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 (, 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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Big, Bad Godzilla

Most folks who know me know I'm a lifelong Godzilla/daikaiju freak. Ever since I saw the American version of the original Godzilla (the "first" Godzilla - King of the Monsters), starring Raymond Burr, back in the very early 1960s, my love affair with giant monsters has been nothing less than passionate. And since junior high school, I have been one of the official Japanese Giants guys — the founding member, as a matter of fact, since I originated Japanese Giants, the magazine, in 1974. Of course, it was the Showa-era films (19541984) that I fell in love with way back when, but even with the later Heisei- and then Millennium-era films, my youthful enthusiasm has hardly waned. I suppose no one would be much surprised to learn that my all-time favorite movie is Toho's original 1954 Godzilla. I'd go so far as to call it the best monster movie ever made — yes, surpassing even King Kong — and one the best all-around films ever made. So you may wish to take whatever I have to say about the new Godzilla with that background in mind.

The 2014 Godzilla, the precursor to this film, had its moments. While I appreciated the idea that Godzilla and the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) were once the dominant creatures on Earth, that concept received little development. This film expands on those origins, bestowing the name "Titans" to these assorted giants that sprang from our prehistoric times. A subplot using the Hollow Earth theory explains how some of the monsters remained in hiding and/or traveled about the earth undetected. In this film, instead of just Godzilla and two MUTOs, we have a whole menagerie—Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah, and numerous minor non-Toho daikaiju bearing names such as Behemoth, Abaddon, Scylla, and others with roots in various mythologies.

So, to the big honking monster fan in me, it would seem we have the seeds of a monstrously entertaining filum.

But then again....

Make no mistake. The monsters are impressive. The designs for Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah hearken back to their early, classic Toho incarnations. Well, not so much Mothra, whose design more closely resembles her appearance in Toho's Godzilla - Mothra - King Ghidorah - All-Out Giant Monster Attack (a.k.a. GMK, 2001). Regardless, for the most part, the monsters look great, and the audio-visual effects convey incredible size and power. It pays to see the action on the big screen. Sadly, of the monsters, Godzilla's design is the least satisfying. With a huge lower body that tapers to a tiny, wedge-shaped head, I get the feeling the designers wanted to make Godzilla resemble a walking mountain or something such. It didn't work so well. He looks more like a big reptilian pinhead with forward-arching, scaly gorilla arms. He's still more akin to our familiar Godzilla than the critter in TriStar's 1998 stinker, but far, FAR inferior to Toho's finest, such as the 1954 original, and the designs from 1962 (King Kong vs. Godzilla), 1963 (Mothra vs. Godzilla), 1968 (Destroy All Monsters), 1989 (Godzilla vs. Biollante), 1999 (Godzilla Millennium), and numerous others. Now, while I don't poo-poo CGI daikaiju, I have a special affinity for Godzilla's "suit-mation" origins, not to mention the exceptional miniature work of the early films. A man in a suit isn't likely to work for today's audiences, but more closely patterning the iconic figure after those superior designs would have made Godzilla himself far more palatable. I actually loved Godzilla's appearance in 2016's Shin Godzilla, if not so much the movie itself. The creature retained enough of its classic lines to be recognizable, yet... it appeared off... a little wrong... yet still, clearly, a monstrous, wicked, impressive Godzilla. I'd take that design any day over Legendary's big walking wedge.
In this film, Godzilla's most outstanding appearance is his first (apart from a partial shot of him during a brief flashback at the very beginning). In this reveal, he swims slowly toward an underwater window, with the audience's perspective the same as the characters'. With fins flashing and eyes glowing, Godzilla is engaged in "intimidation tactics," according to one of the characters. Indeed. No other shot of Godzilla comes close to the majestic power he displays in this slow, menacing approach. This is Godzilla as he deserves to be presented.

Similarly, the "births" of King Ghidorah and Rodan show these monsters at their finest. With a nod to GMK, King Ghidorah is entombed in ice beneath the earth, and its emergence is another high point in the film. Its three heads weave forward on snakelike necks, and in bat-like fashion it uses the clawed tips of its wings to help propel it along the ground. Happily, as it was in the beginning, King Ghidorah's origin is extraterrestrial, making it a distinctly a bad Titan. In a nice tribute to one of our favorite daikaiju films, Ghidorah is first referred to as Monster Zero. Rodan, in acknowledgement of his cinematic roots, bursts from the summit of a volcano, and his flight creates that famous shock wave that destroys structures and sends human bodies flying. An aerial view of Rodan's shadow passing over the earth vividly brings to mind his advent in the original Rodan - The Flying Monster (1957). Rodan's design fairly closely resembles the 1957 original, and it's easily his best screen appearance since that film.
Bear McCreary's musical score makes an effective aural backdrop for the movie. I have admired many of McCreary's scores, and Godzilla may be my favorite. In places, McCreary interpolates Akira Ifukube's famous Godzilla theme, as well as a gorgeous, lush interpretation of Yuji Koseki's Mothra theme. Least appealing, music-wise, is McCreary's interpretation of Blue Oyster Cult's Godzilla, which cranks up as the end credits begin. I have a grudging appreciation of the original BoC song, but including it in this movie... well... it's pure cheese, and we really didn't need that again. Segueing from that, however, is McCreary's closing symphonic suite, which makes sitting through the final credits worth it. (There is a post-credit teaser scene, though I wouldn't consider it necessarily worth waiting for.)
Kyle Chandler as Dr. Mark Russell

So, in the audio and visual departments, we have tons of material to appreciate. But on their own, none of these elements actually make a movie. The movie is a package. And in the overall, unfortunately, the Godzilla package doesn't exactly deliver. While the film boasts a capable cast, including Kyle Chandler, Ken Watanabe, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Charles Dance, Zhang Ziyi, Bradley Whitford, and others, the script leaves more than a little to be desired, and the direction and editing is often so frenetic that the result is as stomach-churning as Cloverfield (which, due to its cinematography, I will never willingly suffer through again). I've seen Godzilla twice now, and on my first viewing, my brain locked onto the fact that every shot flashed by so quickly I began to feel dizzy. (The next day, I suffered a migraine, and I wonder whether the jumpy cinematography had something to do with it.) Quite involuntarily, I began counting the length of each individual shot, and the longest one lasted 11 seconds, most running only two to six seconds. Though the whole movie. Dizzying.
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa

Storywise, plot elements rush up, swat you in the face, and then scurry away with reckless abandon. Hollow Earth Theory? Check. Wow, before we know it, we're inside the earth, some shit happens, and then, well, that was that. What a momentous theme and one that an entire script could be built around. Alas, no. Oxygen Destroyer? Apparently, unlike the original Dr. Serizawa's world- and history-changing device — for which he gave his life, to keep his invention from falling into the wrong hands — here, the military just happens to have one. So they set it off, and it does a number on Godzilla. But suddenly, oh, no... setting it off was a bad idea because this leaves King Ghidorah unchallenged, and King Ghidorah, the all-powerful space monster, has set about terraforming the earth to suit its own preferences (which is a fine enough idea and is presented in spectacular fashion). Then, in a turnabout that seems drawn from 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (NOT a favorite), our protags decide to use a nuclear bomb to revive Godzilla. In Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, nuclear radiation is used to create monsters as casually as water is to create sea monkeys (that reference may date me; Google unfamiliar terms). This sets up a scene so that Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) can sacrifice himself and revive Godzilla. The scene may be Watanabe's shining moment — he brings believable gravitas to his character. This scene this leads to Godzilla being revived but on the verge of meltdown, a la Godzilla vs. Destroyer (1995). Needless to say, Godzilla doesn't melt down.
Zhang Ziyi as Dr. Chen

Sadly, despite these worthy tributes to earlier entries in Godzilla's ongoing saga, the movie is fraught with so many Hollywood tropes they become as dizzying as the cinematography. Top to bottom, from snappy-but-not-snappy dialogue, to deliberate lulls that culminate in an all-too-expected "shocks," to characters outrunning massive explosions and all-engulfing flames, to that goddamn dysfunctional family that needs to be reunited — which I never fucking want to see again, ever, thank you very much — the film throws in every Hollywood disaster-action-adventure-monster-film cliche that can be crammed into 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell, Vera Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell
Stepping beyond the bounds of the motion picture itself, one of the most galling arguments I keep hearing from the film's defenders is that you don't go to a Godzilla movie expecting anything better than the best monster scene. "In the movies of old, the story and people scenes were largely crap, so it's perfectly okay for the story and people scenes in this one to be crap." No, no, no, and NO. So many of the early Godzilla films had colorful, fantastic, oftentimes whimsical stories, not necessarily geared to American audiences. They had top-flight casts, innovative effects (certainly for their day), brilliant scores, masterful cinematography. But Japanese sensibilities and ours oftentimes do not quite overlap. Never was this more clearly illustrated to me than when, back in my Chicago days of the 1980s, we Japanese Giants Guys hosted any number of Japanese guests, some who were fans, some who were actually affiliated with Toho and other Japanese studios. In talking with them, I often marveled at the differences in what we saw in these movies, what we loved, what we disliked. Any movie, any creative work, is subject to criticism, of dissection, of approval, and/or disapproval. Because one isn't enamored of a particular movie, or aspects of it, he or she is not automatically a hater. God, what facile and imbecilic term so often applied to people who simply are not blind followers of fad or fashion. Too often, disagreeing with the masses of "lovers" is tantamount to personally insulting them and challenging them to duel. Foolishness is what that is.

Now, I like lots of bad movies. With them, I have no illusions that I'm looking at, or should expect, great art. With Godzilla, I did hope for, if not expect, a movie that did not necessarily adhere to every convention for a Hollywood blockbuster, down to the letter. Now, I did not hate this movie; but believe you me, I know some who did, and they can spell out their every reason for it. And that's perfectly all right. Just as it's perfectly all right for you to love this flick far more than me. But to dismiss out of hand any legitimate criticism of a beloved property, that's the purview of the ignorant, spoiled fan. Don't be one of those.

As I trust one may infer from the above, Godzilla has its redeeming qualities. When it comes out on BluRay, I expect I'll pick it up. Parts of this movie warrant watching over again; yes, the monster scenes. However, even if I should rate the critters four or five, in the overall, I can't give Godzilla - King of the Monsters more than two out of five Damned Rodan's Dirty Martinis. If you give it five great big ones, or zero. That's your perogative, and more power to you.
The birth of Mothra
The Monarch command ship facing off with King Ghidorah
Godzilla on the verge of meltdown

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Temple of Doom

Geocaching buddy Tbbiker (a.k.a. Todd) has been clamoring for an expedition to the Uhwharries in Davidson County for some time because there's this multi-cache called Temple of Doom (GC50F7F) down there that has a high (potentially deadly) difficulty and terrain rating. And why would one not desire to risk life and limb to find a tough cache and claim another smiley? I can't think of one.

Tbbiker had been to the site on at least one previous occasion but had only found the first of the cache's four stages. Today, although the weather forecast warned of serious storms, several of us decided to take our chances, brave the possible rain, and take on the Temple of Doom challenge. Four of us formed up at the parking area for the forest area: Tbbiker his own self, as well as regular caching companions Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott) and Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie). We came prepared with several tools of the trade, such as a 12.5-foot collapsing ladder, rope & tackle, flashlights, gloves, beef jerky, trail mix, and lots of water.
Diefenbaker just hanging about
Tbbiker making the ascent to stage two, which
turned out to be missing.

The "temple" is a group of ancient structures that were once part of an iron mining facility — how many years ago I do not know. In any event, we knew we would have to take on physically challenging tasks to claim the cache, and we really hoped the rain would hold off, as negotiating the terrain is tricky enough without it being extra slickery. We lucked out. While the sky occasionally leaked some superfluous water, no serious storms assailed us.

Stage one involved clambering over one of the structures at an appreciable elevation, so we set to work in earnest. This was the one stage Tbbiker had already found, but he sat back to watch in amusement while we hunted. At last, Diefenbaker made the find, which provided the coordinates for the next stage.

Stage two is one of the stages that require either a ladder or ropes (or both) to reach. In this case, a railroad spike hanging high up in a tree indicates the altitude one must search along the cliff. We mounted up, hunted, hunted, and hunted, all to no avail. Much of shale cliff had collapsed (some while Tbbiker was hunting on his last trip) and it became increasingly clear to us that the physical stage here must be gone.

It was.

However, one of our party had some vague intel from a previous finder about where to find the final stage. Vague enough that we couldn't be quite sure we would be at the right place. We did indeed find a likely spot: one of the stone structures whose roof was missing, with a tree growing out of it. The only way in was to scale the exterior and then either haul the ladder inside or use rope & tackle. We had the bad feeling the 12.5-foot ladder might not be tall enough for our purposes, so our resident ropes expert, Diefenbaker, set to work constructing a rope ladder and safety harness we could use as needed.

Since Tbbiker had been the motivating force behind our expedition, he volunteered to attempt the cache's retrieval — if it did actually lurk in that deep, foreboding chamber. He and Diefenbaker geared up, scaled the parapet, and positioned themselves above the opening. I hoisted the extension ladder up to them, and they lowered it into the chamber. And what do you know: the ladder was just tall enough to allow Tbbiker to both descend into the depths and climb all the way back out, which we had feared would not be the case. Down he went... and after a brief search, he came up with the cache in hand.

Sadly, even though the cache owner — Ranger Fox (a.k.a. Christopher) — had used a sturdy container and sealed the log book in a plastic bag, water had seeped inside and ruined the log's pages. I did have a spare log book on hand, so I replaced the ruined one but saved it, in case Christopher should like to keep it as a souvenir. But we had accomplished the all-important task: found the cache and signed the log book. Another nice smiley to reward each of us for risking of life and limb!

And so, with this one put to bed — and having already found the several other caches in the vicinity — Tbbiker opted to take his leave and return home to the wilds of Rockingham County. Diefenbaker, Ms. Fish, and I, having not found the four other traditional caches in the vicinity, opted to continue on. And, oh, what a choice. It was at this point we discovered the real terrain challenges this area of the Uhwharries provides.
Almost at the summit

Let it be said that I have ventured into the Uhwharries after caches numerous times, and every time, the Uhwharries have kicked my ass. They did it again today. Our next target was the Bald Mountain Challenge (GC15CC2), residing some 800 feet vertically above the low-lying area where we had begun our adventure. And steep? Why, yes. This is not a trivial slope. Up, up, up it goes, through woods and rocks, with nary a trail to be found. Yessir, all bushwhacking. Thus, this cache boasts a 5/5 rating, the most difficult on the geocaching scale. Now, it is an older cache (2007), and while the rating for the hide itself might be a bit much (I'd call it a 3), the 5 terrain rating was not a joke. Thankfully, we managed to locate the container without much trouble, and then we took a brief rest break.

From there, it was downhill to another cache, and then... holy horrors... another big uphill trek. As with a couple of other Uhwharrie hikes, I began to wonder if maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. But there he was, Diefenbaker, five years older than me, booking it on up that hill, putting this old man and the much younger Ms. Fish to utter shame. Some old fart! What a machine!

Happily, we finished our day claiming all the caches we had set out to find in the forest. On our way back to Greensboro, Ms. Fish and I grabbed a handful of nice, easy caches, and stopped for a pleasant Mexican dinner in Thomasville. I did reach (and pass) cache find #11,111, which is kind of a fun number. At the end of the day, my total cache count stands at 11,115.

Once back home, I discovered via the Temple of Doom cache page that its owner, Ranger Fox, had gone down to do maintenance on the cache today — apparently, right after we had completed it. He did confirm that stage 2 was missing, which we found gratifying in its way because it meant we were not simply a bunch of inept geocachers who couldn't find an iron spike if it were hanging right there in front of them.

A most satisfying day, despite having my ass whipped yet again by the Uhwharries. One of these days, Uhwharries....
A view of the distant Tuckertown Reservoir, taken from about halfway up our ascent
Some of the sheer cliffs we passed as we made our climb

Friday, June 7, 2019

Simon Clark's The Night of the Triffids

John Wyndham's landmark novel The Day of the Triffids (1951) holds its rightful place as a classic of science-fiction literature and has been a personal favorite since I first read it in my mid-teens. I cracked its covers last in my early 30s, and now I'm kind of feeling the need to revisit it — mainly because I recently (re-)watched the 2009 two-part movie starring Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson, Eddie Izzard. That one is occasionally true to the spirit, though certainly not the details, of Wyndham's novel, although it's unquestionably truer than the 1962 film, which I still love in spite of its myriad foibles — especially since it opened my eyes to the joyous horror of these mobile, venomous, and possibly intelligent plants (see Triffidus Celestus, October 23, 2013 for a personal retrospective of that film). Rather significantly, watching the 2009 film jolted my brain into remembering I owned the Kindle edition of Simon Clark's sequel, The Night of the Triffids (2001), which I had picked up back when the e-book was first released.

Clark's novel takes place 30 years after the events of The Day of the Triffids, the protagonist being David Masen, son of the original novel's protagonist, Bill Masen. After "The Blinding" from Wyndham's book — a celestial lightshow that resulted in most of the world's population going blind — only a handful of settlements of sighted people exist around the world. Most of the planet has devolved into a wasteland, inhabited only by the triffids. The Masens have settled on the Isle of Wight, which has slowly but surely developed into a self-sufficient community. David, not sharing his father's proclivity for scientific innovation, works as a pilot for the island's small defense force, which is kept to fend off occasional raiders from other settlements.
I owned this Crest Book edition of The Day
of the Triffids
when I was a youngster;
somewhere in the vault, I still have it.

One morning, Masen awakes to find an inexplicable, total darkness has fallen over the world. He goes up in a jet, hoping to ascend above this atmospheric enigma, but his plane ends up crashing on a bizarre, floating shelf of vegetation. Here, he discovers a young woman of mysterious origin, with a limited ability to communicate. And triffids. Lots of triffids, intent on snacking on a pair of helpless humans. In the nick of time, a passing ship picks them up, crewed by members of another sighted community. However, rather than returning David and the girl, Christina, to the Isle of Wight, the vessel's captain cites an unnamed emergency and transports them to New York City, which appears to have been restored almost to its pre-Blinding glory.

Here, David meets a young woman named Kerris Baedecker, and the two develop strong feelings for each other. But David soon discovers that this thriving, vibrant New York is but a facade for something much darker. He meets the political and military leader of the city, a man named Torrence — coincidentally, an old enemy of his father's — whose designs for civilization, as well as the young woman David brought with him from the floating island, are anything but benign. David finds himself forced to join a group of unlikely allies to prevent Torrance's influence from spreading as far as his home, and to overcome the escalating threat of the triffids, whose ability to adapt and evolve baffles even those scientists whose lives are devoted to studying them.

Given the original novel's stature, creating a worthy successor would be a daunting task for most any author. Clark does an admirable job with his narrative voice, and the story generally moves at a balanced pace, combining well-developed atmosphere with compelling drama. His triffids retain their horrifying character from the original novel and also display a few added "features" as they rapidly evolve in a world where they are the dominate species. Their climactic appearance makes for an effective surprise, although imbuing the plants with intelligence enough to affect their own evolution seems a bit contrived. Wyndham's triffids remained primarily in the background, a deadly but less prevalent threat to the struggling human race. While there is plenty of human conflict in Clark's novel, the triffids play a more integral part in these conflicts' outcomes.

Clark draws his characters with an assured hand; David Masen, in particular, is easy to accept as Bill Masen's son, with similar mannerisms and thought processes. His recon flight into the heights of the atmosphere, culminating in a harrowing crash landing, is one of the best scenes in the novel. Once he meets the ship's crew — who will take on important roles as the plot progresses — and we see him interact with others of unknown alliances, the real human drama begins. His relationship with Kerris Baedecker blossoms at disconcerting speed, and though her character displays inner strength, at times she seems more a cipher, an object to motivate Masen to action when he needs a little extra oompf.

Moving the setting from Great Britain to the United States doesn't quite seem the ticket for this book. The restored New York never rings true, especially its "dual" nature. This bit bears the hallmarks of a mediocre Hollywood post-apocalyptic movie, rather than a logical continuation, or expansion, of the world as it might develop following The Blinding. The return of Torrence, a minor character in the original, also seems a forced attempt to tie the books together, given the improbability of this cold-hearted but basically petty gentleman assuming such a strategic position in society.

The most unsatisfying aspect of the story is the mysterious darkness — the very "night" of the title — which falls over the earth in the beginning chapter. Clark explains it away as the result of a passing comet, and once done, it no longer plays a part in the drama. Its presence seems nothing more than a device that allows the book to open on a disconcerting note, and then, once the story has progressed, it is conveniently swept away. It has no appreciable impact on events after the first third of the novel.

That Clark respects his source material is clear, and he does present some masterfully rendered moments, such as the jet recon of the atmospheric darkness; the floating, floral island where he finds his mysterious companion; several up-close-and-personal encounters with the triffids themselves. Perhaps it's fair to say the novel succeeds as a thriller in its right more than it does as a sequel to a literary classic.

The Night of the Triffids is readily available in paperback, specialty hardback, and e-book editions. Big Finish, who produces the Dark Shadows audio drama series to which I've contributed three entries, has produced an audio version of this novel as well.

Let's give this one a mixed rating: 2.5 out of 5 as a sequel to The Day of the Triffids, and 3.5 out of 5 as an action-filled, post-apocalyptic thriller.