Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pirates of the Seven Lakes

For me, the best part of geocaching is getting out on woodland trails; discovering the deepest, darkest, most hidden corners of even the most familiar territory; working out the muscles and refreshing the mind. When I started caching in early 2008, I found that, within just a few miles of home, more trails existed than I could have ever dreamed. Miles and miles and miles of them. In those early days, I hiked almost every day, more fired up about exploring the woods than since I was a wee young 'un, when I was a regular woodland troll (a mischievous one too, I'll have you know). In Greensboro proper, there are thousands of caches, a good percentage of which reside on the trails, and since 2008, I've claimed virtually all of them — with a couple of exceptions.

"Pirates of the Seven Lakes" (GCJ37H) is one of the most notable. It's been out there since long before I started caching (it was placed in 2004, as a matter of fact), and after all these years, I've finally scrawled my moniker on the logsheet in that big ol' ammo can in the woods. In its original incarnation, "Pirates" was a multicache with at least nine separate stages, which included puzzles, brain twisters, and all sorts of logistical nightmares to challenge the hardiest geocacher. It was spread out over many miles and many trails, requiring some ten miles of hiking and visiting trails at each of Greensboro's watershed areas. One stage included a DVD, which you either had to watch on a portable player in the field or take home so you could solve the video puzzle to get the coordinates for the next stage. All these challenges resulted in "Pirates" being rated 5 for overall difficulty and 5 for the terrain challenge — the most difficult ratings possible for a cache. Alas, some years back, the original cache owner moved away or retired from the activity, leaving the stages to languish out in the woods. Some went missing, some were destroyed, and during the past few years, a scant handful of cachers have searched for it, and most of those who found it did so by receiving help from previous finders so they could get past the stages that were no longer viable.
One of the clue puzzles to solve along the way — quite useless out of context.
All this has changed, thanks to my old — and I do mean old — caching buddy Robgso (a.k.a. Robert, the Old Trail Dawg, or sometimes Bloody Rob), who has adopted and restored the cache to functional status.

Over the years, I had tentatively arranged to head out after "Pirates" with one group or another, but, for whatever reason, no solid plans ever came together. On at least two or three occasions, I had given the first stage a fair look, yet I just couldn't spy the bloody thing — despite knowing, both from the hint on the cache page and from anecdotal evidence, that I was searching the correct location. Ah, the frustration! When it came to my attention that several of the stages lay in disrepair, for the longest time I ended up just ignoring the cache altogether. However, in recent days, ye old Trail Dawg divulged to me that, because this cache is such an old classic, he was committed to fixing the wayward waypoints rather than archiving the whole sheboygan. At last, I figured, I would be able to take my shot at it. Sure enough, last week, Bloody Rob placed a cache in the woods on his birthday (which he does every year), and my outing to claim it took me to the Nat Greene Trail up at Lake Brandt. So — just on a whim — I gave stage 1 of "Pirates" another look. And this time — holy freaking banana oil — there was the container, plain as day, right where it's always been, in excellent condition. So, on the spot, I decided I'd start working on this cache — but over more than a single trip because I prefer to maximize my opportunities for hiking, what with so few local trail hides to go after anymore. For the past few days, I've picked up a stage or two, steadily working my way toward acquiring the final coordinates. At last... done. And this afternoon, I headed out to the trail head, made the near two-mile hike to the final, and, after a relatively brief search, found that great big ol' ammo can. But Sweet Freaking Yuggoth, the humidity! Old Rodan was one sweaty, melty, drippy mess while signing the log. But... by what ethereal dances, by what eternal streams... "Pirates of the Seven Lakes" was at long last conquered.
Buddha tree along the greenway,
near Owl's Roost

Now, to be fair, what was once a near-unthinkable monster in the woods is now more a straightforward multi, with only a couple of field puzzles — perfect for the more simple-minded among us to conquer. While I've no doubt the original experience was a masterpiece of geocaching engineering, this incarnation represents everything I love about caching: getting away from my damn computer (I'm on one most of the waking hours of my life) and out into the woods, exercising my muscles as much as or more than my brain, and stalking that elusive goal until I have conquered the rotten old bastard with the cheapest of ink pens. This one may no longer be a true 5/5, but it is a 5x favorite for this old caching dude. This one is la bombe surprise.

Curiously, while I was unaware of it at the time, several years ago — 2008 or 2009 — I had actually had a run-in with a stage of "Pirates." I was out on the Laurel Bluff Trail, searching for an appealing location to hide a cache of my own, and after much exploration of the woods, I found what I considered a perfect spot — only to a discover, rather to my chagrin, there was already a cache container in that spot. Since it wasn't listed anywhere on the geocaching.com site, I knew it had to be a hidden stage for some multi or puzzle cache, but I had no way of determining which one it was, for the container was empty and unlabeled. The other day, as I was following my GPS to the coordinates to stage 4 on the Laurel Bluff Trail, I knew immediately where I was going to be heading: yes, the very spot in which I had found that empty container all those years ago. This time, the container there contained exactly what it was supposed to contain, and once I worked out the necessary information from the clues it gave me, I was able to reach the next stage — in a secret place I cannot reveal here.

Completing "Pirates" was kind of like revisiting some of my earliest, most exciting days of geocaching, particularly since I haven't been out on some of the watershed trails for way too many moons. "Invigorating" is the word.

That's a really good word.
Saw lots of these out along the trail, no doubt placed by John Many Jars.
That would be some gigantic fungus among us.
Pleasant scenery along the Owl's Roost Trail

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