Monday, May 27, 2019

A Nano on the Lake? Seriously?

The mad Arab, Abdul al-Rodan, taking a breather under bridge after having summoned
the Great Dagon from his lair beneath Lake Townsend in Greensboro
Why, yes... very seriously!

After a memorable and invigorating geocaching outing in Chapel Hill yesterday (see "Taberna Ferramentorum and Others"), three of the four members of Team No Dead WeightFishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), and Abdul al-Rodan (a.k.a. Me) — gathered again this morning to take on a couple of paddle caches on Lake Townsend, in northeast Greensboro. Today, for our collective moniker, we opted for Team No Dead Fish. After waiting considerable time for Diefenbaker, who had made the mistake of listening to the lady navigator in his GPS and ended up at the wrong lake, we left the marina in our respective kayaks and made our way to "Goose" (GC807N1), a neat little hide placed by friend Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda) about a half mile from the marina.

Then came the big paddle. From there, we had to go almost the length of Lake Townsend — over three miles — to "A Nano on the Lake" (GC7ZYGF), hidden by Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom, a.k.a. Linda's Exceptionally Old Man). It is, in fact, a nano (a magnetic container about the size of a pencil eraser) attached to the sheath around the base of an electrical tower in the middle of the lake. It took some time and fair effort to get out there, but get there we did, and it wasn't long before we found the container, happily in good condition. Once we had scrawled "Team No Dead Fish" on the logsheet, we began the long paddle back to the marina.

For afters, we planted ourselves at Uptown Charlie's, my favorite destination for chicken wings. Their Suicide Sauce is the bomb, almost literally.

Today's lake journey was my second longest lake paddle, the longest being on Philpott Lake in Virginia, when I went after my 8,000th geocache in 2015 (see "All Alone in Goblintown"), and Ms. FDTS's longest. I'm fairly certain that at least one of us is going to feel the burn tomorrow. Maybe even from the exertion.

Tomorrow, it's back to the office... and such a shame. I've been going great guns on my latest work of short fiction, and I'd sure love to spend the day making forward progress on it instead. Alas, the sadness overcomes me.
And they're off! Diefenbaker and Fishdownthestair race toward the cache.
View from under the bridge at Yanceyville Road. Our destination is visible in the distance.
Almost there.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Taberna Ferramentorum and Others

That unusual-looking critter you see in the photo is a two-foot-long Hammerhead worm, the first specimen of which I've ever seen in the wild. Team No Dead Weight turned it up while hunting a geocache over in Chapel Hill this morning. Hammerhead worms are not especially dangerous to humans, but they do prey on earthworms, which are beneficial to humans. Hammerhead worms use a virulent neurotoxin on their prey, which actually dissolves the earthworms they catch. This particular chap might not be what I would term pleasant-looking, but it certainly was fascinating. That thing just kept extending and extending, appearing to actually grow longer and longer as it moved. We let it go on its way, although had I known at the time it doesn't really qualify as a dear friend to people, I might have had a somewhat different reaction.

Our team — Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob, a.k.a. Bloody Rob), whom we managed to keep up with this week (see "Where's Rob" from last Sunday); the ubiquitous Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie); and Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) — had determined to visit the North Carolina Botanical Gardens in Chapel Hill, as there are numerous geocaches on a host of trails in and around the facility. The day was miserably hot, but we made the best of it, as we found a number of intriguing caches, including one in the deep, dark catacombs underneath the local Trader Joe's.

We started out at a five-stage multi-cache — Taberna Ferramentorum (GCYZ2Q) — which we didn't realize had such a long history. It was originally placed in 2006, and it hasn't had many finds in recent years. It started out simple enough, but as we proceeded through the stages, which included Roman numerals etched on rocks and such, we found that time and weathering had done a job on the information we needed. By a process of educated guesses and pure intuition, we managed to make our way toward the final stage, which turned out to be at a very old, very secluded area back in the woods just outside the Botanical Gardens' farthest reaches. Completing this multi required no little time and a fair distance hiking, but we enjoyed the experience immensely, especially since we had to rely on some outside-the-box thinking to make the find. We also found Roberto, a beautiful, six-foot black rat snake, who seemed pleased to have some friendly visitors. We sat and chatted for a while, but the conversation was, admittedly, somewhat one-sided.
A neat old, abandoned bridge we encountered along our way. It's not far from collapsing
into Morgan Creek, it would seem.
Three-quarters of Team No Dead Weight: Bloody Rob, Diefenbaker, Old Rodan
From here, we made our way to several other caches, most of which proved relatively easy to find. We had spent quite some time on the trail by this point, so we headed to Cerritos Cantina for a late (and very satisfying) Mexican lunch. Scott and I both had the Tacos Diabla, which, I will tell you, are not even a little bit not-hot. They are hot. We hollered for happy. And just hollered.

All day, Ms. FDTS had been clamoring to hunt an underground cache. The NC Triangle has plenty to choose from, most courtesy of Mr. Vortexecho (a.k.a. Christian) his very own self. And there was indeed one that looked tantalizing. It's been staring at me from the map for many years now. We did notice that it had not been found in almost six years, and you never know how a cache in an extreme environment is going to weather the years. But we decided it was worth a shot. I won't post the cache name/GC number here, although by way of deduction, I'm sure some geocachers might determine which one it actually is.
Old Rodan at the cache

Our destination turned out to be an underground passage, about 50 feet wide, into which Booker Creek flowed. Old Rob, being intensely un-fond of such grottoes as this, opted to remain outside, while Diefenbaker, FDTS, and I made our way into its shadowy confines. We had to walk on a narrow ledge along one wall, a few feet above the rather disturbingly deep water. The first thing we found inside was mud. Deep, slippery mud, all along the ledge. We also found lots and lots of huge spiders, which made for pleasant enough company, as long as they didn't try to hold our hands. After going some distance, we spied a foreboding object ahead — a long, narrow pipe that spanned the passage — which we suspected would host our quarry.

Indeed it did.

It was decided that Old Rodan would do the retrieval honors. Why, thank you so much, my friends. Getting onto the overhead pipe and scooting out to the container indeed proved physically challenging, but as we were this close, there was no way we were going to let this thing get away from us. I persevered, and a few minutes later, I had the container in hand and Team NDW scrawled on the log.

Then I had to make my way back to the narrow space by which we had accessed GZ. What fun! Scooting backward, I can tell you, is somewhat more difficult than scooting forward, particularly so close to the rafters, which constantly threatened to gong me in the head. Happily, Diefenbaker did a fine job warning me when I should duck. Soon enough, my feet were back in the deep, slippery mud, and we trudged once again into the hated heat and brilliant, blazing sun.

And that, my friends, is what geocaching was all about. After that experience, I felt enervated for a short while, but I've recovered nicely, and tomorrow there is a lengthy kayak trip on the docket. It's gonna be another scorcher too. Hooooeeeey.

And g'night.
Albert, a great big snapping turtle we made friends with at North Carolina Botanical Gardens
Team No Dead Weight

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Where's Rob?

I am either holding a very small geocache or welcoming you to the
Island of the Burning Damned. One is as likely as the other.

Once again, Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob, a.k.a. Bloody Rob) and Ms. Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie) joined up with me as Team No Dead Weight on this scorching hot May Sunday to hunt some geocaches, this time in Cary, NC, over near Raleigh. We had expected to spend a little while finding some quick park-and-grab hides and then hitting a nearby greenway to get in a nice hike. As is wont to happen on caching trips, things didn't work out precisely as we'd planned.

We did find a handful of neat hides, cleverly camouflaged and nicely placed. Then we discovered a parking garage.

I've had plenty of experience with parking garage hides. You tend to go up and down and up and down, trying to find the precise spot a tricksy hider might place a cache. This is a private garage, so we couldn't drive into it. Thus, we parked outside and hoofed it up to the highest level. We hunted and hunted, and even with some intel from a previous finder, we couldn't come up with it. Alas. But then we had to leave. We had entered the garage from the front of the building, then gone up several flights of stairs. We figured we'd go back out the same way.
Have you seen this man?

Somewhere on our descent, Natalie and I realized we'd lost Rob. What the hell, Old Rob? Okay, so we'll meet him at the car. We didn't recall how many flights of stairs we'd gone up, so we went down to level 0 and out the door. Nope, this is not it. Go down to level SUB-0. Nope, this is not it either. So back up to level 1. Sign reads "NOT AN EXIT." WTF? Go up to level 2. Okay, an exit, Weird fucking garage, man. Out we go and make our way to the car.

Where's Rob? Oh, dear, there's no Rob. We pull up to the front entrance, and about then Natalie's phone rings. It's Rob. "Where are we? We are sitting outside the front entrance waiting for you. Where are you? You don't know? Oh dear."

Rob promises he'll figure out his predicament and join us shortly. About ten minutes pass.

Me: "We should never let Rob try to navigate on his own."

Natalie: "We didn't do such a good job of navigating ourselves."

Me: "But we are here."

After a while, I place a long-distance call to Rob. "Hey Rob, have you discovered Fayetteville?"

Rob: "Well, I'm outside the building."

Me: "Whereabouts?"

Rob: "I don't know."

Me: "Do we need to call in a Search & Rescue Team?"

Rob: "I don't know."

Me: "Wait. I see you."

Rob: "Okay. Where?"

Me: "Where you are."

Rob: "Now I see you."

He did see us, and even got back in the car with us. Brave Rob.

After this adventure, we needed to find lunch, which we did at The Big Easy Oven & Tap. Gator bites, bayou shrimp, smoked brisket... good vittles and good beers, yes. Then we had a good many more caches to go after and somehow keep up with Rob. We did all this and more, and avenged one of those direful DNFs (Did Not Find logs) from a previous outing. Even got in a few entertaining physical challenges along the way. So yeah, it was all good.

Oh, crap. I think we've lost Rob again.

Rob? Hello?
There was a geocache inside the enclosed portion of a guardrail post. Rather than stick our hands in there
willy-nilly, we used our phone cameras/flashes to examine the interior. I don't know what the hell I'm seeing,
but I'm glad I didn't reach on in there to find out.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Follow That Dragon!

So here's the cover of Ameri-Scares Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior. There may be an adjustment or two to the colors, but this is pretty much what she's going to look like. Crossroad Press has not announced an official release date yet, but it won't be too long. I will, of course, post updates and any new information as it comes. In the meantime, here's a little something to whet your appetite.

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 Griggs, 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 partially hidden cave. Inside it, to their surprise, 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 strange 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 strange land, huge monsters roam freely. Skyhawk and his people worship the beasts as gods. But while the people of this land appear friendly, 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.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

The Dragon of Lake Superior

I decided to revisit some of my photos from my 2014 trip with Ms. B. to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Somehow, I had forgotten taking this one from Lake Superior, while we were having a picnic at Chapel Rock. Go figure! I guess I'm getting old. But I dunno, maybe I could actually do something with it, like use it in conjunction with my upcoming Ameri-Scares novel, Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior, which I sent in to Crossroad Press a little while back.

You may read a few excerpts from the novel here:
Excerpt #1 from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior (January 3, 2019)
Excerpt #2 from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior (February 19, 2019)
Excerpt #3 from Michigan: The Dragon of Lake Superior (April 13, 2019)

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A Visit to the Callamo Mountains

More Tales of the Callamo Mountains
By Larry Blamire
Bookaroonie Press
193 pages/$19.45

I enjoy westerns, and I love my horror stories, so when I recently became aware of More Tales of the Callamo Mountains, by author/artist/movie maker Larry Blamire (perhaps best known as the mastermind behind The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, The Lost Skeleton Returns Again, A Dark and Stormy Night, Tales From the Pub, and other moving picture treats), it seemed right up my street. This collection is actually his follow-up to an earlier volume, aptly titled Tales of the Callamo Mountains (2009), which I have yet to read, but I confess I chose to begin with this one because of its striking cover (which Mr. Blamire created his very own self). Since the stories in these volumes are standalone works, one can evidently read both/either/or of the books and come away altogether unconfused absolutely satisfied.

While Blamire might be best known for his visual humor and unique wit, his western tales, while often infused with whimsy, play mostly as straight drama. Vivid imagery and eerie atmosphere pervade his tales, whatever their respective plots and themes. The sheer horrific drama in the cover image — which does not illustrate any particular story in the volume but essentially tells its own — characterizes the tone found in most of the tales within: a sense of otherworldly dread combined with taut, exciting action. As with virtually all collections, the stories in this one weighed in at different points on the success scale. The best of them I would go so far as to call minor masterpieces, while the least of them I would term flawed but noble attempts.

At the upper end of the scale, "Heliograph Station #24," "The Valley of Capper Crabb," "The Man From the Fires," "The Room With Nine Corners," and "Bar None" all present encounters with dark, deadly unknown forces, told in a consistently assured and often understated narrative voice. As I mentioned upriver, most of these tales, despite their grim earnestness, feature a lightness of tone that accentuates the terror when it does come about. For the most part, Blamire eschews the trappings of more conventional western stories — gunfighters/gunfights, white hats vs. black hats, savage natives, and such — though a few of the stories include their share of these archetypes, to satisfying effect. Most of the characters the reader meets are townspeople, prospectors, ranchers, peddlers, occasional swindlers, and a handful of military officers. Even those of less-than-desirable moral character make for interesting, colorful centers of focus. No character, setting, or menace here would even dream of boring you.

Few of these stories offer any definitive explanation for the inexplicable creatures and/or events that appear in each. One simply accepts that the Callamo Mountains and surrounding environs are a haven for all manner of things dark, direful, and deadly. Thus, one can never begin to guess what to expect from story to story.

"Bright Hawk Takes a Walk" qualifies as my least favorite tale in the volume, but even this one hardly counts as a failure. It reads more or less like a fable (as do a few of the other tales), with a substantive enough theme but never quite jelling, as the more action-oriented pieces inevitably do. One piece whose theme and imagery would have hit on all cylinders is the final tale in the book, "Two Lone Riders," had it been told through the characters' eyes, rather than by way of a third-person omniscient narrator, and included at least a modicum of dialogue. However, yet again, the story's imagery and climax succeed in conjuring a little chill, so I consider the piece a far cry from failure.

My only quibble with the physical production of the book (via Lulu) is that paragraphs are indented and have extra space above and below, which tax my aging eyes more than plain, single-spaced, indented and justified paragraphs. This is admittedly a minor point and in no way impacts the enjoyment of Blamire's authorial voice.

However effective individual tales might be in More Tales of the Callamo Mountains, the collection intrigued and entertained me from start to finish. I shall look forward to delving into its predecessor in upcoming days. Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Damned Rodan's Dirty Firetinis.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Another Decade Down

And... whoosh! There go the fifties. Age-wise, I mean. Overall, it was a fine enough decade for this old man, very possibly the most eventful of my adult life. Above and beyond all else, for most of these past ten years, Ms. B., the nice lady pictured above, has been my partner in crime, and all indications are that we're bound for that great big house in the sky, or wherever, still bound together, somewhere in that unforeseeable (and hopefully distant) future. Apart from my mom's ongoing health issues and a slight decrease in this old machine's agility, life has held itself together as well as could be expected, sometimes even better. Or not. Maybe. Sort of.

As for the birthday event itself—yesterday—it was fair enough. I didn't take the day off from work to go geocaching, as has generally been my custom since I began the activity (at age 49; who'd have thunk I might have been at it so long?). Since Ms. B. and I are saving up our vacation time for an extended holiday down the road, it didn't seem prudent to blow a day off that I might need later. However, after work on Wednesday, I met friends Robgso (a.k.a. Old Rob) and Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) and snagged a nice first-to-find on a new puzzle cache in north Greensboro. And for afters, Skyhawk and I met his wife, Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda) at a brewery/beer joint called Gibbs Hundred, which I had never previously visited—or even heard of, for that matter. But as one who rarely drinks beer anymore, I enjoyed it immensely, particularly since friend Tom was kind enough to spring for mine as a birthday treat. Chalk up another one for getting old, I reckon.

Last night, Ms. B. took me out for drinks at Gia: Drink, Eat, Listen, one of our favorite dining/drinking establishments. For dinner, we hobbled next door to Imperial Koi for sushi, which I quite loved. Once back at her place, we watched The Silence, a new Netflix release based on a novel by Tim Lebbon. It was fair, at best. It lacked development and character motivation, which I more than half suspect the novel does not. At any rate, the evening offered some much-needed relaxation, which was most welcome as I've been dealing with an ongoing issue with my mom's daily care—which, to my dismay, is still not sorted out.

At least the celebrations for these little landmarks make for pleasant times and nice memories. There's certainly no excitement about yet another measurable tick on the lifeclock. I confess I'm a little sad to leave my 50th decade behind, as it provided most of the absolute best experiences of my adult life. Some of the worst, too, but at least those don't overshadow the good. Not by a long shot.

And off we go, to take another step in the walk of the unknown. Until next time, I'm your host, Damned Rodan, saying....