Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The First Batch Is in the House!

The first copies of Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior just darkened my doorstep. It's my second entry in the Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series, and the design — as always from Crossroad Press — is top-notch. These books are perfect for young readers, ages 8–14, and also for adventure-loving adults. Please check out this one, and our other Ameri-Scares novels. And reviews are always appreciated. Thank you!

Monday, July 15, 2019

BBC's Quatermass & The Pit


Director Roy Ward Baker's Five Million Years to Earth (a.k.a. Quatermass and the Pit, Hammer, 1967), has long been one of my favorite horror/SF films. I saw it for the first time in my very early teens, and it has haunted me since then, much in the way Jacques Tourneur's Curse (Night) of the Demon has haunted me over the years. Having pre-ordered the upcoming Blu-ray of the 1967 film, I decided to also pick up the DVD of the 1958–59 BBC six-part serial Quatermass and the Pit, which I had never seen except for a few clips online. Last year, a remastered version of the serial was released on Blu-ray in the UK, but the domestic DVD that I picked up, from 2010, features video quality that is only fair.

Regardless, the original television serial proved a delight. Renowned screenwriter Nigel Kneale scripted both the television production and the Hammer film, and while both follow the same story, the serial, by way of its longer running time, more thoroughly develops the characters and concepts. In both serial and film, the story tells of eerie events that have been going on for centuries in the area known as Hobbs Lane (originally spelled "Hobs," referencing the devil). The serial devotes most of an entire episode (#2, "The Ghosts") to chronicling these events, which appear to be of supernatural origin. The discovery of fossilized remains of dwarf-like "ape men" and what appears to be a spacecraft buried at a Hobbs Lane construction site convince Professor Quatermass (André Morell) of the British Rocket Group and paleontologist Dr. Matthew Roney (Cec Linder) that the source of the creepy goings-on is extraterrestrial rather than supernatural.

Inside the spacecraft, the science team discovers a number of insect-like creatures with three legs and devilish-looking horns on their heads. Quatermass postulates that the creatures and spacecraft originally came from Mars. Using Dr. Roney's remarkable invention known as the Optic Encephalogram, which televises images generated within a human brain, Quatermass determines that, roughly five million years ago, Martians came to Earth and genetically altered the indigenous primates to be their slaves — ultimately resulting in the human race. Over the years, psychic emanations from the buried spacecraft triggered ancestral memories in sensitive individuals, thus generating the belief that "ghosts and demons" haunted Hobbs Lane.
Professor Bernard Quatermass (André Morell) and one of the locust-like creatures from the Martian spacecraft
The alien spacecraft unearthed at the construction site in Hobbs Lane
Much to Quatermass's dismay, the British government has transformed the Rocket Group, which he had created for peaceful space exploration and research, into a military organization and assigns Colonel James Breen (Anthony Bushell) to oversee the excavation. The high-strung and strident Breen believes the spacecraft to be nothing more than an experimental German buzz bomb from WWII, the creatures from within nothing more than fakes. Needless to say, sparks fly between the two opposing personalities.

André Morell as Quatermass and Anthony Bushell as Breen play well off other, perhaps even better than Andrew Keir and Julian Glover in those same roles in the 1967 film — not that either of those actors are slouches; they are, in fact, quite imposing in their talents. Although I grew up knowing Keir as Quatermass (and in my adult years, I saw Brian Donlevy in the role in The Quatermass Xperiment [a.k.a. The Creeping Unknown, 1955] and Quatermass 2 [a.k.a. Enemy From Space, 1957], having now experienced Morell in the part, I can't help but consider him the "definitive" Quatermass. His mannerisms and appearance convey the character's typically stern demeanor while displaying a tad more wit and humor than either of the other actors. (I recently caught a portion of 2005's The Quatermass Experiment, featuring Jason Flemyng in the role, and I cannot say I was wholly impressed.)

Bushell's portrayal of Breen is anything but reserved. Initially, he appears a reasonable enough personality — stoic, tempered by military discipline — but as events spiral beyond his control, he becomes shrill and willfully blind to the mounting, irrefutable evidence regarding the aliens. Cec Linder (probably best known as Bond sidekick Felix Leiter in 1964's Goldfinger) as Dr. Roney acts brasher and more boyish than the taciturn James Donald as Roney in the Hammer film. While Linder plays a believable and likable character, he cannot rival Donald's striking screen presence. Still, he provides a fitting counter to Quatermass's grimmer personality. Christine Finn as Roney's assistant Barbara Judd, despite having several strong moments, such as when she volunteers to use the Optic-Encephalogram, never conveys the intense, haunted quality actress Barbara Shelley brings to the role in the Hammer film.

When an electrical accident jolts the spacecraft, all hell breaks loose in the city of London. Much of the city's population succumbs to a "hive mind" mentality and begin to attack, en masse, individuals who are not part of the hive. Quatermass calls this the "Wild Hunt," a recreation of an ancient Martian purge of all life forms different from themselves. London becomes an inferno as the Martian mastermind — "Hob," as it is known — asserts itself across the land. Roney and Quatermass determine that electricity fuels this phenomenon and devise a means of countering and ultimately defeating Hob, though at the cost of Roney's life.

Being so familiar with the 1967 film, it's virtually impossible not to compare the two productions. In both, events proceed in mostly identical order, both generally well-paced and developed. Despite its relatively low budget, the serial does provide some striking visuals, especially those involving the locust-like Martian creatures. I daresay their design is superior to the film's, with more realistic — and believable — detail. In both productions, the original Martian Wild Hunt as viewed through Roney's Optic Encephalogram features distorted video of the event, but the serial's imagery plays far better, as in the film, the Martians appear to be nothing more than rigid miniatures, crudely controlled by puppeteers.

The build-up to Hob's corporeal manifestation, increasingly charged with tension, may also be superior to the film's. Conversely, though not unexpectedly, due to budget constraints, there is only a brief, not altogether satisfying shot of the monstrous Hob rising from the remains of the spacecraft to hover above London. Similarly, in the film, Roney's sacrificial act to destroy the alien is spectacular and memorable. The serial's necessarily low-key resolution feels at once tragic and anticlimactic. I can only imagine the impact it might have had to viewers long before the film came to be.

Story-wise, Quatermass and the Pit is the quintessential blending of science fiction and horror. Both BBC serial and Hammer film easily hold coveted places at the pinnacle of alien invasion scenarios. Having now seen both, it feels like I've experienced the best of all worlds, for both productions shine in their respective milieus.

The domestic Blu-ray release of the Hammer film comes later this month, and I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to view it again, this time with its predecessor fresh in mind. Together, in their own ways, these productions showcase Nigel Kneale's brilliant vision and screenwriting prowess as well as the vast talents of those involved in both serial and film.
Captain Potter (John Stratton), Colonel Breen (Anthony Bushell) and Quatermass (André Morell)
Barbara Judd (Christine Finn) and Dr. Roney (Cec Linder) with a reconstruction of a genetically altered primate
A manifestation of "Hob" towering over the city of London

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Big, Beastly Bison and Others

Three-quarters of Team COG on Lake Townsend: Fishdownthestair, Diefenbaker, and Old Rodan,
with Old Bloody One-Eyed Rob behind the lens
This past week, three new geocaches came out on Lake Townsend, all of which required a boat to access — unless one might be inclined to do some serious wading, as friend Ranger Fox, a.k.a. Christopher, did at one of them earlier this week. Today looked to be a beautiful, if somewhat scorching day for a paddle, so a number of the usual suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Old Bloody One-Eyed Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) — gathered this morning to see if we might make short work of the three caches, and perhaps get first-to-finds on the two as yet unlogged. One of them — The Big, Beastly Bison (GC8AD72) — looked as if it might present some physical challenge, as the published description put it some distance up in a tree whose limbs were not fit for climbing. So, we chose it as our first target.
Diefenbaker preparing to retrieve The Big, Beastly Bison

Once at ground zero, we spotted the container quickly and considered our various options. Diefenbaker had brought ropes and tackle; Fishdownthestair came with her prodigious height (roughly 5' 1"), which we figured sufficient to conquer any vertical challenge; Old Rob brought his customary bad attitude; and I had built up a substantial reserve of sheer brute strength after enjoying a couple of bottles of The Old Infuriator with Ms. B. late last night.

In the end, using a combination of the aforementioned tools of the trade, we soon had the cache in hand. And hot diggity, the log sheet didn't have a mark on it. It does now. From there, we paddled on under a hot sun, occasionally relieved by a fair breeze. We made short work of "Temptation"(GC8AD6G), the one Ranger Fox had already found, and scored another nice FTF at "Turtle Point" (GC8AD2E). On the way back to the marina, we stopped at a handful of other caches some of our group had yet to find. We are nice that way. Except for me, I am told. I am merely that villainous scum at the front of the pack.

Afterward, three of our number, sans Old Rob, sallied forth to Uptown Charlie's, not too far away, which has been the customary destination for lunch when our crowd is dripping wet after a geocaching outing. Their chicken wings with suicide sauce are to die for. I wouldn't be surprised if the staff wonders why, every time a certain group comes in, watery footprints appear on the floor. It is all rather ghostly.

Since the owners of the new lake caches — Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) and Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda) — live very near my route home, I made a brief stop at their place to offer my regards and thank them for the caches.

And now, so many things to do and so little time. Au revoir, mes amis.
The Old Man and the Sea... er... Lake
Damned Rodan taking a breather

Saturday, July 13, 2019

It's Here! Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior


Yep! It is now officially released — in ebook and paperback, with audio book to follow soon — from Crossroad Press: my latest entry in Elizabeth Massie's Ameri-Scares series for young readers.


On a hike along the shores of Lake Superior, thirteen-year-old Anna Hendrix sees a huge creature rise from the waters, and — to her horror — sink a tour boat. Soon afterward, Jeff Grigg, also thirteen, encounters a similar but smaller creature in the woods around his parents' vacation house.

Unable to resist investigating, both Anna and Jeff venture into the nearby forests. They meet each other at a huge waterfall, where they discover a hidden cave. Inside it, they find a cave painting of a creature that resembles the ones they have seen. Suddenly, in a bizarre twist of time and space, the youngsters are transported to strange, unknown land, vastly different from the Michigan they know. Here, they meet a mysterious but friendly young man who calls himself Skyhawk. He claims to be a member of a civilization that can only be reached by way of the cave.

In this bizarre land, huge monsters roam freely. Skyhawk and his people worship the beasts as gods. But while the people of this land appear welcoming, Anna and Jeff discover they hide a deadly secret. And the two youngsters realize they must somehow find their way back home before the passage between the two worlds closes forever.
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Each Ameri-Scares novel is based on or inspired by an historical event, folktale, legend, of myth unique to that particular state.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Summer of Lovecraft Is Coming


From the editors of World War Cthulhu: A Collection of Lovecraftian War Stories...

Cthulhu
meets flower power in this weird, wild, trippy, far-out, cosmic, and horrific anthology. Summer of Lovecraft - Cosmic Horror in the 1960s, edited by Brian M. Sammons & Glynn Owen Barrass, published by Dark Regions Press. For my part, I consider Short Wave to be one of my most eerie and disturbing tales.

There are FIVE days left in the Dark Regions Press Summer Sale where you can pre-order Summer of Lovecraft, which features the following stories and authors:


Night Trippers by Lois H. Gresh
Operation Alice by Pete Rawlik
The Summer of Love by C.J. Henderson
Being for the Benefit of Mr. Sullivan by Lee Clark Zumpe
Dreamland by David Dunwoody
Lost In the Poppy-Fields of Flesh by Konstantine Paradias
Five To One by Edward M. Erdelac
Keeping the Faith by Samantha Stone
Mud Men by Sean Hoade
Misconception by Jamie D. Jenkins
No Colors Anymore by Joe L. Murr
Shimmer and Sway by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Short Wave by Stephen Mark Rainey
The Song that Crystal Sang by Tom Lynch
Through a Looking Glass Darkly by Glynn Owen Barrass and Brian M. Sammons
The Color from the Deep by William Meikle
The Long Fine Flash by Edward Morris
Just Another Afternoon in Arkham, Brought to You in Living Color by Mark McLaughlin and Michael Sheehan, Jr.
Crystal Blue Persuasion by Jeffrey Thomas

Initially, Summer of Lovecraft is being released as ebook, but a paperback release will follow shortly. Pre-order in the next FIVE days at the Dark Regions Press Summer Sale.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Buzzing Around Myrtle Beach with Team Crabby

Ah, the beach! Ms. B. and I have had some mighty good times at the beach in recent days. And once again, our good friends BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry) & Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget) invited us, as well as friends Terry & Beth, to spend the Fourth of July weekend with them at their condo in North Myrtle Beach. We had intended to make the trip down at Memorial Day, but circumstances didn't allow for it at the time. I was a little leery of hitting Myrtle Beach over July 4th because... well, you know... 18-million-billion people, but in our undaunted wisdom or foolishness, we decided to brave the onslaught of humanity and sally forth. So, last week, Ms. B. and I packed up the necessary beach and geocaching gear, left our respective animals in very good hands, and, on Thursday at the ass-crack of dawn, hit the road in the Damned Rodan mobile. Heading down, we didn't stop for all that many geocaches, but at least I found a handful of nice ones. I took some serious back-back roads, so except for a short stretch around Chadbourne, SC, holiday traffic turned out to be a non-issue.

We arrived just about lunchtime, so after settling ourselves into Gerry & Bridget's condo, we hauled ourselves over to the nearby Ultimate California Pizza for... wait for it... pizza, and then across the courtyard to one of our favorite places ever, Coastal Wine Boutique for... wait for it... wine. It's pretty much the only place for a rather ridiculous radius where one can actually get very good (non-local) wine, and they do have some very nice wines.

In the same area, we have The Pepper Palace, home of the Wall of Flame Challenge, where one is given a little shot of super-hot sauce followed by a little shot of super-super hot horseradish. Well, of course I did the damned thing (I actually did this once before, I believe on my first visit to Barefoot with Gerry & Bridget). It was pretty hot, but nothing I couldn't handle with relative ease. Certainly not as painful as my favorite burger in the world—the Welsh Dragon Burger at The Celtic Fringe in Reidsville, not too far from here. Anyway, I enjoyed the heat, and I picked up some good hot BBQ sauce for my own good hot cooking.

After our outing, we made mellow at the condo until later in the evening, when we ventured forth to check out Barefoot Resort's fireworks extravaganza. Here, we did have to suffer a fair crush of humanity to procure a viewing space, but this we did, and our vantage point turned out to be pretty good. The show was fun, if not spectacular (earlier in the evening, someone in area had put on a show of their own, and, ironically, it was superior). We enjoyed ourselves immensely, and a regular application of wine kept our gears turning smoothly.
The Wall of Flame Challenge: before and after
Do not feed these beasts!
Friday morning, before the sun had climbed much above the horizon, I was awakened by a voice that sounded remarkably like Bridget's whispering, "Mark... Mark... Mark... Do you want to go geocaching?" About ten seconds later, I was dressed, with GPS in one hand and coffee in the other. Thus armed, I set out with BigG and Suntigres, and we rambled all around North Myrtle Beach, snagging caches wherever we might. Fortune failed to smile on us at a handful of them, so we ended up logging DNFs, but the good ones more than made up for the failures. The highlight of the outing was at Heritage Shores Nature Preserve along Cherry Grove Marsh, where we went after an exceedingly cool cache called "What's Up Dock?" (GC1M62B). Here, we encountered entertaining critters of all sorts, including fiddler crabs (by the thousands), a snake, cranes, egrets, cormorants, and kingfishers. The cache itself turned out to be a prime example of ingenious craftsmanship, and the preserve is one of the most striking in the area. Since we ended up mingling with so many crabs, we decided to call ourselves Team Crabby. Well, okay, so I decided to call us Team Crabby. Not that any of us are crabby. Ever. Nope.
Fiddler crab
View across Cherry Grove Marsh
Boardwalk that leads to the cache
While the three of us were caching, Brugger, Terry, and Beth remained at the condo to lounge at the pool. On our way back, a storm blew in, and a lightning bolt that was probably visible all the way to Barcelona struck quite nearby. We calculated at that point that our friends had just vacated the pool with all haste. Upon our return, they told us that when a lightning bolt that was probably visible all the way to Barcelona struck quite nearby, they vacated the pool with all haste. We understood.

By this time, hunger had reared its ugly head, so we decided to try out Greg Norman Australian Grill at Barefoot Landing. It's a nice enough spot, with classy ambiance and a reasonably upscale menu. Sadly, the service started out lacking, with no one attending to us for an unseemly long time. Apparently, none of the staff had informed the servers they had seated us. Anyway, they made reasonable amends. Our food proved excellent, the wine—Greg Norman's own label—fair. Overall, I'll give them a B, and I'd return when we're down that way.

At Coastal Wine Boutique, our personable and knowledgeable host had warned us that none of the nearby vino establishments served any serviceable dry wines—not that we really needed any warning, for this is Myrtle Beach—but we decided to gird our loins and try out Carolina Vineyards in Barefoot Landing, just because it was there and we are nothing if not dedicated and stalwart oenophiles. I mean, we have tried dry South Carolina wine before, and it is not to write home about, unless one is writing a horror novel. So... oh my lord... the dry wines here about sent us into hysterics because I don't know what that stuff was. In all fairness, most people around those parts prefer the sweet, refreshing wines, and if I drank sweet wines, I'd probably say Carolina Vineyards' sweets are more than adequate. I will admit that I quite liked their cherry chocolate wine slushy. And yes, I did, I did try a wine slushy, and you can just shut your mouth.

And after all that, although our lunch had been late, Bridget wanted us to head northward to Little River, where a haunted house-turned-restaurant/wine bar awaited our attention. Brentwood Restaurant, which supposedly has its share of ghosts, also has some fine alcoholic spirits and incredible food. We didn't eat much, but we did sample some excellent wine and what had to be the best escargot I've ever tasted (yes, I am a fan). We didn't see any ghosts, but I sure hope we have a chance to return in the not-too-distant future to sample a more sizable portion of their plentiful fare. It was easily my favorite dining establishment we experienced on this trip.
The mad photobomber strikes!
The haunted Brentwood Restaurant in Little River, SC
Our big ol' fun outing for Saturday was a Segway tour around North Myrtle Beach Park & Sports Complex, which includes a lengthy and very scenic nature trail. Gerry and Bridget had ridden Segways before, but none of the rest of us had, so we had a trainer/guide named Garfield who showed us the ropes. Garfield did a fine job, to be sure. Even we tyros were up and going in no time, buzzing around the place with something like reasonable control of our machines.
Buzzing around the beach

Garfield led us around the park, first in the smooth, paved parking lot; then on grass, around the soccer field; and finally, on the nature trails, which in places turned out to be pretty rugged. I felt confident (not cocky) on the machine and fortunately handled the various terrain without mishap. Alas, a few other members of our party, including Ms. B., suffered a couple of damn-near serious woopsy-daisies. Happily, although a bit of blood spilled, the biggest casualty of the day was likely a few ounces of pride. I loved the whole business and, since Segway tours do run much closer to home, I hope our group can do one again (next time without anyone falling over).

To fill out the rest of the day, we had some vittles at Lulu's (owned by Lucy Buffet, Jimmy's sister), which was all right, and some later goodies at Filet's tiki bar, which was all right, and then we returned to the condo and dunked ourselves in the pool. Also all right. No lightning this time.

And today, back home. Early in the trip, we made out well, as I again took the backest of back roads to avoid traffic—again successfully. It wasn't until much closer to home that the trouble started. An accident in Rockingham, NC, backed up traffic for miles, and once we got out of that, thunderstorms began in earnest, and these were real gullywashers. Made driving some kind of treat. Regardless, although the finish didn't exactly make my day, we had such a good time in the overall that the unpleasantness of the drive shall quickly fade.

These outings with good friends are the things that make the best memories, and I will treasure these particular memories as long as the old brain deigns to allow. Hang in there, old brain!
L: Beth's pre-Segway glamour shot; R: buzzing through the forest on the nature trail
Team Crabby on Segways! Terry, Gerry, Bridget, Kimberly, Old Dude, Beth

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Virus

No, I'm not ill. "Virus" is the title of my latest completed short story, which has been sent to the editor of a specific anthology, which I can't yet name, though you can be assured I'll be hollering it all over the place if and when the story is accepted. It is, to my mind, pretty creepy.

Here's a wee excerpt. In the tale, Scotty Griffin has witnessed a number of unusual phenomena. Strange images appearing on his computer display. His wife, Kendelle, undergoing a bizarre physical change. An unearthly light on the horizon. In this scene, he's concerned about Kendelle, who hasn't come home after several hours away. He hears distinct sounds of movement on the upper floor of the house, which should be unoccupied....

Another low shuffling sound. Definitely from upstairs.

“Kendelle?”

His voice sounded stark and hollow. No reply came.

He went up the stairs to their bedroom.

Empty.

The bathroom.

Empty.

The spare bedroom. The closets.

Empty.

He looked toward Kendelle’s art room. In there, she liked to paint, draw, practice calligraphy. The door hung half open. He was sure he had closed it when he came out.

Like a black ghost materializing, a shadow formed on the door.

The shadow of a human figure.

It was very tall.

His throat so parched he could barely utter words, he croaked, “Who’s there?”

From out of thin air, a deep, sonorous voice answered.

“No one.”


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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Extreme Way to 52 and Others


Another Sunday, another day of fairly extreme geocaching with Team No Dead Weight — today's personnel consisting of Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. Me). Not contented with last weekend's mostly aerial acobatics (see "Sunday Morning High," June 16, 2019), Todd invited us to join him today in the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia to hunt a few physically challenging caches. Our primary target was "Extreme Way to 52" (GC12ZVQ) a cache dating back to 2007. It's still in place, although the cache owner has apparently not been active for some time. It's been quite a while — a couple of years  — since anyone has logged it, so we didn't have any idea whether it would be in decent condition. (Ironically, we discovered that another group was out there today, but they failed to make the find.)

We anticipated a roughly two-hour drive from Greensboro. However, on our way to our target, an accident on US 52, apparently severe enough to close the entire northbound lane, caused an extensive back-up just this side of Pilot Mountain. We ended up having to detour, but rather than follow the endless line of cars moving at slug speed eastward, we opted to go west, take a couple of deserted back roads, and get back on 52 farther north. This route took us past an interesting-looking cache (TOM-TOM, GC5EW6F) at a bridge over Tom-Tom Creek. When we arrived at ground zero, a relatively brief search turned up the cache, but what really caught our interest was literally hundreds of clearly new cigarette packs rushing past us in the river. On and on they came, and after a few moments, it struck me that the mostly likely explanation was that they almost certainly came from a cigarette truck that had been in an accident — indeed, the very accident that forced us to detour, quite a few miles east of us. Once back home, a perusal of the local news proved that our supposition was correct: "Multi-Vehicle Crash Closes Part of US 52 for Several Hours"
Not so easy to see in the photo, but there are hundreds of cigarette packs racing downstream,
result of an accident on US 52, several miles away
Thanks to the detour, we ended up a little late meeting Tbbiker, so we immediately set out on our quest for our primary target. It took almost no time to locate the entrance to the Underworld as described on the cache page. We had all come prepared for the subterranean trek, so we switched on our flashlights and made our way into the Stygian darkness. Since it goes under I-77 and comes out on the other side, we had anticipated a relatively short underground excursion. As it turns out, the tunnel bends and follows the length of the interstate for some distance rather than going straight across. Happily, the tunnel was mostly large enough to walk upright — only a short section of the passage a couple of hundred feet in was low enough to gong Old Rodan right in the head. On and on we went, and after some 900 feet or so, we saw dim light ahead in the distance.

We booked it to our exit, but here, there was a ten-foot incline of about 45 degrees, with water pouring down it. The concrete looked slippery. We tested it. It was slippery. But our boots had just enough traction for us to monkey-crawl up the incline and out to dry land. Now we faced a daunting, prodigious mountainside leading to the roadbed of Old US 52, several hundred feet above us (which is the basis for cache's name). Shades of Bald Mountain (see "Temple of Doom," June 9, 2019), a couple of weeks ago! A couple of us struggled more or less directly up the incline, while a couple of us sought and found less rigorous alternatives. Eventually, we all met on the roadbed, some of us aching and spent, some of us laughing at those of us who were aching and spent. We marched on for a while, and soon enough, Diefenbaker spied our quarry: a nice big ammo can... way the hell up on top of a steep, rocky cliff. Happily, we found a fine enough way to achieve that altitude, and — at last — we settled ourselves, took a breather, and scribbled our monikers in the 12-year-old, almost pristine logbook.

Of course, now we had to turn around and retrace our route back to the beginning. Returning to the tunnel was far easier, now we had a better frame of reference for the location. Along the way, we discovered the remains of an old car in the woods, which Diefenbaker attempted, unsuccessfully, to drive back to the tunnel. Once back at the entrance, Diefenbaker and I opted to negotiate the treacherous slope back into the tunnel, while Tbbiker and Ms. FDTS opted to utilize a much smaller, tighter pipe that connected with the main one. I'm sure we all had fun, though I think Diefenbaker and I had more.
Gathering coordinate information and contemplating our escape
Signing the cache log
Baby, you can drive my car!
A couple of wet puppy dogs make their way out of the tunnel, now facing a long,
slippery incline one must negotiate in order to escape the Stygian darkness.

Back at our vehicles, some of us got out of our wet clothing while others of us remained a little drippy (I might have left a puddle). From there, we headed down toward the Appalachian Trail and a cache called "Low Water Trail" (GCBDE1). This one proved far less challenging overall, and the journey took us through numerous tunnels of mountain laurel, through streams, and over little waterfalls. At GZ, we found ourselves once again staring up a massive incline, and the cache turned out to be a hundred feet or more straight up. Lord have mercy! By now, we're needed more and longer rest breaks, not to mention some extra water, but... so far... we old people are all still holding up.

Our egress called for us to pass a cache called "Acrophobia at 3,000 Feet" (GC1BF11), which, as you might guess, requires achieving a certain elevation in order to find the cache. Happily, while the point where the cache is located is at an elevation of 3,000 feet, we start out after it from an altitude of about 2,950 feet. Relatively easy to get to, far more difficult to find. This one took us a little while, even though it turns out its hiding place and method really weren't much beyond the obvious. The cache was enjoyable, but our views of the highway, valleys, and mountains from this altitude were staggering. From the trail, if you go a few feet to the south, you fall about 30 feet. If you go a few feet to the north, you fall over 100 feet. We took great care not to fall. Tbbiker took a photo of me standing perhaps a little too close to the higher edge, but since you can't see my feet in the pic, you don't quite get the full effect. Oh, well... it was exhilarating.
I-77, seen from "Acrophobia at 3,000 feet"
A precarious spot with a beautiful view
We ended the outing proper with a couple of more easy-to-find caches, and then an early dinner at Sagebrush Steak House in Wytheville. It was acceptable.

I know not what geocaching plans may be hatched between now and next weekend, but let us hope it is something we can all get a charge from. Maybe some kind of electrical gadget cache. Join us again next time for another step in the walk of the unknown. Until then, I'm your host, Damned Rodan, saying —
Team No Dead Weight: Old Rodan, Diefenbaker, Tbbiker, Fishdownthestair

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Crossroad, Crossword... Copy Editors Matter



A couple of weeks back, I submitted a bit of promo material about West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman to the Sunday book section of The Greensboro News & Record (greensboro.com), and it apparently came out, in print and online, this past Sunday. It's a slightly edited presentation of the original write-up I sent them, but they blundered by naming the publisher Crossword Press rather than Crossroad. (Copy editors matter, people.) Otherwise, the piece turned out okay, and a little local publicity never hurts. Check it out here: "What I'm Writing."

Crossword. Oy.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sunday Morning High


You might be a geocacher if you spend your Sunday morning getting high. In this case, quite literally.

The usual suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott); Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie); Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob, a.k.a. Boody Rob, a.k.a. Old Bloody One-Eyed Rob, a.k.a. Rob); Rtmlee (a.k.a. Yoda Rob, a.k.a Robbin); and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me) — converged on Cary, NC, this morning, once again under the team moniker "No Dead Weight." Tradition has it that when Yoda Rob is along, we go by "Team Dead Weight," but we decided not to have any of that stuff this trip because we knew we weren't going to have any of that stuff this trip.

And so we didn't. We started our day at a challenging, puzzle/multi-cache titled "And So It Begins" (GC410G9), which involves four stages, with the container for each stage placed at a higher elevation. We found the first one about head high. The second one would have been well above our heads, except the tree in which it resided had fallen over. Thus, it lay barely above the ground (I hope the cache owner will decide to come out and re-hide it at a more appropriate elevation). The third stage... well... it was a fair height above our heads, so Diefenbaker very kindly offered his services as a stepping stool (and a sturdy one too!) so I could climb for the cache. We knew the final stage would likely require a somewhat more specialized tool of the trade than Diefenbaker, and it just so happened that he had brought one. It required lugging the heavy tool some distance into the woods, but in the end, it paid off in spades.
Success! Old Dude signs the log sheet

The cache hangs about 25 feet up in an arched tree (see photo). Theoretically, one could ascend up the arch, although it's surely difficult, as there isn't a limb on it for a while. There are a few knobs one might use as foot- and handholds, and quite a few finders have actually done this. But since I didn't want the very old gentlemen (and that very young woman) to feel they had wasted their time and energy lugging that big old ladder through the woods, I reluctantly agreed* to use it to make my ascent.

Once I hauled myself up there, signed the log, and came back down to earth, the rest of the team took turns going up and down just for good measure. The fun soon came to an end, though, and so we hauled the ladder back up to the vehicle and continued on our way to several other caches in the area. We finished the day with the relatively small total of eight finds (and three DNFs [Did Not Find]), but the quantity mattered less than the quality of the hides, the excitement of the hunt, and the great time with a bunch of great friends.

For afternoon vittles, we headed over to The Big Easy Oven & Tap, which we had visited on a recent trip to Cary (the one where we lost Old Rob in a parking garage; see "Where's Rob?" May 19, 2019). Gator bites, fried oysters, beef brisket nachos, Pernicious Wicked Weed Ales, and other goodies helped revive a bunch of exhausted old farts (and one very young woman).

So it's been a satisfying weekend, what with chowing down on gators, scorpions, crickets, and dragon burgers, as well as drinking wine, ascending to great heights, taking care of necessary business, and taking another step in the walk of the unknown. Until next time, I'm your host, Damned Rodan, saying —
Team No Dead Weight (with Old Rob behind the camera)
Gator bites at The Big Easy Oven & Tap
*This is horseshit. I needed that ladder real bad.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Anyone for Scorpion?

Manchurian Scorpion, to be precise. Tastes quite like a very salty pistachio with a hint of fish on the finish. I had a couple of them, then chased them with a handful of crickets roasted in honey mustard.

Today was Bug Festival at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville. Since I had to attend to Mum this weekend anyway, Ms. Brugger agreed to accompany me that we might attend the Bug Festival, among other festive thingummies. Last night, we left Greensboro and headed to the Third Bay for dinner with our friends Stephen and Samaire Provost, who had moved to Martinsville from California several months ago. As always, the food, drink, and company made for a better-than-pleasant evening. Quite by happenstance, at the restaurant, we ran into geocaching friend VAVAPAM (a.k.a. Pam), whom I had earlier introduced to Stephen because he was writing a book about the history of department stores, and Pam's family used to own Globman's Department Store in uptown Martinsville. Globman's was a bona fide fixture in town for most of a century, and it's nice to see it getting coverage in Stephen's upcoming book.
After dinner, Ms. B. and I had a number of errands to run, which kept us out later than we expected. Still, since it was such a beautiful — almost chilly — evening, once we retired to Mum's, we sat out on the back deck with a bottle of good wine until the morning's wee hours.
Ben R. Williams, the museum's
Science Administrator-cum-bug-
server extraordinaire

This morning, we scrounged up a tasty breakfast at Daily Grind uptown, where I have, on occasion, made an unpleasant racket on my guitar. No noise today, just coffee and a really good (and huge) bacon, egg, & cheese croissant. Then to the museum for the Bug Fest. We found a decent crowd (it got much more crowded later) and a passel o' bugs. Everything from tarantulas to crayfish to walking stick insects to to vinegaroons to giant mantises to hissing Madagascar cockroaches (I used to co-habitate with Madagascar cockroaches in Chicago, courtesy my roommate Bill). And then the pièce de résistance, the "Eat a Bug" challenge. My friend Ben R. Williams, formerly a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin, now Science Administrator at the museum, manned the food corner, with plentiful supplies of Manchurian scorpions, water beetles, and crickets.

So, have a look back the beginning of this blog entry. Yummy bugs. They probably won't move to the top of my dietary staples, but I didn't find them at all objectionable. Ben did warn me that the water beetle was anything but appetizing, so that's the only one I didn't try. Some other time, perhaps.
Following the festival, I did maintenance on a few of my nearby geocaches. Then we had to hit to road for Reidsville, to meet friends Suntigres (a.k.a. Bridget) and BigG7777 (a.k.a. Gerry) for lunch at The Celtic Fringe. The bugs hadn't spoiled my appetite, though — both Bridget and I availed ourselves to their Welsh Dragon Burger, which comes adorned with Carolina Reaper Pepper sauce. That is hot, hot, HOT stuff, I can tell you. It's the best burger in the world. Bridget and I laughed. We cried. We cried A LOT. And I brought some of that sauce home so I can cry all over again. Scorpion stings ain't got nothing on this hot stuff.

We concluded our outing by visiting the Patrick-Watson graveyard, which is a tiny little boneyard in the remote woods between Greensboro and Reidsville. I had already found the geocache there, but Gerry & Bridget still needed it. They made short work of the cache, and we spent some pleasant time out there among the dead. Brugger made some rubbings of the old gravestones (which date back to the late 18th/early 19th centuries).

Despite the allure of the grave sites, we left no man (or woman) behind, and back home we came. It's already been a busy and satisfying weekend, and there is more geocaching on the docket for tomorrow. Till then, be goot!
Three geocachers and one muggle at The Celtic Fringe in Reidsville
Suntigres watching out for the Walking Dead on her approach to the cache
Ms. B. making rubbings on one of the old gravestones
Yeah, they're dead, they're all messed up.