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.

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