Friday, September 18, 2020

Midland With a Twist...

Saturday, September 12, 2020
 ...a pandemic twist, I suppose. For two weeks, Ms. B. and I have been in relatively strict quarantine, venturing out only for groceries, which we’ve ordered in advance and picked up curbside. Her parents in Midland, Michigan, have done the same thing. So, figuring we’ve all performed our due diligence, safety-wise, Kimberly and I hit the road for Midland to spend a few days with her folks, whom we have not seen since January. For us, it’s the first time we haven’t flown on a Michigan trip. The drive took just over fourteen hours, including several pit stops, a picnic lunch, and a handful of geocache stops. Not nearly as many caches as I generally pick up on shorter trips, but I didn’t want to prolong what is already a lengthy drive. A few of the hides proved memorable, at least.
Entrance to Big Walker Mountain Tunnel on I-77 northbound

We set out about eight in the morning, under very gray skies. Rain spat on us several times along the way, but at least we didn’t have to contend with any massive gullywashers. Cache-wise, we came upon The Hotel California (we were living up it up... AND we managed to leave); a birdhouse — or so it appeared — that turned out to be a tiny cat’s outhouse; a benchmark that was not a benchmark; and a few more or less traditional hides of varying difficulty.

At our pit stops, we found that, in Virginia and Michigan, most people took the sensible precautions — wearing masks, maintaining social distance, scrubbing up thoroughly, etc. I was unimpressed at our couple of stops in Ohio, where masks were mostly unseen; at least one unmasked, disgusting fucker did his business and didn’t bother to wash his hands before wiping his slobbering mouth; and one slovenly couple made a brazen show of coughing their lungs out inside the rest area. It’s not charitable of me, I know, but I am far from above wishing karma would visit these useless asses with a vengeance. For the most part, though, the trip was mellow enough, the weather not too shabby, and the caching fun.

Once settled in at the Bruggers’, Kimberly and I opened the inevitable bottle of wine and sat up with her folks until sometime in the wee hours, enjoying good company and conversation.
Abandoned motel in New California, OH, the setting for “Hotel California” (GC8JR05)
Unfortunately, the cache wasn’t in the tower.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

I crawled out of bed before too late this morning, had a bite of breakfast, and then took off on one of Del’s bicycles to hunt some of the neighborhood caches that have popped up since our last visit back in January. Michigan weather is nowhere near as hot and humid as North Carolina’s, but even so, a long ride, both on and off road, damn near melted every bone in my body.

After returning to Casa de Brugger, I scrubbed up the melted remains and joined the rest of the gang on a drive to Sanford, a few miles to the northwest. Back in May, after massive rainfall, the Tittabawassee River, which runs through Sanford and into Midland, swelled to epic proportion and smashed through the Wixton Lake dam in Edenville, just north of Sanford, and the Sanford Dam, which resulted in a massive flood that devastated much of Sanford and Midland. We had visited Sanford on our wintertime visit, and today, we spent some time surveying the damage. Much of the town is still closed down, and Sanford Lake is totally gone, replaced by a huge plain of mud, the river a mere trickle through its center.

My hat’s off to the people of Midland. On our return trip, we had to make a supply run to Meijer, and I would estimate that 99% of the people in the store wore masks and showed due respect for other people’s personal space. I personally saw only two maskless dolts, almost certainly the best show of solidarity against COVID-19 I have seen anywhere. Midland does have a lower infection rate than most of the rest of the state of Michigan. Thank you, good people.
Sanford Lake Dam, four months after the Tittabawassee River blew through it
Rodan’s-eye view from “Yes, It’s Really Up There”

Monday, September 14, 2020
The morning bike ride in Midland has become a most welcome activity, especially when there are caches to be found. Apparently, a number of new ones had come out since yesterday, so the almost-coveted first-to-find honors remained to be claimed. I headed out pretty early and snagged several FTFs. I also did not find a few, partly due to fawlty coordinates and partly due to old dude’s blindness. Although it started out finger-numbing cold, by the time I returned to Casa de Brugger, I had become another sweaty, melty, horrifying mess.

During the afternoon, the family decided to head over to nearby Auburn, to an extensive gift shop called Warmbier Farms. I had done some caching out that way on a previous visit, but happily, the area has been re-stocked, so while the folks did their shopping, I headed after the newer hides. I know, shocked, right? Tree-climbing caches are among my favorites, so I found much joy — and a cache — from fair elevation at “Yes, It’s Really Up There” (GC8Q6AQ). In fact, I found triple the joy on this particular ascent. It was a pretty good-size pine at the end of a rural road. Upon my arrival, I didn’t immediately spy the cache, so I just started climbing. Ah, there it is. Not too low, not too high. Pleasing placement, it is. I managed to grab the container and sign the log with no problem — then, as I rehung it, the blasted thing slipped off the branch, and... plummet. Well, down I go, grab the container, put it securely in my pocket, and climb back up to the proper level. Reach into pocket, and... well, I thought it was securely in there. Sigh. Back down the tree. At least the container was easy to spot both trips down. Once again, up we go with the container. This time, I re-hung it without mishap. I had actually gotten tired of climbing that tree, believe it or not.
Crabby apples at a cache near Warmbier Farms

That wasn’t quite it for the caching adventures. Ms. B. and I had to return to Meijer later for some supplies for tomorrow’s Chicken Marsala, which I am cooking for the family, and a few nearby caches still awaited my attention. My favorite was one of high difficulty rating (4 out of 5), which I found by lucky accident. Ms. B. was waiting for me in the car, so I had resolved to spend no more than a few minutes on the hunt. As soon as I entered the woods, coordinates began bouncing mercilessly. This is a target-rich environment, so I feared hunting a cache of this difficulty level would likely prove an exercise in futility. I decided I would come back and hunt this one when I had plenty of time. I kinda needed to pee, and since I was alone in pretty dense woods, I figured, well, let’s do it. I was just finishing up when I noticed something a hair more symmetrical than the ubiquitous foliage nearby. And what do you know — my gaze had, quite by chance, fallen on the cache. Saved by a pee break!

I spent the rest of the evening indulging in our regular Midland traditions: working on my upcoming Ameri-Scares novel (New Hampshire: Ghosts From the Skies); drinking wine with Ms. B. on the porch swing (reserved for good-weather trips, of course); and hanging out with the folks watching TV until the wee hours. I would be hard-pressed to imagine a more relaxing, enjoyable time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Why yes, the morning bike ride included more caches. This time, I headed south toward the Midland Grand Curve Trail, which runs east-west along US Highway 10 Business. First, I stopped at a cache at the edge of Stratford Woods, a puzzle cache I had solved years ago but had not had a chance to hunt (it is considered “non-winter friendly,” which in Michigan means business). The trails I found were overgrown, but I decided to see if I could ride them all the way into the park proper. I soon discovered this was not to be; I tried several options, but they all petered out into vast expanses of mud (note the destruction of the dams on the Tittabawassee River referenced upstream). So, reluctantly, I turned around and made my way back to the main road and the paved GCT, which was good for several more finds.

Whenever Ms. B. and I visit her folks, she and I like to provide a dinner or two. I had opted to give Chicken Marsala a shot, since it’s one of my favorite dishes to prepare (well, personally, I prefer Veal Marsala, but Kimberly does not share my fondness of the small dead cow). The family had once again headed out to find treasures, so I made myself at home in the kitchen and, I have to say, this batch hit the mark.

During the afternoon, we took Kimberly’s car down to a nearby shop to have her tires checked out, as they appeared to be losing air. Happily, that issue was resolved quickly and relatively easily. She was then good enough to accompany me to three of the caches I couldn’t find yesterday. Today... success! We turned yesterday’s frownies into smileys. Then, with the weather as perfect as perfect gets — temperature in the mid-60s, low humidity, and a lovely breeze — we took a leisurely bike ride around the neighborhood. I can’t express how perfect an antidote this has been, at least for now, to the anxiety, pressure, and grief that have followed Mom’s passing in July.
Chicken Marsala, probably my best effort yet. Y’all don’t get any.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
Seriously, I’d hard-pressed to remember when I have last enjoyed entertaining myself as much as on these solo morning biking/geocaching outings in Midland. Today in particular, after a decent night’s sleep (a rarity even in this more relaxed environment), I headed out into a beautiful, temperate morning, with a fair breeze and little traffic to contend with. Yesterday, I had claimed a bunch of caches on the Midland Grand Curve Trail east of Swede Avenue; today, I headed back to the trail, to the west of Swede. I targeted several others in the area, which meant more traffic and more muggles, but even then, it was anything but oppressive. I snagged fourteen caches, I think it was, and passed a most entertaining boneyard on my outbound ride (see below).

Later, Ms. B. and I drove over to Midland City Forest, where we put in about a three-mile hike — yep, caches for the old feller, and nature photography for the nice lady. Found a good many hides and got in some decent exercise. And for the evening, another round of wine and quality time with the family.

Yep, that little dot is a magnetic nano
on a lightpole, about 20 ft. up

Thursday, September 17, 2020
This morning’s bike ride fell more into the “challenging” category than the “exhilarating” one. It started out beautifully: I rode up to a cache I had failed to find on one of our more frigid excursions here a couple of winters ago. This time, it took some hunting, but I finally made the find. A relatively short distance away, there is a cache called “High Enough?” (GC8WYBG). The name is apt, for what we have here is a magnetic nano stuck about 20 feet up on a light pole. At least one previous finder shimmied up that pole, but I felt it more prudent to improvise a tool of the trade, which I did. Yessir, I came, I saw, I conquered, I replaced the cache as it was intended. A couple of years back, I had to perform a similar feat at a nearby Midland cache; I made it happen, but it required far more effort than this one did.

I hunted and found several more caches, but it wasn’t long before the trouble set in. I’m pretty sure Del’s bike has not seen use like I’ve given it in... well... probably ever, and now the chain took to falling off every time I hit a bump. Of course, this started about the time I reached the farthest possible distance from home base — several miles, at this point. I managed to get the troublesome bastard back on each time, though on a couple of occasions, only after considerable difficulty. Without tools, I couldn’t do but so much in the way of reparations. I did manage to nurse the brute back to Casa de Brugger, though I damn near lost my phone in the process. I apparently dropped it while working on the chain; fortunately, I knew exactly where it must have fallen, so I was able to head back and promptly reclaim it.

Once able to avail myself to proper tools, I dusted off the old talents (I was a proficient bicycle mechanic in my adventurous youth) and hammered the rear wheel back to sufficiently increase the chain tension. I hope. Kimberly and I took a ride around the neighborhood this evening, and the contraption functioned swimmingly. I trust it will for Del when he goes out to ride the thing!

Once again, we all enjoyed an evening of wine; fantastic food; stimulating... uh... yeah, that's the word... television; and some wonderful bonding time. Another late night for us old folks, it was.

Friday, September 18, 2020
As all good things must come to an end, so did this trip. Since I first met and got to know Del and Fern, back in 2010, I have felt comfortable and at home with them. But it didn’t take long for me to consider them family; and I have it on good authority the feeling is mutual. Each and every time we get together, I consider the occasion special, particularly since the Bruggers accepted me into their lives never realizing the sorrow, heartbreak, and outright horror they might be in for. But somehow, on this trip — maybe because my mom is gone now — I felt a deeper connection, a sense of belonging and acceptance I haven’t known since I was a kid. Indeed, this week, I experienced a youthful exuberance from spending so much quality time with these good people I have come to love and aspire to honor. Now, make no mistake, I am a crass old fart, and I fear I sometimes open the mouth and insert the foot, but for better or for worse, I believe the family understands where I am coming from. I do hope. As I told Del when we left this morning, I try to be good but it’s so hard that it hurts. Still, I think the Bruggers can only have a positive effect on me.

It goes without saying that Ms. B. and I had a long drive home. We took a different route back, primarily to compare time and quality of the roads. Today’s route was easier and marginally quicker. It also took us down Route 35 through Gallipolis, OH, and Point Pleasant, WV, where, back in 2018, I had spent some of the best solo time of my existence while researching my Ameri-Scares novel, West Virginia: Lair of the Mothman. Since we were passing through on such a long trip, we couldn’t spend a decent amount of time in the area, but I did snag a very cool cache in the shadow of the Silver Memorial Bridge — this one on the Ohio side of the Ohio River.

Back home now, and I must soon return to chipping away at the mountains of minutiae involved in settling Mom’s estate. I don’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel, but from some of the information I have gotten, the tunnel, at least, may not be quite as dark as it portended. There be hope here.

Be good, be safe, and wear a fucking mask.

The Silver Memorial Bridge over the Ohio River, from the Gallipolis, OH, side.
The geocache host can be seen in the photo.

Ms. B. in the shadow of the bridge

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