Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ghosts of the Navigators

Trying to solve the puzzle for "Ghosts of the Navigators" (
GC1BVAD) caused my face to freeze like this. ("Ghosts" is a members-only cache, so if you're not premium member of, the page won't display for you, alas.) This one has been around for a while—it goes back to early 2008—and involves finding seven caches named after famous explorers, such as Magellan, Drake, Columbus, de Leon, Lewis & Clark, de Soto, et. al., so you can collect clues and eventually find the final cache. All are hidden in Gibson Park, in High Point, NC. The seven explorer caches are relatively straightforward hides in the woods, though a few involve physical challenges—which for me was the easy part. The brain challenge...well, look at the old dude's face. I started working on the series back in September 2009; today, I found the final stage. (Mind you, if one had the notion, the entire series could be done in a day or two; for me, it was an enjoyable project to knock out a little bit at a time.) The experience was most rewarding, but I gotta tell you...give me a big old tree to climb, or a subterranean pipe to crawl into, or a swamp to cross...I'll probably be right on it. Ask me to engage the brain, though, and...oh, hurts, it hurts!

Great big mushrooms at ground zero.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Perfect Poop

After a long week of working—including making considerable progress on my latest scary tale—with little geocaching in the bargain, I finally got out and about today for a wee bit of hunting. There was a nice caching event hosted by Donna "G.O. Turtle" Grunkemeier at Triad Park, over near Kernersville, which brought quite a few cachers from NC and VA out of the woods (and then put them back in). After it was over, my friend Bridget "Suntigres" Langley and I hit the road to find a few in the K'ville vicinity. Naturally, about the time we started caching, the rain started falling, so the only thing to do was go to a cache that took us underground. So we went into the pipe and fumbled around in the dark for a while, only to come up empty-handed. Turns out the cache wasn't underground after all. Then, back in the rain once more, we go to a cache that requires climbing a big old brier-covered hillside. Pity I didn't wear my caving clothes because after I came off that hill, you'd swear I'd just gone caving. Or fallen off a mountain, which is kind of like, well, almost true.

Happily, I came home to an invitation to dinner from the right-honorable Albanese gang, so Kimberly and I headed on over and et some burgers of the delicious-plus variety. For dessert, we watched Dr. Oz educate us about our pee and our poop, and I learned that the perfect poop is S-shaped. Evidently, some of us are, at times, imperfect.

No, it's not fun to contemplate.

Last night, Kimberly and I, after going to see Straw Dogs and having Thai food for dinner, had stopped at the International Market and did some shopping for Asian foodstuffs. I really love that place; it makes me feel like a kid in a toy store. Among my purchases was a box of Toppo for Men (dark chocolate–filled cookie sticks), and so when I got home this evening, I had to tear into them. Be advised, this stuff is not for you sissy pants. It's for men. Got that?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Random Tale?

Sure, why not. A couple of months back, I got to see Jaws at the Carolina theater—easily one of my all-time favorite films—and this has set me to occasionally ruminating on a particularly traumatic experience from back in the spring of 1975—the year Jaws was originally released. The main thing about the whole business is that I'm glad I saw Jaws after said trauma, not before, or I'd be shy an amusing little anecdote.

May, 1975. I was 16, and I'd gone with my church youth group on a beach trip to Garden City, SC, on a rickety old bus that didn't go any faster than 40 miles per hour. It was a long, hot trip from Martinsville, VA, and I recall driving a few of my compadres slightly batshit by repeatedly playing Godzilla soundtracks on the portable cassette player I'd brought with me (not that I was obnoxious, or anything). We stayed at the Garden City Motor Inn, which at the time was about the only commercial establishment on that stretch of beach. The inn still exists, but nowadways, it's all but smothered by the high-rise condos on either side of the property. Anyway, that first night, I recall watching Gargoyles, starring Cornell Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn, and Grayson Hall, on the network TV movie, and I was all kinds of excited about that (I recently picked up the DVD of this flick, as a matter of fact).

The next day, my buddy Raymond and I set out on our own down the nearly deserted beach. There were no lifeguards there in those days, and being the off-season, other tourists were few and far between. For reasons I've never quite fathomed, Raymond and I decided that we needed a long swim. A long swim. So, with little thought of personal safety or other such responsible things, we trucked on into the water and started paddling out beyond the breakers. I recall feeling quite exhilarated to be farther out in the ocean than I'd ever gone before. Yeah, I know. Dope. Well, we kept swimming, going farther and deeper, and after a while, I looked back toward the shore; lo and behold, the Motor Inn was this wee little boxy thing on the horizon, and I began to get the idea that returning to shallower water might be prudent. Raymond reluctantly agreed, and so we turned around to make our way back. Whoa. Wait. That's some current! We're swimming and swimming, and we're just not making any headway, and suddenly I'm not quite so exhilarated about my specific coordinates in time and space.

Now, about this time, I get a glimpse of Raymond's face, and it's whiter than a sheet, and his eyes are about to bug clean out of his head. I look in the direction he's looking, and...oh shit oh shit oh shit...there are fins popping up in the water, just about close enough to touch. I'm pretty sure my face is every bit as white as Raymond's, and that's when we start tearing through that water like a couple of scalded sea monkeys. Much to my relief, I see the Motor Inn gradually starting to loom a little larger on the shore. It's only now, halfway back, that I realize we had been surrounded by dolphins.

That's when it happens.

Something warm and prickly grabs my leg. Yes, that's me screaming my fool head off, and the next thing I know, I'm hauling ass up the beach, a pale white blur to anyone who might be around to witness all this. I don't know where Raymond is, I don't care, I'm just on solid ground, and I finally discover it was a mean old clump of seaweed that had grabbed me. After a while, Raymond's walking next to me, and when we get back to the Motor Inn, there's a game of touch football happening. Uncle Harry, one of our chaperones, asks us where we've been.

"Just taking a walk."

It was only a few days afterward that I saw Jaws for the first time, and I have to tell you, every heart-pounding moment of that movie took on a very deep, personal significance for me. To this day, the film's music, its dialogue, its atmosphere...all of it...takes me back to that way-too-deep water and the sheer panic of believing I was about to get et by a shark. It's not a sensation I particularly savor.

These days, I do still go in the ocean when I get the opportunity. I also respect it a hell of a lot more than I once did. One really ought to, you know.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cache In, Trash Out at Wilson Park

After highs of well over 90 degrees and persistent drought conditions for so many weeks on end, it was a somewhat rude yet strangely welcome shock to wake up to frigid temperatures and steadily drizzling rain. The adverse weather did not stop a number of volunteers from gathering this morning at Frank Wilson Park, in Martinsville, to clean up its streams and plant trees and shrubs—all part of the 26th Annual International Coastal Cleanup effort, a series of concurrent events today sponsored by The Ocean Conservancy. Several geocachers from Martinsville, Danville, and Greensboro braved the weather and joined numerous other local volunteers, including folks from the Bassett school system and the Virginia Museum of Natural History, all prepared to get wet, dirty, and tired while turning a relatively well-manicured park into a pristine natural recreation area. Kimberly and I got back into our caving clothes from a couple of week back, armed ourselves with work gloves and trash bags, and did a fair bit of wading and bushwhacking, removing and actually taking inventory of the litter, much of which was glass that's probably older than I am. To add some allure for the geocachers in the bunch, I made it a CITO (Cache-In, Trash-Out) event so that we could get caching credit for attending. I'm sure the weather kept a good many folks at home, so it was an admirable morning's work for those who dared defy those dirty, double-crossing, dastardly rain gods. I provided doughnuts and sodas, and the Bassett folks hosted a cook-out for lunch. Kimberly and I had packed our own lunch, so we had ourselves a romantic little picnic in an isolated shelter while the rain came down with ever-increasing vehemence.

Needless to say, right about the time we all went home, the rain stopped. C'est la cache.

In the meantime, on the writing front, work progresses steadily on my latest endeavor—a story for a new, HPL-inspired anthology, edited by the redoubtable Robert M. Price. Stay tuned.
This little fellow, an Imperial Moth larva, was carefully escorted out of harm's way.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Hanging Around

See my feet?

Yep; there's a cache up there.

I spent a good portion of this past weekend adding to my total number of geocache finds, including a few that required negotiating some fairly extreme terrain. Friday evening, it was a bunch of more traditional hides along the rural routes of Ringgold, VA, a few miles northeast of Danville. From there, I headed to Martinsville to visit Mum. On Saturday, I went biking on the Dick & Willie rail trail (I know, so STFU), where I snagged a couple of Munzees (; these, I have decided, are no great shakes). Then it was back through Danville to pick up a few more of the fairly traditional variety, and a first-to-find on a new trail hide in Greensboro.

Yesterday, it was back out to the trail—this time with my friend Bridget "Suntigres" Langley—for five+ miles on the American Tobacco Trail over in Wake County. Before the hike, we stopped off for a couple of somewhat hairy ones: "UP" (GC20985; the silo in the pics above) and "Dr. Evil Visits Pittsboro" (GC1HQTK; the pond drain in the pics below). The rigors of getting to the caches weren't all that bad; it was more dealing with all the black widows, which seem to have undergone quite the population explosion this year. I've probably seen more this season than in all my years combined. The most disconcerting was the one in the drain because it was hanging right from the cache itself. Fortunately, God made big sticks and left them lying around in drains for dealing with such complications.

The most physically challenging of all of them was "Jogglin' Time" (GC2RNQB)—the tree seen in the pics below, which don't quite convey the sense of just how far up there that sucker really was...

Yep; there's a cache in there, too—and a big old black widow.

Yep; you guessed it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Darkness Out of Time

Mental images of Lovecraftian horrors abounded this weekend, as Ms. B. and I headed westward into Tennessee, primarily to delve deep into the earth at Worley's Cave (a.k.a. Morrell's Cave), near Bluff City. Oh yes, there was geocaching involved (see GC237VH for information about the cave itself), but there wasn't much thought of getting a caching credit as our group of ten made its way deeper and deeper into treacherous, subterranean darkness. More often, I often found myself searching for Arne Saknussemm's telltale initials imprinted on the stone walls, or Sagoth artifacts from the lost world of Pellucidar. It's a fascinating environment down there, and while I've visited tourist-friendly caverns before, this was my first experience going deep into a living cave, requiring hiking, climbing, crawling, and wading in a world absolutely devoid of light. It's definitely not an endeavor for the claustrophobic or one with an especial dread of the darkness....

Without a doubt, this long Labor Day weekend has been among the most satisfying in recent memory. Late Friday afternoon, Kimberly and I departed Greensboro for Johnson City, TN—mostly in a driving rain, though it thinned out enough in places to stop for the occasional cache. A couple of them, which we found on remote country roads in almost pitch darkness, nicely foreshadowed our upcoming subterranean excursion. While driving in such a hard rain was no treat, the atmosphere proved to be outright creepy, and I doubt I could have enjoyed it more (though the real highlight might have been the barbecue at a nice little joint in Wilkesboro). Once ensconced in our rather spartan accommodations in Johnson City, I headed out on foot for a few nearby caches before settling in for the evening with Ms. B. and a bottle of good bourbon.

Saturday morning, we drove over to Buffalo Mountain, a few miles southwest of Johnson City. The park features an extensive trail system, and I'm pretty sure we managed to find a couple of the steepest routes as we climbed toward the summit. Needless to say, there were caches. Part of the hike's allure was that, except for one brief encounter with another fellow on the trail, we seemed to have the entire mountain to ourselves. We encountered no bears or other wildlife more threatening than mosquitoes, but then those mosquitoes—and a freaking little sweat bee that wouldn't leave us be—were more tenacious than Bruce the Very Hungry Shark. You've got to hate it when 80% DEET sends the buggers into little mosquito laughing fits. At least I managed to successfully swat a few, and once back down at the bottom, we availed ourselves to a fine picnic lunch we had packed.

From there, it was off to Big Rock, a scenic spot on the Nolichucky River (very near The Devil's Looking Glass), once again finding ourselves on remote, all-but-deserted country roads through forested mountains that absolutely had to be home to all manners of Lovecraftian horrors, Wampus cats, and perhaps even bigfeet. No, we didn't see them, but that doesn't mean they weren't watching us. I mean really. If you were a bigfeet, wouldn't you be spying on such foolish humans with disdain? Be honest now. A couple of more caches, and then back to Johnson City for a satisfying seafood dinner.

Cloud formation over Winston-Salem on the outbound journey, which soon dumped
all kinds of real water
(not that bogus bottled stuff) on our heads.

Ms. B. and Damned Rodan on the trail at Buffalo Mountain, looking perhaps
a little less exhausted, hot, and sweaty than they really were.

Damned Rodan at Big Rock, overlooking the Nolichuky River.

Yesterday morning, it was out to the River and Earth Adventures outpost in Elizabethton, where we connected with our group of intrepid cave explorers. Worley's Cave is something in the neighborhood of 200,000 years old, and extends eight to ten miles into the Tennessee terrain. The cave was discovered and explored in the early 1800s by John Morrell and later became the property of Elias P. Worley (hence the alternate names). We arrived at the site about 11:00 AM and after a few words of wisdom from our guide—mostly about not straying off into unknown catacombs—we began our descent.

I've never been claustrophobic, and I can't say at any time I felt any overwhelming fear in the cave. But there were times that the idea of crawling 50 to 100 ft. into spaces so tight that you couldn't lift your head an inch was pretty oppressive. It helped that everyone in the group had a fair sense of humor about the whole business, and our guide was obviously quite experienced. Actually, I think the most disconcerting moment for me was entering a chamber whose ceiling was a jigsaw puzzle of rocks that appeared to be held in place only by a single columnar stone that, on its own, did not appear all that stable. In another room, one of the gigantic stalactites—easily fifteen feet in length and weighing many hundreds of pounds—had fallen from the ceiling, who knows how long ago. Last week's magnitude 6.8 earthquake was still fresh in my mind, and I found myself having to occasionally thrust that memory right back where it came from because I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be in that cave during an earthquake.

Several times, we had to climb up slippery rock faces, such as "The Devil's Staircase"—which was, in the words of one of our fellows, "like trying to climb peanut butter"—and then, conversely, slide down long slopes on our heels, avoiding grabbing any nearby outcroppings for fear of dislocating your arm. I think for some the most unsettling experience was crawling 40 feet or so through a passage called "The Birth Canal" into a tiny chamber, where we all turned off our helmet lights. The darkness was the most profound I've ever known, though I can't say it was any more disturbing than the crawl itself. Once again, it was levity to the rescue when our guide told us that, after a time, even though you can't see a trace of movement in that blackness, your eyes make you believe that you can—to which one fellow responded with, "Yes, I've been giving you the finger for the last five minutes."

The only known fatality in Worley's Cave was Mr. Worley's own son, who became lost in a portion of the cave now known as Worley's Triangle because it's the hub of a maze-like series of passages, among which even a most experienced spelunker could lose his way. Now, sometime back, a couple of ill-prepared explorers were lost in the cave for 80-some hours, and when they were found, they were huddled in one of the chambers in the darkness, convinced they were sitting in their living room watching television. I do hope they had imaginary DVD players since even imaginary television tends to air total shit, at least on the channels that I get.

Our trek took us about five miles into the earth. The return journey, for the most part, was a bit easier than the one going in, as our route bypassed a few of the crawls and climbs of our ingress. The last quarter mile to the exit required wading through an underground river, which, needless to say, was rather frigid, though by that time, we were already so wet and coated with mud that I don't think anyone particularly noticed. Reaching daylight again felt like hitting a wall of bright, hot, humid air that almost sent some of us back into the darkness until our eyes and bodies re-acclimated themselves to our surroundings.

The River and Earth Adventures company very kindly provided us with a picnic lunch. Then Kimberly and I, not content with such humdrum entertainment, headed back out into the wilds of Unicoi County for another mile-plus hike to Ramsey Creek Falls and a cache hunt. Once back in Johnson City, getting ourselves clean took something near an act of God, but we somehow managed it so we could avail ourselves to sushi and sake. A satisfying end to a most rigorous day. Alas, on the trip back today, yet more driving rain and a poorly marked detour made things a little dicey. But we're still in one piece and very happy for it.

A few of my muscles are still hollering, yes, but at least very quietly.

Who could that be crawling out of the Birth Canal?

About to go up The Devil's Staircase

We've got to go where?

Rolling, rolling, rolling.... It's the only way to get to the other end.

Ms. B. hanging out in one of the more innocuous-looking alcoves.

Ms. B. and Rodan in the underground, looking every bit as muddy,
wet, and exhausted as they really are.