CIA-NEA13 Day 4: “It smells like Vermont in here”

Amazingly enough, sleep came very easy to me.  Yes, I was sleeping in a van.  Yes, I was sitting behind the wheel.  And yes, I was sitting at probably a 35% angle and shouldn’t have found much comfort, but in all seriousness, as soon as I closed my eyes, I was soon off to la la land.  At least, that’s what everyone tells me, as I don’t hear MYSELF snoring.

Morning came much too soon.  Even though this was now the longest stretch of uninterrupted sleep I’d had this entire trip, I still felt like I had only been out for maybe an hour before it was time to wake up.  The sun rises a whole lot earlier on the east coast than it does in our neck of the woods, so by the time 6am rolled around, it was already past the tree line and beaming down on us, beating us senseless with its brightness.

Since we managed to stop at a rest area, you’d think it would be a fairly familiar site for staffers to see people roll in with various toiletries for sprucing themselves up.  However this was not the case at this rest area/welcome center.  The person behind the counter was pretty rude and acted like they didn’t want us getting changed and cleaned up in the restrooms.  Yeah, you just try to stop me.  So we all did our business, washed up and primped as best as we could, then left.  I stopped by the vending machines to see if I could find something that looked appetizing for breakfast.  Unfortunately they didn’t have much in the way of breakfasty foods, so I settled on a Rice Krispie Treat and some nasty “organic” fruit juice that basically tasted like extremely watered down apple juice with some strawberry finishing notes.  I was pretty nonplussed with this Breakfast of Also-rans®.

I had left my phone off overnight since the battery was running low and we wouldn’t be running the van while sleeping to charge it.  Upon powering up, I received my “Bazinga” notification that I had mail waiting on my caching-specific Gmail account.  Sure enough, it was from the CO of The Depot, the awesome letterbox-hybrid cache we had to abandon the hunt for the previous night.  We were technically only about 60 miles away and, had we no agenda for the day, would have definitely followed the advice he gave to finding the cache and redeemed ourselves.  But seeing as we still had 3 states to make finds in, locate and photograph the oldest triangulation station (benchmarking) in the country, and photobomb the “Welcome to Scranton” sign made famous in the opening credits of NBC’s The Office, we just didn’t have the time.

The rest area happened to have a cache, Welcome to New Hampshire located within it, so we made this our cache for the state.  It was a little jaunt into a wooded area near the entrance ramp back onto I-95 but it was easy enough to grab and, barring the extra trip back to the van to grab the pen that neither DynamicDs nor I thought to bring, was found and rehid in a flash.  There’s nothing quite like waking up to get a smiley.

During the planning stages of this trip, I noted pretty early on how densely-packed the northeastern states are and remarked on how quickly we would be passing through states.  For some reason I discounted just how short of a trip it would be from the Massachusetts border to the Maine border in New Hampshire it would be for us….16 miles.   No sooner had we gotten on the road and were getting into the groove of driving were we coming up on the Maine border.  Our Maine cache was just on the other side of Piscataqua River.  As soon as we crossed the bridge we got off on the first Maine exit and headed towards the parking coordinates for the cache.  Unfortunately due to a miscommunication with our driver, TeamAdorkable, we drove past the road we needed to park on and headed straight for the on-ramp back to I-95.  See, I had the parking coordinates on my tablet, but our GPS had the GZ coordinates, so instead of telling us to turn left, it told us to turn right.  The cache is actually in a wooded area in the center of the on-ramp loop that has no vehicle access so we were to park to the south of the GZ and then walk through the woods to it.  After explaining this to her, she quickly stopped the van and was about to go into reverse when a car got onto the ramp behind us.  She pulled us to the side of the road to let the car go past, and then made to try to turn around when a truck then entered the ramp.  At this point, frustrated with this turn of events, we got back onto the interstate and headed back over the river and into New Hampshire to turn back around and try for another cache.  Since it was just barely 7am at this point and we were obviously not fully awake yet, we decided a park & grab would be a much better choice for a cache than attempting to traipse through the woods in a drowsy stupor.

Thankfully I had a list of nearby caches already on hand for just such an occasion.  I chose one that looked easy, Kittery One and One, and quickly loaded the coords into the GPS.  There really wasn’t anything of note regarding this cache, other than the surrounding woods were very tranquil.  One thing I noticed during our brief time in Maine was that, even though it was rush hour on a Monday morning, there really wasn’t much traffic to speak of.  But that wouldn’t last for long.

After we grabbed our quick Maine cache, we quickly made our way back into New Hampshire and soon started heading west for the first time the entire trip.  We had just made our apex of the trip and now we were beginning the long, slow trek towards home.  But there was much still to do.  We had one more state to grab a cache in that we didn’t have yet….Vermont.  This was our next target.  We were running about 3 hours ahead of schedule at this point as we were technically still supposed to be in Massachusetts finishing up The Depot.  Since we had deviated from our original plan to spend the night near Boston and then wake up and do The Depot before heading to Salem in morning daylight, we were sitting on a sizable lead over where we were supposed to be.  Lucky for us we had such a commanding head start, because we were about to get hit with some serious gridlock rush hour traffic.

Looking back, I’m actually glad we were ahead of schedule.  Had we been in Boston, on a Monday, during rush hour, we surely would have ended up way behind schedule the rest of the day and, most likely, would have had to skip caches and possibly cut our trip short just to get home on time.  My pessimism is caused by the fact that it took us over an hour to drive 30 miles along I-495.  Thankfully I wasn’t behind the wheel at this time because I would have been a bundle of nerves and anger at how slow things were progressing.  But since I was a passenger, I was able to take in the beauty of New England.  As we headed towards I-91 we meandered through the foothills of the Northern Appalachian mountains.  Once again I was amazed by how much wilderness was surrounding us, not far from the most populous areas in the country.  Looking at the satellite photos of the area, it’s a vast sea of green dotted with the gray of civilization.  Yep, that sounds about right.

It was just before 11am when we reached our Vermont destination, Welcome To Vermont TB Motel.  As the name implies, this cache was located at the Vermont Welcome Center a few miles from the Massachusetts border on I-91.  This was a perfect stop for us all as we had been traveling a few hours now and needed an opportunity to stretch our legs.

We quickly parked in a spot that was relatively close to the GZ while far enough from everyone else that we would arouse too much suspicion.  Needless to say that was a pretty futile effort as we had to walk a little ways down the exit ramp we used to get to the welcome center in the first place, so all who drove by could see what we were up to.  It was around this time that we began to notice a rather peculiar, pungent odor.  We couldn’t place where it was coming from because it was seemingly everywhere.  The best way to describe the smell is that it was like a mixture of wet dog and rotting fish.  I know that the Connecticut River was about a mile east of us and a small creek that drains into it meanders just inside the tree line where we’re at, but it smelled like it was coming from all directions.  I don’t know why I thought Vermont would smell like maple syrup and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, but this was definitely a startling discovery.  Now, whenever our group encounters any weird smells, someone will say “It smells like Vermont”.  Ah, inside jokes!

After finding the cache we headed to the welcome center to freshen up and prepare to head towards our next destination.  The center looked like a huge barn and the inside was done up real nice with all sorts of Vermont memorabilia.  I was feeling a little remorseful at this point that we weren’t having a proper vacation on this trip as I’d love to have been able to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory or take in some more sights.  While my bucket list for visiting every state was getting smaller, my bucket list of things to do in America was actually growing larger.  Sigh!

I took the wheel for this next leg as I had been itching to drive a long stretch of road that wasn’t bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Late morning on a Monday in the middle-of-nowhere New England was sure to itch this scratch.  Unfortunately because I passed the reins of navigator to someone else, I forgot that our next destination was supposed to be Bennington, VT and instead had TeamAdorkable enter the coords for the benchmark we were going to grab as our next destination.  Oblivious to this blunder, we headed south back into Connecticut and, eventually, New York.

For our next stop, we were seeking out the oldest existing Triangulation Station in America, dubbed Buttermilk.  DynamicDs is a pretty prolific benchmarker and this one is in particular is the must-get for benchmarkers as the site actually contains the original mark that was set into the ground in 1833, in addition to a more modern azimuth mark placed about a foot away in 1938.  While not an avid benchmarker myself, I do love the history surrounded these things.  I had done a bit of research prior to our trip and discovered that the land the benchmark is on was at one point owned by John D. Rockefeller and that it wasn’t until recently that the land was turned over to the state for use as a park.  Getting there, however, was not as easy as I’d expected it to be.  Using the GPS, I was able to get within 1000 linear feet from the location, but when it chimed that we had reached our destination, we were on a divided highway with no place to park.  Surely this wasn’t right.  I pulled over to the shoulder and pulled out my tablet to get a satellite view to see what went wrong.  Sure enough, I saw that we were routed to the closest main road to the benchmark, but not to the actual spot.  Since benchmarks are more of an afterthought on, there aren’t any parking coordinates or anything of that sort to give us a proper indication of where we should go, so it was up to us to figure it out.  I tried to trace the best route to get there, but not being familiar with the location, I ended up having Google Maps route us.  Unfortunately this would once again prove fruitless as it routed us to where we SHOULD have gone, but then proceeded to send us back to the same spot we pulled over at.  Frustrated, we decided to stop for a late lunch (it was now almost 3pm) at a nearby Applebee’s and ponder our next move.  Being out of the van and all gathered around a table, we were able to figure out where our routing had gone wrong and discern where we needed to go.  My brother decided to drive this next leg so once we were finished, we loaded back into the van and headed towards where we needed to be.

The turnoff looked to be leading to private property and we were all a little apprehensive to proceed.  DynamicDs attempted to contact what we believed to be the property owner to make sure we had permission to be there but this proved fruitless.  In the end, we decided to just go for it.  The worst that could happen is we’d be told we need to leave and that would be the end of that.  The initial drive was pretty easy.  The road was paved in asphalt and we seemed to be on a road leading towards houses.  That soon changed once we passed the houses and suddenly we were on a gravel and dirt path that took us way too close to the edge of the hill we were on.  Watching the GZ on my phone, we were inching ever closer to benchmark, but that was short lived as we rounded a bend in the road and were suddenly heading away from it.  While I wouldn’t necessarily call it panic, we were a bit perturbed that we had come all this way and now it seemed like we weren’t going to see it as there wasn’t any apparent roads leading to the location.  The satellite photos did not give us much help in this regard as they were taken during summer and the tree cover was too dense to make out anything save for a clearing that we were approaching.  It was here that we decided to try to walk to the site.  I thought I had seen what looked like a wide path leading further up the hill when we were rounding the bend so I suggested we try that and see where it would take us.  If nothing else, we could just backtrack and try another way.

TeamAdorkable was feeling a bit under the weather at this point so she chose to stay behind with the van.  I led the way with my phone in hand and we headed towards the path I saw.  When we neared it, I could just barely make out what appeared to be ruts from vehicles.  The ground was completely overgrown with field grass but it was obvious that vehicles of some sort had been here at one point.  The grade wasn’t too steep but with the overgrowth it was slower going than normal.  After about 200 feet the path turned right and leveled off at the apparent top of the hill.  The growth was even higher here and there was a thicket of trees in the middle.  My phone’s GPS was bouncing us all around.  I started to head in the direction it was pointing me towards when all of a sudden my phone shut off.  I could not get it to power back up.  That’s when I noticed that it was probably the hottest I had ever felt it, leading me to suspect it overheated and shut itself off to protect the internals.  Of course, none of us had a proper GPSr so we were now flying blind, only knowing that my phone said we were withing 60 feet of the GZ.  We started fanning out and began our search.  At one point I spotted a very large bolder that had what appeared to be an old, rusty spike driven through it.  I later found out that this was one of the reference points for the triangulation station.  Not able to get any further in the direction I was headed, we turned back around and made our way back to the spot where my phone died.  I remarked that my phone originally had me heading southeast from our location towards the thicket of trees so we slowly bushwhacked our way in.  Not 30 seconds past before I heard DynamicDs squeal that she found it.  I quickly caught up and saw what she had found.  There on the ground, surrounded by high grass and weeds, was a clearing of rock.  On one side, the bluish-green azimuth mark I have come to know in my short benchmarking career, and to the right of it, an old, decaying, roundish dark spot with a spike in the middle.  I recognized it immediately from pictures I had seen posted online.  We had found Buttermilk.

<insert pic>

After we took our obligatory photos of the historic spot, we headed back to the van and an ailing TeamAdorkable.  Thankfully we had left the van running with the A/C on because it has gotten quite hot, what with the traipsing through the vegetation and cloudless sky and whatnot.  We caught up our sick companion about our journey and discovery on our way to a gas station as we were very low on gas at this point.  Once gassed up we entered the coords for our next cache, The Sultan of Swat.  This cache is located a mile or so away from Buttermilk in the neighboring town of Mount Pleasant.  I chose this cache due to its large amount of Favorite Points and the fact that it was a virtual in a cemetery.  I didn’t really give much thought to its name, although I really should have.  You see, the cache takes you to Babe Ruth’s final resting spot.  One of his nicknames just so happens to be “The Sultan of Swat”.  Der!  I was completely surprised by this and totally couldn’t pull it off that I totally knew where I was taking us.  Can’t believe I missed this one.

babe ruth

The Great Bambino, The Big Bam, Jack Dunn’s Baby, The Caliph of Clout, The Behemoth of Bust

Once we had finished taking our photos and figuring out the answer needed to satisfy the find, we left the cemetery.  On the way I happened to read that there were several other famous people buried in the cemetery and was about to suggest we figure out who they were using the coords provided in the description when we noticed that the caretaker of the cemetery was beginning to close the front gates.  We are used to cemeteries being accessible until close to dusk but it was going on 6 and there was still a good 2 hours of daylight left.  We hurried out before he could shut us in and I abandoned hope on figuring out who else was there (which I later learned was  Conde Nast and James Cagney – Charles Schwab was originally interred here but has since been moved).

Our next destination was not geocaching-related, but was exciting nonetheless for my bro and I, the “Welcome to Scranton” sign featured in the opening credits of “The Office”.  Originally located along a stretch of highway, the sign was moved to the Steamtown Mall in downtown Scranton due to fans constantly stopping on the side of the road to take pictures, causing a road hazard.  We were about 90 minutes away and I knew we needed to get there as quickly as possible to avoid being shut out as the mall closes at 9.  We encountered a bit of traffic crossing the Hudson River but once we got away from the NYC burbs things got going at a good clip and we made it into the parking garage of the mall just before 7:45.  TeamAdorkable was knocked out and since she wasn’t a fan of the show, we decided not to wake her and make this a quick visit.  After some initial confusion as to where the sign would be, we stopped at the Information Kiosk and asked for help.  The website stated it was located near the Dunder Mifflin Store but when we went to where the store was supposed to be, the location was empty.  The helpful mall staff told us that the store had closed now that the show was over and that they had moved the sign to a less-prominent location away from the crowds, which was upstairs near where we entered the mall.   After a short bathroom break, we quickly snapped our photos and then made our way back to the van and our ailing friend.

Total Dunderheads!

Total Dunderheads!

At this point in our trip the sun was setting and we were technically done for the day.  We were supposed to find a rest area to pull off for the night but my brother graciously decided to get us a room for the night, his treat.  Now we just needed to find one.  We were still a little over an hour away from Centralia, our next stop on this trip, so we wanted to make sure we were as close as we could get.  We wound up about 40 miles down the road in Hazleton in a Residence Inn.  This was a much better sleeping arrangement then Sunday morning at the Quality Inn – Staten Island.  This time I didn’t have to sleep on the floor and the room was very spacious.  There was a Sonic Drive-In next door so we had ourselves some decent eats for dinner.  Sleep was definitely very much needed this night, I tell you, and I took all that I could get.

Trip Statistics – Monday 6/17

Miles traveled

512 miles

Total miles traveled

1768 miles

Caches found on leg

4/1 benchmark

Total caches found on trip


Categories: A tale from the GZ | 1 Comment

CIA-NEA13 Day 3: From tall buildings to witch burial grounds

***This post is a work in progress.  There are many photos still missing and this post will be updated in the next week with more photos.  Feel free to come back and check on the post later.***

It felt like no sooner had I fallen asleep that I was being shaken awake to start the day.  What was the point of stopping to sleep if all you’re going to get is about 3 hours?  We might as well just kept driving through the night and took sleeping shifts.  Oh well, at least this time I’d get a nice, refreshing shower out of the deal.  #smallvictories

Our scheduled visit to the 9/11 Memorial was at 10am, the first visit of the day, so to ensure we had enough time to get there, we needed to make the 8am ferry.  After waking up and showering, that left us with about 40 minutes to get there.  We were about 20 minutes or so from the terminal, but since I didn’t really know where I was going, I would have liked more time to figure it out.

I checked us out of our room while the others stopped by the complimentary breakfast room to nosh.  I wasn’t really feeling like eating much so I used the time to get our stuff back in the van and everything situated.  The others came out a few minutes later, none with glowing remarks about the breakfast options.  I guess it was just as well that I wasn’t hungry as I’m sure whatever they had probably would have just made me sick anyway.  With that, we loaded up and headed out, now with just under 30 minutes to go before the ferry would depart, with another one not due until 9am.

I was informed well before our trip that Staten Island’s roads are notoriously narrow.  I guess my idea of narrow is a lot different than theirs because these roads were TIGHT!!!  Luckily, with it being so early on a Sunday, traffic was pretty much non-existent.  The drive was pretty quick and painless and as we neared the terminal, we began to see the Manhattan skyline in the distance, beckoning us.  Again, it was one of those moments where I wished I wasn’t driving so I could take it all in.

We reached the terminal with about 5 minutes to spare.  Parking was a bit confusing as we had followed some cars in that turned out to be employees so we weren’t at the parking facility, but rather the drop-off area.  As we circled the area, we found a municipal parking lot that appeared to be metered so we decided to park right there and pay what appeared to be slightly higher prices than what the garage was charging.  However, it wasn’t until we tried to pay that we discovered that, on Sundays, parking is free, so things were definitely starting off on the right foot, although there was a little worry that we were parking somewhere we weren’t allowed to and the van would be towed while we were in the city.

As we entered the terminal, we found it pretty easy to navigate to the dock and got right onto the ferry pretty quick.  I was expecting some sort of bag search or security checkpoint but there was none of that.  We found ourselves some seats near the windows and not 2 minutes later, we were moving.  The anticipation and excitement had been building up since I woke up and once we turned towards the city and the skyline came into view, it boiled over and I was as giddy as a schoolboy.  The sky was pretty overcast and there was a bit of fog over the water but that didn’t matter to me.  NYC had been on my bucket list for years of places I wanted to see and I was finally able to check that off.  It could have been pouring down rain and I still would have been happy.

The Manhattan Skyline in the distance

The Manhattan Skyline in the distance

You can almost make her out

You can almost make her out

Me and Lady Liberty....sorta

Me and Lady Liberty….sorta

Getting closer

Getting closer

The ferry ride took about 30 minutes and was very smooth.  Had I not been looking out, I never would have known I was on a boat.  Disembarking was just as quick as the embarking process and after a restroom break, we were out the doors and in Manhattan.  Sensory overload immediately kicked in and all plans to try to not act like a tourist had fallen by the wayside.  I couldn’t help but stare off in every direction trying to take everything in.  The cars whizzing by, the people talking loudly, random strangers puking on the sidewalk (I wish I was kidding about that last one).  It was just like the movies.

Our first stop was at Bowling Green.  This little park in the middle of urban madness was lush with greenery and looked very out of place here.  There is a cache in this little park, but with the amount of people nearby, not to mention a member of NYPD standing not 10 feet from the coordinates, we just didn’t want to chance looking too suspicious in a city that, rightfully, can be a little jumpy.  The “Charging Bull” statue is right across from the park and there was a large group of people gathering around for pictures so we stared at that for a few minutes before heading towards the memorial site.

Some people were doing disgusting things with its dangling unmentionables

Some people were doing disgusting things with its dangling unmentionables

While I am far from a rural country bumpkin, I really wasn’t prepared for the number of buildings we saw.  I’ve been to Chicago, and while that city is massive, this just felt more condensed, somehow.  Almost like the buildings were even more tightly packed together, which I know is impossible, but still.  We walked past Trinity Church on Rector and Broadway and it looked just like it did in National Treasure (the final destination where all the treasure is located underneath in the supposed Masonic catacombs).  It was then that I began to regret not having more time to spend in NYC.  Not just for the caching, but also for the sights.  Regrettably we passed the cache that was at the church because we needed to make sure we were at the memorial early enough to secure a place in line and make sure we didn’t get stuck waiting for an hour.

They just keep going on into the distance

They just keep going on into the distance

I was quite shocked at how quick the walk to the memorial site was.  Looking at it on Google Maps, it looks like quite a distance, but in actuality it’s just over a mile.  We made it there with ease and had about 45 minutes to wait.  I was beginning to regret not spending time at Bowling Green looking for the cache or stopping at Trinity Church to search for that one.  I had no idea what to expect on our path and had no idea that foot traffic would be as light as it was for 8:30am on a Sunday.  I guess had this been a weekday it would have been mad crazy with people and we would have taken a lot longer to reach our destination with the crowds.  But no matter, we had arrived.

DynamicDs and myself standing outside the queue line at 9/11 Memorial

DynamicDs and myself standing outside the queue line at 9/11 Memorial

At around 9:45, they began allowing us to queue up inside.  There were 2 lines, one for those who had already secured their passes in advance, and one for those who did not.  It appears there was a bit of a donation shakedown for those who chose to just show up, which I can totally understand, but was still a bit disturbed by.  Being the planning-type, I had secured our passes well over a month in advance, making sure we would get the opportunity to be in the first group of 1,000 visitors.  We had to only wait about 10 minutes before the began to let our line head towards the first of 4 security checkpoints.  They take their security seriously at this location, and for obviously good reasons.  The first checkpoint was just a couple people checking our passes against our IDs.  The next one was a full-on medal detectors and X-Ray exams of purses and other personal effects.  We then passed another checkpoint that looked at both our passes and IDs before being stopped just outside the memorial to wait until 10am.  During this 5 minute or so wait, we were standing almost directly underneath an old connector bridge that still had damage from when the Twin Towers fell.  It was an eerie reminder of what happened here almost 12 years ago, and was definitely in stark contrast to the beauty that lied ahead.



We were allowed entrance just after 10am, but not before passing our final checkpoint.  This was the least stringent of them all, just checking to make sure we had our passes.  Once inside, it was like an entirely different world.  There were young trees everywhere and the only sound you could hear was the rushing water from reflecting pools.  Sure, you could see the surrounding buildings, but the sounds of traffic, people, and even the construction crews on site working around the clock were completely absent.  The reflecting pools were an awesome, somber sight to behold.  Knowing these were the footprints of the towers, you really got a sense of what was taken from us.  Of course, having all the names of those that perished engraved along the outer wall of the pools completed that effect.  The memorial also pays tribute to those who died on Flight 93 and at the Pentagon, as well as those who died during the WTC bombing in ’93.  We spent quite a while slowly walking around the pools and taking it all in.  Unfortunately the museum is still not open to the public so we didn’t get to go in there, but I don’t think we missed out on any of the magnitude this memorial conveys to the actions of that day.  The new One World Trade building looms tall above the North Pool and staring up at it, you really feel very small and insignificant.  Also on the grounds is the Survivor Tree, a tree that was located at the old World Trade Center plaza that survived the destruction of the towers.  We stopped and took some pictures of the tree as we were leaving the memorial.  We could have spent hours here, but with the growing number of people filing in, and still much to do in a short period of time, we decided to leave after about an hour there.

South Pool

South Pool

Most amazing site ever

Most amazing site ever

Reflecting about that fateful day while at the North Pool

Reflecting about that fateful day while at the North Pool

The Survivor Tree

The Survivor Tree

Originally the plan had been to head north of the memorial to Silverstein Family Park to see the 9/11 Memorial they had there, which also happened to be a cache, but the exit of the memorial is on the southwestern side of the site and it would have required us to walk over a mile to get to it as the most direct route is off-limits due to construction.  We were still feeling the pain from the previous day’s 5.77 mile walk, and had already logged over a mile of walking and still had over a mile to go.  I know, that’s a lot of whining for someone who geocaches.  Well, I’m not exactly small in size so my feet tire much easier and my legs burn much quicker than others.  The group stopped inside the 9/11 Memorial Gift Store but with the number of people crammed in that small space, I wasn’t having any of that, so I waited outside.  After a couple minutes, they came out and we headed south along West Street.  It was a little after 11am at this point and none of us had really eaten anything yet, so we stopped at a street cart.  I got a massive soft pretzel.  It was probably the best pretzel I’ve ever had….and I got it from an honest-to-goodness legit NYC street cart.

The walk south towards Battery Park was uneventful.  We stared at all the building around us, marveling at the talk apartment buildings in Battery Park City and remarking on how uncharacteristically clean the city was, at least on this stretch.  Obviously movies showing the grittiness of New York don’t choose their filming locations here.

As we entered Battery Park, the remnants of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction was still very visible.  Castle Clinton was closed to visitors so we could only stare at it from the outside.  We stopped by the Merchant Mariners Memorial near the Water Taxi dock and took a picture with some silly Statue of Liberty hats DynamicDs bought us.  A friendly could took the group photo for us and managed to pose it just right so that the real Statue of Liberty could be seen in the background.  After that we walked to the East Coast Memorial to what would end up being the only cache we grabbed in NYC, Flying into Memories.  The area was full of muggles milling about but luckily DynamicDs had the stealthiness of a shadow going for her and she was able to grab the cache while a large group of tourists sat just 5 feet from the GZ.

We are silly

We are silly

Merchant Mariners Memorial

Merchant Mariners Memorial

Battery Park

Battery Park

After we’d secured our find in New York, it was time to head back to the ferry to take us back to our van on Staten Island.  I was really being racked with regret that we weren’t able to stay longer.  This was probably the only moment of the trip where I really wish I hadn’t routed us somewhere because there was just so much I was having to turn my back on.  I know I went into this fully prepared to not see Times Square, ride the subway, walk down Broadway (well, where all the theaters are, anyway….I DID walk down Broadway for 4 blocks),  go on top of the Empire State Building, or walk through Central Park, but that doesn’t make it sting any less that I was so close.  Naturally I’ll be coming back with my family for a proper visit….believe that!

We got a lot closer to Lady Liberty on our way back to Staten Island.

We got a lot closer to Lady Liberty on our way back to Staten Island.

The ride back to Staten Island was fairly uneventful.  There were a lot more people on the return trip than when we arrived and this trip took us considerably closer to the Statue of Liberty.  Upon arrival at the terminal, we made our way back to the van and discovered that it had not been ticketed or towed so we definitely parked in the right spot.

For whatever reason, I chose to drive the next leg of the trip.  I don’t know if I was spoiled by the lack of traffic I experienced between Philly and Staten Island the night before, as well as through Staten Island to the terminal earlier that day, but I was in the mood to do some driving.  My luck was soon going to run out of the traffic-side of things as I found out real quick that even though it was a Sunday afternoon, traffic in the boroughs is anything but light.

I had my brother punch in the coordinates for the next cache into the Nuvi and it was showing that we had about 63 miles to our destination, just outside Fairfield, Connecticut.  That didn’t seem like too long of a drive, especially since we’d be on all interstate.  However, as we began driving, I started noticing that the ETA was increasing quickly.  What began as a 93-minute trip was suddenly standing at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  It wasn’t apparent at first as we were driving through Staten Island as the traffic was still pretty light, but as soon as we got near the Verranzo-Narrows Bridge, what was a fairly painless drive quickly turned into a 40-mile, nonstop stop-and-go traffic nightmare that took over 80 minutes to get through.  Not to mention that drivers seem to forget that turn signals are a thing and just push their way through.  Seeing cars with bumper guards painted a picture of a bunch of hotheaded drivers who are ready for the fender benders.  My blood pressure and heart rate were elevated the entire time, but I am happy to report that we had no incidents to speak of and I feel I am a much better driver for it.

It was during this leg of the trip that the lack of sleep began to catch up with me.  As each mile passed, my eyes started growing heavier and it began to be a chore to keep my leg pressed on the pedal.  Switching to cruise control will help with the leg issue, but now that I’m no longer exerting constant force to keep the pedal pressed, my body quickly began to shut down.  We reached the GZ for the next cache, ROAD WARRIOR SERIES CT I-95 Cache 2 Exit 18,  and while Team Duckman and DynamicDs went on the hunt for it, I sat behind the wheel and dozed off.  When they got back in I announced I couldn’t drive much further and asked if we could stop to eat and trade off.  We found an Arby’s down the road (yep, still eating chain food instead of local fare…what’s wrong with us?) and I got us there pretty quickly.  After our late lunch, I hopped into the middle row and tried my hardest to steal some shuteye while we continued through Connecticut.  I did miss quite a bit of scenery from what I was told.  Had I been up, I probably would have had us stop at Mystic Pizza for our late lunch/early dinner, but since we had already eaten an hour prior, it didn’t much make sense for that to happen.  Oh well.  I slipped in and out of consciousness over the next 2 hours while we drove to our next cache, this time in Rhode Island, a virtual called H.P. Lovecraft.  Being a lover of literature, I absolutely had to make sure this was our cache for the state.  The final resting place for one of the greatest authors in horror literature.  You don’t get more cool than that in my book.  Of course, the site itself was a little less than stellar.  The tombstone was pretty nondescript, save for all the sea shells (a nod to one of his greatest stories, The Call of Cthulhu, allegedly inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s The Kraken, written nearly 100 years prior).

After we found the necessary information and headed out of the cemetery and on toward the next state, Massachusetts, I felt reinvigorated.  It’s amazing what 2 hours of broken sleep will do for you.  I started to take note on the way the landscape laid before us.  While we are technically a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean, you’d never know it with all the surrounding trees.  While I can imagine it is boring to look at for those who live and commute in the area, it is far more enjoyable to look at than the farmland and empty fields of the midwest.

Initially I had planned for us to stay the evening in (or around) Boston and then grab our caches for the state in the morning.  But we were currently running almost 50 minutes ahead of schedule so I asked the group if they’d rather try for the next cache now and then find a place to sleep or wait until morning.  It was just after 7pm at this point and there was a good hour of solid daylight left so it would have been a shame to waste it.  The group agreed to keep caching so we went for one of the main highlights of the trip, The Depot.  Unfortunately, this tale does not have a happy ending.

I had done a little bit of research on the location of this Letterbox cache for a couple weeks, and with each item I found, I got even more excited for it.  Hidden in the woods behind the CO’s house along a neighborhood trail system, the GZ is a huge model train landscape, complete with houses, bridges, and all the trimmings.  Getting there also involved looking for tiny little birdhouses on trees along the trail.  This would prove to be our undoing, however.  Since none of us had brought a proper GPSr, we were forced to rely on smartphones and my tablet.  But what made things most confusing was that there appears to be 2 or 3 sets of tree houses along the paths, and we were supposed to be looking for one in particular, and seemed to have missed it.  We spent a good 45 minutes hiking, backtracking, hiking some more, stopping to try to figure out where we were, heading back towards the van, all in a fury of frustration.  We tried a phone-a-friend with someone we knew had found it previously, but learned real quick that they were led to the GZ not via the trail system, but through the owner’s house and into their backyard.  I tried to send a message to the CO, hoping he would be near a computer/smartphone and would quickly respond with some sort of hint.  Alas, with the last few moments of daylight fading fast, we made the unfortunate decision to DNF for the cache.  I was pretty pissed off that we had come all this way and was within shouting distance of one of the coolest-looking caches I had ever seen online, only to walk away without the smiley.  But I had to look at the bigger picture.  If we had stuck around into dusk, not only were we breaking the rules of the trail system, which is to be off by dusk, but we could have potentially hurt ourselves as the terrain was a bit rugged in places.  So safety (and sanity) needed to be preserved.  Unfortunately, I made a bit of a blunder because of my aggravation.  See, we were supposed to stay the night in or near Boston so we would have a chance to see some of the city.  But in my haste to get us away from the DNF, I routed us to our next cache instead of the city.  This cache, #1 – The Salem Witch Trials, took us northeast of the city, and there really wasn’t much point in backtracking as we were supposed to be going through the city to get to the GZ in the first place, but because we were coming from the far westside of Boston, we ended up completely going around the city.  I know my brother was a bit bummed out by it because he had wanted to drive under the city in the tunnels dubbed “The Big Dig”.  I hope I’ll be able to make it up to him some day.

For those of you who’ve never been to Salem, heed this warning:  The roads are madness.  Everything is super tight and packed in deep and we quickly became disoriented as the GPS had us turning down roads, only to then have us turn and backtrack a few blocks before turning again.  For a while it looked like we would never arrive to where we needed to go, but finally we pulled up in front of a dark, ancient-looking house.  It was then that we figured out where we were….the Charter Street Old Burial Point, the oldest burial ground in Salem and the final resting place for several prominent members of Salem’s early settlement, including one of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials.  Also on this site is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a 20-year old memorial dedicated to the memories of those who were accused and tried for witchcraft to serve as a reminder of our dark past and pay tribute to those who, even in the face of widespread doubt and convicted of heresy, continued to plead their innocence to their last breath.  Night had already fallen by the time we were dropped off to find the cache so the atmosphere was very eerie.  It also didn’t help that each memorial stone we saw described their gruesome executions, one of which was by being crushed to death.  The cemetery next to the memorial was fenced off so we didn’t get a chance to look in there, but this is by far the oldest cemetery I have been to yet, dating back to 1637.

We spent about 10 minutes looking for this cache.  It was pretty well hidden, especially in the dark, but in the end, DynamicDs came through with the find and we signed the log.  I dropped off a trackable that had been in my possession for almost a year.  It’s goal was to get all the way to Boston so I made sure I got it as close as I could.  I originally wanted to drop it off at The Depot, but this worked out just as well.  We then met back up with my brother, who had to circle the block as there weren’t any public parking spots available at the time.  We then headed to the nearest gas station to fill up before leaving town.

We decided while driving out of Salem to stop for the night at our next GZ, which happened to be located at the New Hampshire Welcome Center on I-95, only 30 miles north.  It took about 35 minutes to reach our destination for the night, and we were all pretty excited about that prospect.  Of course, if you’re keeping score, this now makes 2 nights where we have slept in the van instead of in a motel/hotel.  It’s here that I want to apologize to my travel companions for forcing them to sleep in the van at all.  Since it was such a small group of us going, I wanted to keep the costs down to as low as I possibly could.  It wasn’t ideal, and if I had to redo the planning all over again, I would have made sure we stopped every night in a motel.  We all deserved a good night’s sleep every evening during this trip.

Trip Statistics – Sunday 6/16

Miles traveled

350 miles

Total miles traveled

1256 miles

Caches found on leg


Total caches found on trip


Categories: A tale from the GZ | Leave a comment

CIA-NEA13 Day 2: Monuments, memorials, and madness

The day started bright and early, perhaps too early.  It was just after 6am when we all woke up from our less-than-stellar slumber.  The sun was already past the tree line and burning bright in our faces.  While there were grumbles and moans of tiredness, it was obviously time to get the day going.  We drove around to the front of the gas station and each of us went into the restrooms to freshen up and change clothes.  I’m not saying I was overly ripe or funky at this point, but a quick wash up in the sink did not make me feel as fresh as a Spring rain, if you know what I mean.  But it woke me up just fine so I guess if anything I felt reinvigorated and ready to go.

After everyone had finished with their morning routines, we headed back onto the road and onward to Arlington National Cemetery.  We were about 75 miles away at this point, so the time was spent talking about what we were hoping to see and general excitement of the planned sights.  I am very thankful we chose to go on a counter-clockwise route and hit this area first instead of last as initially planned because the traffic was pretty light, what with it being a Saturday and all.  I can only imagine the nightmare this would have been trying to navigate through on a Monday or Tuesday.

Looking at the route intended and the route we actually took thanks to Garmin’s infinite wisdom, we actually took a slightly longer route to the cemetery that had us on the D.C. side of the Potomac until we needed to cross to get to ANC.  Luckily for us, this afforded us the opportunity to see sections of town we weren’t going to see, including the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.  This made for a very exciting entrance into the city, to be sure.

I see something!

I see something!

I've seen many peformances on TV here, now I know what it looks like on the outside.

I’ve seen many performances on TV here, now I know what it looks like on the outside.

Crossing the Potomac into Arlington, VA.

Crossing the Potomac into Arlington, VA.

Iwo Jima Memorial not far from ANC.

Iwo Jima Memorial not far from ANC.

We got a little lost on our way to the first cache we did.  The roads were a little confusing, and Garmin wasn’t helping matters much with the “Make a U-Turn” suggestions.  We finally found the area and quickly parked (legally, I might add) and headed for the GZ.  It was just before 8am at this point so there was still very little foot traffic around so we were able to make the find with minimal need for stealth.  It wasn’t a remarkable cache or anything, but it still marked my first cache in Virginia so it will hold a spot in my memories.

This cache was just outside the north side of ANC so we had a short trip to the entrance of the cemetery grounds.  I knew this was a large cemetery, but the fanfare and grandeur of it all really took me by surprise.  We all knew this place was going to be special to all of us.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Parking is that way

Parking is that way

We pulled into a parking spot that was very close to the entrance and noted the method for which we pay for parking, snapped a couple group photos, and then headed into the Visitor’s Center.  There was a cache we were planning on doing that stated we’d need to find out some information and a location where someone was buried from inside the Visitor’s Center so I stuck around to find this information while the others headed outside.  I found the information I needed and grabbed a map of the cemetery and headed to meet the rest.

Now, geocaching has taken me to many cemeteries in the past 3 years.  Some were as small as a house while others were very large.  But never have I been to a cemetery where trams were available to shuttle groups around on tours.  And while the tour did sound very enticing (and came highly recommended by my wife), we had things we absolutely had to do and a tour just wouldn’t work for us.  Perhaps on my next visit to the Nation’s Capital I’ll make sure to set time for a proper tour of the grounds.

Our first stop on this tour was also our main highlight: the Tomb of the Unknowns.  I had done a lot of research on this location during my planning and after reading about the amount of preparation and dedication these guards have to go through in order to serve this post, I felt I owed it to pay my respects, not only to the Unknown Soldiers, but also to those who are serving to protect it.  I had seen pictures and watched videos about it, but actually witnessing the ceremony for the changing of the guard was an experience to behold.  If you have the chance, definitely take in one of these.

Tomb guard

You can see the lines in the stone where soldiers have walked over the years

tomb of the unknown

Simply awesome!

We spent about 20 minutes or so watching the change ceremony, as well as 2 ceremonies to dedicate wreaths to the soldiers.  I was not aware that this would be happening so that was an extra treat.

After we finished with the Tomb, we made our way around back to where the location of the gravesite the cache we were doing told us to go.  However, I noticed that there were a couple memorials that I had to look at first: The Challenger and Columbia disaster memorials and the memorial for the soldiers who died during the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Columbia memorial

Columbia Disaster Memorial

Iran Hostage Memorial

Iran Hostage Memorial

Challenger Memorial

Challenger Disaster Memorial

After taking a moment to reflect and remember, we headed to the tombstone we needed to see to grab the numbers for the coords needed to complete the cache.  It wasn’t until we plugged them in and updated the map that I realized the final cache was not only NOT in the cemetery, but it was about 8 miles away on the northwest side of town.  Panic set in as we had spent a good amount of time on this one cache and most likely we weren’t going to be able to get the find, but we quickly composed ourselves and decided to head to the location of the next cache.  Unfortunately, walking to the first coordinates practically did us in.  While only a .2 mile walk from where we solved the first cache coordinates, it was almost a completely uphill walk.  Coupling that with the temperature and lack of clouds, it became a very grueling walk for us, and knowing the amount of walking we were facing in D.C., we decided this would be the last cache we would attempt in the cemetery, which was pretty sad considering there were 8 caches we were planning on attempting.

What's she up to?

What’s she up to?

We reached the coordinates for the first part of the cache and solved the coordinates for the final location, only to discover that they wanted us to go to another tombstone clear on the other side of the cemetery.  Without the benefit of a car, bicycles, or any other method of conveyance, we made the tough decision to abandon the cache, as well as further caches in the cemetery, and head towards JFK’s memorial.  I’d like to say that everyone was fine with this decision, but I’m sure there was some stings of disappointment.  The JFK Memorial was really nice, even if the normal “Eternal Flame” was off and they had moved the flame to a temporary base behind the actual memorial.

As close as we're gonna get to the Pentagon on this trip

As close as we’re gonna get to the Pentagon on this trip

Sorry for the crap I could get with 100 others pushing around to get the same shot

Sorry for the crap quality…best I could get with 100 others pushing around to get the same shot

The view from JFK's memorial towards D.C.

The view from JFK’s memorial towards D.C.

With the memorial out of the way, there wasn’t much left for us to do but head back to the van to put away things we wouldn’t need and heard towards the subway station down the road on foot.  This was going to be the first ride on a subway for many of us so that alone was exciting.  After a brief kerfuffle with a Metro attendant about how to use their Farecard system (and some unneeded opinions he had about how we planned to use their system for our day), we made our way to the station platform and waited for the next train to arrive.

Up we go

Up we go

DynamicDs, Team Adorkable, and I waiting for the train

DynamicDs, Team Adorkable, and I waiting for the train

We had to wait about 5 minutes or so for the next train to come and learned real quick just how busy it was in D.C.  The station had a smattering of people here and there, but I would not have said it was busy by any stretch of the imagination.  The train we loaded into, however, was another story.  It was standing-room only in the car we loaded and, again with this being our first subway ride, we were not prepared for just how quick these things move while standing.  It took a bit to adjust to before we finally felt comfortable and started turning to talk to one another.  We had 6 stops to go through before reaching the one we needed to get off at, and luckily seats began opening up and by the time we reached our station, we were all seated.

Subways are cool!

Subways are cool!

We got off at the Smithsonian Station, which put us right smack in the middle of the National Mall.  As we ascended out of the station on the escalators, we were met with the amazing sight of the government buildings.  We couldn’t help but look like tourists as we stared in awe at all the buildings.  Turning West, there was the Washington Monument, entombed in scaffolding as it is still under repairs from the earthquake damage it received nearly 2 years ago.

Smithsonian Station

Smithsonian Station



We didn’t make it very far before we had to rest.  None of us had actually eaten anything substantial at this point, and with it already being around lunch time, and the temperature already climbing into the upper 80s, every step was becoming harder to take.  Luckily we spotted some ice cream trucks parked along the road that offered drinks and small food items in addition to frozen delights.  I needed caffeine and cold wetness fast so I grabbed an ice cold Coke and headed over to some shade nearby and relaxed.  The others eventually meandered over and my brother laid down and, for a moment, looked like he was about to fall asleep.

Is he dead?  Poke him with a stick!

Is he dead? Poke him with a stick!

After sustenance was obtained and devoured and rest was achieved, we continued west on our way to the first cache in D.C.  Along the way we saw the Jefferson Memorial off in the distance, but since our planned route wasn’t taking us that way, the best we could must is the picture you see below.  Almost all the caches in the D.C. area are either virtuals, puzzles, or webcams, so we never were in danger of DNFing due to a muggled container.  Luckily all the caches we chose to do took us to some amazing locations that we wanted to see anyway so it worked out in the end.  The first cache took us to the WW2 Memorial in front of the Reflection Pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial.  This was a massive memorial I didn’t even know about.  The cache, a virtual, had a very interesting backstory that we learned only by listening to a guide tell someone about (the topic of the cache, not the cache itself).

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

WW2 Memorial

WW2 Memorial

After redeeming ourselves with the cache find, we headed towards the Lincoln Memorial.  Being my favorite President, I couldn’t wait to climb the steps and see the memorial made famous on money and countless TV shows and movies.  I had always wanted to go but never made it here, so this was my highlight for the trip.  And just how excited was I to be there?  I managed to climb all the steps to the top not once but twice.  Under normal circumstances I would have balked at climbing that many steps just once, but here I was, practically running up them once, then coming down only to find out the rest of our group were still at the top, so I turned around and went right back up, even after knowing there was an elevator.

Just as the $5 bill described

Just as the $5 bill described

I hear there's gold in his head....or caramel corn.

I hear there’s gold in his head….or caramel corn.



I stood where MLK stood!

I stood where MLK stood!

What a view!

What a view!

Of course this was the site of a virtual cache, so that was an easy find for us.  After we had finished viewing the monument, we walked the (relatively) short distance to the neighboring Vietnam War Memorial and got the answers necessary for the virtual cache there.

It's even bigger than I thought

It’s even bigger than I thought

Our next destination, The Ellipse, was quite a bit farther than I imagined.  By this time I was really starting to feel the walking in my legs and feet.  The heat wasn’t helping things either.  We were supposed to do another virtual cache along the way but it was really getting hard to stay focused on the caching aspect of the trip at this point so we decided not to try for it.  This leg of the walk was, to me, the worst part. Even though there was some shade along our walk, there really wasn’t much to look at and the lack of distractions really let the pain in my feet take center stage.  We had to stop several times so that I could give them a rest.  It’s at this point that I began to lament not partaking on the Bike Share system D.C. employs.  I would have gladly plunked down money to ride a bike.  I guarantee we would have done all the caches available had we done this.  Oh well, next time!

When we finally reached The Ellipse, we were able to properly see the White House in the distance, and excitement resumed.  There are a couple virtual caches at the north end that we were to do, but we soon learned that we could not go to the area.  The area immediately in front of the White House had been cordoned off with fencing proclaiming a turf restoration project was in progress.  This meant that not only were we not able to do the caches, but we also weren’t going to be able to get close-up shots of the White House.  I understand these types of projects require heightened security measures, but man did it suck not being able to get close.

Totally not close at all...weak!

Totally not close at all…weak!

Hooray for zoom!

Hooray for zoom!

With the deflated feeling of not getting to do 2 of the caches, and the realization that we were now almost 3 hours into our day in D.C., had almost another mile of walking to go before we’d be able to sit for lunch, and only had a few hours left before we needed to be back on the road, it was decided that instead of heading to Fords Theater and Petersen House to do the cache there (we weren’t going to be able to tour either building so really we didn’t miss too much) we were going to walk to the Federal Triangle Station to do some train hopping and make our way to Chinatown for our lunch and what would turn out to be our last cache in town.  It was at this point that I began to get cranky.  Lack of sleep, food, and now sacrificing caches/sights were all weighing heavily on me.  I had built this trip up to be something amazing and I truly felt like I was letting everyone down.  Not to mention the lack of a map or anything that could accurately tell me where the nearest Metro station was located really unnerved me.  Luckily we figured it out with the help of smartphones and were able to make it to the Chinatown station after some confusion at one of the transfer stations.  Subway travel can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re doing…thankfully I had done enough homework to know which lines went where….it was finding the signs that pointed us to the correct platforms that took some getting used to.

We stopped for a rather late lunch at Fuddruckers, which is just outside of Chinatown.  I don’t know why I have such an affinity for this place, especially when the opportunity to eat some slightly-more-authentic Chinese was just down the road, but I was really craving a burger so sue me.  Anyway, during lunch it was decided that we should head back to our van.  The amount of walking, which turned out to be 5.77 miles when all was said and done, had really run us ragged.  The heat didn’t help things either, as we were all a bit dehydrated and smelling rather ripe.  The thought of being in an air-conditioned car just sounded too appealing, so we decided to skip the last 2 miles and 3 caches and headed back to the Metro station to begin our trip back to the van.  Luckily the location of the final virtual of the day was right outside the Station, so we quickly snapped our photos and got the information needed to make the find, and then went below ground.

This is as deep into Chinatown as we got, unfortunately.

This is as deep into Chinatown as we got, unfortunately.

The final walk towards our van.

The final walk towards our van.

I can’t even describe the relief my feet felt once we got into the van and I was able to peel off my shoes.  While my arches felt good, the backs of my heals and sides were worn ragged and covered in blisters.  But it had been well worth it.  I got to see and do things I had never done before, so it was all a small price to pay.  But, of course, our day wasn’t done yet.  We still had to get to Staten Island before we could call it a day, and there were still caches in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey to find, not to mention dinner in Philadelphia and a quick stop at MetLife Stadium.  I told you this was a packed trip!

Our Maryland cache was a webcam at Towson University, in the northern burbs of Baltimore.  We made this cache much harder than it should have been.  Going back and re-reading the description properly, it lays it right out that the posted coords do not take us to where we need to go and that we needed to go to a more central location.  Instead, we parked a good quarter mile away and spent roughly 30 minutes walking around with no clue as to where we needed to go.  We finally figured out the location and the picture was snapped on my tablet.  We then hurried (as fast as we could muster) back to the van and then left for Delaware, but not before stopping at a Walmart to grab some provisions we didn’t foresee needing at the time.

The caches in Delaware and New Jersey were pretty run-of-the-mill.  We actually got two caches at the same travel plaza on I-95 in Delaware, one an LPC and the other a travel bug hotel.  I had been hanging onto a couple travelers for a lot longer than intended and this was the perfect opportunity to rid myself of one of them that didn’t have a goal.  The Jersey cache was quick P&G as well.  At this point it was around 10:30 and we were ready to head into Philly for an original Cheesesteak sandwich.  The drive into the city was pretty painless until we got within a few blocks of Pat’s King of Steaks.  The roads suddenly narrowed and cars were lined up on both sides of the streets with just enough room for our van to move through.  This area has a pretty major bar scene going on, with lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants lining both sides of the street.  Team Adorkable handled the streets beautifully and before long we could see the glow of the lights from the more garishly-decorated Geno’s Steaks across the street from our destination.  Parking is at a premium in this area, so we had to do a lap before we happened upon a parking spot that wouldn’t result in a tow.  Philly is notorious for their Parking Authority, so much so that they even have their own reality show, Parking Wars.  And we learned first hand just how harsh they are as my brother was approached by a guy walking around with PPA Violations in his hand begging for money to prevent getting thrown in jail for scofflaw.  Yeah, not going to get into that one, buddy…pay your tickets or pay the price.

Pat’s King of Steaks lived up to my expectations.  The harsh attitudes from the workers was spot on from what I was told.  They don’t insult you…more like hurry you along.  They don’t want to deal with people who don’t know what they want.  You either tell them your order now, or you step aside until you’ve figured it out.  With it being after 11, it was amazing to see how busy this place was.  But then again, we did appear to be in the heart of the bar/club district, so I guess it wasn’t too far of a stretch.

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

The cache across the street was easy enough, even if the cockroaches near it were a little off-putting.  I had agreed to drive this last leg of the trip so we loaded into the van and headed towards our next stop, MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants.  While I drove and Team Adorkable navigated, my brother and DynamicDs grabbed some needed sleep in the back.  The drive was fairly easy.  At this hour, traffic was non-existent so I could just put on cruise-control and relax.  Things didn’t start getting exciting until we were able to see the Manhattan skyline.  At that point, we were rubbernecking at every turn.  Seeing One World Trade and the Empire State Building all lit up at night was amazing.  It was very surreal as we were still a good distance away from them but we could see everything clearly.  It was after 1:00 when we finally made it to the stadium.  Apparently we had missed a monster truck show and, as such, the stadium lights were on, so we were able to see everything clearly.  We had to drive around a few times to finally find a place to stop, which just so happened to be right next to the building.  We all got out and snapped a few pics.  DynamicDs is a huge Giants fan, so this was a huge thrill for her.  I was so happy to have been able to do this for her, and to see the smile on her face….priceless!


Also home to the New York Jets….but who cares about them?

After our brief visit to a closed stadium, we got back on the New Jersey Turnpike and headed south to get to Staten Island.  It was around this time that we decided we should probably look for some place to sleep.  There had been talk earlier in the day about staying the night in a hotel as we were really funky at this point and sleep on a bed and a shower sounded mighty good.  So for about 30 minutes, we spent our time driving around Staten Island, trying to figure out a place to stay.  We finally fell upon a listing for a Comfort Inn not far from where we were, so we quickly raced to get there.  We walked in and managed to grab the last remaining room in the hotel, a King sleeper.  The room was very small, with the bed dominating almost the entire floor.  I managed to find myself a spot on the floor and am told I promptly fell asleep while the others took turns taking showers.  Check-in time:  2:52am!

Trip Statistics – Saturday 6/15

Miles traveled

389 miles

Total miles traveled

906 miles

Caches found on leg


Total caches found on trip


Categories: A tale from the GZ | Leave a comment

CIA-NEA13 Day 1: A few stumbles and we’re off

For those paying attention, I know I said I was going to quasi-live blog this trip…and obviously that didn’t happen.  It was an ambitious plan from the start, but unfortunately time was against me and there just wasn’t enough to focus on writing.  Our schedule fell apart pretty early on due to some fairly obvious miscalculations and oversights on my part, which I’ll get into later.  In the end, I decided to just take some rough notes and wait until I could dedicate enough time to properly put everything into words instead of just writing as quickly as I could until sleep took over.  Also, I was able to curate some photos to accompany the posts.  As I receive more, I will post more, so these next posts will be growing as the days go by.  So with that, let us begin our journey.

About midway through the planning phase of this trip, we were set on a time table of 4 days.  The question began to grow on which days we should go: Thursday-Sunday or Saturday-Tuesday.  We quickly settled on the latter as the former gave us a pretty strict start time while the latter allowed for some leeway.  So much leeway, in fact, that we decided that instead of waiting until Saturday morning to leave, we’d just leave Friday evening.  I was able to get a half-day, as was my brother, so all we had to do was wait on DynamicDs and Team Adorkable to show up and we were golden.  That time was estimated to be about 4pm.

I had my brother pick me up at my house around 1pm and we headed to his house.  He had already gotten the rental the night before so we had a chance to look it over and determine it was perfect for our needs.  A 2013 Chrysler Town & Country fully loaded, with Stow-n-Go and captain’s chairs in the middle row.  This would do us nicely.  As we waited for the others, the matriarch of Team Duckman assisted in tagging the windows of the van with our names and such, just like our last CIA trip.  Might as well continue tradition, no?

I think that sums things up

I think that sums things up

The rest of the group arrived pretty much on time and we spent a few minutes getting things loaded up and saying good bye to my brother’s family.  Then we were off.  It was about this time that I had my first minor setback.  The day before I had made some updates to my tablet, which was to act as my caching PC for the trip.  As such, I was having some difficulties in getting it to connect to my phone’s hotspot to download a couple files I needed from Dropbox.  It got to the point where I had to have my brother pull into a McDonald’s so I could connect to their Wifi to get what I needed.  This ate up a good 15 minutes of our time and was not the best start to our trip.  To add further frustration, as soon as we pulled out of the parking lot, the tablet decided it wanted to connect to my phone…typical!

Our first scheduled cache was about 30 miles away and was, according to the description and satellite photos, a fairly easy P&G.  However, when we arrived to the area of the GZ, we noticed real quick that something was amiss.  The satellite photos showed the cache to be in or near a lightpole on the side of a building.  Where we were was a field of overgrown grass, shrubs, and flowering trees and what appeared to be the rubble of a former building.  While I am not opposed to traipsing through an abandoned lot looking for a cache, there was around 500 miles between us and our stop for the night and this was obviously going to take longer than the 5 minutes I planned for it, so we decided to abandon the search and move on.  There was another cache in Indiana we planned to do another 20 miles down the road, which turned out to be every bit as easy as it was supposed to be, so there wasn’t any hurt feelings about missing it.

Our next cache was another quick P&G off an exit on I-70 just west of Dayton.  I know it sounds like a pretty crappy trip thus far, going out of our way for P&Gs instead of some real, quality caches, but considering the plans we have for the rest of our trip, we can afford to be a little skimpy here and there.  We continued eastward for another 90 minutes or so until we reached Columbus, OH.  I had picked 2 caches in the downtown area for us to do, based on a decent amount of Favorite Points being awarded to each.  The first took us to the capital building, where there was a statue we had to glean information from in order to claim credit.  DynamicDs, Team Adorkable, and myself jumped out to claim it while Team Duckman circled the block as there wasn’t any place to park without paying.  This was a quick find for us and it only took one loop before we were back in the van and on to the next cache, A Sunday Afternoon Cache.  Now here was a cache that was worthy of the points it received.  Another virtual cache, this one took us to a park that was once the location of a school for the Deaf.  It was a quaint little urban park, and in the center was a beautiful topiary garden.  I’m not going to give away anything, but if you look at the picture below, and are knowledgeable about either art OR scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you should recognize what this.

So serene

So serene

You remember how I mentioned some miscalculations and oversights in the first paragraph?  Well, this is where that comes into play.  For all the planning I had done, all the routing and rerouting I went through, all the meticulous note taking and calculations I had performed, there was one key thing that I failed to take into account on every step of this trip:


Yep, I had gone so far into planning out this trip that I completely overlooked the need to stop to stretch legs, use the restroom, eat, or even get gas.  I had mapped out the estimated prices for gas and mentioned where we should be when we had to fill up, but I never bothered to add it to the itinerary.  We were leaving Columbus when the first pangs of hunger began and decided to stop about 20 miles east of Columbus at a truck stop.  After dinner we grabbed a cache that was in the trucker lot out back, but once all was said and done, we had burned up just over 80 minutes.  This is time I had not banked on us spending and while I knew there was an end point to our day and that we wouldn’t be jeopardizing our time for any of our scheduled stops, this now meant we’d be arriving to our stopping point later than planned.  And it was about an hour later when I realized my next oversight…I didn’t bring my route info.  I knew that going into PA there were several different way to go and I had picked one in particular that would shave off almost 40 minutes of driving time that the other routing systems wanted us to go.  I didn’t have any exit information written down or any route information outside of the basic outline I was using for notes.  It didn’t become apparent until the GPS told us that we’d be arriving at our stop around 2am.  I had us stopping just before midnight.  I frantically tried to recreate the correct route on my tablet and phones, but to no avail.  None of the road names sounded familiar and both navigation apps I tried to use routed me the same as the GPS.  I had to admit defeat and accept that we were going to be losing around 2 hours of potential sleep time.  We had one more stop that first night, filling up the tank at the West Virginia/Maryland border, and made it to our stop for the night at a Pilot station just before 2:30am.  Exhausted, I fell asleep pretty quickly….it’s too bad we only had about 4 hours to sleep before we had to be back on the road.  I don’t think any of us got that full 4 hours.

Trip Statistics – Friday 6/14

Miles traveled

517 miles

Total miles traveled

517 miles

Caches found on leg


Total caches found on trip


Categories: A tale from the GZ | Leave a comment

The Rigors of Planning an Epic Cache Run

As I’ve mentioned time and again, there is a ton of work involved in planning an epic cache run.  There’s a lot more to it than just looking at a destination, running a pocket query for geocaches in the area, and then heading out.  Logistics play a huge part in making a successful cache run, and it’s those logistics I’m going to focus on in this post.  Now I will say here and now that epic cache runs, whether you’re planning one or just tagging along, are not for everyone.  Regardless of whether its a 150+ cache power trail run or a multi-state, multi-day trip, the caching experience is a lot different than a more traditional run.  If you’re someone who gets frustrated doing the same thing over and over or lose patience spending more time in a car then out seeking a cache, these types of runs are definitely not in your wheelhouse.  Having said that, I think that everyone who feels they could handle it should partake in at least one epic cache run.  It’s definitely an experience that can produce memories that last a lifetime.  And for those that have participated and/or want to plan their own epic run, then this information will serve you well.  I’m not going to claim that my way is the best for planning, but it has worked successfully so far and I feel it can work for others.

Decide on a destination

Obviously before you can do anything, you’ll need to know where you’re going.  This step is pretty easy if you’re planning to do all the heavy lifting and then ask others to join you, but if it’s a group effort from the get-go, you’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page, destination-wise.  You don’t want anyone settling for your plan and then harboring some resentment towards the rest of you for not going with their idea.  If you’re planning a run at a power trail, the work is pretty much done for you and you can move on, but in the case of a trip to a destination cache/location, you’ll want to make sure that everyone who is involved in the planning is on board.  In the case of our Mingo trip, the initial foundation was laid by the two masterminds of the trip, but once the core group of tag-alongs joined in the planning, we came up with additional stops on the trip.  And with our upcoming New England trek, we made sure to decide on the major stops first, and have been adding additional stops along the way since.

Set expectations and goals

Now that a destination has been decided on, it’s time to set the goals and expectations.  While power trails are pretty much the easiest in this regard, you’ll want to make sure that these details are decided on early in the planning stages.  The cache run itself might be about having fun with friends, but you need to make sure that all bases are covered.  Do you have someone in the group getting close to a milestone?  Is there a site at one of the stops that someone wants to see?  Will you be passing within 2 hours of the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth?  Just so happen to be passing by the location of one of the oldest benchmarks in America?  While spontaneity is never lost on me, I also like to have a defined set of goals to plan all my trips by, be it a cache run or a family road trip.  If you set your expectations early, then anything extra that comes up will go above and beyond and make the trip that much better.

For our trip, the hard goals are destination-based instead of cache-based this time.  We wanted to make sure we got to D.C., the 9/11 Memorial in NYC, see the ruins of the ghost town Centralia in PA, and grab a cache (ANY cache) in every state in New England.  With those goals set, we’ve since tweaked it to include Arlington National Cemetery, a stop in Philadelphia to eat a legit, original Philly Cheesesteak, a stop at Metlife Stadium to see where the NY Giants play, rerouting our NYC trip to allow us to ride the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan and see New York from a very different view, and a stop in Scranton for my brother and I to pay homage to NBC’s The Office.

There will always be casualties in this stage of planning.  Someone will have an idea that sounds pretty good, but for one reason or another it just won’t work out.  For our trip, this involved a trip to Niagara Falls.  We had intended on going across the Canadian border to not only see the falls from the best vantage point, but to also say we’ve cached in a new country.  This involved a lot of extra planning, including obtaining a passport.  In the end, we decided against this part of the trip as it was just too time consuming and there could have been complications involving the border crossing.  Don’t get discouraged when something like this happens.  It’s best to just roll with the punches and move on.

Figure out the logistics of traveling

At this point you’ve either already set your party or have a pretty good idea of how many people will be coming with you.  The next step will be figuring out how to get everyone there.  Do you take one large vehicle or several smaller ones?  Do you rent a 15-passenger van or two minivans?  This is really going to be all about preferences and costs.  Taking your own car may be preferable as the cost of rentals can be rather exorbitant, especially if you have to rent multiple vehicles, but keep in mind that if something should go wrong during the trip and maintenance or repairs are needed, it is completely on you and could be a costly endeavor, both on money as well as time.

If you’re planning on taking just a small group of people or even family members, it may be more advantageous to take your own vehicle, especially if it’s just a powertrail run you’re doing.  However, I fully endorse renting a vehicle for any trips that take you more than 300 miles from home.  Besides not putting excess wear-and-tear on your vehicle while driving (or racking up precious miles against your lease allowance), if something were to happen with the vehicle, be it a burst tire or a mechanical failure, the rental company is responsible for repairs (unless you were negligent) and if it’s something very serious, they will put you in a replacement vehicle.  Some would say it is overkill, but I like the peace of mind to know that my group isn’t going to be stranded 800 miles from home due to an issue for longer than a couple hours.

Choose a route

Now that you know where you’re going, who’s going with you, and how you’ll be conveyed there, it’s time to figure out a route.  In many situations, the route should be nothing more than a relatively straight line from Point A to Point B and back.  But the truly legendary runs aren’t so easily defined.  With our Mingo trip, we started in Indianapolis and made a massive loop that never had us driving back on the same road.  And with our upcoming trip, only the last 450 miles or so will we be on familiar road.  Obviously a trip with multiple stops that ISN’T a power trail will not be as cut and dry.  The best way to choose a route is to first look at how much time you have for the trip.  Mingo had a time table of 56 hours.  The route had already been set when I jumped on, and the total travel time was stated as being around 41 hours. For our New England trip, we decided that we’d need to nearly double that amount of time.  So this time around we have around 98 hours, beginning around 4pm on Friday 6/14 and ending around 6pm on Tuesday 6/18.

Knowing how much time I had to work with, I began plotting rough route ideas using Google Maps.  Unfortunately due to limitations with the site, you can only plot out a maximum of 24 points along the route, so this doesn’t include the routing of geocaches.  I began by listing the cities I knew we would be stopping in for the basic outline of the route.  Luckily Google Maps has a handy method for changing routes by being able to grab the route and moving it to different points on the map.  After I got the initial circuitous loop completed, I was then able to manipulate the route to include a stop just north of the Maine border.

With the cache runs we did for the Big Blue Smiley Geo Art series (56 caches) in Louisville and the Back Home Again in Indiana Geo Art series (125 caches) in western central Indiana, the solved coordinates had us going all over the place.  Because of the number of stops we’d have to make, Google Maps was no longer the ideal option for route creation due to it’s limitation.  I had originally intended to use Google Earth, as you can place a large number of pinpoints on a map, and I had in fact already uploaded the GPX for all the caches for each run to look at their relative locations on the map (since was showing only the original coords, not the corrected ones).  However, the routing functionality of Google Earth leaves a lot to be desired, so this wasn’t ideal for me.  I then decided to purchase a copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2013.  Not only does it allow for multiple-stop routing, but it allows for the importing of GPX files (GSAK even has the capability of making S&T-compatible waypoint files if that’s more your thing).  Using this software, I was able to import the GPX of all the caches’ corrected coordinates, and then went to work optimizing the route to minimize backtracking and wasted time.  The BBS trip was a little trickier as I had to negotiate one-way streets, neighborhoods, and areas where the caches weren’t actually along a road and required a little footwork.  With the BHA series, however, the software exceeded my expectations.  We were able to complete the entire series in just under 5 hours, which really isn’t bad considering the number of caches and the unfamiliarity of the area.

I’m not going to say that the MS software is what you’ll need, as I’m sure any other offline software solution will work.  I can only speak for what I’ve used.  Streets and Trips allows you to set driving times, set speed adjustments (for those who tend to drive faster than posted speed limits or slower), assign specific time to spend at each stop, and even figure out estimated fuel costs based on criteria you set (tank size, estimated price per gallon, and MPG).  I remember the defunct Rand McNally TripMaker (this was pre-Mapquest/Google Maps days) had similar features so I am sure any other software on the market can offer you something like this.

Fill that route with caches (if you haven’t already)

Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of the trip.  You’ve got your route figured out, you know where you’re going to be, now it’s time to add caches to that route.  This was actually the most time-consuming part of the process.  There really isn’t an easy way to do this.  Initially I thought I’d do a search for highest-favorited caches in the states we were going to be in and then whittle that down to a reasonable number, but the problem with that approach is that you’ll find most of the caches end up being NOWHERE NEAR your route.  So abandoning that method, I limited my search for the quality caches to the major stops, knowing that I’d have a far greater chance of finding quality caches in a limited area.  This produced the results I needed and I was able to plot some amazing gems for our outing.

The next step was to find caches along the route.  We’ll be passing through several states along the way and if we don’t stop for a cache, we don’t get those states lit up on our Statistics Maps.  For this I used the “Caches along route” tool on  You set a start and end point as well as the radius for which to search and it will give you a page where you can name the route and make it public, if desired.  From there you can make a PQ for the route, based on the normal PQ criteria, and it will then return results along the route.  Unfortunately a route cannot be longer than 500 miles so on some stretches I had to do more than one of these routes.  Ultimately this turned up over 2,000 caches available.  I imported all the PQs into a GSAK database and began the arduous process of eliminating caches that were either too difficult to get in a 5-minute period of time, run-of-the-mill P&Gs with no value outside of the numbers, and caches that have high numbers of DNFs.  While I’d love to do 10 caches in every state (as well as the caches slotted for each major stop), with the uncertainty of road conditions and other things that could cause delays, I just don’t want to chance delaying something or causing problems time-wise for caches that aren’t quite worthy of the “Destination” or “Must-do” title…especially if a P&G costs us a 100+ favorite point-awarded cache down the road.

Tweak and Optimize

After you’ve come up with the route and decided on the caches to go for, it’s time to tweak and optimize your trip.  Whether you’re using something like Streets and Trips or breaking a sweat and doing it via atlas and pen-and-paper, you’re going to want to make sure you’re taking the most direct, efficient approach.  This is the point where you get the most clear-cut estimation of how long this trip will take.  S&T gives you the time it expects you at your destination.  If you have a loose window for arrival, tweaking will obviously be less involved.  For our trip, however, we have some stops where we have a strict amount of time to be there and if anything put us in danger of missing that window, we had to drop caches or find a better route to get there.  Naturally we cannot plan for all circumstances or eventualities so while there is organization, chaos can strike at any time and we’ll just have to roll with the punches.  Power trails and Geo Art series runs will never really have this issue as they are a different beast altogether, but it’s good to have a plan, a contingency plan, a backup to the contingency plan, and then a Plan Z when all the rest fails.

Divvy up responsibilities

Now that all the hard work is out of the way, you should now be ready to start dropping information on all the participants.  The first thing anyone is going to want to know is how much money do they need to bring.  If you’ve done everything the way I’ve lined it out, you should have no issues with giving them a good figure.  If you’re renting a vehicle (or two), you’ll simply need to take the amount the rental(s) are for and divide it by the number of attendees.  Fuel becomes a much more finicky number to nail down.  Unless you’re completely oblivious to the volatile nature of gas prices, you’ll know that there can be massive swings in fuel prices from one day to the next…not to mention geographical differences.  There will never be a way to accurately gauge the costs for fuel, but there are ways to help get the best estimate possible.

Gas Buddy is one of the most up-to-date price indexing web sites available.  It’s so popular it has it’s own iOS and Android apps.  Just by looking at their Heat map, I can see that gas prices in several of the states we’ll be going to are averaging between $.50-$.60/gallon LESS than what we pay locally.  Knowing that estimated MPG for your vehicle is always helpful in figuring out how much gas you’ll think you’ll use.  If you’re expecting to travel 2500 and your car gets ~25 MPG and has a 20-gallon tank, basic math will tell you that you’ll get about 500 miles to the tank, which in turn would mean you need 5 fill ups.  Using this knowledge, you can then go to your map and get an idea of where you’d need to fill up and then go into Gas Buddy and look at the area gas prices using the Heat Map.  OR, you could go to their nifty Trip Cost Calculator, enter up to 12 stops (it won’t be “dead-on-balls” accurate but it works), answer some questions regarding fuel efficiency or enter the make/model info, and presto, it not only does the work for you in telling you where to stop for gas, but also tells you how much it thinks you’ll pay, based on the cheapest gas station in the area it’s determined you should fill up.  Using that number (or the number from the first method) you can then tweak it to what you feel would be a good estimate and provide that to the group, splitting evenly amongst everyone.

Going even deeper, make sure everyone who can contribute to the planning is involved.  If someone is really good with organization, have them create lists for each attendee of all the caches, their requirements, etc.  While the vast majority of those playing this game have smartphones, tablets, and laptops, sometimes it’s easier to unplug a bit and go analog when it comes to getting their notes and logs together for caches on these runs.  If someone is creative, have them come up with things to entertain while between caches, especially if you’re on a long trip with vast distances between stops.  And while snack food like chips are always an easy go-to, if someone has a knack for cooking, by all means, ask them to make something special, be it Puppy Chow or even homemade Chex Mix.  These treats will serve the group well and keep spirits high.  While these details may seem trivial or unnecessary, if you’re going to be confined to a vehicle for a lengthy period of time, any little deviation from the status quo will make things that much more enjoyable.

I’m not going to preach that this is the only way to plan.  This is technically only my 3rd go with this sort of thing and I’m still learning and finding ways to tweak my method.  There might be some of you out there reading this that know of a better way to do this.  If so, I invite you to leave a comment explaining what you do when it comes to planning.  I don’t think there is a wrong way to do this, but perhaps there’s a more streamlined method or less over-thinking involved.

Don’t forget, I’ll be posting daily recaps of our upcoming trip while on the road, so if you’re looking forward to seeing what a trip of this magnitude is like, you won’t want to miss it.

Categories: Random talking | Leave a comment

Here we go again!

In my last post I eluded to another epic cache run being in the works.  I’ve held back on making this information broadly known until the specifics were nailed down.  I didn’t want to say too much before everything was locked into place because I feel that can jinx things or grow tiresome to those who would have to hear about it over and over.  But now I feel is the appropriate time to spill the beans.  In exactly one month, a group of us will be headed east to cache the New England states as well as Washington D.C.  and Arlington National Cemetery.

Born out of a desire to replicate our epic cache run out west, discussions began with a simple question:

How can we top the Mingo trip?

Obviously this isn’t a competition, but I wanted to do something that would rival last year’s trip in terms of distance, states traveled through, and sites seen.  Last year’s trip was pretty spontaneous, as we really only had about a month to plan for it, so by giving us more time, that would allow for more feedback and more planning.  I don’t know about the others, but that trip awoke inside me a long-dormant sense of exploration and adventure.  When I was a kid I loved the idea of taking road trips.  Many hours were spent staring out windows at fast-moving landscapes during trips to my extended family’s reunion in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee and Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg.  There was something wondrous and exciting about getting in a car (or van, RV, etc) and heading on a long trip to a foreign (to me) location.  The different radio stations, the regional stores, even the unfamiliar gas station names, just the thought of these give me goosebumps.  As I grew older and started my family, that desire to hit the road never really disappeared, it was just hidden by the shorter trips to neighboring cities and theme parks.  But after our trip out west, I’ve had a longing desire to do it again.  At one point I even contemplated just redoing the route from last year with all new caches to try for, but this time giving us 4 full days to complete the trip instead of the 2 and a half from last year.  The point is, I wanted to go somewhere!

The initial planning for this upcoming trip began way back in February.  My brother (Team Duckman) and I were at a family function and had been talking back and forth about a trip up to Mackinac Island in Michigan that I had wanted to get the CIA group to do.  There’s almost 70 caches on this island and would be perfect for a group outing.  But as discussions continued, things started to divert.  Suddenly we were talking about heading into Canada to be able to cache in another country.  This then brought up ideas of taking a trip across the southern portion of Ontario, grabbing caches along the way, and then caching the Niagara Falls area and heading back home across northern Pennsylvania and Ohio.  For awhile this actually looked like it would be our trip…that is until I started crunching the numbers and determined that not only would this trip come way under the 4-day requirement, but it was almost half the length of the previous trip as well.  The final death nail in this route was the fact that rental vehicles (because who wants their own car to breakdown hundreds of miles from home) aren’t allowed to cross into Canada.  So we put the kibosh on that plan, but it’s not totally dead…we plan on going into Canada soon as a family day trip, just to say we did.

Maybe next time

Maybe next time

So once we went back to the drawing board, we decided to call in some reinforcements on this to try to get a solid plan going.  Team Adorkable and DynamicDs answered the call and, after some back and forth and brainstorming, we decided that a trip to New England would fit the bill in both longevity and epic-ness.  With the large number of densely-packed states in the area, not to mention the sights, this will definitely rival our previous trip.  Just look at the stops:

  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Washington D.C.
  • Philadelphia
  • 9/11 Memorial in New York City
  • Boston, MA
  • Centralia, PA

These are the major stops we”ll be making.  I say major because these are the stops where we will be spending at least an hour at.  The route, however, will take us through these state:

  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine
  • Vermont

Of that list, I only have finds in the first 2 states.  That’s 13 new states I’m going to light up on our Geocaching map.  With this trip, we will have cached in over half the country (29 states).  So you can see why I’m so excited.  Here, why don’t you just stare at the route in all it’s beauty and magnificence…I’ll wait.

Seriously I'm giggling like a school girl over here it's so awesome!

Seriously I’m giggling like a school girl over here it’s so awesome!

While I won’t get into the deep specifics of what went into planning this trip (that will be a post later on the subject of planning an epic cache trip), I will say that it has been a rather exhausting task to get everything planned.  When I assisted with the Mingo trip, the route(s) and caches had already been decided on and I merely made calculations of costs and time.  This time around, it was my baby from the very beginning.  I made a rough idea for our route, then started tweaking the major stops and looking for caches along the route to make sure we get credit for finds in the states we’ll travel through.  Arlington National Cemetery was the first major stop I decided on and researched the caches as well as parking situation for the site. Initially the plan was to then walk across the bridge over the Potomac after we had finished at ANC, do a couple virtuals at the National Mall (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, etc) and then head back to the vehicle and continue onward, but there is such a large number of highly-favorited caches around D.C. that we really would be doing ourselves an injustice to not spend more time here.  So we’re actually going to dedicate about 4-5 hours of some serious walking/subway-riding to snag some virtual finds at not only the aforementioned locations, but also near the White House, Capitol Building, Ford Theater/Petersen House, and up in Chinatown.  Not bad for a whirlwind tour of our nation’s Capitol, huh?

Our next stop will take us into Philadelphia.  Due to timing, we won’t be able to do any of the museums or historical sites, so what else is there to do in Philadelphia?  How about eat a Philly Cheesesteak at the location of the original sandwich, Pat’s King of Steaks.  There so happens to be a cache just outside of this location so we’ll be able to stuff our faces and then get a smiley to go with our smileys.  I know it’s a weird choice to divert a trip just to grab a sandwich, but considering I’ve had faux-cheesesteaks all my life, I might as well get the real deal.

One of the goals of this trip for Team Adorkable is to see the Statue of Liberty.  Initially we were going to take the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan and then find somewhere to park and hoof it to the 9/11 Memorial entrance, which meant that unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to get a good look at the SIL unless we found a spot on the New Jersey side.  Luckily, Liberty State Park has excellent views of the statue and it just so happens to have a few caches there as well.  But after talking with some non-caching friends who happen to live in the city, it was strongly advised to NOT park in the city if at all possible.  Aside from the vastness of the city and confusion us non-Gothamites will surely endure on the city streets/subway, the price to park in the city on a weekend is absolutely ridiculous.  I get mad when I have to pay $10 to park for several hours downtown when a Pacers/Colts game is happening.  Imagine my shock when I found out that NON-EVENT parking miles away from our destination would cost $36 for 6 hours, and then we’d have to pay for mass transit to get us within walking distance of the memorial.  And don’t even get me started on the cost of crossing into Manhattan, be it tunnel or bridge.  So the plans to drive into the city were suddenly in jeopardy.  Faced with uncertainty, I consulted with a co-worker who happens to be a native of Staten Island, who told me that the only way we should be getting into the city is by taking the Staten Island Ferry.  Not only is it free, and the parking fee is reasonable at $6, but the ferry happens to take us right near the Statue of Liberty.  So not only would we get a free ride into Manhattan, but we’d also get a full-on frontal view of the Statue of Liberty from the water.  You can’t beat that.

Our next stop in Boston is bittersweet.  Depending on how long we spend at the memorial and the travel time, we most likely won’t get into Boston until almost nightfall, and with this happening on a Sunday, the chance to do anything is pretty much nil.  We’re going to spend the night here and then leave Monday morning, grabbing some area caches in the process.  I would have loved to spend some time checking out the historical sites, but this trip is simply not geared for that sort of thing.  So that will have to wait for perhaps a family trip out east to really take everything in.

As I said before, between Boston and our next stop, Centralia, we’ll roll through New Hampshire, Maine, New Hampshire again, Vermont, upstate New York, and back into Pennsylvania.  We’re going to detour a little to visit the oldest Triangulation Station in the country, Buttermilk (this is a benchmarking thing), as well as make a pit stop in Scranton to see the famous “Welcome to Scranton” sign from the opening credits of The Office, which coincidentally is ending it’s 9-year run this very evening.  The sign is no longer located along the road as it appears in the credits and is now located in the Steamtown Mall near downtown.  So we’ll stop there, take some pics, maybe grab an Orange Julius or whatever they serve in malls these days, and head to our final major stop of the trip, the infamous Centralia, PA.

So there you have it.  I tried to keep this as brief as I could, but the word count is still over 1900 so…oops!  I think this time around I’m going to do something differently regarding this blog.  Now that I have things sorted out, I’ve decided I’m going to do a journal during the trip.  Each evening of the trip I am going to post that day’s experiences.  With my Nexus 7 I can jot notes down of what happened and use the mobile app to piece it all together.  This way I know everything I want to say will get said and I won’t fall into the trap of waiting too long to post so much and forget details.  I have to try to post more frequently.  Anyway, I hope you will follow along on our next adventure.  The fun starts June 14th.

Categories: Random talking | 1 Comment

“It’s been so long, what have you been up to?” Part 2: Milestones, Geo Art, and Power Trails

They say that once you get over writer’s block that the words will just flow with you.  They aren’t kidding around.  I began writing my previous post on 12/30 and it took 3 and 1/2 months to get that posted (and it still isn’t quite finished since I have to update it with pictures once I find them all), and now I’m finding myself with tons of inspiration to get things caught up.  This post will be a bit out of character for me, as I am going to be running through quite a bit in this post.  I’m going to try my hardest to keep my long-windedness down…but we’ll see how well that goes.

If you’ve read previous posts, you’ll know that I am all about the group cache runs.  Whether it’s hooking up with another cacher to help them achieve a milestone goal, or a large group getting together to find caches and have fun, I’m all for it.  And it was because of this that I was finally able to realize the 1,000 find milestone.  But it took quite a bit of caching to reach that milestone.

MWGB 2012 ended up being our 800th milestone.  For those paying attention, MWGB 2011 was our 400th, so we were able to double our find count in a year…not bad, but not where I expected to be either.  Especially not after doing a portion of the HWY 127 power trail.  And after doing all the number crunching for the Mingo trip and the failed Toledo late night power run, I got the itch to plan some more runs.  And as it turns out, our geographical location puts us in a pretty prime spot for such runs.

In Louisville, just before GeoWoodstock X, a Geo Art project entitled the Big Blue Smiley appeared.  This was a series of puzzle caches (56 caches with clues dispersed between them to resolve the coordinates for 3 bonus caches) that formed a big smiley face on the map.  The puzzles were easy enough if you either know your UK basketball history or have some good Google-fu skills.  I fall squarely in the latter category (IU fan here).  I had actually solved all the puzzles prior to GWX for a run I had intended to do with the rest of the Minions, but due to temperatures that were just south of 100 and a faulty air-conditioner in the Minion Mobile, that was aborted after just 1 find.  So when a conversation between my brother (Team Duckman) and our partner-in-crime (TeamAdorkable) about a cache run, naturally the BBS was the candidate.  We chose a Sunday in November when all 3 of us were free.  The weather, as it turned out, was perfect for our trip.  It started out in the upper 40s but by the time we had finished the temps were just below 70.  I had spent several days routing out our trip.  Knowing full well that some of the neighborhoods were a bit rough, I made sure we’d hit those GZs first to maximize daylight and minimize the potential sets of eyes from watching what we’re doing.  All in all we found all 56 of the regular hides but skipped the 3 bonus hides as we kinda forgot to be on the lookout for the clues until about halfway through.  It took us a little over 8 hours to complete, not counting the hour we spent at lunch or the emergency bathroom run that took us 5 miles out of the way.  And the effort was definitely worth it, as the image below will show.

It went from all blue to smiley yellow!

It went from all blue to smiley yellow!

While experiencing the high of grabbing that many caches in a day, I didn’t want to stop.  There had been talk of hitting the HWY 127 trail again to grab the balance of caches we didn’t find the first time, but since TeamAdorkable had already found all of them during a run a couple weeks after ours with several others, we scrapped that idea.  It was then decided that we should do another, new Geo Art project that had been published a few weeks prior in Indiana, called the Back Home Again In Indiana series.  This series consists of 125 caches hidden in The Middle of Nowhere, Indiana and would satisfy my craving.  Being Geo Art in a relatively populous area, naturally this meant all the caches were once again puzzle caches requiring Google-fu skills and I had them all answered within a couple hours.  But doing the math I realized that one of these caches would end up being my 1,000 find, and that just would not do.  TeamAdorkable were unavailable to do the series the following weekend so my brother and I decided we’d hit a puzzle power trail to the northeast of me that I had been meaning to do for some time.  This trail should give me enough caches to hit the magical milestone number on one that I actually wanted.  So the plan was set for the following Sunday to hit that trail, the PT-109 Puzzle Trail.

While the trail itself consists of 41 caches, we were unfortunately only able to find 25 of them as others were either missing or completely infested with muggles.  But that didn’t matter.  Those 25 put me just 3 away from find 1,000.  I already knew which cache I wanted to do for the 1,000 milestone, so that was where we headed, Indy’s Largest Cache.  The name is very apropos, as you can see.

Open says me!

Open says me!

Signing the log, literally!

Signing the log, literally!

Woo hoo!

Woo hoo!

It's official!

It’s official!

With that milestone out of the way, nothing was going to stop the momentum of these runs.  The following week I spent most of my free time trying to figure out the best route for us.  Most of the groups that had attempted the series at the time were stating it took anywhere from 8-13 hours to complete.  A 5 hour swing was just too wide for me and led me to believe we could do better.  I know it’s never a race, but I just couldn’t shake that, with an optimized route, this could be done in 6 hours or less.  So I poured over the coordinates, and then calculated and recalculated the routes, optimizing as best as I could to minimize not only backtracks, but also the best starting point.  My last calculation told me that we could do it in under 5 hours, and with that I was satisfied.  I shared this information with my brother and TeamAdorkable, and the goal was set.  At the last minute another cacher joined us for our adventure, brcross95, and we met up at a gas station about 2 miles from the designated first cache.  The series itself is in some backwater locations I had never known existed.  All country roads, there were times when we didn’t see another car for close to an hour at a time, so to say this was pretty secluded is an understatement.  A couple times we ran across some hunters, and some far off gun shots could be heard, so we tried not to stay in one place for too long.  At one point we were running almost 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but one misplaced coordinate number caused a massive stumble that left us stumped on one cache for almost 30 minutes.  Our last-minute buddy had his own solved coordinates written down and it was noticed that I had superimposed a number and this caused us to be about 500 feet due south of the actual GZ.  But when we went to check that out, we came up empty handed too, so we went back to the original coords and looked some more.  Not satisfied, we split up and went back to the other coords and it turns out we just didn’t look hard enough and the found was finally made.  30 minutes and a fair amount of pride later, we were on our way, hoping to make up for lost time.  When all was said and done, we finished the entire series in 4 hours and 52 minutes.  Still a bit bummed that we lost so much time on that one cache, but still very proud of the fact that my number crunching was almost spot-on.  Plus, just look at that map!

Just gorgeous!

Just gorgeous!

Now most of you are probably thinking that this would have been a good stopping point.  Doing the math, you already know that in the span of 3 weeks we had found a combined total of 209 caches, which is nothing to sneeze at.  Surely this should satisfy whatever numbers hunger I was having, right?  Obviously you don’t know me very well.  All this did was excite me more.  And I knew there was one more numbers run left in me.  And this one was going to dwarf the others.

A few months prior it had been brought to my attention that there was a power trail in central Illinois that I hadn’t heard about yet.  It’s called the I’ve Been Everywhere series (IBE for short) and is 185 caches split into northern and southern legs.  We had been discussing this run for several weeks and locked in 4 members of the CIA group to do it: myself, my brother, TeamAdorkable, and DynamicDs.  We decided to try for it in the middle of December. So far it had been a fairly mild fall with no real snowfall of note, so we knew we would have to do this sooner rather than later, or else we’d have to wait until Spring.  We chose a Saturday (12/15) so that we would have a buffer between our run and the next workday to rest.  The start of the run was a little over 3 hours away, and with my number crunching, it was expected to take about 10 hours total for the trip.  I ended up crashing at my brother’s house that night so that I wouldn’t have to wake up even earlier to drive to him.  We set out around 5, picking up the others at TeamAdorkable’s house just short of 6.  The day was shaping up to be rather miserable, weather-wise.  It began drizzling about 40 minutes into our trip and became a steady downpour just after we crossed into Illinois.  As we got closer to the first cache, things improved a bit, and the rain had finally let up, but a bone-chilling wind was beginning to kick up, and by the time we started our run, it became apparent that the original forecast of 50s and partly sunny skies were never going to happen for us.

It took us just over 2 hours to finish the first leg, and it was pretty obvious that had we not been such a well-oiled machine and easy to get along with, this would have been a brutal trip.  Jumping in and out of a car over and over gets old pretty quick.  The caches were easy enough to find, but with the ground wet and the wind blowing over 20MPH at times, with little shelter from them, it was easy to get a little frazzled.  So we stopped at a gas station to take a break, use the restroom, and grab something to snack on.  We then made the short trip north to the starting cache for the last leg and finished that one off  2 and a half hours later.  As you can see, this was quite a trail…had they been connected I don’t know if we could have done it without going insane and killing each other first.

The southern leg

The southern leg

The northern leg

"Ding dong the trail is dead..."

“Ding dong the trail is dead…”

Stopping at such an odd number like 185 was not really something we wanted to do.  Since we were making such great time, we decided to grab lunch and then try to hit 200 for the day.  We made a bee-line for the B-dubs (see what I did there) and had a nice celebratory lunch and some alcoholic beverages before looking for a place to find some more caches.  DynamicDs had mentioned earlier that day about a cache we should try for, a 5/5 liars cache by the name of Forrest Stump.  Looking at a map of caches around this one, there appeared to be a cache series that ran along the road we were to take to get there, so we weren’t going to be hard pressed to find 14 more caches.  This was probably my favorite part of the trip, not just because it was impromptu, but also because our goal was simple and we had already done what we set out to do so there wasn’t any pressure to get this done as quickly as possible.  We ended the day with 203 finds.  To date this is my best day ever.  I’d like to think this is just circuit training for the inevitable run at the E.T. Highway Mega Trail.  Sick, aren’t I?

I thought it said Forrest Dump!

I thought it said Forrest Dump!

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that this has caught us up to December.  It’s mid-April, so certainly I have more to tell, right?  Actually, there really isn’t.  After an extremely eventful Fall, we’ve taken a bit of a break in regards to caching.  We’ve already gotten our major milestones out of the way, and managed to increase our find count by 564 since the end of July, so I think that it’s time for a bit of a break.  But this doesn’t mean I’m giving up on caching.  Far from it.  There are some interesting things brewing and I will be sharing some details shortly on the next CIA epic trip.  Also, there’s the Spring Picnic coming up in a month, and our annual trek to MWGB in July.  Things will be picking up again soon, and there also might be a guest contributor or two joining the ranks to add more to this blog.  So stay tuned.

Categories: A tale from the GZ | 1 Comment

“It’s been so long, what have you been up to?” Part 1: MWGB 2012

I know it’s been some time since I last posted anything on here. Part of that was by design but most was just pure writer’s block. After a successful 3-part saga in the retelling of our Epic Road Trip this past August, I found myself struggling to come up with anything compelling to say about what was going on in our geocaching lives. That’s not too say we didn’t do anything, because that is the furthest from the truth. What I mean is that I have put so much pressure on myself to write good posts that I’ve pretty much made it impossible to live up to MY expectations. I’ve toiled with the idea of doing a group of posts to cover each topic of conversation, but while some would be worthy of my expectations, others would not, so I’m going to split this out over a couple of posts and just be done with it.  I need to get these thoughts and memories onto the site before they start getting fuzzy.  And, much like last year, I promise to do a better job of not waiting 6+ months to get it out there.  So here we go, the last 8-months worth of caching in review….better late than never edition.

Midwest GeoBash 2012
Once again the wife and I headed back to Wauseon, OH for our 2nd MWGB. We had such a blast last year that we couldn’t pass it up. This year, however, we were joined by our good geo-friends, TeamAdorkable. We snagged the same site as last year and then reserved the adjoining site for the Adorkables. This being their first time, we wanted to make sure they got to experience as much as possible, so we left on Thursday. This afforded us the opportunity to cache more, as well as participate in activities that even we couldn’t do the previous year as we showed up too late.

Given my experience in setting up cache runs and the number crunching I performed for the epic Mingo trip earlier in the month, I set about creating cache runs for each day of the Bash.  Beginning on Thursday, I hand-picked 50 caches that were north of the event site to focus on.  By giving us a large number to choose from, this allowed for us to cache as little or as much as we wanted.  For Friday, I chose another 50 caches that were located south of the event site.  Friday evening we had decided to do an all-night run through Toledo, which led to a selection of 125 caches that were scattered all around the city.  Saturday was a tamer day and the run I had chosen was for the majority of caches located throughout the town of Wauseon and totaled 32.  As for Sunday, I chose just 13 caches for the day, as we would be focusing our efforts on striking camp and making our ways home….or so I thought as you will see.

Each team drove separately to the Bash as we had a few odds and ends to tie up before heading out.  For us, that involved driving the kids up to Nana’s in Ft. Wayne to spend the weekend.  We headed out around 9am and made it there shortly before 11 and had lunch with Nana and then dropped the girls off.  At this point, we were still about 2 1/2 hours out from our destination, but since we were arriving a full day earlier than we did the year before, I knew that rushing was unnecessary.

The Summer of 2012 in the Midwest was the driest it had been in over 20 years.  While 2011 was one of the hottest in recent memories, this one was slightly cooler, but a whole lot drier.  All of Indiana was under some sort of a burn/water ban at this point…4th of July had effectively been cancelled due to multiple brush fires, and the ban extended all the way into Ohio and to the site of the Bash.  To say things were dry is an understatement.  I bet you can already tell where I’m going with this.  As we were heading east, the sky, which was cloudless when we left, had grown overcast and was darkening to the northwest of us.  When we got about 30 miles out, the skies opened up and it began to rain.  It wasn’t a major rain event, there wasn’t much wind, thunder, or lightning, but it was enough to moisten the ground at our campsite.  If there is one thing I can’t stand, it’s setting up camp in the rain.  Fortunately for us, the rain let up as we were entering the town from the south and by the time we reached the fairgrounds, the clouds were beginning to break up and the radar (when we could get a data connection to bring it up) showed the rain was already passed with nothing on the way.  Even still, we quickly got to work setting up our site.  About 20 minutes later, the Adorkables arrived, and soon both sites were up and we were ready to hit the Event Store and check things out.

After we signed the event log, grabbed our swag bag, and looked around, we headed out to Wal-Mart to pick up a couple things we missed, and then dinner and caching.  As we had done the previous year, both teams decided that it would be easiest if we dined out for our meals instead of trying to prepare all our meals on site.  With the burn ban in effect, campsite cooking was limited to propane and electric stoves only.  What fun is camp cooking if there isn’t a roaring fire?  So after a quick bite at the local DQ, we made our way to the nearest GZ of the Thursday run.

Heading back from the final location of a puzzle cache.

Heading back from the final location of a puzzle cache.

We found a mini power trail northwest of the Bash that had about 20 caches along an "unapproved" road.

We found a mini power trail northwest of the Bash that had about 20 caches along an “unapproved” road.

Silliness ensued!

Silliness ensued!

After a couple missteps on one of the puzzle caches on the run, and some crazy backroads driving, we found 18 caches.  Yes, this wasn’t the big numbers I was expecting, especially with 50 caches to choose from, but we did have an absolute blast during the run so we didn’t let it bother us too much.  We got back to our site shortly before sundown and had to quickly fabricate some foil hats as it was Tin Foil Hat night at Area 51.  The Wauseon Fire Department were on hand so that we could have the requisite bonfires, so the night, as well as the following nights, were not a “washout” with no fires to stoke our frenzy.  We claimed our spot in the throng of cachers, set our chairs, and proceeded to ogle and giggle like children at all the tin foil creations.  For those that have never been, this isn’t a contest…it’s just a way to extend your creativity to something silly.  And while some, like mine, were uninspired and slapped together, others were simply amazing.  I don’t know why I act so surprised…look at some of the cache containers these people come up with.  Surely they can design a hat.

Wifey and I hamming for the camera.  Obviously she put more thought into her hat than I did.

Wifey and I hamming for the camera. Obviously she put more thought into her hat than I did.

The Adorkables showing off their handiwork.

The Adorkables showing off their handiwork.

She is so creative...that's why I love her.

She is so creative…that’s why I love her.

IMG_4832 IMG_4831 IMG_4836 IMG_4833 IMG_4826

The following morning began with a trip to Smith’s Restaurant for breakfast.  I don’t know what they’ve done in the year since our last visit, but the food was fantastic, the staff was very friendly, and the place wasn’t too crowded.  Afterwards we went back to the fairgrounds to get our game sheets for the Poker Run.  This was the one event I was upset we didn’t get to do the previous year so I made sure we were there.  The Poker Run consists of 7 stops at local businesses throughout the area that have individual barcode stickers that you have to affix to your game sheet.   All you’re presented with is the coordinates to the locations, so it’s up to you to figure out where they are and how to get there.  The run began at 10am and you had until 3pm to turn in your sheets so there was plenty of time to get to all the locations.  They took us to some pretty neat places.  The first we went to was a little gift shop that had various homemade trinkets and soy candles with some pretty awesome fragrances such as “One-Night Stand” and “Motorcycle Exhaust”.  Other locations included a flower shop, bakery, ice cream shoppe, and a winery.

Once we were done (and thoroughly lit from sampling some wines at the winery), we stopped for a quick lunch before dropping off our sheets at the designated table and began browsing the various vendor booths.  And the prizes were pretty awesome.  The top three poker hands each receive a GPSr and the worst hand also receives one.  All for the entry price of FREE!  At one point I held the 3rd best hand, but that was short-lived and, in the end, none of us won anything…but we did have a great time.

After they announced the winners, we were ready to depart to Toledo to begin our all-nighter run.  We went back to our campsite to grab a couple things and button up everything since we didn’t expect to be back until around 4am or so.  It was around this time that the skies to the west were looking rather fierce.  What was once sunny and hot had become dark and windy.  I was a little apprehensive about leaving before the obvious storm rolled through, but with everything closed up, it should have been just fine.  We had technically never been in a storm with this tent, and while reviews said it would do well in one, I wasn’t going to take that as gospel, so I grabbed all our clothes and threw them into the back.  We then made one final sweep to ensure everything was closed up, and headed east.  We raced away from the storm and made it to the first GZ of the evening just as the leading rain bands began to hit.  At first there wasn’t much wind and the rain was fairly light, so we figured this evil-looking storm had more bark than bite.  We grabbed another 4 caches before things got really ugly.  The wind was fierce and the rain went from a shower to a deluge.  We had to abandon our searching and began looking for a place to eat dinner so we could wait out the storm.  Originally dinner was supposed to be several hours later, but with it looking like it would storm for the next hour, there wasn’t much point in just sitting there.  We found an Outback a couple miles down the road so we stopped, had dinner, and was back at it 75 minutes later.  The sun had come back out by this point and it was beginning to warm up again, which basically meant it got really sticky outside, but we didn’t let this deter us from our adventures.  Unfortunately, lack of cache maintenance had caused us to DNF quite a few caches, and by the time the sun had finally set, we were almost 3 hours behind where we needed to be.  I skipped several caches and decided to head into Michigan to grab one more cache for the evening, which rounded us out at an even 20….a paltry number by any stretch of the imagination.  The trip home was relatively quiet.  I was deflated from such a bad run.  The Adorkables were awesome about the lack of caches found, but I was not happy at all.  But if I had thought I couldn’t feel any worse…that was about to be amplified by a factor of 10.

As we pulled into the fairgrounds, we saw quite a few people still out and about at Area51, but it was nowhere near as hopping as I expected.  This should have been my first indication that something was off.  It wasn’t until we headed into the campgrounds that I began to realize that this area got hit just as hard, if not harder.  I dropped everyone off at the bathrooms and drove to the campsite, where I noticed that our canopy was no longer in between our two tents, but in front of mine.  I pulled in and inspected things and was actually quite baffled at this.  A few minutes pass before everyone makes it back to the site and we start taking inventory of what’s happened.  The Adorkables discover some rain had gotten into their tent and begin the process of cleaning up.  ooGROSSYoo from an adjacent site came over to tell me exactly what went down.  Apparently during the worst part of the storm, a gust managed to uproot our canopy and sent it crashing into the road before pushing it into another site.  They had gone out and brought it back after the rain subsided.  It was then that I saw the damage inflicted to it.  Several of the bars had become bent and the fly was torn.  We had only used this canopy twice before so it’s basically toast at this point.  As we were buttoning things up, that’s when I heard dripping coming from the tent.  I immediately turned towards it and noticed that the rainfly that was to protect the open mesh of the roof was sagging.  When I put a flashlight on it, I saw that it was full of water.  This, in turn, was then dripping into the tent.  I immediately pulled up the rainfly to drain the water, and discovered that one of the hooks had come loose, resulting in the water collecting.  We then opened the tent and found that there was about 3 inches of water standing at the foot of the door.  There was water pretty much everywhere, having gotten through the breech in the barrier caused by the sagging fly.  We spent the next 2 hours pulling everything out and trying to dry the floor up as best as we could, using our dirty laundry and bed linens as makeshift towels.  We finally made it to bed at 2am, miserable, and without proper bedding.

When we woke up the following morning, the mood had lightened a bit.  We were alive and it wasn’t freezing, so it’s not like there was much we could really complain about.  We went back to Smith’s for breakfast and to figure out our day.  Wifey wanted to launder our clothes, linens, and sleeping bags, so we found out where the nearest laundromat was, went back to camp, grabbed our gear, and headed there.  We dropped her off and did some light caching.  We had found out that the Adorkables were going to have to leave that evening as Pa Adorkable had to be back on the road Sunday morning, so we were trying to make the best of everything.  We had gone back to the fairgrounds to grab some of the caches that had been placed in the fairgrounds that weren’t there previously.  At this time we had hooked up with DynamicDs and seekersearcher from the IAG group and planned on grabbing the Whereigo after picking up my wife.  Once we had done that, we made our way into the Arena for the closing ceremonies.  Sadness began to set in at the realization that we were going to be losing half our group as soon as the ceremony commenced.

We had decided to try to fix our tent while there was still light out so while the Adorkables were striking their camp, we tried to make the tent liveable again.  As we watched their tent come down, we began to joke about just leaving too.  I even jokingly mentioned finding a hotel somewhere on the way that we could take a shower and sleep on a comfortable bed with the A/C on full blast.  The joke quickly became more serious as I was told to pull out my phone and look for one.  Once the Adorkables had left, it was decided that we should leave as well, so we packed everything up as quickly as we could, said goodbye to ooGROSSYoo and his group, and hit the road.  We hadn’t actually found a place to stay yet, but we figured we’d drive until we came up with something.

We stopped at a travel plaza along the Toll Road about 20 miles west of Wauseon and looked up some hotels and found one about 20 miles north of Ft. Wayne that had vacancy at a reasonable price.  We called, booked a room, and hit the road.  We didn’t make it to the hotel until after midnight, but it didn’t matter to us.  We just saved ourselves almost 3 hours of driving in the morning to get the kids, and we were going to be washed and well-rested.  The free hot breakfast the following morning was the icing on the cake.

In the end, I wouldn’t say the trip was a failure.  Sure, we never made it south to find any of the caches I had chosen, we only found a 1/6th of the run I had planned in Toledo, and we didn’t even cache in Wauseon itself.  Our tent was flooded, our canopy was broken, and our friends had to leave early.  On paper (and looking at it on the screen), that sounds like a pretty crappy time, but we still had a blast.  We’re already in the planning stages for this year’s MWGB, and while there will be cache runs, we’ve all agreed that we will NOT be making unrealistic runs and will instead be focusing on the events and the caches both Wauseon and the surrounding areas have to offer.

**This post will be updated with more pictures just as soon as I can locate them…I’ve switched phones since then and the pics appear to be scattered between 3 different PCs.**

Categories: A tale from the GZ | Leave a comment

Sleep deprivation is to epic cache run as water is to wet

This is the third and final part of a multi-part retelling of a cache run of epic proportions.  Click here to read part one and here to read part two.

After Mingo we continued heading west on I-70, stopping shortly after at a rest stop to empty bladders and grab food from the back of the van for snacks and lunch.  We had decided at this point to skip driving into Denver and caching, then heading to Pikes Peak.  We were running pretty far behind schedule at this point and, by cutting going to Denver first and instead driving straight to Pikes Peak, which would shave almost 90 miles off our trip and save us about 3 hours by skipping the caches along the way.  This would give us plenty of time to get up to the summit and do the caches.  This was the jolt we needed to stay on target, time-wise.  This was never going to be a numbers run to begin with so, while sad to be missing out on a few caches that are well-regarded, we would still get our other goal for the trip.  After we entered Colorado, Chutch1035 stopped at the nearest gas station to gas up and switch from driving.  Since I had yet to drive any during this trip, I volunteered to take over.  I am most at ease when I am behind the wheel.  With everyone situated and Chutch now reclined in the middle row to take a nap, I put on my headphones, cranked up the tunes, and headed towards the ever-higher horizon ahead.

One of the reasons why I chose to go on this trip was to travel to places I had never been before.  Even before Pikes Peak was in the picture, the original map had us routed through Denver and up to Cheyenne, WY before heading back towards home.  These are places I have never had the chance to say I’ve been to and to pass up an opportunity to do that would be a regret I’d have to live with for a long time.  I am forever grateful that my loving wife let me go on this trip.  Her work affords her the opportunity to travel every so often and has gone to places like Austin and San Antonio, TX and San Diego without us.  Sure, it was for business, but it’s not like she was stuck indoors the entire time.  So it felt good for me to be the one to say I went somewhere this time.  But I sure did miss her during the trip and would have loved for her to be there with me.  If anything, we might just have to make this trip ourselves (although we’ll be stopping to sleep in hotels along the way :P).

For anyone who has never made it out west in a car, I have to say that some of the most beautiful landscapes are in Colorado.  After the unbelievably dull views from Kansas, it was a refreshing change of pace to see the vast prairies of eastern Colorado, and as we headed down US24 towards Colorado Springs, seeing the foothills of the Rockies begin to rise from the ground and then, the Rockies themselves, was a true sight to behold.

We were greeted by some rain

Even with the ominous clouds and torrential downpours, the landscape is breathtaking

We were monitoring our elevation on the dashboard GPS at this point and noticed an almost 3,000 foot jump in elevation in the distance from I-70 to Colorado Springs.  Since it was gradual, we didn’t notice any ill-effects from rising to over a mile above sea level.  At least I wasn’t feeling it….yet.

We rolled into Colorado Springs shortly after 4:00pm local time, which meant we were now only about 90 minutes behind schedule from where we needed to be.  This was a great relief to me because that mean we had time to get to the summit and do what we came to do.  We had read up on battling altitude sickness and some of the common suggestions was to make sure you drank plenty of water and had a fairly full stomach of carbohydrate-rich food.  So we decided to stop at a Burger King and have a quick bite to eat.  Since I was still a bit funky from the previous night’s fail cocktail, I wasn’t feeling very hungry, but I still managed to force myself to eat a Whopper Jr.  I really should have done that sooner because within 20 minutes I was feeling great.  My brother, Team Duckman, volunteered to drive us up and down the mountain as he has the most experience on these sort of trips, so I handed him the keys and took a look towards the west and saw our target.

I think something’s back there

Oh there it is, all enshrouded in clouds and looking formidable

The road to Pikes Peak is probably the most visually-stunning stretch I have ever been on.  I was going through some serious information overload as we passed massive rock formations, deep rock-lined ravines, and huge houses built into the sides of the mountains we were passing through.  The pictures don’t do it justice at all.

I wish my commute to work looked like this

Looks like something straight out of The Flintstones

It’s hard to see, but there’s a house in the middle of all that

Just gorgeous

It took about 30 minutes to get to the entrance to Pikes Peak Highway from the Burger King we stopped at, but it flew by with all the stuff we could look at.  There is a cost to get onto the Highway and after we paid we pulled over to wait for the other van to get in.  During this we noticed that the guards were closing off the entrance to any more visitors so to say we made it in by the skin of our teeth is an understatement.  Good fortune was smiling upon us.  The road is about 19 miles in length and, because of some serious switchbacks and steep grades, it takes roughly an hour to reach the summit.  But as you can see, it’s not like we were in a rush with so much to gawk at.

Entrance signage

We passed this lake pretty early on our trip up

Pikes Peak looming over us

Well now isn’t that special

I love how the clouds just roll off the mountain peaks

Getting ready to pass the tree line


Quite the winding road down there

There’s just a tiny amount of snow left up here, but with the temperature dropping nearly 50 degrees, it’s not surprising

Ugh…that’s enough to make my stomach flip

One of the big switchbacks you have to make heading up the mountain

Just as we were starting to approach the summit, we rolled right into a huge, thick thunder cloud

This is not a placeholder image. This is what it looked like the second I stepped out of the van once we reached the top

Once we reached the top of Pikes Peak, the visibility was very low.  At times it was completely white everywhere you looked while at other times you could make out things maybe 100 feet away.  Clouds move very fast up here and the wind can be unforgiving and brutal.  Oh…and it’s cold.  We are currently going through the hottest, driest summer in 50+ years back in Indiana so any temperatures under 80 are pretty chilly.  Try 38 degrees at the summit.  And we’re all wearing totally inappropriate clothing…some in flip-flops no less.  We’re such noobs.  There are several caches up here, 2 traditionals, a multi (that requires a multi-mile hike), a virtual, and an Earthcache.  Since the weather wasn’t really cooperating (I mean, there’s thunder coming from below and right next to us for crying out loud) and we could barely see in front of us, we decided to just go for the EC and the virt.  So I have even more incentive to head back to Pikes Peak in the future.

Now, remember that altitude sickness I mentioned earlier.  I totally thought that the sandwich I had helped as I didn’t feel any weirdness the whole way up.  However, the minute I stepped out of the van and opened the back to grab my GPSr, I became so dizzy I almost fell over.  The best way I can possibly describe this feeling is being drunk.  It was a chore just to walk, and even at a very slow pace I was finding it hard not to fall over.  We congregated to the spot for the virtual picture and got a few of those in.  It was sleeting and very windy so the pictures look painful for obvious reasons.  We are such boneheads.

I thought I was being cool but I almost bit the dust and fell over…serves me right

The qualifying group shot. It was way too chilly for shorts and flip-flops. I think we were all banking on sunshine and maybe 50 degrees. This winter weather stuff is for the snow bunnies!!

Ahhh…that looks warm and full of oxygen!!

Me and my brother, Team Duckman, outside the summit house and next to the Cog Railway Train

About 30 feet from the sign is this harrowing site….I wish the clouds weren’t there so I could see how far this goes down

This says I’m really high!

Walked into the summit house and came across DynamicDs and TeamAdorkable engaged in a little snogfest with some dummy. I think the altitude sickness has gotten to them.

After buying souvenirs, we stepped outside to snag a picture for the EC. The wind almost knocked the camera over as it started gusting to about 35MPH and the sleet really started coming.

Unfortunately because we got here so late, the “world famous” donuts were no longer available and once the Cog train passengers left, the place was pretty much deserted.  Taking that as our cue, we headed back to our vans and made our way back down the mountain.

Next time I’ll make sure to taste those donuts and will be the judge of how great they really are.

As we headed back onto Hwy 24, we noticed a lot of banners hanging up along the highway.  They were thanking the firefighters for putting the wildfire out and saving the city.  It was then that we saw just how close the fire came to this area, as you can see below.

All that up there was on fire less than a week ago

Banners of gratitude

It was really moving to see these touching signs thanking the firefighters lining the street

Now that Pikes Peak was behind us, it was time to head north to Denver.  It has been decided that we would have a big meal at Casa Bonita in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver.  Casa Bonita is a massive Mexican restaurant that is known for their all-you-can-eat deluxe meals, diving shows, roving Mariachi band, and arcade.  It’s like a Mexican Chuck-E-Cheese on speed.  The food isn’t anything to write home about, but the ambiance is something you’ll never forget.  We stopped on the way to change clothes and cleanup a bit because, by this time, we were all a little funky.  Since there aren’t any rest areas on I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver, we had to stop at a town park and use their bathrooms.  Don’t judge…at least we WANTED to be clean.  Better than than traipsing in smelling of armpits and feet.

The entrance to Casa Bonita, the best mediocre Mexican restaurant in the world

The dive show during dinner was entertaining

We had to cross a bridge to get to our table

A post-dinner celebratory photo at the Casa Bonita fountain out front

There was a cache out in the parking lot of Casa Bonita that we naturally had to grab.  Yes, it wasn’t that great of a hide, but at least it wasn’t a LPC.  After everyone was back in the vans, we headed into downtown Denver to a travel bug hotel to drop off our travel bugs that we have set to race back home.  Unfortunately we chose the wrong time to do this as the cache is located in the middle of their bar scene and the place was packed with people.  There was no way to be stealthy at this point so we just did what we had to do and got out of there.  It was coming up on 11pm at this point and we were heading north into Cheyenne.  TeamAdorkable was at the wheel at this point with DynamicDs as the navigator while TeamDuckman, Lucky Chavez, and myself tried to grab some shut eye.  This would be the first time the entire trip that I felt ready to sleep, despite being a little woozy from motion sickness as well as dinner not quite agreeing with me (I told you it wasn’t very good).  Cheyenne is about 90 minutes north of Denver and I’d say I got about an hour’s worth of sleep during that time.  We stopped for a virtual cache just outside of town that was at a GPS calibration area and benchmark.  It was located on a hill just off the exit and was actually an interesting educational moment on the trip.  I will admit that I am not too aware of this whole benchmarking business that Chutch1035 and The Lawson Family are nuts over, but to have someone prolific like them explaining what the site was used for and how this stuff works was really interesting…even if I was half-asleep and it was almost 1am.

Since we are still running about 2.5 hours behind where we needed to be, and everyone was feeling pretty rough at this point, we decided to forgo any of the caches between the virtual and Amber’s Revenge II in Lincoln, NE.  While this was only 5 caches, most of them were well off I-80 and required quite a bit of driving to reach them.  With most of us sleeping and it being pitch black out here in the middle of nowhere, the caches wouldn’t really have much impact for us anyway and it would likely take even longer to find them since we’d only have a flashlight to guide us.  So eastward we traveled, on through the night.  Without a moon to light the sky, it was the darkest that we had encountered the entire trip, and I think this really helped with sleep.  Now this wasn’t uninterrupted sleep by any means.  During the night we had to make several stops to swap out drivers and get gas, so each time we stopped or pulled off the road I would wake up.  But I can say that I did get some sleep for once on this trip.

It was at the break of dawn that I woke up.  DynamicDs had taken over driving duties during the night and she couldn’t drive anymore so we stopped at a rest area about 160 miles into Nebraska and I agreed to take over.  I went to the restroom and splashed some cold water on my face to wake myself up, got a Coke out of the vending machine, and then waited in the van while everyone else finished getting up and readjusting themselves.  A group decided to grab the 2 caches at the rest area while we were there so we got to make up some of the numbers we skipped between Cheyenne and here.  My brother woke up and rode shotgun with me to navigate, but as I’ve said before, I am best behind the wheel when I put on my earbuds and crank out the jams, which is exactly what I did.  We were scheduled to be at the next cache by 9:40am and I was hellbent on getting as close to that time as possible.  The dashboard GPS was telling me that we would be arriving, barring any stops, at 10:04am.  I knew I could shave some more time off if I did 83MPH, so I set cruise control to that and we were off.

On the way towards Lincoln we passed under this thing. I had no clue what it was. Google tells me it’s “The Great Platte River Road Archway” and is a museum covering the Oregon Trail, nearby Fort Kearny, and the Mormon Trail. Very interesting stuff.

I was setting the pace for this leg of the trip and we were making good time, but unfortunately I didn’t take into consideration the rotation of drivers in the other van.  While DynamicDs did the bulk of the driving overnight, the other van rotated out several drivers, so they didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I did.  So while I was set to drive the entire 4 hour leg with no stops, the same couldn’t be said for the other van so stops were needed for them.  What really sucked was that, because we were in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, cellphone reception wasn’t the greatest so we weren’t finding out they were stopping until we were miles away from their stopping point.  So by the time we reached Lincoln, NE and the next cache, the rest of the group was still about 30 miles behind us.  I will admit I have never been very good at leading a convoy because I always tend to lose them.  Luckily we were able to use this extra time to find a way to reach the GZ and a place to park.

It was originally decided that DynamicDs and Yodaboyz were going to concur this cache together, but upon arriving at the GZ and realizing what was going to be needed, DynamicDs decided that there was no way more than one person could do this at a time.  So as the rest of the group was walking towards us, DynamicDs began her assault on the cache, which you can see was quite the undertaking in the pictures below.

What the hell is that?

There she is….holy cow that’s quite a fall

She’s almost there


Good job DynamicDs!!

After that daunting find, we left to fill-up our gas tanks and then headed to one more cache in town, this time a webcam cache.  This one was a fun cache.  Located at a roundabout in town, there is a traffic cam pointed at the road and your job is to get yourself perfectly positioned and wait for the cam’s website to update with your photo.  Luckily the site is able to be viewed from an iPhone and we were able to quickly get positioned (and repositioned) for the picture.  I’m sure it must have looked weird to all those passing us.  Here’s a group of 11 people, staring up at the sky, hands raised.  I bet to some it looked like the Rapture.

Once that was done, my brother took over driving and we headed off towards Iowa.  We just need one cache to claim the state, and Chutch1035 picked us quite the winner to finish off our trip.  The cache has the extremely rare distinction of being 9 years old, having over 600 finds and only 1 DNF.  It has never been muggled, and it is a regular-size container.  Yes, the cache is in the tiny town of Hamburg, IA, across the river from Nebraska and near the Missouri border.  Yes, it is located on private property.  BUT, it has still seen a LOT more cachers than most urban hides, and the fact that is has never been muggled and only one person has ever DNFed it they were very new to the game, only have 14 finds to their name, and quit playing shortly after not finding it) speaks loudly in favor of the cache.  Yes, it wasn’t anything remarkable and the hide wasn’t difficult at all, but it still capped off an amazing cache run and gave us the opportunity for one more group photo.

I like a town that can welcome you to it and point you in the direction of businesses all in one fell swoop!

Well spotted, Chutch!!

The last cache of the trip!

We left Hamburg just as quickly as we came, but not before stopping for another restroom break at a local gas station.  With nothing but road between us and home, it was at this point that we realized it was almost over.  Sure, there was still about another 10 hours and 2.5 states worth of driving left, but this marked the last time our group would do something together.  Along the way we’d stop once more for gas and for a quick bite, but not everyone ate and by the time we rolled into Indy, several members had already been dropped off at another location beforehand.  I know it’s lame to get all sentimental about something like that, but in this short period of time, I have grown closer to my travel companions.  I have laughed with them, complained with them, even learned a few things that probably had better be left unsaid :P.  In the end we traveled just under 2,500 miles.  We covered 8 states and netted 25 cache finds.  We did all this in just over 52 hours.  We never stopped to sleep, and only had one REAL meal together.  There were some tensions at times caused by sleepiness, but all-in-all, it was about as good a trip as you could ask for.  My only regret was not riding some in the other van.  While I forged a good relationship with everybody involved, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I bonded just a little bit more with those who were closely around me.  I can’t thank everyone enough for letting me be a part of this and for their participation.  These memories will last forever, and I am grateful that they are a part of them.  This blog series is dedicated to my fellow members:

Central Indiana Adventurers

Chutch1035 and his wife Amber
The Lawson Family
Team Duckman
Lucky Chavez
Geo Minions

Categories: A tale from the GZ | 3 Comments

On the road to Mingo

This is part two of a multi-part retelling of a cache run of epic proportions.  Click here to read part one.

The day of departure had arrived.  We had agreed on a meeting place and a time of 6pm.  Our cache list was finalized and we laid it out to allow one of our group to hit her 800th find milestone at Mingo. Below is the list of caches we set out to find during our trip and the time estimates I had made:

GC# and Cache name Estimated arrival Estimated departure
Leave Indianapolis 6:00pm
GC3EWXM – Whitch Cemetery Is This? 6:41pm 6:46pm
Enter Central Daylight Time
GC2D2WM – The Cross!!!!!! 7:40pm 7:45pm
GCHWFZ – Great Kaskaskia Dragon 8:29pm 8:34pm
GCEBC8 – Firefighters Memorial 11:19pm 11:24pm
Gas stop 15 minutes
GC20NN1 – Supercache 1:50am 1:55am
GC37 – Missouri’s First – Watts Mill 2:18am 2:23am
GC698E – Atomic Cannon on I-70 Virtual 4:29am 4:34am
GC1W28C – Rimrock Park 4:45am 4:50am
GCBB05 – I Like Ike 5:20am 5:25am
GC57FC – Cathedral of the Plains 7:13am 7:18am
GC30 – Mingo 8:59am 9:10am
GCZ230 – The Big Picture 9:53am 9:58am
Gas stop 15 minutes
Enter Mountain Daylight Time
GCQTWK – Thrilla in Manilla 11:48am 11:53am
GCND0E – Garden of the Gods Earthcache 1:28pm 1:33pm
Multiple Pikes Peak Caches 2:43pm 3:43pm
GC8811 – 168 Virtual Cache 4:53pm 4:58pm
GC1T2Z9 – KJKlock’s Farewell Seed Cache 5:20pm 5:25pm
Gas stop 15 minutes
GC2KCRP – LoDo TB & Geocoin Hotel 6:39pm 6:44pm
GC32FDE – Odd Boxes 6:52pm 6:57pm
GC52E2 – Denver Benchmark 7:05pm 7:10pm
GC30C82 – The Geocacher’s Guide to the Galaxy 7:20pm 7:25pm
GC2TD8M – Head Case 7:53pm 7:58pm
GCHHJY – Northglenn Veterans Memorial 8:23pm 8:28pm
GC20V75 – G&K’s Still Lost 9:06pm 9:11pm
GCG0E3 – Swetsville Zoo 9:28pm 9:33pm
GC1ME6T – Hoodoo Hideout 10:16pm 10:21pm
GC946E – Cheyenne GPS Calibration 10:49pm 10:54pm
GC6D47 – An Original 11:02pm 11:07pm
GC502A – Wyoming Wind 11:30pm 11:35pm
GC93C2 – Tri-State Corner 12:46am 12:51am
Enter Central Daylight Time
Gas stop 15 minutes
GCB989 – Where the Handle Meets the Pan 4:35am 4:40am
GCKVDB – Saving Private Ryan 6:01am 6:06am
GCHRB3 – Amber’s Revenge II 9:40am 9:45am
GCB88C – A Song in His Heart 9:55am 10:00am
GCP5GZ – You be da’ nose! 10:08am 10:13am
GCGJJG – L&C “Chauvin”-Hamburg-McKissock 11:26am 11:31am
Gas stop 15 minutes
GCE32C – Tom ‘n’ Huck Cache 4:21pm 4:26pm
GCA8E6 – Mark Twain 4:32pm 4:37pm
Enter Eastern Daylight Time
Arrive Indianapolis 10:36pm

As you can see, I went ahead and set some lofty goals for how much time we’d spend at each cache, as well as stops for gas.  The caches we chose for this trip ran the gamut of types of hides.  We tried to focus mainly on regular and large-sized containers, as well as hides with high Favorite Point counts, an earthcache, virtuals, a letterbox hybrid, and webcam caches.  Noticeably absent are LPCs and guard rail hides, although we did end up doing a couple to help pad our numbers, as you will see that things didn’t quite go as planned.

As 6:00pm came and passed, everyone who was scheduled to be at the designated pickup point was there…except the 2 drivers of the minivans, Chutch1035 and his wife.  With it being rush hour, on a Friday, we weren’t too concerned at first.  Well, some of us weren’t.  I was nervous as all get out.  Being the one who ultimately set the route for our trip based on the caches we wanted to grab, I knew that each minute we weren’t leaving meant an extra minute was added to our arrival time at the end.  As you can see, after factoring in the amount of time it should take to retrieve each cache or take our pictures/answer questions, our trip time had increased from 43 hours to 52.5 hours.  Since we were leaving in the late afternoon, we were looking at a late-evening arrival, which would hurt for those of us having to wake up early the next day.  But I wasn’t panicking.  We already had a contingency to drop caches along the way to make up the time, so as long as we got underway shortly, we shouldn’t be in too bad a shape.  Unfortunately things weren’t working out for us in this department.  Our rides didn’t make it to our location until almost 7:00.  It was like everything was conspiring against us.  There was only one person at the rental place working the counter so it was slow as molasses in January.  Once they got the vans, one of them was low on fuel so they went to fill-up and noticed on the way there that the brakes were atrocious.  When you’re planning on ascending and descending one of the highest peaks in the lower 48-states, good brakes are an absolute must.  So they had to return the van to the rental company and get a replacement van, which they thankfully had available.  We finally headed out around 7:15, so we really only lost about 75 minutes.  “We’ll make it up on the road”, I assured myself.

Our first cache on our journey took us to a secluded cemetery.  This was the be the meeting point for the final member of our group, Lucky Chavez.  Since they live out this way, it made more sense to just meet them at a cache nearby than to have them drive east for an hour if we’re just going to head back their way anyway.  See, we is smart!  The GZ was not a long distance from the road, but years of growth had all but completely obscured the cemetery from view and there was a bit of a climb to reach it.  As there were so many of us, we decided to let a handful tackle this one while the rest of us got situated and chatted briefly about the road ahead, to save time.  About 10 minutes later, with the cache found, we said goodbye to Lucky Chavez’s husband and children, and hit the road….but not before making an unscheduled stop to grab a phone booth cache at the exit onto I-70.  You know, why not?  It’s just sitting there, waiting to be found….it would be a shame to pass it when it’s so close.

For the first leg of the trip, the occupants for the vans were as follows:

Van 1 Van 2
Amber (Chutch1035′s wife) Chutch1035
Lucky Chavez The Lawson Family
Kemtek TeamAdorkable
ScrappyT Team Duckman
Yodaboyz DynamicDs
Geo Minions

While I would have preferred to been all in one vehicle, this was about as even a split as we could make it.  None of the vehicles were overloaded and we were able to sit in relative comfort.  The trip to the next cache was about 2 hours so we filled that time with idle chit-chat, joke telling, and various conversation.  I can’t speak for the other van, but ours was filled with excitement and humor.  As the afternoon turned to evening, anxiousness built as we neared our next cache, The Cross!!!!!! (exclamations are the fault of the CO, sorry).  For some of us, this is the furthest west we had traveled strictly for caching, so this was something extra special.

Just as twilight was beginning to give into darkness, we arrived at the GZ.  I’m not a religious person by any means at all, but I must say that the sight of this massive cross is something to behold.  It’s sheer size makes you feel miniscule in it’s presence, and I can only imagine what it must be like to stand in it’s shadow during the day.  We made quick work on finding the cache, then huddled for our first group photo.

We were actually a good 75-100 feet away, so the scale is even more awesome!

Unfortunately, not everyone made it into this first shot.  The Lawson Family was feeling a bit under the weather at the time, to the point that he almost decided to pull himself out of the trip and head home.  We were very concerned for him, but he didn’t want us to fuss too much.  We stopped at a gas station nearby to fill-up (yes, we’re early on filling up…the stops listed above were merely estimates), grab some gas station snacks/drinks, and use the restroom.  We got some pain reliever into Lawson to hopefully help him out and got back on the road.  The next cache was about 45 minutes away, and with night upon us, time was melting away.

The next cache, Great Kaskaskia Dragon, was definitely a favorite of mine.  Located across the street from a liquor store, this steel behemoth stands at the corner of a street, menacingly staring at everyone who passes by.  The dragon is really cool by itself, but there’s an extra special surprise that hides within it’s bowels that grabbed the pyrotechnic youth in me…


Yes, fire makes everything cooler, and the dark of night really made it pop for the picture.  With the picture snapped, we quickly got the log signed and then headed back to our vans, but before we left, an art project began.

Might as well announce to the world what we’re up to

So far smiles are still intact!

By this point we were running about 2.5 hours behind schedule, which I didn’t harp on too much because I didn’t want to stress anyone out, but of course I was a little nervous as the math alone told me that, if we met no obstacles and hit everything that we were scheduled to, we’d be getting home just after 1am Monday morning.  But that’s a small price to pay for the fun we were having so I left it at that and onward we went.  We stopped in St. Louis at a gas station (Chutch1035 would have you know that it was no ordinary gas station, but a QuikTrip) and it was here I made my big blunder of the trip.  I technically hadn’t eaten anything substantial since the morning before we left and since I have a bit of an issue with motion sickness when I ride anywhere but in front, I didn’t want to chance giving myself ammunition, if you know what I mean, so at this point I was only taking in water and ginger root pills to help contain my motion sickness.  While I’m happy to report that the pills did the trick, I should note that the 5-Hour Energy I downed with a 1-liter bottle of Mt. Dew without any food whatsoever in my belly was the dumbest thing I could have done.  I promised Lucky Chavez I would stay up to be her navigator and this seemed like the best way to do this, but within an hour of this oversight, I was doubled over with some of the worst stomach pain ever.  It literally felt like someone was kicking me in my stomach every 5 seconds.  It was so bad that I had to wave off grabbing the next several caches and wouldn’t be ready to attempt anything until we were well into Kansas, which is a shame because apparently while attempting to find Supercache the group were chased away by coyotes and they had to grab another cache nearby.  And while they were off having a blast, I was laying in the fetal position next to the van…all because someone locked the van up before I had a chance to get back in.  So for the next 4 hours of the trip, I tried to get some sort of semblance of rest, hoping that the pain would dull itself.  I probably should have tried to eat something to soak up the insane amount of caffeine ravaging my stomach, but for some reason food didn’t sound appetizing at all.  It’s a shame that I was trying to be dead to the world because apparently I missed some amazing views:

They look like those alien ships from the crappy War of the Worlds remake

What a lonely-looking church

It was about the time that we reached the Fort Riley area near Junction City, KS that I began to come out of my funk.  Luckily, this was the location of a virtual cache, Atomic Cannon on I-70 Virtual.  On top of a huge hill overlooking I-70 and Marshall Field across the interstate, this cannon is a reminder of the nuclear arms race and the lengths we went to in order to protect this nation.  There was a switchback path up the hill to the top, and I attempted to reach the top with several others, but I only managed to get about 3/4 the way up before the lack of sleep and food reared it’s ugly head and I was forced to turn back around.  But those who did make it up there grabbed some breathtaking shots:

The truncated group at the Atomic Cannon

Chutch1035 cheesing for the camera

Love the peace sign next to a decommissioned instrument of mass destruction.

Marshall Field and Fort Riley in the distance

It’s waaaayyy up there!

TeamDuckman and ScrappyT (with me in the background trying, and ultimately failing, to climb up the hill)


Some decommissioned artillery on the way up to the Atomic Cannon.

As you can see in the top of the picture, some of the hill had recently caught on fire. I wonder if this was the culprit. We have had burn and fireworks bans in Indiana since late June…surely they were in effect here as well. So sad!


Some info about the cannon

As we loaded up to head to our next destination, it was discovered that another cache had been hidden in the park we were at (Freedom Park).  DynamicDs grabbed a GPSr and a pen and was there and back within 2 minutes.  We then made a quick stop in neighboring Junction City to pick up a Letterbox Hybrid and then made a stop at a gas station so people could freshen up as we were about 4 hours from Mingo at this point.  It was here that I mentioned to Chutch1035 that we were seriously behind schedule and that we were now jeopardizing our chances of getting to Pikes Peak.  The road to the summit closes at 6pm and, if we kept at our current pace and attempted all the caches we had planned to grab, we would be rolling into Colorado Springs just as they were closing the road.  So we decided to skip the next 2 caches and head straight for Mingo.  Luckily we only had to skip one, as a gas stop took us to the exit where Cathedral of the Plains was located.

Chutch1035 and wife at Cathedral of the Plains

After our stops, there was nothing between us and Mingo but about 39 miles of corn fields and blue sky (pretty much the only things you’ll find in Kansas).  Even though we’re all bleary-eyed and looney with lack of sleep, to say we’re excited is an understatement.  The past month of planning was about to pay off in a big way.

As you pull up to the GZ, you don’t really get a sense that something historic is nearby.  In a nondescript corn field in a nondescript part of western Kansas, it must have looked like a group of people had gone mad, congregating on this dirt-covered access road off of I-70, staring at the ground.  But once you near the actual hide, you really start to feel the importance of the cache.  We’ve heard and read the stories of the cache that would get muggled every couple hundred finds.  The near-archival of the cache after someone thought a dropped bison tube container would be an appropriate-enough hide to keep it going.  The actual cementing of the GZ that physically made it impossible to rehide the container the same way it was originally hidden.  Just 4 months prior things were looking very grim for this cache, and here we were, standing over it’s hiding place, about to become part of the relatively few to claim that we had found the oldest active geocache in the entire world.

I think we found something!

Yep, that sure does look like a cache!

DynamicDs doing her best Vanna White impression

Proof that we all signed it

Back row from left: Team Duckman, Geo Minions, TeamAdorkable, DynamicDs, Yodaboyz, ScrappyT, The Lawson Family, Lucky Chavez
Front row from left: Kemtek, Chutch1035 (and wife, who caches under the same name)

After we had signed the log and took our photos…things got fun.  The big inside joke for our group was always that we were going to Mingo not to find it, but to muggle it.  Since this thing is muggled so often, we thought it would be in incredibly bad taste to joke about muggling it…don’t judge!  So we took a series of pictures and posted them to the Indy Area Geocachers group letting everyone know what we had done.

First we have DynamicDs running away with Mingo.

Then we got Chutch1035 looking to hitch a ride after making off with Mingo.

Took container, left container, signed log….is that how this is supposed to work?

Luck Chavez really wanted to bring her family a souvenir

The window announces our intentions to the world

After all the fun and frivolity had died down, it was time to get serious.  We met our initial goal and found (and muggled) Mingo, but that was just the beginning.  We still had Pikes Peak to concur, and we were running low on time.  It was time to get back on the road.

To be concluded

Categories: A tale from the GZ | Leave a comment

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