Saturday, March 30, 2019

Tying the Geoknot

Friends Gerry (a.k.a. BigG7777) and Bridget (a.k.a. Suntigres), whom I originally met via geocaching — Bridget almost exactly a decade ago — have been a happy couple for a couple of happy years now. They quite recently tied the knot, at least in the eyes of the law. I discovered this when I read one of BigG's cache logs, which was along the lines of "I had kind of a busy day today. Went to the grocery store, found this cache, got married." Now, this justice-of-the-peace wedding may have been good and legal and everything, but Gerry and Bridget also wanted to have a something of a celebratory ceremony— albeit a small one — to set themselves walking on the path of fate. So they decided to get married at Gerry's castle in Kernersville, which is precisely what happened this afternoon. For reasons I'm not sure anyone can explain, they had the incredibly poor judgment to invite me to officiate their "fun" wedding. And because I am fully capable of making just as poor a decision as the next person, I agreed to do this thing.

The ceremony kicked off about 1 o'clock in the p.m., with just a handful of friends and family. As the ranking geocachevangelist, I delivered a short but sweet set of vows for them to live by, and things went fairly swimmingly. Brugger had transcribed a portion of the vows I wrote onto one of her beautiful pieces of artwork, friends Terry and Beth provided a nice frame, and we presented it the happy couple following the ceremony (see image below).

That portion of the vows reads: "I have known Bridget for almost exactly a decade now, and during these years, I have seen happy Bridget, sad Bridget, mad Bridget, energetic Bridget, exhausted Bridget, and 'I'm gonna break both your arms' Bridget. Until Gerry came into her life, I had never seen wonderfully, deeply, contentedly in-love Bridget. I see that now every time I see her. And having come to know and respect Gerry in these past couple of years, I see a warm, generous, and unselfish gentleman who deserves every bit of happiness that I pray will come their way."

I do hope these two will find the lasting happiness they both deserve, and in all seriousness, it couldn't have meant more to me that they asked me to officiate at their wedding. They have become a couple of my dearest friends in the world, and I consider it a true honor to be included in their celebration.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Easy Puzzles

I hate puzzle caches. Hate them. Most puzzle caches — geocaches that require solving some variety of puzzle to procure the containers' actual coordinates — involve research, encryptions, decryptions (sometimes multiple), science, mathematics, logic, and somehow reading the cache hider's mind. More often than not, solving these fuckers requires considerable computer time. Me, I go geocaching to get away from the goddamn computer. I'm on the computer all day, every day, at the office, then I come home and spend most of each evening writing — always on some specific project, oftentimes on social media or this blog (sometimes bitching about being on the goddamn computer). My eyes and wrists do not appreciate extra computer time. Just give me coordinates and a good physical challenge or two, and I'm all good to go.

That said, just because I fucking hate them doesn't mean I'm not going to fucking attempt them. They're geocaches, for chrissakes, and I am a geocacher.

So it was actually a relief the other day to to see 48 puzzle caches come out as part of a series called "EASY Puzzle Geoart." Geoart is pretty much what it sounds like: the cache icons are arranged on the map to form a discernible pattern (see the above photo for an illustration of this series). The published coordinates of each cache in the pattern define where the icon appears on the map, not where the cache container resides. To find the actual coordinates of each cache, you have to solve a puzzle. Because the CO (cache owner) of this series is not a monster, the puzzles in this series mostly follow established formulas that are easy to determine, and there are hints aplenty (not to mention a coordinate checker to verify you've solved each puzzle correctly). Thus, even a dullard like me can figure these things out. It still takes a bit of computer time, but you mostly make steady forward progress rather than spin your wheels stuck on possibility after possibility with little or no indication whether you're on the right track.

Today, since I was off work, Team No Dead WeightMs. Fishdownthestair, Old Robgso, et moi — joined up to do some puzzle cache damage. Between us, over several days, we had each solved some or all of the puzzles, so we had these little bastards dead to rights. Indeed, virtually all the caches were well-placed and easily accessible. We had a bad moment when we couldn't find what should have been an easy hide, but we contacted the CO to report the potential problem, and only a few minutes later, here she comes to check things out personally. Indeed, the container had flown the coup, so she replaced it on the spot, thus allowing us to log our find and virtually assure our successful completion of the geoart.

And complete it we did. The puzzles, while not necessarily enjoyable, gave me no headaches, and getting to the caches involved driving through a mostly appealing rural countryside. We knocked out a handful of additional caches in the area, so we finished our day with a completed geoart and 51 finds under each of our belts.

That was a damn nice day.
Team No Dead Weight: Old Man, Young Lady, Older Man
Moo-Moo Land
Do not trespass in Moo-Moo Land.
Half Ass-tronaut?

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Big Pete

Or...To DNF or Die, That Is the Question*
This is not Big Pete, but possibly one of his little baby relatives. Pete was like 50 feet long.
He was the biggest, rudest, most belligerent specimen of Agkistrodon contortrix I had ever encountered on the geocaching trail. And he stood — or, more accurately, coiled — between me and a long-sought-after geocache. (I call him “he” because he had particularly masculine shoulders.) Big, big snake, this copperhead, and he clearly had no intention of allowing me to pass. Indeed, the cache lay deep within his territory, and I'm sure, from his perspective, I was the rude one, especially since he had not bitten me when he had the chance. Still, rude or not, I intended to reach at least the first stage of this reputedly compact multi-stage cache. There was nothing for it but to trespass deeper into Mr. Snake’s domain.

I had set out after the cache on a warm spring afternoon. Despite its three-and-a-half-star (out of five) terrain rating, I figured the hunt couldn't be too long or difficult, as the location was a relatively small wooded area behind a shopping center on the edge of town. Ground zero for the first stage appeared to be a couple of hundred feet behind the parking lot, somewhere beyond a barrier of dense foliage. Once parked in a handy, nearby location, I grabbed my gear and set out toward the waypoint indicated on my battered but trusty old Garmin.

I had barely gone a hundred feet when the terrain descended sharply toward a small stream, and I could see, some distance away, the gaping mouth of a dark culvert — the very spot to which my GPS pointed. As is my custom whenever I know I’ll be leaving pavement, I had come prepared for such a venture: waterproof boots, long pants, gloves, flashlight, hiking stick. The steep hillside leading down to the stream was strewn with rocks of all shapes and sizes, creating a series of stairsteps that appeared easy enough to negotiate. As yet, I could not determine the depth of the water at the culvert’s mouth, but I hoped it wouldn’t be so deep that I’d end up getting my feet soaked.

I had just set foot on the first rock at the top of the hill when something shot out from beneath it like a bolt of dark lightning. Only for a brief flash did my eyes lock on that bolt, but that was enough for me to identify it as a very large copperhead — four to five feet long, and as big around as my forearm. At least he had been neighborly enough to vacate the premises rather than chomp on one of my extremities.

“Sorry, snake!” I called, hoping this might placate him if he were still lurking about. “Good snake,” I muttered to myself. “Nice snake.” At that moment, I decided to name him Big Pete.

Now, snakes don’t bother me a bit. In fact, I’m quite fond of them — at least the non-venomous variety. On my thousands of geocaching outings over a decade or so, I’ve encountered countless black racers, rat snakes, garter snakes, corn snakes, king snakes, and others, including a handful of copperheads and once a rattler, but these more dangerous specimens have always preferred to either go the other way or simply lounge about so I might easily avoid them. Something told me that Pete, the biggest such beast I had ever encountered, might decide to get ornery. After all, I had stepped on him, or at least on his shelter of choice.

Okay. Big Pete is somewhere down yonder. The cache, also, is somewhere down yonder.

The water was flowing out of the culvert, so I thought, well, maybe Big Pete ventured downstream, since that would be the more relaxing course. After all, if I were a snake who had just been trodden upon, I would by all means prefer the more relaxing course. So, down the rocks to the stream I went. Happily, the water appeared only a few inches deep. I figured I could venture into the dark tube, which was large enough to enter at a crouch rather than a crawl, without getting my socks and/or drawers wet. I moved cautiously, still uncertain as to the direction Big Pete had taken. As I reached the opening to the pipe, I saw no sign of him and began to breathe a little easier.

I bent down and took my first step into the cool darkness. And just ahead in the dim light that filtered into the pipe, I glimpsed something long and large wriggling through the water toward me.

I stumbled and splashed back into daylight. Big Pete came rocketing out of the culvert, jaws spread wide, maneuvering close enough for a single good lunge to have me dead to rights.

Tempting fate, I spun around, taking my eyes off my pursuer, and spied a rock the size of a football a short distance away. I lurched toward it, grabbed it, spun around, and chucked it at Big Pete. SPLASH!, went the rock, right in front of our charging viper, hurling him backward into the pipe. Once again I had spoiled Big Pete's relaxing afternoon.

Now mad, pissed, livid, and bent on chomping my leg, Pete gathered himself and came at me again. But my counterattack had served to put a few more feet of distance between us. I picked up another good-sized rock and heaved it at him. This time, the impact sent him flying, twisting and writhing, high into the air, and when he plummeted back into the water, he coiled up to regroup and rethink. I could see his little gears grinding as he considered his best angle of attack. But by now, I was moving as fast as I could in the direction I had come. I finally regained the rocks and scrambled toward high ground. Blessedly, Big Pete remained coiled in the stream, his bright, beady viper eyes shooting daggers at me.

There is a time for persistence and a time to cut one’s losses. At this point, soaked and enervated, I opted to post a DNF ("Did Not Find") log and ignore this cache's existence until hibernation season. “Adios, Pete!” I called. I’m pretty sure that if he had arms, he would have waved a not-so-fond farewell.

To my dismay, before I could return to that cache, it was archived due to — of all things — the second stage going missing and the cache owner deciding not to replace it. So, my adventure with Big Pete ended up being for naught, other than providing me one of the most intense adrenaline rushes of my life.

All this was a few years ago, so I don’t know whether Big Pete is still around. If he is, I hope he finally managed to get some much-needed relaxation without being trodden upon. I reckon he deserves it.
*This recounting was initially written for a geocaching-themed publication, which has apparently fallen into eternal limbo. Thus I am posting it here. I hope you find it gripping, mortifying, and fun. At the time, I was not having so much of the fun, no sir.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

R.I.P. Wilum H. Pugmire

This morning, following a long spell of serious health issues, author, former Mormon missionary, ageless gay punk, and longtime friend Wilum H. Pugmire left this world forever, at least in body. It seems to me that no one who has been more than casually immersed in the world of dark fiction over the past few decades didn't know Wilum. His prose, heavily influenced by Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and others, has appeared in countless publications and in several collections of his work (with more to come). He contributed several stories to Deathrealm in its day, which became some of my favorite tales I ever published. He is, without question, one of the most memorable characters I've known in this life, even though we sadly never met face to face.

To casual observers, Wilum might have sometimes appeared ominous, even frightening, as he enjoyed donning all manner of costumes in all seasons. Yet Wilum was anything but frightening. He was a sensitive, gentle, thoughtful, and kind individual, who championed causes for marginalized people. Being gay, more than occasionally flamboyant (often at the darker end of the spectrum), and anything but wealthy, he knew first-hand about having to struggle in this world. He could be moody, but at least in my experience, never hostile. In all the years he and I frequented the same or similar circles in the world of dark literature, I would be hard-pressed to think of a single derogatory remark ever aimed at him. As does anyone, I'm sure he had his detractors, but by all indications, his must have been few in number. And my guess is that such people simply did not understand him, or care to try.

I first encountered the name "Bill Pugmire" around 1970, in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, to which he frequently contributed letters of comment, and in Greg Shoemaker's venerable Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, to which he also contributed letters and columns. In my young mind at the time, I considered him famous. Somewhere along the line, I'm not sure when, we struck up a long-running correspondence, occasionally chatting on the phone (which he claimed to not be fond of, though he could sure carry on a good conversation). In the 1980s, I saw his work turning up in various small press magazines. When I came up with the idea of publishing Deathrealm, sometime in 1986, he was the first writer I approached about contributing to the magazine. Just over a year ago, I showcased some of his contributions to the magazine in this blog, which you may read about here: "Cool Mist & A Piece of Stone" (December 17, 2017)

You can take a look at a fair selection of his work at here: Wilum H. Pugmire Author Page

Wilum has been a fixture in my life since childhood. Both he and his worked have captured countless hearts, mine included. Given his ongoing health issues, today's news came as sad but not unexpected. While today there is much grief at his passing, I trust that in days and years to come, he will be remembered fondly for not only his literary work but for the unique soul he was... a soul that deeply touched more people than I could ever hope to count.

Rest in peace, Wilum, and know that to many of us, you will be remembered always.
A spread from the first issue of Deathrealm, which features author (and Wilum's friend) Jessica Amanda
Salmonson's tribute poem, circa 1986. The facing page is a collage I made of clippings from letters
and flyers Wilum sent with so much of our correspondence in those days.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Making the Best of a Crisis

Brugger, Allison, and Old Dude around the firepit. There might have been some wine.
I received the sad news from my daughter on Friday that her mom had been hospitalized with what might be a life-threatening situation. She flew down on Friday, was met by her mom's best friend/housemate, and together they headed for the hospital. Allison spent most of the day there, as well as a fair portion of Saturday. I was in Martinsville for my customary looking-after-my-mom weekend; but on the way home, I swung by the hospital, picked Allison up, and brought her back to Casa de Rodan. I had originally plotted a grand Thai chicken dinner for Ms. B. and me, so I picked up a few extra ingredients, and we were all good to go for a feast. Brugger arrived for dinner, and we commenced to the feasting.
For Ms. B., the sparks are flying.

As the song from Godspell goes, "We all need help to feel fine — let's have some wine!" So, we availed ourselves to some of the stock from my shelves, and things did go as swimmingly as one might hope under the circumstances. Some levity prevailed as we went out to the back yard and built a fire in the firepit, as this is something of a tradition when the kidlet ventures home. Quite coincidentally, she was here in March 2016; March 2018; and now March 2019. She's of a mind at this point that just taking the time in March and popping down here is probably a good idea if only for tradition's sake.

She headed back to the hospital this morning, and it appears that Peg has been transferred out of CICU. I take that as a hopeful sign, and I certainly will hope for the very best.

For me, it was a day for fellowship with a bunch of Old Farts on the geocaching trail. It proved relaxing and successful.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Nemesis Conquered

"I don't care how damn cold it is. Don't come across
until I can take the picture!"

It's always nice to have an extra day off after a long trip. Inevitably, I end up with a bunch of business to catch up on (much of it my mom's), including some serious catch-up writing, but it's always gratifying when I can work in a spot of geocaching. Though it was a bit chilly, today turned out to be the perfect day to get out after some hides, especially since a few new ones published over the weekend while Ms. B. and I were gone to Ohio (see yesterday's blog, "A Head Full of... Winklepleck?!"). Not to mention that, for months now, I've been hoping we might have at least a few days where the sky wasn't taking a dump so they would open the Reedy Fork Creek river crossing at Northeast Park. I have a cache — Destroy All Monsters #2: Angilas (GC25CYB) — that was reported as needing maintenance months and months ago, and because there's no bridge across Reedy Fork Creek (one must either hop across on rocks or wade) and the trails have been closed, I've been unable to get to it. Plus, my nemesis — a cache called "Out on the Brown Loop Trail" (GC7V4YH) has lurked out there since last July, having defied my one attempt to find it soon after it published.

Regular geocaching partner fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) also had a day free, so we decided to team up and hit Moricle Park in Gibsonville, where four new caches had come out over the weekend. And we thought maybe... just maybe... the river crossing might be open for the first time in ages at Northeast Park. Our expectation was that the Moricle Park caches would require some hiking but end up quick and easy, while the caches at Northeast Park —  including my own, since time does alter things in the woods — would likely tie us up for quite a while. However, as so often happens in geocaching, the reverse was true.

A couple of the caches at Moricle Park took us far longer to find than we anticipated. But we did prevail, and we finally headed out to Northeast Park. Sure enough, the river crossing was open, but the water was deep, cold, and fast-moving. The river mostly covered the rocks that can at least occasionally be used for hopping across. Well, no matter. The crossing wasn't closed and here we were, so there was nothing for it but to wade. And wade we did. Was it cold? Shoot yeah. Was it fun? Shoot yeah? Was it worth it? Shoot yeah!

Much to our surprise, we found "Out on the Brown Loop Trail" sitting out in the open near GZ. Well, that was easy. Judging from the teeth marks on the container, some critter had moved the container from its hiding place. We re-hid the cache where our coordinates led us, in what appeared to be a suitable location. Then we headed down to "Angilas," which Natalie had not found, and which I suspected I might not find, since I had hidden it in a target-rich area, and by all accounts, the area had only become target richer after so much severe weather in recent months.

Well, what do you know? Happily, when I hid the cache back in March 2010, I took some really good coordinates because they led me right to the little beast. It was sitting out a bit exposed, but at least not far from where it was meant to be. The contents, which I'd been led to believe were a mess, really were not, but I refurbished the container and put it back so the next finders will not necessarily have such an easy time finding it.

Ms. FDTS and I ended our outing with a nice lunch at Uptown Charlie's, where they make the best chicken wings I've had in the Triad (it's the Suicide Sauce). And then we headed back to the barn.

Man, I'd so rather not go to work tomorrow.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

A Head Full of... Winklepleck?!

Nice lady haunting one of many graveyards we discovered in Ohio's Amish country
A couple of years ago, Ms. Brugger & I headed up to Ohio's Amish country—specifically, the little town of Berlin (accent on the first syllable), in Holmes County—to hang out with her folks, Delmar & Fern, who enjoy visiting there on a regular basis (see "Hanging With Bigfoot, and Other Amish Tales"). Once again, over these past few days, we did this thing, having taken a bit of time off work for the occasion. We headed out Thursday morning for the roughly 350-mile trip, and—much to your surprise and mine—I found myself hunting a number of geocaches along the way. The most interesting was probably a historical location in Virginia, just shy of the West Virginia border, known as Shot Tower Historical State Park It's a 75-foot stone tower that was part of an ammunition works in the early 1800s. The cache there (GC7DZXF) was placed by some folks known as "The Shenandoahs," whose caches I have found from Virginia to South Carolina. Their hides frequently lead you to intriguing locations, and this one was no exception.
Old Shot Tower viewed from the trail around the location
I-77 viewed from the trail overlook near the Shot Tower
Rather than ride in silence or listening to tunes, we availed ourselves to the audio book of Paul Tremblay's Bram Stoker Award–winning Head Full of Ghosts, which lasted us the entire northbound trip and fair portion of the southbound. I've had it on my Kindle for far too long, thanks to a book queue I may never actually get through, but I must say I'm glad Ms. B. felt inclined to treat us to the audio book, as it made for superb-quality riding/driving time. The narrator, Joy Osmanski, nicely brought the characters to life. I've not read any of Paul's other novels as yet, but I think his Cabin at the End of the World will be priority in the upcoming queue.
This little piggy went to (the Amish) market...
for the last time.

Upon our arrival in Berlin, we settled in at Zinck's Inn, where we had stayed on our previous visit. Del & Fern were apparently starving and anxiously awaiting our arrival, for they immediately hustled us off to the nearby Boyd & Wurthmann's restaurant, where we had dined several times last time around. This was the only meal we had there on this trip, and it was a good one, with Swiss steak, Amish noodles, and green beans for all of us but Del, who tore into a chopped sirloin steak. We spent the rest of the evening in traditional Brugger fashion: sipping wine and watching TV with Del & Fern in their hotel room while riding out a terrific thunderstorm complete with tornado warning (apparently, a tornado did touch down and cause severe damage not very far away). We prevailed and then went to bed.

Last time around, it wasn't particularly cold in Berlin. On this trip, the warmth wasn't very, and the cold very much was. On Friday and Saturday, we had flurries of snow off and on, though none of it stuck or caused any travel issues. And it made for some fun geocaching. Friday morning, I accompanied the gang on some high-powered, Brugger-style flea marketing and antiquing. Then Ms. B. and I headed out to nearby Sugarcreek for a visit to Silver Moon Winery, which we had enjoyed, albeit briefly, on our previous trip. I did snag a couple of caches on this noble endeavor, I am happy to report. It was out here, while traveling the aptly named Spooky Hollow Road, that we found ourselves passing through the mysterious, legend-haunted community called "Winklepleck." By the grace of God, we survived both the winkles and the plecks.
Aptly named.
Sheep appeared very happy to see us.
For dinner, we opted for the Berlin Farmstead, a very short distance from our home away from home (actually, it's safe to say that, in Berlin, just about everything of commercial nature is but a short distance from our home away from home). Now, I will say I loved the food here—"broasted" chicken, grilled vegetables, and creamed corn—but on this night, it was particularly crowded, and as for their system of seating patrons...there was none. The foyer was filled with ravenous people, and although the pair of young Amish women ostensibly overseeing things inquired as to the number in each party and dutifully wrote said number on their official number-taking tablet, they proceeded to seat only whoever happened to be standing closest to their station at any given moment. After a while, we took it upon ourselves to go stand close, and thus we managed to sit down. Some folks, I'm not so sure about. Now, this place has clearly been around for quite some time. I don't know whether this brand of not-even-slightly controlled chaos is SOP, but I'd sure as hell hope not. Based on the quality of the food, I'd really like to dine there on a future trip, but I'd not be willing to go there hoping I might actually be seated based on my proximity to a couple of pairs of thoroughly discombobulated eyes.

We spent the rest of the evening in traditional Brugger fashion: sipping wine and watching TV with Del & Fern in their hotel room, this time sans terrific thunderstorm and tornado warning.
A massive hornet's nest, thankfully uninhabited,
on old grave marker

Saturday morning saw us venturing forth to nearby Walnut Creek to purchase delicious foodstuffs at the big Amish market there. Afterward, the Bruggers were determined to press on with the requisite antiquing/shopping, but I jumped ship and headed out to the more remote, scenic corners of Holmes County. I managed to find a host of small, damn-near ancient graveyards, not to mention their attendant geocaches. At one little boneyard, I managed to leave my hiking stick behind, though I did not realize it until the next cache, which is where I really could have used it. Here, at a woodland hide called "Panther's Hollow Overhang" (GC40T8M), as I was making my way down a particularly steep, slippery embankment, my feet managed to get away from me. Next thing you know, I'm whooshing down the incline toward a rocky ravine. I grabbed a handy tree, only to have it laugh at me and rip off a portion of anatomy on my right hand sufficient to cause prodigious bleeding and a wee bit of stinging. Seriously, it was merely a flesh wound but a most annoying occurrence, given that a hiking stick in the hands of someone less absent-minded might have made a meaningful difference regarding favorable v. painful outcomes.
A cheesy outhouse at Guggisberg Cheese Works
A nice little graveyard, where I managed to leave my hiking stick behind
Different graveyard, more graves
For Saturday dinner, we opted for pizza at East of Chicago, which was pretty good. We spent the rest of the evening in traditional Brugger fashion: sipping wine and watching TV with Del & Fern in their hotel room, again sans terrific thunderstorm and tornado warning, although I did suffer a minor migraine, which wasn't exactly the most pleasing turn of events. I reckon I can count my blessing it wasn't one of those killer headaches that occasionally knock me for a loop.

And this morning, after an apparently non-existent long weekend, since we just bloody got to the place, it was time to say our goodbyes. I tell you, I don't recall a spell of days that ever passed so quickly. We were there, and then we weren't. At this point, we have all arrived home safely—I even with my hiking stick, since we went out to retrieve it prior to hitting the highway. After finishing up A Head Full of Ghosts on our return trip, we put on the audio book of my Ameri-Scares series novel, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, which I had yet to listen to. I must say, I'm very pleased with the narration by Tim Lundeen. If he is available to narrate more of my books coming out on audio, I should like to request his services. Check out the audio book from Audible here.

Yep, it was a fast, fun weekend, marred only by how damn fast it really was. Well, that and the migraine. But hey, we survived the madness known as Winklepleck!
A hat for every occasion
Well, Brugger always has had a thing for older men.