Sunday, September 30, 2018

Lair of the Mothman


Indeed, Lair of the Mothman is the title of my upcoming novel in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series—to be released in 2019, probably early in the year—and this past weekend, I went to check out the original lair for myself. I've just returned from a couple of pleasant, if physically taxing, days in Point Pleasant, WV, where the Mothman legend originated. On this trip, I alternated between straight-up fact-finding and geocaching, though the latter actually is research, since the novel's plot involves geocaching

On Friday, 9/28, I left Greensboro right about noon, stopped for a handful of caches on the way, and passed through Charleston, WV, about 4:00 p.m. Just west of the city, I turned off on US 35, which follows the Kanawha River on a northwest course. Fifteen miles or so out from Point Pleasant, I saw massive plumes of steam rising into the sky from the James M. Gavin Power Plant, about ten miles north of Point Pleasant, across the river in Ohio. No matter where I was in the area, those massive chimneys became prominent sights.

The annual Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant took place a couple of weeks ago, and while it may be an immensely entertaining event, for my purposes, I preferred a more private, personalized sojourn. I had originally planned to leave early on Saturday and stay for one night, so I had booked a  room for that evening at the historic Lowe Hotel in downtown Point Pleasant. As it turned out, schedule-wise, I determined I could do Friday night as well, so I got myself a room at the Knight's Inn across the river in Gallipolis, OH. Not unexpectedly, the accommodations there were fairly spartan, but very comfortable and clean, and it came with more than the customary amenities for a cheap hotel room. I approve. After checking in there, I drove back across the Silver Memorial Bridge into Point Pleasant to wander about (read hunt geocaches) and procure some vittles. I was both surprised and pleased to encounter several local geocachers at the different caches I visited. Dinner happened at the Lighthouse Grill, where I ripped into a big old burger with some fabulous beer-battered fries. An enchanting spot.
One of the hundreds of clippings from the local
newspaper from the original Mothman scare

Now, I've seen The Mothman Prophecies several times, and I quite enjoy it. The movie was filmed in Kittanning, PA, and while the place looks enough like West Virginia on the screen, I was not at all surprised to find that the film's setting and the actual location bear little resemblance to each other. Point Pleasant is quaint, loaded with history (and geocaches), picturesque in the extreme, and the perfect small town for weird things to happen. Perhaps its most prominent centerpiece is the stainless steel Mothman statue, situated at Main and 4th Streets, constructed by scupltor Bob Roach in 2003. On this block, you will also find The Mothman Museum, which features Mothman memorabilia of every conceivable sort, as well as original newspaper clippings about the events that gave rise to the legend; massive amounts of information about the collapse of the Silver Bridge in December, 1967; and a multitude of original props from the film. The museum is the brainchild of Point Pleasant native Jeff Wamsley, whom I had hoped to meet, as I had become more than a little familiar with him via numerous Mothman documentaries I had watched over the past few weeks. Sadly, our paths never crossed, though I spent considerable time at the museum yesterday morning and found some enjoyable and informative conversation with the gentleman in charge of the place at the time.
Original art from The Mothman Prophecies on display at the Mothman Museum in downtown Point Pleasant
The first sightings of the Mothman occurred near the McClintic Wildlife Management Area, a.k.a. "The TNT Area," about 8 miles north of Point Pleasant. During WWII, a massive munitions plant and storage facility occupied this area, hence its explosive epithet. After the war, the place was abandoned, and much of it was simply overtaken by dense forest. There are still dozens of semi-spherical storage bunkers—known as "igloos"—to be found in that area. There are also dozens upon dozens of geocaches hidden around the TNT Area.
Informative map given to me at the Mothman Museum

And thus, Saturday morning, I headed north on Highway 62, continually drawing nearer to those massive, steaming chimneys from the Gavin power plant across the Ohio River. I stopped for a handful of caches along the way. About 11:00 a.m., I turned down Potters Creek Road, which features in my novel. And as I drove deeper into the incredibly dense forest, I began to get a sense of just how creepy this place could actually be.

For the most part, I was entirely alone out here, which I quite appreciated, although I could occasionally hear distant gunfire from a shooting range a couple of miles in. There are several night caches in the area, and I had initially thought about heading back after dark to give one or more of them a try. After learning the hard way about the sheer difficulty of navigating these woods even in daylight, I eventually decided against going out there alone at night....

I found about a dozen caches in the TNT area over four hours or so, and failed to find a couple of others. From these hunts, the thing I learned first and foremost was this: on geocaching.com's rating scale for terrain, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest, your average rating here is about an 8. At no time was this more evident than on a long hike out to a cache high up in a tree—titled "Wrong Turn"(GC5KNZV), after the movie of that name, which features a scene up in a tree. Being on a "trail" out here meant that the briers, brambles, and creepers would only swallow you in little pieces, rather than whole. Happily, I negotiated the tree-climbing challenge without issue. My egress from ground zero, however, was a whole 'nuther story. I ended up straying from the path by which I had entered—by no more than 50 feet, according to my GPS—and found myself surrounded by utterly impassable thickets in every direction. I cannot fathom how I even got into them, since I could scarcely go back the way I had come. The 200-some-foot bushwhack I ended up undertaking to get back to merely impenetrable spaces sewed up any hope of returning later, for between the tree climb and several hours of rigorous hiking, I was physically spent (or so I thought).

Despite my growing fatigue, I continued to hunt several more caches, a number of which brought me to overgrown, sealed-up igloos. At one igloo, however, I found the massive steel doors gaping wide, revealing only deep, subterranean darkness. Being occasionally foolhardy, especially when caching is involved, I went right on in to check it out, only considering—when I woke up at 5:00 a.m. in a cold sweat—that, had those doors somehow closed on me, I'd be there right now, and possibly for the rest of my abbreviated life. Ah, zut. As it turned out, the experience proved a hoot. The echo effect in that steel dome gave me an agreeable case of the chills.
A few miles out from the TNT area, the Gavin power plant chimneys across the Ohio river spewing steam
Left: Mr. Death, about 20 feet up in a tree; Right: Mr. Rodan, about 20 feet up in a tree,
holding onto Mr. Death for dear life
Old munitions storage igloo, sealed.
Old munitions storage igloo, gaping wide. You think I'm gonna go in there?
Dingy-dang right I'm going in there.
Eventually, I made my way out of the TNT area, alive and almost kicking, only to stop for a few more caches on the way back to town proper, one of which offered, but did not require, a change of elevation of the higher altitude persuasion. Naturally, I enjoyed availing myself to it.

Once ensconced in my room at the Lowe Hotel, I did a little sightseeing in the building itself. The Lowe Hotel dates back to the very early 20th century and is, without question, the most atmospheric setting in which I have ever taken lodging. The place is reputedly haunted—of course!—and while I encountered no spookiness of the ghostly variety, the decor and size of the place did bring to mind the old Broad Street Hotel in my hometown of Martinsville, where, when I was a kid, the family often went for dinner. I loved to explore those old hallways, though the dark stairwell leading upward scared the bejezus out of me. The place is, sadly, long gone, but the Lowe Hotel brought back every delicious frisson I ever experienced at the Broad Street Hotel in the early 1960s.
My home away from home, the Lowe Hotel
Come early evening, I was back out and about in the downtown area, where I went after a couple of multi/mystery caches that required considerable walking. I conquered these hides, then went roaming in search of dinner. I found it at what I had initially considered a somewhat dubious option—Two Waters, a Mexican-slash-Italian restaurant—but which proved quite, quite good. Grilled pork chop, salad, baked potato, roasted vegetables, and some of the best bread with olive oil and herbs I've ever had. Plus they had one of my favorite wines, Cantina Zacagnini Montepulciano, which complemented dinner beautifully.
My haunted hallway

After the day's rigorous activities, I found myself dead, deceased, bereft of life, and resting in peace, so I returned to my chambers at the Lowe Hotel, changed into my comfy clothes, and settled in for the evening—only to realize there were still two caches nearby, both of which required considerable walking around town to procure clues that would reveal the final coordinates. I suppose it goes without saying that I got up, threw on my boots, and went out after them. I had left in such a hurry, however, that when I reached the first of the two containers, I realized I had left my writing implement back in my room. Damnation, I had no means signing the frippin' log sheet! But yay—the container contained a pencil! However, I harbored grave doubts that the other would accommodate such an unforgivably forgetful geocacher. So I borrowed the pencil, made my way to the other cache, and used my borrowed implement to sign the log. Then, before returning to the hotel, I returned the pencil to its rightful location, as I would have felt guilty about depriving another unforgivably forgetful geocacher of such a basic benefit.

At last, I did return to my hotel room, fell over, and died.

Today, I came home. And much writing lies in wait for me.
My haunted chamber
The haunted parlor
Inside the igloo

Sunday, September 23, 2018

You Might Be a Geocacher If...

...someone walking down the street notices you looking like this...
Or perhaps like this...
It was a valiant attempt, I must say, but it was Old Bloody Rob (a.k.a. Robgso) who made the find on this little beast. It's a good thing I didn't immediately drink a glass of water, as there is some mighty prickly holly up in there.

Natalie (a.k.a. Ms. Fishdownthestairs), Bloody Rob (a.k.a. Robgso), and I all actually performed an impressive array of holly acrobatics over in Clemmons (just west of Winston-Salem), NC, this morning. We also found a nice grove of bamboo to play in, though it might have been nice to have a panda along to help us out. It turned out to be a profitable day out in the field, with 15 cache finds to our credit. Our team moniker today was The Walking Dead, though we carried with us no dead weight, as even Old Rob found a few. (Okay, okay, so Old Rob always pulls his weight. So what? Big deal.)

We hunted and killed some lunch at Cha Da Thai Restaurant, which made me super happy because Ms. B. and I so often gather with friends at the nearby, insanely excellent Carmine's Italian Restaurant but rarely manage to get over to its Asian neighbor. I've still got a pleasant little burn going on from the seafood basil fried rice, and that was hours ago.

So nice to be out on the caching trail again, after being on something of a forced hiatus due to hurricanes and such. There shall be more caching next weekend, I assure you.
A happy little cache guardian at "Thing 1 & Thing 2" (GC6PV1N)
That big feller is the size of a dinner plate.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Riding the Storm Out

Hurricane Florence hit the east coast hard the past couple of days, especially along the North and South Carolina coasts. Here in Greensboro and other areas of the Piedmont, we've all battened down the hatches (and cleaned out the bread and milk from every grocery store), but so far, we've avoided the brunt of it. Florence has been downgraded to a tropical storm, and despite a few deluges and some big winds, the damn-near apocalyptic event so many expected hasn't materialized. This is not a complaint.

That said, it's still dumping rain, and as anyone who follows me on social media probably knows, we lose power here if someone spits on the road. There's been a lot of spitting, and there's still a couple of days left of it in the forecast. I'm immensely thankful to have weathered things so well to this point. Hoping for the best until this beast passes into history.

I can probably go ahead and break into the hurricane snacks I stocked up on. Not bread and milk, I'll have you know.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Excerpt 2: West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman

Another little excerpt from West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, now in progress and due from Crossroad Press in early 2019. Look forward to some marvelously fun frights....

“Did you see them?” Vance asked.

“See what?” came the voice over his phone speaker.

Clearly, she had not, or Marybeth would know exactly what he was talking about. “Lights in the sky. Like UFOs.”

“Well, I guess that would explain it,” she said. “Several people from school have posted things about aliens landing. Ken Surber said it looked like something out of Star Wars out there. I thought maybe his dad was shooting off fireworks again.”

“You’re friends with Ken Surber online?”

“I am friends with Ken Surber online. And in real life too. Are you jealous?”

“No,” he said, a little too quickly. “Except that…oh, never mind. Mom and Dad and I all saw them. First it was some red lights, almost like meteors. Then there was this big, glowing cluster of lights over the TNT Area. Remember what I told you about the call my dad got?”

“About lights in the sky. Yes.”

“Dad said that people saw things like this back in the 1960s. When the Silver Bridge collapsed. Do you know anything about that?”

“Not really, no.”

“I think I’m going to have do some research.”

“You think there’s some connection between what happened in the 1960s and now?”

“That’s what I intend to find out for myself....”

Monday, September 3, 2018

Mothman Meets Midland

Chilling on Kimberly's parents' porch swing on a pleasantly cool evening
This August was about the sparsest month for blogging ever, but there's been way too much to keep me otherwise occupied, not least of which is my first entry in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scare series, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman. I've been pounding away diligently at this one, and am currently about a third of the way through the novel. It's my premiere effort at writing fiction for this age group (about 8–13), and it's been both challenging and refreshing. I'll post excerpts and news here and on the Ameri-Scares Facebook page.
It really wasn't.

This past week, Ms. Brugger and I journeyed to her hometown of Midland, MI, to spend several days with her parents, Del and Fern Brugger. I've had the pleasure of visiting that corner of the world a couple of times previously, and this trip turned out to be hectic, relaxing, productive, and, most of all, memorable. Ms. B.'s folks are surely among the sweetest folks I know, which sometimes makes me wonder how Ms. B. developed her unique temperament.

On Wednesday, 8/29, far earlier than the break of dawn, we headed out of Greensboro on a Delta Airlines MD88, made a connection in Atlanta, and arrived in Flint, MI, in the late morning. The Bruggers met us at Bishop International Airport and hauled our weary butts to Midland, about an hour's drive away. At the Brugger homestead, we were treated to a fine lunch, spent significant quality time together, and then, while the lazy bones among us took naps, the geocacher among us went bike riding and...geocaching. Found several, I did.

Since my visit last year, Midland has added a number of venues for spirits, food, and fun, including a "wine garden," which features wine and beer tastings, music, and various vittles. There, we met Kimberly's friend Darren, whom she has known since their dark, distant school days. We enjoyed tasting several red wines—all old world, somewhat to our surprise—and then wandered into Midland's downtown to check out a classy little establishment called Oxygen. All three of us approved of the atmosphere, service, and drinks. Upon our egress, Ms. B. let me grab a couple of geocaches, and then we returned to Chez Brugger to finish the relaxing we had begun earlier in the day.

Thursday, 8/30, turned out to be physically strenuous but otherwise rejuvenating. Early a.m., the lot of us set out for Sleeping Bear Dunes, on the northwest coast of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, in Leelanau and Benzie Counties. Just shy of the dunes, we stopped for lunch and a few geocaches in the scenic little town of Frankfort, MI. Here we found Dinghy's Restaurant & Bar, where we slaughtered some damned good barbecued pig, gigantic nacho plates, and tasty burgers. Then it was on to the dunes.

It's safe to say Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most impressive locations I've experienced. The dunes are massive, formed by glaciers and rising almost 500 feet above Lake Michigan. From the landward side, one can hike up and over several miles of dune, if one has the stamina. With Kimberly's parents along, we did not attempt the full hike, but her 81-year-old dad did make a good quarter-mile ascent, which was no small feat even for us non-octagenarians. At the overlook above Lake Michigan, you get a spectacular view of the dune, Lake Michigan, and North and South Manitou Islands out to the north. Although there are signs warning visitors not to descend the dunes because it may take up to two hours to climb back up (and if you need rescuing, you are financially responsible for it), dozens of people went all the way down and, presumably, climbed back up. We settled for taking in the view from the regulation overlooks, which provided perfect views of the location.
Kimberly and Delmar making their way up the dune from the parking area
Don't do it.
Looking down 500 feet. Those little specks on the dune are people making their ways up and down.
Looking out on Glen Lake, to the east, from atop the dune
Our outing at Sleeping Bear Dunes took a full day, so by the time we arrived back in Midland, it was getting late. During this and several periods of down time, I kept myself busy making considerable forward progress on Lair of the Mothman.

On Friday morning, I took a long bike ride around town to hunt some caches. Come lunchtime, Ms. B. and I hit Mancino's for a couple of delicious Italian grinders. (As an aside, Mancino's—and grinders—actually influenced my story "The Veil of Dreams" in Tails of Terror, a new anthology from Golden Goblin Press coming out at Halloween.) During the afternoon, Kimberly and her mom went antiquing, so I made more forward progress in Lair of the Mothman.

There was a geocaching event at the Tridge in Midland on Friday evening, so Kimberly and I dropped by to make the acquaintances of some of the local geocachers. I was familiar with a number of them from having found many of their hides. Ms. B. remarked that cachers there are not unlike cachers here, since they are, in general, amiable, intelligent, and creative. I like to think of our breed as dorky but rugged. Then she and I paid a visit to Maru Sushi & Grill, which wasn't inexpensive but proved quite delicious. For afters, we tried a couple of wine flights at Grape Beginnings Winery, which were pretty good, though I don't foresee Michigan wine achieving international renown in the very near future. And there were caches.

Saturday found us all heading over to Coleman, some miles west of Midland, to visit Del's sister Betty and her daughter Jeannie. I had met neither of them previously, and it may be said they are distinctly Brugger-ish, in the very best sense. We then sampled some of the wines at Coleman's Currant Mist Winery. See the above comments about Grape Beginnings, as they apply equally here. Ms. B. and I did manage to make our way to Whine!, probably my favorite destination in Midland to sample wine, though our visit was limited to a single glass for each of us, as they were closing early for the Labor Day holiday.

Yesterday—Sunday—was mostly mellow, as it was our last full day in Midland, and we had to get up at 3:30 this morning to get to Flint for our 6:00 a.m. flight back home. We did get out to the Freeland Antique Mall so Kimberly could pick up a couple of items that had interested her on her previous visit. And we discovered a couple of beautiful old cemeteries in my quest for geocaches.

We're safely back home now, and Comet TV is running a Godzilla marathon. It's not like I don't have them all to watch whenever I please, but I figure if they're showing, I probably ought to watch them. So I'm watching them and blogging. I hope you're having as nice a day.

You behave.
A fine Halloween setting at Pine Grove Cemetery in Midland
Some of the old stones found at Pine Grove Cemetery