Sunday, April 28, 2019

Cachin' Passion in the Parks

Team Deadly Serious at old graveyard near my Lair of the Mothman (GC855TA) geocache,
placed for the Cachin' Passion in the Parks event
Several weeks ago, longtime geocacher and (retired) forest ranger of my acquaintance, Ranger TracksAll (a.k.a. Susan), contacted me about a big geocaching event she and her husband, Ranger WillKetchum (a.k.a. Danny) wanted to put together. It would take place at Philpott Lake and Fairy Stone State Parks in Virginia, near Martinsville, and include a considerable number of geocaches placed around Philpott Lake. I thought this was a grand idea. So, a few weeks back, I put out three new caches on the Dogwood Glen Trail near Philpott Dam in preparation for the event, which took place yesterday, April 27, 2019.

The event, Cachin' Passion in the Parks, drew about 25 attendees, mostly from Virginia and North Carolina. On the way up, I snagged three individual first-to-finds, and several more with a big group over the course of the day. The event proper opened with nice introductory remarks by Rangers TracksAll and WillKetchum and Fairy Stone Park manager John Grooms. There were prizes aplenty handed out to attendees, including an autographed copy of West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, won by Honeychile (a.k.a. Vickie), who—quite coincidentally—had been kind enough to host a Fugue Devil–themed event in Winston-Salem back in 2015 (see "Equinox Devil, Part Deux).

The rest of the day, I hiked along with a sizable bunch of geocachers, all quite nerdy yet rugged. We snagged a fair of number of caches here and there, and we finally headed up the Dogwood Glen Trail, where my three hides in wait for the unsuspecting hunters. Me, I wanted to check the accuracy of my coordinates, which, happily, proved quite good. And our old friend Robgso became the lucky recipient of a copy of West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman, inclued as the first-to-find prize in my cache called (not coincidentally) "Lair of the Mothman."
View of Philpott Dam from overlook
View of Philpott Lake from overlook, facing west
View of Philpott Dam from near the Dogwood Glen Trailhead
Today, I was up bright and early for another caching outing, this time to Salem Lake, on the near side of Winston-Salem. Team No Dead Weight, consisting of Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Robgso (a.k.a. Bloody Rob), and Old Rodan (a.k.a. me), set out primarily to pick up seven new Paul Bunyan–themed hides, placed by the ever-creative Honeychile, mentioned above. Diefenbaker, Ms. Fish, and Old Rob went after a few additional caches that I had already found on previous excursions. At the end of the day, we had put in around six miles of occasionally rugged hiking. On our way back to Greensboro, the team stopped at my office so they might snag first-to-find accolades on my newest hide—"Rodan's Roost Redux"—which I had placed some distance up a tree beside the parking lot on Friday. It was published yesterday, but to our surprise, no one else had yet claimed the FTF honors. Team No Dead Weight dirtied up the log real good, so they are number one, and everyone else is number two, or lower.

Now there be tired. I tired now. You come again some other time.
Team No Dead Weight at Salem Lake
A loverly little stream at Salem Lake.
A Great Honking Blue Bird who remained in place just long enough to pose for a photo.
Shortly afterward, a speeding bicyclist on the trail scared him off.

Monday, April 22, 2019

11K Milestone

Just over eleven years after I started geocaching, I found my 11,000th geocache — yesterday, on the American Tobacco Trail, south of Durham, NC. I didn't make any special plans for this particular milestone, as I have for others. Last year, for my 10,000th, Ms. B. and I made a ten-mile round-trip hike to McAfee Knob near Roanoke, VA (see "Ten Years, Ten-Thousand Geocaches"). In past years, for various milestone caches, I've gone deep underground, paddled many miles in a kayak, and gone up great big trees. Really, it is kind of a pain in the tail to try to plan for a specific milestone on a specific date. Eleven thousand is a nice number, but this didn't seem worth the hassle of all that planning. So, since a bunch of us had previously decided to hit the ATT on Sunday, I figured that whichever cache I found for 11K was all fine with me.

It was a crowd of the usual suspects that headed to Durham on Easter Sunday morning. Cupdaisy (a.k.a. Shoffner), Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob) set out bright and early for the trail. Our group, whoever among us it happens to be, usually adopts a team name, and for this one, in honor of Easter, I suggested Team Walking Dead. Alas, I was outvoted in favor of Team Easter Bunny. It wasn't until we'd hopped a fair distance and grabbed several caches that I even figured out which one was actually 11K. Turns out it was a nice little hide called "Biscuit Got a Rock" (GCXK5W), hidden by friend NCBiscuit (a.k.a. Linda). We ended up snagging 14 caches on a 7-mile hike, and we had designs for a few more, until....

A friend of my mom's called to tell me he and his family had taken her to church and lunch, but she had locked herself out of her house. She had keys, but they didn't seem to work. So, being the caregiver of note, I ended up having to head up to Martinsville, pick up Mum from her friends', and get her back into her house. The kicker was that her key actually worked — the door, being swollen from humidity, appears to have been a sticky bastard, giving the impression that it wouldn't unlock. It just took a little extra futzing. So, it was a long trip up and back that wasn't really necessary, all the more frustrating since I had just been there on Friday and Saturday. Sigh. But in any event, all is well that ends well, Mum is happily ensconced in her house, and I have 11,000 caches under my belt.

I hereby hope for a calamity-free week, as there have been more than the customary share of calamities in recent days. So calm it the fuck down, all right? Would ya? Thx.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday Ramblin'

It's always nice to have Good Friday off. I didn't have Good Friday off. However, in their magnitudimous generosity, the company let us out at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. This was fine, since I had to come to Martinsville for my regular Mum maintenance visit, and a trio of new geocaches lurked in the Fairy Stone Park/Bassett area. Thus, I set my sights on some afternoon geocaching. So did a massive storm system and a number of tornadoes. I missed out on the tornadoes, but not the storms. After work, I drove up from Greensboro, all in relatively clear weather. Five miles out of Fairy Stone, the bottom dropped out.

As it turned out, the cache at Fairy Stone was little more than a park & grab—a traditional woodland hide a couple of hundred feet up the trail from the parking area. So I parked, grabbed, and got a little wet. Then I headed back into Bassett to wait out the rain. The wait was not a long one. I had just enough time to log my Fairy Stone find, and then things cleared up for a while. I made quick grabs at the next two, one of which was along the Smith River, now cloaked in an eerie fog. The fog pleased me.

Mum and I had a nice dinner at The Third Bay, and then I did a passel of the usual necessary errands. After entertaining myself with a couple of episodes of The Brady Bunch—shades of my childhood Friday nights—I went out on a late-night ramble through the old neighborhood. Pleasantly cool and breezy, if a bit muggy. Encountered a couple of late-night muggles on my ramble, at least one of which struck me as a little suspicious, but after a while, he went on his business, whatever that happened to be.

All in all, a damn nice bit of Good Friday ramblin'. Peace be with you.
Mist creeping over the Smith River in Bassett
Old relic near the Smith River boat put-in

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Excerpt #3 from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior

Here's an excerpt from my now-completed second Ameri-Scares novel—Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior. Jeff Griggs, a 13-year-old who has been visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula with his family, is in the dark woods fleeing from something that appears to have taken an interest in him...
Jeff started forward but then froze. From off to his right came an earth-shaking thump and a deafening crash. The nearby trees swayed, and leaves rained down on his head. In the black spaces amid the nearby trees, a pair of huge silver orbs appeared. They moved toward him at frightening speed. He realized now he had only seconds to live!

The bright eyes blazed like molten metal as they approached. He could now make out a scaly head like a crocodile’s, and a long, snakelike neck weaving toward him through the trees. The thing was huge, all right, but it was nothing like the massive beast he had seen earlier. This had to be one of the young ones.

The head slid up close to him, and he could feel hot breath escaping from its spread jaws. The head was the size of his folks’ living room coffee table, its eyes as big as dinner plates. He wanted to clench his eyes shut, but he could not turn his gaze away. The creature glared at him as if sizing him up. So far, it didn’t seem interested in attacking him.

“Nice Pressie,” he whispered. “Good little Pressie. You can go away now. Okay?”

The creature huffed, and its hot breath swept over him. So hot, Jeff thought, he wondered if these creatures could breathe fire. The head rose high into the tree branches, but the eyes kept glaring down at him.

“If you’re the one I hit on my bike,” he said, “I’m very sorry about that. It was an accident.”

A low, grating growl vibrated from its throat.

“I’m sorry,” Jeff said. This had to be the end. It was going to kill him now. “I’m really sorry.”

The head lowered again, and the growling continued. The eyes remained locked on his. This time, the thing nudged him with its scaly snout. Not hard, but it nearly set him off balance. His heart was pounding so hard he could barely hear anything else.

Then he realized: the creature wasn’t actually growling.

It was more like purring.

Did that mean it didn’t intend to harm him?

Or was it just happy because it was about to eat him?
The novel is in copy-edit stage, and will be available from Crossroad Press within the next few months.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Dark Shadows Passing

It was on this date, 48 years ago, that my youthful world fell apart. As far as I was concerned, I faced a dismal future, bereft of hope and steeped in misery. I'm referring, of course, to the day the final episode of Dark Shadows aired, on Friday, April 2, 1971. For several years, Dark Shadows had been my holy grail, for in those days, in order to pick up the channel that broadcast the show — WLVA, Channel 13 out of Lynchburg, VA — you had to have cable. And we didn't get cable at home until 1969, more than halfway into the show's run. Prior to that, I would catch Dark Shadows as often as possible at certain friends' houses, or at my grandparents' place in Georgia when we went to visit them two or three times a year. I had seen the very first episode, and the couple that followed, on one of our visits south, and even though the show had yet to take on its overtly supernatural character, it had hooked me, as much as anything by composer Robert Cobert's most memorable score. The day we arrived back in Martinsville after our visit, I was all pumped to settle in with Dark Shadows permanently, only to discover that the ABC affiliate station we picked up — WGHP, Channel 8 out of High Point, NC — didn't carry the show. That was an error of omission for which I've never really forgiven them.

It was these sporadic viewings, though, that made the show such a magical mystery. When I could occasionally tune in, I had nary a clue what was going on in the story, but I became enthralled nonetheless. In late 1969, Dad saw fit to get cable for our house, and suddenly, Dark Shadows was mine, all mine. It was right at the beginning of the Leviathans storyline, which, sadly, many fans consider the beginning of the end. Not me, though. I found it scary as hell and, to this day, I have a soft spot for that particular subplot. I revisited it, as a matter of fact, in Curse of the Pharaoh, my second script for Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio series.

I think it was no more than a few days before the series' finale when I heard the news the great estate of Collinwood was being shuttered. I couldn't believe it. I was devastated. It's safe to say I was immersed in a love affair with the show that was unprecedented in my eleven somewhat less-than-worldly years. (We can discuss juvenile psychological health some other time, thank you very much.) On that day, as I watched the episode, my heart pounded, my palms awash in sweat. As the story neared its final moments — what's this? — they're setting up a whole new set of complications. This couldn't possibly be the end! There was a new vampire on the estate! But then, as the eerie theme rose, the familiar voice of actor Thayer David came on to say, "There was no vampire loose on the great estate. For the first time at Collinwood, the marks on the neck were, indeed, those of an animal." After a recap of the current crop of characters' fates, he says, in reference to Bramwell (Jonathan Frid) and Catherine (Lara Parker), "Their love became a living legend. And for as long as they lived, the dark shadows at Collinwood were but a memory of the distant past."

I'm pretty sure I bawled long and hard at the end of all that. And, like millions of youngsters around the country, on the following Monday, I turned on the TV at 4:00 p.m., praying it was all a mistake, a terrible April Fools joke. Something. Anything but the end of Dark Shadows.

Password, starring Alan Ludden, had taken over that sacred time slot.

Needless to say, time marched on, people grew up, Dark Shadows resurfaced in syndication, and then on home video. At this point, I've seen the entire 1,225-episode run at least twice, and considerable portions of the series many times more. I've co-written with Elizabeth Massie an authorized Dark Shadows novel for HarperCollins Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark — and scripted three of Big Finish's Dark Shadows audio dramas — Path of Fate, starring David Selby and Lara Parker; the aforementioned Curse of the Pharaoh, starring Nancy Barrett and Marie Wallace; and Blood Dance, starring David Selby and Lisa Richards. Plus, I wrote a follow-up to Dreams of the Dark titled The Labyrinth of Souls that never made it into print due to HarperCollins shutting down its tie-in division HarperPrism. However, I have made the novel available strictly as fan fiction on my website. You can check it out here.

So, for me, Dark Shadows, thankfully, never truly died on April 2, 1971. Who knows, if it had continued, history might have gone very differently for me. Impossible to speculate. But for all the pain my poor little weenie heart suffered in those days, I can't complain much about the outcome.

Monday, April 1, 2019

"Let's Rock!" No More

This trail closing makes me sad because a couple of my favorite geocache hides were along this trail: "Let's Rock" (GC5W99P — a Twin Peaks–themed cache) and "Chasm of Horror" (GC4WA59 —  one of my most physically challenging, death-defying hides), which I placed about five years ago. Of the numerous Greensboro watershed trails, the Beech Bluff Trail and the nearby Bald Eagle Trail (which, thankfully, is still open) are farthest away from my place, so it's been pretty rare for me to get out there; still, there have been numerous cache hides in that area over the years that I really, really enjoyed. "Chasm of Horror," in particular, was a favorite because, in order to get to it, you had to go pretty far out on a precarious, fallen tree over a 20-foot-deep gorge and then reach up to snag a little bison tube hanging from a limb of a nearby standing tree. When I hid the cache in 2014, it gave me a case of the heebie-jeebies, and when I retrieved the container today, it gave me another case of the heebie-jeebies. Most agreeable, I've gotta tell you.

So sad to think I will likely never visit that place again in this life. From the looks of things, other people were sad about it too, since they wasted no time getting out there to pelt the "trail closed" sign with bullets.

Some on social media have suggested putting together a geocaching gathering to help restore the trail, a GoFundMe drive, an Eagle Scout project... all kinds of things that sound really good but that, in reality, most likely will not fly. While I am indeed passionate about geocaching, hiking, and supporting all kinds of outdoors activities, there are battles to pick, and I fear this simply isn't one of them — at least, not until I come into my millions, and I won't be coming into my millions unless I really bust ass in other of life's endeavors. Frankly, I more than a little suspect that some fucking developer has its eye on this sizable parcel of land, since, in Greensboro, it is verboten for trees to grow when a bunch of god-awful dwelling places on clear-cut land can be planted in their places.

One thing is for certain: while I have generally supported bonds to fund Greensboro's Parks & Recreation Department, I will no longer do so — not after the wholesale destruction of woods and trails in favor of damn near uncountable new soccer fields at local parks that can never, ever possibly be fully utilized in this town. There are, what, 33 or so fields at Bryan Park now, just up the way? It was one of these fucking superfluous fields that took out "Darkness Falls" (GC14WGB) a while back. "Darkness Falls" was a classic night cache put together by Darth Sketcher in those days before I even knew the activity existed. In 2014, after Sketcher had retired from geocaching, I adopted the cache and spent no little time, energy, and expense refurbishing it (see "Restoring Darkness Falls," "Darkness Falls Restored," and "Darkness Falls, Cache On" for some insight on that one).

To reach the "Let's Rock" cache, you had to listen to a recording of the Little Man From Another Place giving you the coordinates. For old times' sake, here's the audo: Let's Rock Coordinates

There's nothing there now but a bunch of empty woods. I will say, if the woods do remain unsullied, and the critters take it over without human intervention, I'm all for this. But given Greensboro's track record with woodlands, I'm cynical. No. I'm beyond cynical. So for now, I'll just indulge in a little sad. At least, for time, the Beech Bluff Trail brought me, and I know a lot of other people, quite a bit of joy.
Ground Zero at "Chasm of Horror." You don't get much of a sense of the physical challenge involved
to retrieve the cache from the photo, I fear. It was a fun one.