on the shores of the Missouri River in St. Charles MO was held one of the classic geocaching events: GeoWoodstock.

GeoWoodstock is a mega event, where thousands of geocachers come together for a day of fun, fellowship, and geocaching.

I have attended 4 GeoWoodstock events to date (IX, X, XI, and now XII).  Each GeoWoodstock has its own flavour, and this one was no exception.

The theme of this GeoWoodstock was Louis and Clark, the famous explorers that helped map the western side of the United States.  Their expedition, known as the Corps Of Discovery, left from St. Charles in 1804.    Very few things provide more inspiration to a geocacher than stories of explorers like Lewis and Clark.

I have written extensive  blogs on my previous GeoWoodstock experiences, so I'll concentrate on the things that make this event unique.

The first notable thing is that this GeoWoodstock was held in downtown St. Charles.  On one side of the park is a large river, on the other is a rustic and historic town.   Most events like this are held in out-of-the-way places where access to restaurants and other such things require a car - this one had food and fun literally across the street.

Another notable thing is that we did not have the park to ourselves.  On the northern end was an Irish music festival.
Yours Truly playing a trackable ukelele
To be honest the fact that the festival shared the park with us made me a little nervous - mainly due to the extra people would dilute from the fun and flavour of the event, and parking would be hard to come by.

As it turns out the Irish Festival fit into GeoWoodstock like a glove.  Parking did end up being a bit of an issue, but there were enough spaces for everyone if one was willing to walk a half mile or so.  However the upsides vastly outweighed the (trivially) bad.

The availability of fair food is the first perk.  Nothing seems to taste as good as food from a truck.  Second is that it made a great distraction for the kids.  This is the first GeoWoodstock where my wife and I had to manage two toddlers (the previous 'stock we had one as Abigail was only 4 weeks old and didn't move much).  Going in I was worried about keeping the kids entertained for the entire day.  The festival provided all sorts of kid distractions, including music and a midway.  It was truly a blessing in disguise for us poor parents of toddlers.
Hanging out at the log book.

Speaking of music, this is the first GeoWoodstock I have attended that had a DJ.  They played rock music during several parts of the day, which added a nice backdrop.  This may, or may not, have contributed to some dancing and air guitar playing as we walked across the park... unfortunately no photographic evidence exists.

Also, speaking of kid distractions, (back up a paragraph or two to catch this thread :) this GeoWoodstock also had many activities for kids.  The most noteable is a set of 12 caches specially decorated for kids that were loaded with swag.  We spent a good two hours hunting down these caches.  I'll cover these in a follow-up post, but it was awesome, and I hope future 'stocks do similar things for the kids.
This event also had some of the classic things I've come to expect from a GeoWoodstock, including:

-  Lots of vendors

- Hanging out with the Geocaching mascot, Signal The Frog (tho we've discovered that, while she loves the toy Signal we have at home, Abigail is freaked out by the full sized version - kids be crazy).

- Geocaching Bingo

- The group photo

- Many seminars, including my favourite,  Meet The Reviewers, where us mortal geocachers can ask the reviewers (the people responsible for publishing caches, including the hard work of ensuring they meet the guidelines), pretty much anything.  This years panel was especially interesting.

Of course, at the end of the day, when all the fun is winding down, the tradition of announcing the next GeoWoodstock location continues.  I was very happy to find out that next years GeoWoodstock will be in Maryland, since it is within a days drive of my home.

One of the most notable things this time was all of the people I got to meet, mostly for the first time, that I previously only knew from Google Plus, or podcasts.

I spent a lot of time geocaching with +Darryl Wattenberg and +Chris Umphenour of the +GeoGearHeads podcast.  They are a great group of guys, and they are just as crazy in real life as they do on the show.  We ended up doing the 10 lab caches, and a multi cache. They also hosted a meet and greet breakfast event, pictured here:

I actually spent a lot of time walking up to people I've never set eyes on, but talked to online, and getting instantly recognized. Being recognized sight-unseen is odd for me, but its a good feeling - makes the Geocaching world feel like a large family.  

Some of these people include +Jen Cole +Dane Morgan, Lookout Lisa from +Cache Advance, Josh and Liz from +Peanuts or Pretzels, and the craziest (in a good way) geocacher I've ever known, +The Geocaching Vlogger:
I also met some fans of the blog, and recognized me from when I co-hosted the Geosnippits Reboot podcast.  One person stopped me to personally thank me for my Mega Event Survival Guide.  

This is all to say that this GeoWoodstock ended up feeling like an extended family reunion, and for someone introverted like me, thats an unusual and special thing.

I am already scheming about next years event in Maryland.  I've already checked with my wife, and she has given me permission to post my Will Attend log, which I will do as soon as the cache listing is posted.

So, if you are a geocacher, I hope to meet you at the next GeoWoodstock in Maryland.
You are going to be there... right?  RIGHT?!?