Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Random Bedtime Story

Here's another random adventure tale about night caching... my first night cache, as a matter of fact. It was back in April 2008, and I had been geocaching a relatively brief time, with only a hundred or so finds to my credit. For several years, Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner and I had worked in the same office, where I knew her as "that short little copy editor," but it was only after she left the company that I discovered she was also a short little geocacher. We began getting together regularly for caching expeditions, and we eventually decided to tackle a nearby night cache called "Bedtime Story: A Tale of Two Trails" (GC112D8, which is still out there and, as far as I know, in good condition). I didn't know much about how night caches were set up, other than the fact one needed a bright flashlight, so I was anxious to get out there and discover what there was to discover. For this outing along Lake Townsend, Debbie brought her brother (a.k.a. "DSCrown") and her good friend Beth "BogTurtle" Walton, whom I had met once before, though only in passing. With this little ragtag team, we set out westward on the Laurel Bluff trail, on the south side of the lake, and soon came to a series of reflector tacks in the trees, which guided us onward like brilliant little flames in the darkness. (These actually inspired a scene in Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate, the audio drama I wrote the following year.) Periodically, we would come upon different arrangements of tacks, which signaled us to stop and look for clues that would help us fill in the missing coordinate numbers for the final stage. We spent a good many frustrating moments trying to figure out just what we had to do, but eventually we saw the light — literally. Once we had determined the latitude numbers, we had to go over to the other side of the lake, to the Reedy Fork Trail (hence the cache name), to find the longitude coordinates and, hopefully, the cache itself.

Before continuing with "Bedtime Story," we stopped for a cache called "Geocaching A to Z" (GC11P8P), which was on the way. It was hidden somewhere up a steep hillside amid a cluster of boulders, and we risked life and limb clambering to the top, examining every crack and crevice on the way, so we could sign the logbook and spell our geocaching names with the blocks inside the ammo can (witness the above photo). Find the container we did, of course, and it was just about then that a car went by not fifty feet away. What do you know? A road. Well, gracious, if we had known Plainfield Road passed so close, we could have spared ourselves the climb, the danger, and the fun, and just accessed the cache from that level. Better that we did not, of course, though from that moment on, Plainfield Road was dead to us.

Once finished at "Geocaching A to Z," we made our way back down the rocks and continued our quest for "Bedtime Story." For a time, we followed the trail of glowing tacks, but before we knew it, we found ourselves in darkness minus our trusty little guides. We knew we had not overshot any of the stages, and it wasn't long before we realized that most of the tacks on the north side of the lake had been removed — no doubt by wisenheimer or wisenheimers unknown with nothing better to do than pull fire tacks out of tree trunks. It seemed we were to be thwarted, but since we really didn't like that idea, we decided to split into two groups and look for geotrails — worn paths in the woods that tend to appear wherever there are geocaches — that might yet lead us to our quarry. Debbie and her brother went one way while Beth and I went the other. Here you must understand that Beth really didn't know me from Adam; all she knew about me was that, apart from caching, I wrote horror fiction. She did seem a trifle nervous, and even more so when I pointed out what definitely did appear to be a geotrail that led off the main trail into pitch darkness beyond. I wandered a short distance down this path, and then — sure enough — I spied a reflector. Then another and then another. Before I knew it, I had come upon what appeared to be a hundred or more reflector tacks, all stuck on the trunks of a dozen or so dead trees, fallen and piled on top of each other.

I found it all most intriguing, but Beth appeared uncomfortable. "This gives me a the creeps," she said, thinking this might be where all the stolen reflector tacks had ended up. At my reassuring best, I said, "You realize this is when Leatherface comes after you with a chainsaw, right?"

I didn't even have time to crack a smile before Beth's phone was in her hand, her voice calling out, "Debbie! Debbie, get back here! Get back here right now!"

Fortunately, Debbie and her brother weren't too far away, and a few minutes later, we were all together again. We finally concluded that we had likely found the cache's actual hiding place, and DSCrown volunteered to crawl up under the huge woodpile to see if he might find anything interesting. He seemed to be in there for the longest time, but eventually, his voice rang out: "Found it!"

And so, we were able to claim our first night cache — not quite the regulation way, what with all the missing reflectors, but when we signed our names on the log sheet, our roundabout method mattered not a whit. Over the next couple of years, Cupdaisy, BogTurtle, and I became regular caching cohorts, along with Joe "GeoDogg" Morgan and, occasionally, Beth's husband, Al. Unfortunately, their jobs required Beth and Joe to move out of the area, and our group was splintered. Happily, Cupdaisy and I — and several other regular companions — still hit the caching trail at every opportunity. Alas, they all know me a little too well for me to successfully work my most frightening of charms on them.

At least, that's what they think.

1 comment:

Beth Walton said...

Some of you who know me, also know that I’m an avid geocacher. If you’ve ever listened to any of my stories about my geocaching adventures, this is definitely my all-time favorite and Mark really captures these events in this story of our first real meeting. I hate scary things and always believed the monster must live within the man that can write such vivid horror stories, so of course I was nearly out of my mind with fear when I found myself all alone with him, in the woods, late at night, surrounded by hundreds of reflective tags nailed into every tree around us. It was beyond freaky. It was ghoulish, perhaps demonic, and certainly contrived. Now throw in a chainsaw . . .

I never “saw” the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie, but watched maybe 10 or 15 minutes of it before fleeing to the snack bar where I remained for the rest of the show. I had nightmares about it for weeks, my personal "boogey man" safely encapsulated in the recesses of memories, long put behind me until Mark brought it up again. I was definately on the crest of hysteria. While Debbie had vouched for his character, didn't most mass murderers live in "plain sight"? Yep!

In addition to the pure thrill of finding the next cache, my next favorite thing about caching is that it has introduced me to some of the most amazing people I have ever known. Many of them are a part of my heart, members of my inner circle whom I hold dear, and I know we will always be friends. Luckily I got to know Mark better and better (I even went out caching with him without body guards!) over the following months and years, but it was no time at all before I realized he is such a great person, fun to be with, and has a wonderful sense of humor.

Mark can tell you many more stories of our adventures together, and each one is precious; short stories of adventure (ghost stories by a campfire with my students), bonding (drinks around the "cache bar"), pushing personal limits (remember crossing the river on the downed log?) and never giving up on the thrill of finding the next treasure. Thanks for remembering, Mark!