Monday, May 28, 2018

Strange Magic

I grew up going to Myrtle Beach, SC, in the summertime, and I count many of those trips among the highlights of my youth. For the most part, I still enjoy getting down there when the opportunity presents itself, although several times in recent years, the increasingly massive influx of humanity into that particular geographic space has been so freaking overwhelming that it's sucked the joy right out of any number of potentially good times. When our friends Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777) and Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres) invited Kimberly and me to join them on a Myrtle Beach trip over Memorial Day weekend, the opportunity to go sounded thrilling, but I found myself apprehensive about facing the inevitable holiday crowd—especially since it was also time for "Black Bike Week," when several thousand bikers descend on the Grand Strand. I have no problem with bikers per se, but that additional number of human bodies seemed bound to push the beach's temporary population into my personal red zone.

What, me worry?

The trip down on Friday afternoon was certainly pleasing for the Geocachers in the vehicle (that's three out of four, ladies and gentlemen). Along the way, we stopped for several fun hides, discovered an incredible BBQ restaurant in a little town called Chadbourn, and had an all-around fun time swapping Geocaching stories (well, three out of the four of us did). As we approached the SC state line that evening, all of us expected to encounter significant traffic, even on the back roads which our host Gerry knew from his frequenting the area. But there was almost none. And for those of us who have experienced massive traffic backups getting to the beach, this felt like a godsend.

It only got better.

Gerry's place is in North Myrtle Beach, in a somewhat tucked-away resort area, so while it wasn't directly on the beach, it offered just about every amenity we could desire and proved perfect for our slightly more introverted crowd. Still, we opted to take a late-evening jaunt into the town proper, and here we did discover plenty of bike parades, rowdy revelers, and wall-to-wall human party favors, but it all proved enjoyable, especially a little foray into the more mellow Fat Harold's Beach Club, where we got to watch people who know how to shag shagging the night away.

Saturday, the lot of us started out relatively early, and the three Geocachers in the crowd made a most invigorating morning out of hunting caches—all without sending Kimberly into a murderous rage, and I know this because she did not murder any of us (she actually seemed to be enjoying herself, although I doubt she would admit any such thing). For lunch, we found surprisingly good food and drink at Margaritaville at Broadway at the Beach, with expensive but delicious margaritas all around and a bison burger that almost rivaled the fare at Ted's Montana Grill, which has historically served the best bison I've found. After that, we sampled (and purchased) some decent jerky at The Beef Jerky Outlet, sampled hot sauce at The Pepper Palace (which offered some good stuff, though it hardly singed my palate), and sampled wine (some quite excellent) at The Coastal Wine Boutique, close to Gerry's place.
"The Hurricane" at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville
Well, I kind of had to.
To top off our outing, we took helicopter rides. Gerry and Bridget went up in one, while Ms. B. and I went up in another (no, I didn't actually drive it). I had never flown in a helicopter before, so it was an all-new experience, a 20-minute excursion a thousand feet above the Grand Strand. It made me exceedingly happy to fly past Regency Towers in south Myrtle, where my dad owned a time share condo, which our family used from 1977 to 2000, during which time I don't think I missed a single summer visiting. The experience was a bit more edgy than the usual jetliner flight, especially the dives and banks, which at one point elicited from Ms. B. a rather cute scream (it really was). A treat indeed, one I should not mind experiencing again one day. The flight, I mean, not necessarily the scream.

For dinner, we sought out and found Brother Shucker's Fish House—some delicious fried grouper bites and oysters on the half shell for the old dude—and then we returned to our hosts' place for an evening of enjoyable banter and frolicking.
Regency Towers, our old time-share condo, can be seen in the center of photo
Looking down at the Grand Strand from a thousand feet
Early on Sunday, which was Gerry's birthday, the three Geocachers in our party went out Geocaching before Ms. B. even saw the light of day, though she did rise shortly after we left and spent a happy morning working on some pen and ink art—one of her favorite activities—which turned out quite beautiful. Once back at the resort, we went out to the pool to get in some swimming and bathing (and in Ms. B.'s case, some serious sunburning), then returned to the condo to share in some celebratory wine and song. And oh... was there ever wine and song. Enough song, at least, to clear the pool area of non-birthday-celebrating guests. This is as it should be.

After this, we piled into one of Gerry's golf carts and hauled ourselves down to Empire Fire Mongolian Grill for a fiery imperial Mongolian dinner, and then down to the beach, just before a significant squall came around. We managed to get back to the condo without getting totally soaked, and there we treated ourselves to Deadpool and Strange Magic, the first being an adult-oriented, occasionally raunchy superhero movie, the latter being a cute kid's musical. Both entertained us immensely, why, yes they did.
Something funny is happening here.
Happy Ms. B. on the way to Empire Fire Mongolian Grill
This morning, we had to pack ourselves up to leave—in a driving rain at that—but before hitting the road, we hunted down and killed a monster lunch at House of Blues, which proved a fine send-off. Good beef brisket, nice atmosphere, and excellent service, I've gotta say. Despite the water, we did claim another handful of caches, and arrived safely back home this evening.

A whole long weekend with minimal crowds, decent weather (at least until today), and company that can't be beat. Perfect hosts, this Mr. Birthday and Ms. Suntigres, and I hope we have another chance to share a trip together. I can at least guarantee that we'll be sharing another Geocaching outing in the nearest of futures.
Suntigres and Mr. Birthday on Friday evening at Duck's Nightclub in North Myrtle Beach
Bridget and Gerry, conched out
A cute lady getting sunburnt everywhere but on her head
Old dude in front of the House of Blues bar, a portion of which once belonged to Al Capone
BigG7777 and Suntigres, hosts extraordinaire

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Big Water

In my damn-near six decades of existence, I have never seen water hit my old hometown of Martinsville, VA, the way it hit this afternoon. I was driving up from Greensboro after work for my regular maintenance visit with Mom, and I'd heard just before I left there was a flash flood warning in Martinsville. The rain was coming down in buckets, but I didn't run into the floodwaters until I reached the city limits. On U.S. 220, I encountered several stretches with water a foot deep, and on Spruce Street, just before entering our neighborhood, I came upon a hundred-yard section of road under a couple of feet of water. A few cars approaching from the opposite direction plowed through it by driving down the center of the road, which is what I ended up doing—but if the water had been even a few inches deeper, I might well have ended up stranded. From there, the road appeared clear, and I stopped for some Chinese food to bring home for our dinner. It was only on that last mile that the extent of the flooding became clear.

The creek that runs along Indian Trail was swollen beyond anything I'd ever seen. The stream runs through a little gorge anywhere from 10 to 30 feet below the road level, and in places, the water had risen to the point it was washing over the road. At a small apartment complex on the corner of Indian Trail and Prospect Hill, the parking lot was flooded, the water level above the tires of the parked cars. Several broken trees lay next to the road but did not present a hazard. However, about a quarter mile from Mom's, a city vehicle was blocking the road, and an officer was turning back cars traveling the same way as me. He told me a tree had fallen across the road just past the electrical substation—the lot next to ours—and beyond that, down by Lake Lanier, the road was under water. I told him I only had to go one lot past the substation and I'd take my chances, so he let me through.

Indeed, directly in front of Mom's house, a good-size tree had come down over the road, taking out the phone line but—thankfully—leaving the power lines untouched. I was able to edge around its uppermost branches and turn into the our driveway. But sure enough, not even a hundred yards down the road, the creek was no longer a creek but a lake, the water easily ten feet deep in places and fully engulfing a sizable section of the road. A pair of ducks were swimming happily around their new pond, and I suspect they fully approved of the neighborhood's new decor.
Tree across the road right in front of Mom's house
Big water just down the street. Apparently, the level had gone down a little here — from photos I've seen,
it was waist-high in the middle of road.
Around the corner, on Sam Lions Trail at the end of Lake Lanier, a sinkhole had opened up and taken out a thirty-foot section of the road. The massive flood had washed the huge pipe underneath a hundred feet into the lake, and as I watched from a vantage point almost too close for safety, another section of road collapsed into the newly formed gulf. The city crews had already set up a barricade, but several more soon arrived and set out additional orange cones to warn drivers away from the danger area.

Not be deprived of a rip-roaring good time by inclement weather, the local redneck contingent took the opportunity to come out in their jacked-up pickup trucks and race up and down the roads, spinning their tires in mud and running over curbs into people's yards—including Mom's, as I discovered when I got back to the house. Chalk up another one for the Martinsville brain trust. It is rather a pity none of them got their kicks by discovering the sinkhole the hard way.

All this less than a month after a tornado passed within a half-mile of my house in Greensboro, unbeknownst to me at the time. All I knew was that the sky delivered a monstrous roaring wind and lots of water in the matter of a minute or so and then fell silent. Ms. B. lost power for a few days, but neither of us suffered property damage.

For now, Mom is okay, I am okay, the house is okay. Mom's phone and internet are out, but we still have power. From what I understand, the roof of the local Roses store collapsed and injured at least one person. A lot of cars suffered water damage over at Walmart on Memorial Blvd. Much of Collinsville is closed because so many businesses got flooded. So I'd say that, so far, we've been fortunate.

I do wonder if the Martians are going to invade to make things really interesting. Oh wait... there might have been one in Mom's basement, driven in by the flood waters:
The Martian invaders?

Some scenes from Indian Trail and Sam Lions Trail:
Apartment building at the corner of Indian Trail and Prospect Hill Drive
Footbridge over the stream that enters Lake Lanier under Sam Lions Trail
The culvert that had been underneath the road
Sam Lions Trail washout. Fixing that will take some work.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Ten Years, Ten-Thousand Geocaches

When I began Geocaching in early 2008, I had no idea where this activity would lead me. I just knew I loved the hunt, and that many of the locations to which these excursions took me were some of the most alluring sites I had ever experienced.

When I found my 100th cache, I never expected to actually make 500 finds. When I found my 500th cache, I was pretty sure getting to 1,000 finds was right out. When I found my 1,000th cache, 5,000 finds still seemed far beyond reach. And when I found my 5,000th cache, I didn't think I could live long enough to reach 10,000. Well, apparently, I have lived long enough because I found the big 10K today. (There are those who say I am addicted, and I would never dream of disagreeing.) Now, make no mistake, there are many Geocachers, of my personal acquaintance and otherwise, who have achieved many times this numerical milestone, and we all have our stories to tell about our respective journeys. Me, I would not trade a moment of the experiences I've had to reach this level of distinction, whatever that means to anyone else.

For this milestone experience, I wanted to select a cache that Ms. Brugger—who is not so much a Geocacher as a sometimes-unwilling accomplice—might find appealing enough to go after with me and thus turn the hunt into something of a celebratory event. Back at milestone #7,000, she had joined several of us for a beautiful and fun kayak trip down the Yadkin River, followed by wine at nearby Flint Hill Winery, and she had not thought to drown me or anything. So for #10,000, I wanted to come up with something that might be genuinely appealing to the lady.

It wasn't hard to settle on The McAfee Knob Challenge (GC2JJJD), as we have both wanted to hike to the overlook for some time. The plan we devised was to spend a Saturday in Roanoke; stay overnight at Hotel Roanoke, at which we had a marvelous time at SheVaCon some years ago; and hit McAfee Knob on that Sunday. Given my caching numbers and schedule, this weekend appeared to be best for the event. If you've read any of my recent blogs, you might have picked up on the fact that getting to just the right number caches without going over on a predetermined schedule has its tricky points. But things worked out, and so, yesterday, we made the trip from Greensboro to Roanoke, checked into the Hotel Roanoke as anticipated, and spent most of the day and evening wandering about town, seeking out good food and drink wherever we might. Highlights included 202 Social House, where I actually willingly ordered some white wine (hey, it was bloody hot outside); Alejandro's Mexican Grill & Salsa Bar, which we had discovered on our SheVaCon trip; Cedar's Lebanese Kitchen; and The Pine Pub Room at the hotel, which has a most wonderful bar.
The Hotel Roanoke, our home away from home for the weekend
Ms. B. with a fine Bordeaux, old Rodan with a very dirty martini at The Pine Pub Room
This morning, shortly after the ass-crack of dawn, we checked out of the hotel and headed to the Appalachian Trail on Highway 311, which was very familiar to me from years of traveling up that way when my brother lived in the area and bunches of used used to frequently go camping at nearby Craig Creek. From trailhead to overlook, it's a 4.4-mile hike, making for a damn near 9-mile round trip, presenting everything from easy to difficult terrain along the way. Since the forecast called for temperatures in the mid-90s later in the day, we came prepared to face the hated heat. Fortunately, on the hike up, the temperature was tolerable and we had a nice breeze for much of the way.

But then... we had not gone very far when a rampaging bear decided to attack us, but brave Ms. B., utterly disregarding her personal safety, leaped to my defense.* She ended up with a mauled arm, but thanks to her bravery, we escaped otherwise unscathed. After this, we also encountered a couple of skinks, a nice little northern ring-neck snake, and a garter snake, but these critters were friendly enough and wished us well on our endeavor.
Brugger, mauled by bear!
My target cache was located amid a concentration of huge, magnificent rock formations that rose from a veritable jungle of tangled mountain laurel, about a quarter mile short of the overlook itself. At ground zero, there was plenty of coordinate bounce among the massive boulders, but thankfully, it wasn't long before I managed to locate my quarry, well-concealed and in good condition. I dirtied up the log with my moniker, posed for a few photos of the occasion, and re-hid the container. Then it was time to continue to the summit.

The overlook is a rocky shelf along the summit of the ridge, with a small, precarious point that extends into space a couple of thousand feet above the valley below. On our ascent, we hadn't encountered all that many hikers, but once we reached the overlook, the place began to fill up quickly. Quite a few folks posed on the rocks for some dramatic shots, and a young gentleman was kind enough to snap a few photos of Ms. B. and me at the point. In my old age, vertigo is more of an issue than it used to be, so I felt compelled to keep some distance back from the edge. Regardless, the view was spectacular, the experience overall a rush and a half.

Eventually, our primary task completed, we made our way back down the trail, stopping at another cache known as "Dragon Isle," named for the rock formation that bears a striking resemblance to the fabled "Wyrm" of old. By now, our little feets were battered and sore, but I pressed on and climbed up the rock wall to face the dragon, while Ms. B. lounged about in the shade below, texting her friends a detailed account of how she had defeated a raging bear on the trail, saved my life, and ended up with a mauled arm.

It was a good story.

Now, I'm here to tell you, there is not a chance on God's green earth I will ever, ever reach 20,000 Geocache finds. Nope. But a mighty happy 10K experience this has been, certainly for me and hopefully for Ms. B., although I rather doubt the bear enjoyed it.

*She slipped on some loose rock.
Ms. B. performing the McAfee Knob Shuffle. Everyone is doing it!
Gorgeous view from the overlook, except for the old fart standing in the way
The snoozing Wyrm at "Dragon Isle"
Wee little hornet's nest in the eye of the dragon. No varmints came out to accost me, which was
good because Ms. B. was too pooped to save my life a second time.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Back to the Barn

In the past couple of months, I think I've spent more time hunting Geocaches at and around Hagan Stone Park in southeastern Guilford County than in all my previous nine years of caching (see "From Hagan Stone to Transylvania," "From Company Mill to Wet Willie," and "The Last Year of My Fifth Decade Begins" for some real sob stories). Each of these excursions has been made as a direct result of numerous new caches coming out over a period of weeks, most hidden by the nefarious Geocacher known only as Government Mule. Apparently, Mr. Mule has been back at it this past week, for a few more caches have been published on the new Company Mill Preserve nature trail — problem being that I can't hunt them.

Except for one. Because I've made plans to find cache #10,000 this weekend, and I'm at the cutoff point — as of this afternoon, I had 9,998 logged finds — I could hunt one. And do you think I did? Damn right.

During my three-day, many-hours-long hunt for "Back from Transylvania" (GC7MX1F) — whose published coordinates turned out to be more than a quarter mile from its actual hiding place — I had discovered the remains of an old homestead, including a couple of crumbling tobacco barns, and explored them all in great depth. And wouldn't you know it, one of the new caches — "Tobacco" (GC7P9Q8) — appeared to be at one of those barns. Friend Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) had hunted this one a couple of days ago but had been unable to find it. So this afternoon, she and I teamed up to hopefully beat it into submission and claim the coveted first-to-find (FTF) honors.

We met at the trailhead in the park and had a very pleasant hike out to ground zero, most of a mile from the parking area. A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued, and skies were turning dark, but we weren't about to let a little adverse weather put a kink in our plan. Quite a bit of thunder began to boom through the woods, but as it turned out, not a drop of water fell until we were on our ways back home. Soon enough we reached our destination and, as expected, our GPS units did little more than lead us around in circles, the satellite bounce being so bad we never could ascertain a true ground zero. So we set our geosenses to working overtime and began close, thorough examinations of both those tenuous, dilapidated structures. These old buildings are just shy of collapse, and one of them is much farther than the other into the process of disintegration.

Eventually, we broke and regrouped, hoping our GPS units would calibrate enough to offer us a little more help, but this was not to be. But after a time, during one of our many circuits of the site, I noticed something that appeared out of place peeking from one of the barns' tenebrous hollows, and upon investigation, much to my satisfaction, it was indeed the cache.

So. A nice hike, nice company, and a nice FTF, which puts my total number of finds at 9,999. So until the big one, much to my chagrin, I am pretty much done.

I hope I don't get too antsy. I can feel it happening already.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

As the Last Year of my Fifth Decade Begins...

Old Rodan at "A Point in the Distance" (GCMF98)
Most years since I started Geocaching (in 2008), I've taken a day off work at my birthday to go out on the hunt. This year, however, timing-wise and work-wise, it didn't work out, but next weekend — all the forces of the universe cooperating — I'm anticipating an outing with Ms. Brugger to go in search of Geocache #10,000. Hoping for all good things on this front.

I had plotted something of an early birthday surprise for Ms. B., so on Friday, she and I went to Martinsville where she was treated to a wine glass painting class at Piedmont Arts Association (where I once exhibited and taught art back in the dawn of man). For good measure, I joined her in this endeavor, and we painted ourselves some nice wine glasses, which I'm certain will be put to good use. We also got to drink wine and eat good food at the event, so there was happiness to go around.

Despite being only a handful of caches away from hitting the big milestone, I managed to get in some highly satisfying hunting this weekend. To provide some context: yesterday was what is known in certain esoteric circles as "Crunken Dorking Day," a tradition that came about some time ago when Kimberly and friend Beth N. got together to do crafting with wine corks. Of course wine was involved, and an attempt by one of them to say "drunken corking" came out as "crunken dorking," and the name stuck. So yesterday morning, we trucked over to Winston-Salem so that the ladies might crunk some dorks, and I hit the caching trail.

Twice over the years I had gone after a truly mean hide in Horizons Park called "David & Diana's Bane" (GCQFJ4), but because getting to the logsheet involves spending an inordinate amount of time in one spot — usually interfering with valuable, limited caching time — I had simply given up. Because I could only claim a scant few before hitting the big #10K, I figured this was the time to give it a go. The cache is a great big water bottle filled with a couple hundred film canisters, and only one of them contains the log sheet. Because of the shape of the water bottle, you can only shake out one canister at a time, and as you might imagine, this process might tax the patience of the less-than-patient among us. Well, several years and 98 film canisters later, I have finally claimed "David & Diana's Bane." And so glad am I to put this one to rest....
The other rather beastly one is called "A Point in the Distance" (GCMF98), a multi-stage cache which requires calculating the coordinates of the final stage by determining the convergence point of two bearings from separate waypoints several miles apart. This involved finding a container at Horizons Park, then at another park some distance to the south. Happily, I had discovered an online tool to calculate coordinates for just such a problem, and so I was able to finally put this cache to rest as well. The travel between waypoints and the hiking involved to each stage made this one the day's most challenging endeavor.

Ms. B. and I then spent a most pleasant evening of dinner, wine, and great company with friends Terry and Beth. By the time we got home, quite late last night, at least one of us fell over and went boom.

My old friend Bog Turtle (a.k.a. Beth W.), caching partner extraordinaire from too many years back, was in town for a few days, so today, we met with the notorious Cupdaisy (a.k.a. Debbie) at Hagan Stone Park to hike and hunt caches — I limited myself to four, though Beth and Debbie picked up several others along the way. Things started out peaceably enough, with some relatively easy trail hiking and a few nice finds. But the placement of a few newer caches out there had us in a quandary. Should we go back to the road and approach the caches as the cache owner (CO) recommended? Or just power on through all kinds of unknown terrain? We opted for the latter, which, as you may have by now guessed, was not the world's best idea ever.

The official Geocaching Terrain Difficulty Scale goes from 1 to 5, 1 being the easiest, 5 being the hardest. As I led the parade through thick woods and across broad power line cuts, I managed to land us in some areas of about Terrain 8. I am not going to say that we clambered over an electrified fence onto private property, went some distance, and then repeated the process to return to park property (the shortest individual in the party making a spectacular flying leap), but I suppose any witnesses who might have been in the area would say someone did. (Nor will I mention that we signed the cache logs as "The Electric Company.") And there was blood. Not mine, but at least one among us (okay, it was Beth W.) decided that the creed devised by our mutual caching buddy Robgso — "If you don't bleed, you're not having fun" — is not one to take lightly.

We finished our outing by meeting Ms. B. for an excellent lunch at The Fat Frogg in Elon. Their "Poison Dart" hot sauce, which I put on some excellent chicken tenders, has one powerful burn, and they make a mean Bloody Mary. By the time I got back home, I fell over and went boom. I may do it again before the night is over.

Current cache count is 9,997. And happy trails to you.
Ms. Bog Turtle was hollering "Giddyup! Go! Giddyup! Go!" But it wouldn't go.