Sunday, September 29, 2013

NCGO Fall Fling 2013

The North Carolina Geocaching Organization (NCGO) puts on an event for all North Carolina geocachers (and the surrounding states) every year.  This year it was held at Frank Liske Park in Concord NC.

The event is family orientated - geared more as a family reunion than a geocaching event - so there were lots of activities to do for the kids.

Zeke participated in an ammo can painting event, and both kids took part in the easter egg hunt.

I took part in a odd-ball container swap.  Folks brought unique and different containers, placed them in paper bags, and left them on the table.  Later on we all selected a different bag.  Think of it as a Christmas gift exchange but with caches (so better!).  I ended up with a bouquet of flowers with a cache attached.  Stick that sucker in a garden and its gonna be a beast to find.

There were also vendors, a silent auction, and really delicious food.

There was, as you'd expect from a geocaching event, geocaching.  Just before the event 16 new geocaches were published that were part of a geocaching bingo contest.   I only found one of these, but I did manage to grab 7 other caches that were hidden in the park.  I brought my mountain bike with me so I could get some range in, and not spend all my time and energy walking.  This proved to be a great time saver (and a great deal of fun).

Headhardhat and the Headhardhatress were also in attendance, as evidenced by this photo:
Abigail participating in the egg hunt.
 Zeke and mommy also participated.  Zeke got quite the haul of candy and prizes.
A passel of cachers during the anouncements of the silent auction winners.
More cachers listening intently to see who won the silent auction items.
Once everything was over, Abigail chilled in her stroller, eating some delicious snacks.
This was my second Fall Fling, and this one was as enjoyable as the last.  I can't wait until the next one.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ants In My Cache

I spent the afternoon in Asheville NC today geocaching with my wife.  We came across this cache full of miniature wildlife:
It was kind of freaky at first, but after a while we started watching the ants scurrying to save their eggs from the evil people invading their homes.  Once the ants scattered sufficiently I grabbed the log and signed it.

We then went on our merry way. Has this ever happened to you?

Disclaimer: No ants were (intentionally) harmed in the finding of this cache.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt: Summer 2013 Edition

During June and July I jumped once more unto the breach - and participated in the +Chrysta Rae's Photography Scavenger Hunt   on +Google+ .

The hunt works like this: we are given a list of 10 categories to shoot, and 60(-ish) days to shoot them . One photo per category is submitted, and then they are judged by a panel of expert photographers. The submissions are kept a secret until the judging takes place, then they are all released in what is known as the "reveal".  The reveal is where everyone seems each others work for the first time.  I got a fair number of fantastic comments on some of my photos, so I am really happy with that.

Despite my feeble hardware (Canon S100), and an annoying lack of imagination this round, I held my own once again against rather stiff competition.

 The following are my submissions for the Summer 2013 edition of the +Chrysta Rae's Photography Scavenger Hunt:

Category: Sunburn

This is a composite of two shots with different lighting.  I took one with the light in front of the stormtrooper and one behind.  I then overlaid them, coloured some of the shadows red, added a flare effect, and had this shot.  Not my best work, but it was unique for the hunt.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Popscicle

Zeke enjoying some ice cream on a 100+F day in downtown Halifax Nova Scotia. I received an Honorable Mention for this shot.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Picnic

This fella was found on my front porch.  He didn't make it, but he did make a great picnic for grubs and worms.  Just goes to show that sometimes you're the eater, sometimes you're lunch.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Campfire

Like the image says, I didn't have a single idea for this, so I figure I'd go for humour instead of not submitting anything.  Based on the reactions I got, it was a good decision.  A lot of geeky photographers out there :)

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Watermelon

Another cop-out, but folks enjoyed it anyway.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Bad Hair Day

Taken in a hotel during our Bears Go East trip, I think either in Newfoundland, or Washington DC.  It was essentially an impromptu selfie, but it seemed to fit the category.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Sprinkler

This shot was taken outside the Capitol building in Washington DC on one of the hottest day of the year.  This is an oasis put there by the designers of the National Mall for visitors to get refreshed.  Turns out it works really well.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Star

A bit meta, but a unique submission.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Turquoise

Taken at Blow Me Down Provincial Park (yes, thats a real name) in Newfoundland, Canada.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Category: Butterfly

Found while on a walk with the wife and kids,  This one didn't make it.

See the rest of the submissions for this category here.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Geocaching Adventures: Persistence or Luck?

 - or - 
Sometimes It Pays To Be Lucky

Today I signed the log book on a rather tricky four stage multi-cache, despite not finding all of the stages.

It went down like this.

The cache in question is situated along an old road, now long abandoned.  The cache description does not provide any details about what used to be in the area, rather it asks the question "what did they use this place for?".

Stage one was 800ft or so down the trail from parking, which was a quick hike down the road.  Aside from fighting with then plethora of spider webs cross crossing the overgrown road, I had few issues finding the container for stage one.  As you would expect,  the container contained the coordinates for the second stage, and a hint.

I loaded the coords into my GPSr and headed down the road to the second stage GZ, about 500ft away.

When I got there I was faced with a series of rock faces, many with deep crevices. These were built into a very steep hill.  The rocks went up about 8ft, and the hill rose 30ft above that.   I started my hunt in the rocks, but came up empty.  I then searched all the trees I could reach, but came up empty.  I didn't want to climb the hill as it was incredibly steep - the closest to a cliff one can get without actually being vertical.  Eventually I gave in and climbed up the hill, searching every rock, tree, and crevice in a 50ft radius.


I pulled out my cell phone and looked at the cache description, scouring the logs for clues.  The listing contained spoiler photos for each stage, so I pulled up the photo for stage 2.  I matched up the photo exactly, and looked around.


At this stage I had looked for well over 45 minutes, and done some aerobatics that I wasn't sure I was even capable of (still not sure, but based on the evidence, but eye witnesses say its true).  I was tired and frustrated.  I decided to call it and head back to the car.

I took a couple steps towards the car when I remembered something I saw while investigating the logs and photos on the cache listing.  They mentioned an old bridge abutment.  I had yet to see this abutment on my journey so far.  Since I had come this far, and the multi seemed to be following the old road, I figured I might as well see if I could at least find the old bridge.

I did a 180 and continued further down the path.

It turns out the remains of the bridge started just 300ft down the road.  The abutment in the spoiler photo was the last in a series of 4 old supports that used to hold up a bridge that the road I was walking on used to go across a wide creek about 200ft away, down in a holler (southernly speaking).

Wanting to take a closer look at the ruins, I hopped down into the brush.  I looked around to see if I could see any obvious hiding places for a geocache. I got to the last support and gazed across the creek.  It was a pleasant view.  I was glad I stayed to explore the area more.

I did one more look around, and took a few photos, when I saw something in the corner of my eye.

They looked like coordinates (queue Spock like raised eyebrow).

A closer look confirmed that they were indeed coordinates.  Holy crap!  I was back on the hunt!  I entered the coordinates into my GPSr, and they led me along the creek bank about 300ft.  Excitedly I followed the arrow through the woods.

I quickly got to ground zero, located the container (a 5 gallon bucket), and excitedly signed that log.

Another multi-cache in the bag, even tho I only found 3/4ths of the stages.

Sometimes it pays off to be persistent, and to explore.  You never know what you'll find.  It may just be a smiley you wrote off for dead.

Oh, and the answer to "What did they use this place for"?  I still have no idea, but now its used, sadly, as a tire dump.  Oh well, at least the walk in was awesome.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Creative Cache Containers Part II

A while ago I posted some of the creative cache containers I've encountered in the wild.  This has proven to be one of my most popular posts, so I figured a sequel is in order.

As before I purposefully am not mentioning the caches that these containers have come from to avoid any possible spoilers.  However these are all real cache containers I have personally found in the field over the past year(-ish).  Some are classic, some are very unique.

This container required the use of a wrench to open.

This one made clever use of an old measuring tape.

The classic cache in a log.
This is a giant acorn that was hung hight in a tree, and accessible via  a pulley system.

A giant mouse trap.  To give a sense of scale the "cheese" is a 50cal ammo can.  I checked several times before touching it, just in case the trap was set :)

This cache is themed off of the movie Office Space.  If you have not seen the movie it is just a broken printer.  If you have seen the movie, it is a whole lot more :)

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

What are some creative containers you've discovered? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail

In the late 1800s, Tug Valley, on the border between Kentucky and West Virginia was home to two feuding families, the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Today in the same area there exists a geocaching series that highlights many of the important sites related to the feud.  This trail consists of 15 caches (soon to be 20) spread over 75 miles of Kentucky and West Virginia countryside.

Last Saturday, as part of the 2nd Annual Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail event, we completed all of the caches in this trail.  It was one of the more interesting geocaching experience I have had in quite some time.

Sometimes it can be absolutely amazing to walk in the footsteps of history.

We actually started the trail the day before.  5 of the caches were located in Pikeville KY, where our hotel was, so the moment we pulled into town we started grabbing those caches.  The rest of the caches were spread over a 20 mile radius 30 miles away, much closer to the event, so we saved those to complete during the event itself.

Not only does the cache bring one to many amazing historical sites, but it also brings one through some amazingly beautiful countryside, and the hills and mountains of KY and WV.  On the way to the event we were greeted with many vistas such as this one (not a bad shot for being taken from a van moving 65MPH, eh?):

One of the first stops in Pikeville was the cemetery where Randolph McCoy, the patriarch of the McCoy clan, is buried.

This cemetery also contains the graves of many other McCoys (tho I am told Leonard "Bones" McCoy is not among them... yet).
All of the caches along the trail looked the same.  A plastic container hidden in a red bird house.  This made finding the caches easier, saved on hunt time, and made the trail a pleasure to complete.  The idea of this trail was to show off history, not to test cache retrieval skills, so it worked out really well.
Along the way we got to experience some of the beautiful countryside.  We also saw lots of evidence of the extensive coal mining that goes on in this part of the world.
One of the most spectacular graves was that of "Devil Anse" Hatfield, the patriarch of the Hatfield clan.  This statue was made from marble imported from Italy.  He was buried on a hilltop that contained many other Hatfield graves.

Based on what I heard about the feud I had assumed the Hatfields and McCoys were uneducated hillbillies being all rowdy and unfriendly with each other.  One thing that struck me while spending some time with the Hatfields and McCoys is that they were well educated business folk, well respected in the community.  This just outlines the importance of seeing history for yourself, and not relying on books and stories to form your opinions.
As you may expect, many of the sites also have historical markers that explain the historical significance of the area.  There are actually several non-geocaching based self-guided tours of the area that also makes use of these signs.
All of these caches are close to roads, however some are in more difficult terrain.  As an example, parking for the cache where Roseanna McCoy's baby is buried is only 300ft from parking, but it requires climbing 140+ stairs to get to the cemetery (not overly difficult, but not exactly a park'n'grab either).  The Hatfield cemetery had a similar elevation, but access was using a very rocky path.  The Hatfields and McCoys never seemed to die in convenient locations - this probably explains a lot of the animosity between them.
Each cache on the trail has a wooden block with a unique image embossed on it.  Cachers can keep track of their finds by taking rubbings (with crayons kept in each cache) on a tracking "passport". Once all of the caches are completed, the passport can be turned in to the local Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce, for which you will receive a geocoin.  Not to shabby.  Mine will be kept in my collection as a treasured momento of my adventure for a long time to come.

This is my completed passport.

Along the way we had an unexpected brush with history.  This house is the last remaining structure from the feud, which is the McCoy homestead.  We also met one of the direct descendants of the McCoys.

So that ended the experience with the Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail. I found all 15 caches, and claimed my geocoin. The coin is a nice memento, but the real prize was the incredible day(-ish) exploring an interesting chapter in American history.

I was very glad to have completed the trail as part of an event.  However anyone can complete it at any time.  If you are looking for a chance to explore history, take in some amazing scenery, and grab some smileys, I cannot recommend this GeoTrail enough.

Here is the link to the bookmark list for all the caches: Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail. Check it out for yourself! You may just get to know history first hand yourself, and isn't that reason enough?

Monday, September 02, 2013

2nd Annual Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail Event

This weekend my family and I piled into the Geovan of Destiny and headed towards the Kentucky/West Virginia state line to attend a mega geocaching event deep in Hatfield and McCoy country.

The event is designed to support the Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail, which is an ever growing series of geocaches placed at various locations of historical significance to the infamous Hatfield McCoy feuds back in the late 1800s.

The event was held in Blackberry Park in the exact middle of Nowhere, KY - tho the folks around there call it Ransom KY.  The scenery is beautiful, but its definite boondock country.  A perfect place for such an event.

Unlike other large events I have been to, this one did not have a lot of activities at the event itself. The main events was the pre-mentioned geotrail (which I will cover in a future post), and this year they released a 100+ power trail that made up some geoart (of a pig). 

The event consisted of some announcements, followed by a group photo, then a lot of milling around, talking, eating lunch.  There were even a few vendors selling geocaching related swag.

One of the Groundspeak Lackeys (what they call their employees) was also in attendance.  He happened to be from the technical side of the company, so I spent a good amount of time talking about the tech side of the company. Cool dude.  Glad I met him.

These are whbaisden (aka Wendy), and Spongebob CachePants giving some pre-event announcements.
 This Jeep was signed by all that came.  It was also taken to Geowoodstock XI, where I had signed it previously.

Signal the Frog, the geocaching mascot from Groundspeak Inc, was also in attendance.  Abigail seemed enthralled with him.

Blackberry Park is mostly grass, with a few amenities strewn about.  Its the people that make it awesome.
The group photo.  We are on the left side, 3 people back from the pair of blue shirts:

So that was the event.  A simple affair for a few hundred geocachers, but it made an excellent home base to do the Hatfield McCoy GeoTrail, which was the highlight of the day. Like I mentioned before, I will cover the feud in an upcoming post.  We spent the morning at the event, and the afternoon on the trail.

For now let me just say that southeast Kentucky and southwest West Virginia has some awesome geocachers, some jaw dropping gorgeous scenery, and some amazing history, all rolled into one awesome package.  If you have never been, you are missing out. Stay tuned for more, coming right up next post(-ish).

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A Day In The Life: Why I Am A Geocacher

When talking to non-geocachers my hobby of choice sometimes seems weird and strange (and really, who can argue that it isn't just a little on the super geeky side of life?).

If you ever wondered what the big deal about geocaching is, wonder no longer.

Today was the perfect day to outline exactly why I like to geocache.  The following occurred within an 8 hour period, while exploring the countryside along the Kentucky/West Virginia state line with my wife and kids.

These are the events as they happened...

First I was attacked by a praying mantis outside of a shopping mall... specifically, this mantis:

Don't worry, the mantis and I soon came to terms with each other.  Then I took the family inside the mall and had cupcakes with 50 or so other geocachers (it was an event).  Zeke liked the ones shaped like Cookie Monster (and really, who could blame him?)

 We then checked out a psychedelic pig...

... and a building made entirely out of coal.  Seriously, coal! (whoda thunk?)
We then drove along side the Tug river, and came across an amazingly large number of coal train cars.  There were 7-8 rows of train cars (mostly coal, some tankers) that were packed together as close as train cars get, that went on for several miles.  You don't really get an appreciation for how much coal gets used in North America until you see a sight like this.

We ended up in historic Matewan WV, deep in the heart of Hatfield/McCoy country.  There are 5 new Geocaching Lab caches, and I was on the hunt to find them all.  Following the waypoints for the lab caches, I was taken on an historic tour of the small town. Since these are a new, experimental, type of cache, they were not perfect (coord issues and whatnot).  There were many cachers working on the same caches, so we teamed up, even tho we were all strangers to each other,  to help each other through the various issues.  I found all 5, as did many others.  At times there were 8-10 of us cachers trying to locate a lab cache, or one of the regular caches hidden in town.  
Along the way I had sights like this one:  These are bullets from the 1920 union uprising that happened here.  Actual embedded shells. You can't get much closer to history than this.

While I was talking to one of the geocachers in Matewan, I found out that she was a descendant of the Hatfields. Another brush with history (she swears there are no hard feelings for the McCoys, by the way).  Her great grandfather was the brother of the head of the Hatfield family during the feud.

Just as we leaving town we pulled over at a random park so our son could de-water.  I led him to the bushes and as he was doing his thing I looked over and spotted something that looks suspiciously like a geocaching container.  A quick check later and, sure enough, it was.  An unexpected find (and no, my son didn't get the cache wet).

We then moved on and drove towards Pikeville KY.  Along the way we drove by Canada.  Frequent readers of my blog will understand why this gave us all a thrill.  In this case Canada is simply a small settlement in the hills of south eastern Kentucky.  It still counts tho, eh?

We then explored the Pikeville Cut-Through, which is an amazing earth works project that, essentially, transformed the landscape of Pikeville by carving back the hills, improving the watersheds, and making room for buildings and roads.  More than 20 million tons of rock, and 30 million tons of earth were moved to create more useable land, transforming Pikeville into a pretty awesome little town.

It is also very pretty.  This is, according to the information signs, one of the largest engineering projects in North America.

After this we headed to downtown Pikeville to check out the Hatfield/McCoy Heritage Festival (did I mention it was Hatfield/McCoy country?)  It is your typical street festival with  music, food, carnies, games and fun.  We would not have been to this festival had geocaching not brought us to the area.

We spent a fair amount of time soaking up the scenery, and listening to some live music:
Then we returned to the hotel for a pre-supper swim.  

Once the kids were put to bed I went for a walk to grab a few more caches in the parking lot, and got stuck in a drive-thru.  I found a cache on a guardrail behind a Dairy Queen, just off the driveway for the drive-thru line-up. When I made the grab the lot was empty.  I stepped away to sign the log, and when I returned there were 10 cars in the drive-thru line.  Gah! Took me 20 minutes to catch a break in the traffic so I could return the container.

So that was a single day of a (mostly) unplanned day of exploring.  I have had many, many days like this since I started geocaching, and almost none before that. It certainly beats the pants off of staying at home on a weekend and watching TV, and maybe mowing the lawn.
So if you are not a cacher and wonder why I do what I do, perhaps this will answer some of your questions.

Adventure is its own reward.