Sunday, June 28, 2020

South of Heaven: Abyss

Team No Dead Weight
Team No Dead Weight: Old Dude, Scott, Natalie. I just realized these two were not properly socially distanced
here. At least, I was good. I am always good. Sort of.
I haven’t come home from geocaching so hot, wet, and filthy dirty since the last time I came home so hot, wet, and filthy dirty, and that is some kind of hot, wet, and filthy dirty. Team No Dead Weight — today’s incarnation consisting of Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), and I — set out this morning for Chapel Hill/Durham for the express purpose of knocking out a few geocaches that require venturing into the deep, dark underground. We ended up in five tunnels, I believe it was, two of which were part of a single multi cache.
Our view for the better part of the day

We started out with a fine multi called “Preparation H: Feels Good on the Hole” (GC340DE) in Chapel Hill. It’s one of a series of “Preparation” caches, which require you to have some particular tool of the trade in order to acquire the prize. In this case, the tool in question is a flashlight, and we made sure we had an adequate supply of them for our trek. The first stage led us to not so much a tunnel as a tight, lengthy enclosure under a bridge. The object bearing the coordinates to the next stage proved quite challenging to turn up. Reaching the second stage did require going into a bona fide, fairly lengthy storm drain tunnel. The stage itself was not a container per se, but a novel method of revealing coordinates to the actual cache. It lurked just off a nearby trail, at ground level, but on what is called, in the vernacular, high ground. Someone was kind enough to leave a rope to assist with our ascent and descent. A bloody fun hide this one.

Next, we sought a little monster called “Strategies Against Architecture: Darkness” (GC1JXYB), deep inside a narrow tunnel that required crawling to negotiate. Not my favorite means of ingress, I can tell you. And sadly, this effort turned out to be a bust. The cache may still be in there, but damned if we could find it. This cache and the next two were placed by friend Vortexecho (a.k.a. Christian), who is well-known locally for his more extreme geocache hides.

Scott trying not to fall down go boom
We had similar bad luck at a much longer tunnel — “Mind the Frogs” (GC1JZC1) — in which we could stand partially upright, at least. This journey turned out to be fairly lengthy, our search intense, but once again, we got skunked. Most depressing, since we did put in such effort in hopes of making the find. Alas!

But then, the pièce de résistance: “Strategies Against Architecture: Abyss” (GC1QF2P). I think Vortexecho may have outdone himself on this one. It’s a two-mile “hike” in a very long, very dark, very wet tunnel on the outskirts of Durham. Thing is, thanks to none of us adequately reading the cache description beforehand (which one really ought to do, especially when you’re going deep underground), we didn’t realize just how lengthy this thing would be. After we had slogged and sloshed through the tunnel, which was mostly big enough to traverse in something akin to an upright position, we decided to re-read the cache description.

Oh, yeah. Two miles. We had gone about a quarter of that.
The aftermath: hot, sweaty, soaking wet,
Filthy mcNasty old dude

Well, of course, there was nothing for it but to keep on sloshing. Happily, we encountered no Copperheads, although we did see Black Widows in profusion, all just lounging about. Black Widows, at least, aren’t particularly nosy (noses they ain’t got!), preferring instead to mind their own business unless bothered. And we bothered them not at all.

Finally, we saw a light ahead (the “room of golden air”), which turned out to be a large junction with a drain overhead, through which golden sunlight came pouring. And there, chained to a pillar in the center of the chamber, there lay our quarry: a nice, large lock & lock container, just above head-high. When I opened the container, though, it emptied a considerable quantity of water on me, which indicated that the chamber has been totally flooded on occasion (possibly quite recently, given the amount of precipitation we have suffered). Needless to say, dangers do exist in this environment. A couple of years back, a sinkhole opened above the pipe, causing the total collapse of one section. One would not wish to be in the pipes during any appreciable rainfall. (And I had only been home a short time this afternoon when one of our notorious gullywashers began.)

All in all, an invigorating, if damned filthy-dirty day. I sleep now.
Big honking millipede — about six inches long — wandering about in the tunnel

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Go Paddling (Or Don’t)!

A couple of new geocaches came out on Belews Lake in the past few days, apparently intended to be found by way of the water route — kayak, canoe, or boat of whatever variety — but so close to the extensive Knight Brown Preserve along the lake that I suspected they could be accessed via land. And indeed they were.

One of them — “Go Paddling!” (GC8TPHJ) — had come out several days ago, but “Fish Out of Water” (GC8V71Y) had popped up only yesterday morning, while I was in Martinsville. Since the preserve isn’t far out of the way, I had a mind to shoot for a first-to-find on my way back to Greensboro, but while I was en route, I received notification that the first find had just been logged. So, instead, I decided to head on home and inquire whether the gang of usual suspects — Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and Old Bloody Rob (a.k.a. Old Bloody Rob) — might care to venture after both caches for our regular Sunday morning outing. They cared to. And I managed to satiate my cache craving by finding three relatively new ones on my way over to Brugger’s place for dinner last night.

So, right about 10:00 AM this morning, the four of us gathered at the trailhead to begin our quest. Ordinarily, I seldom encounter any other human beings (living ones, at least) at Knight Brown, but today, as with so many trails during the pandemic lockdowns, the place was jam-packed. Fortunately, the crowd didn’t impact us significantly because a fair portion of our hike was off-trail.

I tell you this, the heat, humidity, bugs, and ruggedness of the woods came close to doing some of us in (not me, of course, as I was done in a long time ago). The hike turned out to be a pretty rugged couple of miles each way. On our outbound trip, we ran into friend Ranger Fox (a.k.a. Christopher), who’d had the same idea as us. Although we missed it — alas! — he had just seen a gray fox up close and personal not far from our location. I’ve not seen a gray fox, at least not up close, since my earliest days of geocaching, when two of them popped out of the woods right next to me after I had found a cache. That was one beautiful sight, and I’m sad we missed seeing another one today.

We found both caches without much difficulty, and made the two-mile trek back with a little less vim and vigor than we’d had on the outbound hike.

I am down to composing the final scene of my current work in progress — a short story for an upcoming anthology — and, after that, I still have another story and a couple of Ameri-Scares novels to turn out. Life continues to crank.

Peace out.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Ameri-Scares: Ohio: Fear the Grassman!

’Tis here! My latest novel in Elizabeth Massie’s Ameri-Scares series for young readers from Crossroad Press: Ohio: Fear the Grassman! The Kindle edition is now available, and the paperback and audio editions will follow soon.

Five years ago, young Landon Shrewsbury saw something that scared him to death: a giant, shadowy figure lurking in the woods around his house. Something that left huge footprints in his yard. Now, at age thirteen, Landon has convinced himself he imagined the whole experience. But now, numerous people in Sugarcreek, Ohio, report seeing just such a creature. When his parents leave town for a week-long vacation, Landon is left in his older brother's care. And to his horror, the frightening, shadowy menace from his childhood returns. Landon, his brother Kevin, and his new friend Tami suddenly find themselves being stalked by the fearsome giant known as the Grassman. Now, the three of them must discover the reason for the beast's return—and find a way to stop its violent rampage—before they fall victim to its inhuman fury.

The Ameri-Scares series from Crossroad Press is currently being developed for television by Warner Brothers and Margot Robbie's LuckyChap Entertainment.

You can check out a couple of excerpts from Ohio: Fear the Grassman! here:

Order Ohio: Fear the Grassman! from here.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Chapel Hill Trails


Another Sunday, another geocaching outing for Team No Dead Weight: friends Diefenbaker (a.k.a. Scott), Fishdownthestair (a.k.a. Natalie), and the old man. Sundays have long been reserved for geocaching with any number of good friends, but during this prolonged spell of mostly non-socializing, our regular little group outings have been a special source of joy. We surely do miss our friend Old Rob, though, who generally isn't able to join us on our more remote trips. This time around, our destination was Chapel Hill, primarily the trails of the extensive Carolina North Forest. I've cached in that area many, many times, but — happily — the local geocachers tend to keep the forest well-stocked with new caches. In fact, literally minutes after we left, a number of new ones popped up along those trails. A shame they didn't come out just a short time earlier, but on the other hand, we have a reason to make yet another trip into those woods.
Sleepy toad gives nary a shit about geocacher
taking his picture.

We encountered some enchanting wildlife out there — toads, turtles, Great Blue Herons, and another geocacher from the area. I chanced upon an unactivated geocoin (pictured above) in a cache we were supremely lucky to find, since the coordinates were 80-some feet off. So I've activated the coin and will set it loose in the wild at the earliest opportunity. I do enjoy finding and moving trackables, and occasionally picking up one of my own, even though, once they're out there, the chances of ever seeing them again are almost nil. Trackables are items that you place in a geocache. When a geocacher finds a trackable, he can log the find online, move the object to another cache, and then use the object's unique tracking code to log the move. That way, the object moves from cache to cache to cache, and eventually travel great distances. If geocachers are conscientious and log the trackable online, the owner can see its progress as it moves. Most trackables eventually vanish somewhere out there, but I have had a few that have traveled many thousands of miles, including a couple that have literally gone all the way around the world.

Along the trail, near Bolin Creek, there is an old car that, over the years, people have filled with rocks. I've passed it any number of times, but it's recently looking a little worse for wear. Go figure that!

Our caching outing was marred only by Natalie taking a spill during a river crossing. She got a bit banged up, and it looks like it might be curtains for her phone, but otherwise, I think she's fine. Such are the risks out there in the wild!

After geocaching, I headed up to Martinsville to hang out at the old homestead for a bit. I did find a new cache in Danville on my way from Chapel Hill. All in all, a rigorous but relaxing weekend. You can bet I'll take it.
Old, rock-filled car gives nary a shit about geocacher taking its picture. Its condition has deteriorated
considerably over the years.
The same car in July 2013

Friday, June 12, 2020


Being a writer of fictions and foolishness of all sorts, I express myself in words, probably too many for some people's liking. Over the years, I feel I've become a better writer by reading, experiencing as much of life as I can, reading, meeting other writers, and reading. I tend to absorb massive amounts of information and am, by nature, compelled to regurgitate it in what I hope is a creative, engaging manner.

By the same token, I feel I've become a better person by listening. Listening more than talking. This is hard for me because I have a lot of pent-up stuff to talk about. I like expressing myself. I like to communicate. Listening can be difficult because all that inner noise gets in the way. But I'm trying to become a better listener. Every opinion I have, every conviction, comes from listening, evaluating, and collating. I try to make decisions, not in a vacuum or echo chamber, but based on the best information I can absorb. Lately more than ever, I feel it has been a time to listen. To—at least occasionally—shut the fuck up and just listen. To voices that I ordinarily might not hear. That I might disagree with. That I might find offensive. That impart wisdom based on experiences I can never know.

Social media allows everyone to have their say. Unfortunately, now more than ever—likely because 2020 has dealt us more than a few serious boots to the head—it seems to me that way too many people are yammering when they should be listening. The signal to noise ratio is bad. Very bad. Blind, dogmatic BS, shared because it simply fits a convenient but mindless narrative. So, I'm going to ask, nicely, that some folks take a breather, suck it up, and just freaking listen. Me, I am not egotistical enough to think I have all the answers. A lot of times, I don't even have the right questions. But can you—will you—listen? You might learn something. I sure have, and I plan to continue.

Bear in mind, listening does not mean blindly accepting; far from it. It means critically examining and filtering. That is how we build convictions.

And that, in perhaps too many words, is what's happening upstairs today. Thank you for listening, and I shut up now.