Saturday, April 22, 2017

MOGA 2017

I got up nice and early on race day, because they wanted all the geocachers racing in the individual competition to be at the location by 7am. That meant getting up at 6am, and preparing for the race, but this is no big deal. My normal wake-up time is 5am. I packed all my racing kit, including a bag of extra clothes, and went downstairs to get my free hotel breakfast. Fueled up on eggs and bacon, I drove out to meet the rising Kansas sun and see what the competition area would look like.
Sunrise at the Lazy T Ranch, with one of the event gadget caches in the foreground.

The competition this year was at the Lazy T Ranch. I learned later that this is the first time the course has been on private land. Usually it is held at a state or county park I guess. I was one of the first competitors to get the waypoints loaded into my trusty Garmin 60CSx and I sat down with the map of the course to figure out my strategy.


Compared to last year, this course looked easy. Not only was there less ground to cover, but there were no odd multi-caches to throw off my route. The furthest cache was maybe a mile away and most of the caches were pretty well clustered in a few areas. This year, it would all be about speed. I had no doubt that people would be finishing well under the full 2.5 hours. Right before the race, all the competitors gatherd beneath a hill to take a group photo, and then the start was announced. "5... 4....3....2...1.... GO", and we all took off.

I started off by going west towards punch I25. And my start was pretty bad, because I ended up having to turn around after a few hundred feet because I was in someone's yard and I could hear the organizers yelling at me. "#42 you can't go that way!". I was wearing my #42 soccer jersey, so I knew this was me. According to the map I was looking at, I figured going by this proviate residence would be a good way to start, and I also figured that the houses here were part of the ranch and fair game as far as running around them goes. I don't recall them mentioning that going by the house wasn't allowed either, but apparently it was. So i had to back track a bit, and then work my way up a hillside towards I42. A couple other cachers were also going this way, but I soon passed them and was off thrashing through the woods to my first goal. I got slowed down quite a bit around I25, as there were some nasty thorny shrubs in that area. nothing like getting all scratched up at the start of the race. things got easier after that one though and soon I was flying from punch to punch. Quiote frequently I would run into other cachers on the course, everything was just so compact, but I never was next to any one cacher for long. I was basically running my own race, so i just kept my head down and had it. 

The best part of the course was the highland caches, starting with I47. Above the wooded hillsides was a nice open prairie with great views of the hills all around, and relatively easy running between points. I say relatively because the prairie wasn't golf-course flat, and the tall grass hid all sorts of little holes and rocks. But I'm used to this kind of thing. It was very much like my training runs out in the deserts around Santa Fe, so I made good time on this portion of the course. There were a couple punches that took me a few minutes to find, but mostly I was having an easy time of it. that changed at punch I79, where I joined three other cachers who had been there 20 minutes already. I searched with them for 5 minutes myself, but got impatient. if this one was missing, I would just need to skip it. and if a whole bunch of other cachers couldn't locate it in 25 minutes I figured there was a good chance it was missing. So off I went. only two caches later, at I64, I ran into another tough one for me. Luckily, another cacher walked by and I asked for a hint and was directed to where the cache was hidden, tucked into the gaping hole in a root. The rest of the course was fast and easy and I was soon running into the finish area. Of course you have to finish strong, so I ran as hard as I could this last stretch and flopped down in front of the Race Official with my card. I must say, the folks hanging around the finish area seemed a little surprised that I was finishing already. I was definitely the first person to finish, and my time was pretty darn good.

The next competitor to roll in, (Joe a previous winner of the Individual Comp) asked about #79 immediately when trotting in. When he heard it hadn't been found by me, he raced off to give it another look. I debated for a second about heading out after him. If he turned up I79 and I didn't get it, he would surely win. But on the other hand, if I79 was indeed missing, my going back out could allow another competitor to come in and beat my time. So I stayed put and drank down a coconut water. The race officials sent someone out to look for #79 as well, and I sat there, trying to be patiently optimistic.

A few more competitors came in and finally Joe came back as well, defeated by not having found #79. My gamble had paid off! #79 was indeed declared missing and I was the winner of the Individual Comp! The whole course ended up being less than 4 miles in length, and took around an hour and a half to complete. WAY shorter than last year's, which no one completed and took up the full 2.5 hours. Last year I had run over 8 miles! In some ways this is a good thing. It allows more people to finish the course and have more fun with the course, even if they aren't running hard. I also wasn't as tired or worn out for mty next competition, and I had some bonus time to go caching a little bit before the team comps. Which is exactly what I did. I called up team TKO, who were out caching already, and figured out a spot to meet them, and off I went.

Caching with TKO, or as they are better known when they are caching together, PLSF for Possible Lost Sequoia Fairy is a riot. Those guys had a list of hard D/T rating caches, virtuals and earthcaches, and other fun and interesting caches to go after in the Manhattan area. I hadn't prepared at all for caching in the area, so it was great for me to just tag along and help try to find things. Also, they are all just funny and fun people to hang out with. We ended up scoring 5 or six caches before we needed to be at the competition area again.
Once back at the Ranch, we got our maps and punch cards and strategized over a picnic lunch. The course for the 4-man comp was more or less the same size as the individual, which meant one thing: it was going to be fast! We sat down as a team and developed our plan. The course divided up pretty nicely into 4 quadrants, with two involving a bit more distance, but slightly fewer caches to find. Marty and I took the longer distance routes, and Kim and Tom took the closer routes with more caches. There was one outlier cache, T13, which didn't really fit into any route, but was also fairly close to the finish area. We decided that this one would be captured by whoever returned to the finish area first. Hopefully, while this person was grabbing this last one, the other members would be coming in and we would all finish around the same time.
As with the Individual Comp, the race started with a group picture, and then a brief count-down. At the start Marty and I were running next to eachother, which was a little odd, because he was supposed to take off in a slightly different direction than I was going. He figured that out quickly enough though and we soon separated. I was following behind another fast geocacher, the CherryCacher, but we spit up too choosing to go after different first caches. My first stop was T57, and I got there pretty quickly. But after a few frantic minutes of searching I couldn't find the bugger, so I decided to go to the next one and see if I could get this one on my way back, when maybe more other cachers would be clustered around it. I ran over to T27 where the CherryCacher was searching and joined him. Less than a minute late two more cachers showed up and they finally found the cache. I waited my turn to punch in, then was off up the hills to my next prize. it seemed like I was the first cacher to tackle the high hills caches, and for the most part I was running on my own. I quickly found all the caches up on the top prairie and started running back to T57 to try to find that one. on the way I got a hint from CharryCacher that it was on the ground. Thanks man! When i showed up this time, it was a quick and easy find. I then ran over to the last cache in my quadrant, found it, and almost a second later got a call from Kim. Kim had just finished her area and was heading back to find T13. That meant all i had to do was run to the finish area and wait for the rest of my team.

Unlike the Individual Comp, there were already competitors at the finish area when I ran in. But there was nothing I could do but sit and wait. I did learn that two of the folks waiting there were on the same team, and on a team with Joe and the CherryCacher. The CherryCacher came in a few minutes later and they were looking like a shoe-in to win at that point. I thought about texting out to my team mates to see if I could help, but decided that probably would just add confusion, so i patiently sat and waited. Kim finally showed up and she had heard from the other members of our team. Apparently Marty was having trouble finding one of his, so Tom, who had finished his route, had gone over to help Marty find his last one. While we were figuring all this out, Joe, the last member of the other team came running in. Their team quickly sat down to double check that all punches were completed, then turned in their cards. There final time was ~37 minutes!
The winning team: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
So it didn't look like we would win, unless there was a strange fluke (hey one happenned last year), but Kim and I were still hoping to see Tom and Marty come charging down the hill to the finish area. Marty came in first, and Tom was only a short ways behind. We cheered them in, gathered our cards together and handed them in. Our time was ~46 minutes. Fast, but not fast enough.
With the team competition over so quickly, we had a bunch of extra time for some more caching, so off we went to find a few more of the areas interesting hides.
Pilsbury Falls

Of course its an Earthcache!
Konzaga Prairie, another fine earthcache
PLSF work on extracting an urban cache with a high D rating. Never would have gotten this one on my own, required a special TOTT
After some good caches found, I went back to the hotel to shower up and look for ticks. Thankfully none! We then all had dinner at a local bard/grill before heading over to the MOGA award ceremony. We arrived just in time for me to learn I had a winning raffle ticket. My prize was a cool Russian Ammo Can! If we had been much later the prize would have been given out to someone else, so our timing was perfect. Well, a little less than perfect, because no one on the PLSF crew had even had a chance to enter their raffle tickets into any of the drawings. They were too late... bummer. The award ceremony was much better run then last year's, with each contest being called out promptly and photos being taken off to the side while new winners were being called up.  As they were calling out the individual competition results, they passed over my age category for some reason, and I remarked to Marty "Why would they do that, it's not like the overall winner of the individual competition gets anything special." Or at least, that is what I thought. After calling out the 2nd and 3rd place finishers, the MC declared that this year, for the first time, they were presenting a new Cup for the overall individual Competition winner. It would be named in honor of a geocacher who had been instrumental in getting MOGA started, and who had passed away recently. And then they called me up! I was the first recipient of the new MOGA Individual Cup! 
MOGA 2017 crowd
When they got to the group competition, we knew what to expect, but I was still secretly hoping that somehow we had won. Up until they called team TKO up for 2nd place that is. We all went up to receive our medals, which are pretty darn cool. Then sat down as they announced the new MOGA cup winners, the team that had beaten us by nearly 10 minutes. We had run a good race, but they had run it faster. After that there was only one thing left to do. Hit the hot-tub! Nothing like a hot-tub and a cooler of drinks to relax after a long day of caching and competing.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Road To MOGA 2017


For weeks I had been looking forward to participating in MOGA. That enthusiasm was only partly dampened by catching a virus from my son, leaving me with fevers, chills, head-aches and loads of phlegm. I had warned my team-mates about my sickness, and we had a replacement ready to go, but I was still determined to make it out to Manhattan, Kansas, and compete again. So early Friday morning, I blearily said goodbye to my wife, quietly kissed the sleeping kids on their foreheads and hit the road.

As any geocacher will tell you, long road trips aren't all that bad. There are almost always opportunities to find some cool caches along the way. This trip was no exception. I would be traveling mostly on smaller state highways, through the Northeast corner of New Mexico, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and through a giant hypotenuse of Kansas. Most of New Mexico passed while it was still dark, but the sun finally rose as I was passing Springer, NM. This part of New Mexico is pretty flat, although not flat by Kansas standards I suppose. There are prairies and gentle rolling hills, and usually a taller butte off in the distance. I spotted several herds of antelope along the road, and the morning dew soon rose into the air creating a gentle fog that made for a pleasant driving ambiance. I made my first pit-stop in Clayton, NM, for gas, a little breakfast burrito, and of course a geocache. The geocache I found was part of the Santa Fe trail, and I was hoping I would be able to find more of this Geotour since my route followed it pretty closely.

My next stops came pretty soon after since there was an interesting Virtual cache located at the tristate marker between Oklahoma, NM and Texas. I also grabbed a nearby traditional where I picked up a TB that had been left by some other MOGA-2017-bound geocachers that I had met in Santa Fe just a few days before. I was definitely traveling in their tire-tracks. There are actually a number of other geocaching points of interest in this little corner of the country, including Black mesa, the high-point of Oklahoma, and Point of Rocks, KS, another interesting stop along the Santa Fe Trail. All of these interesting spots were many miles off my route though, and would have required hours of additional travel time. Since I still had a long ways to go, I left these detour trips for some other time (if ever). Perhaps if I was to make the same trip over 2 days, I would have hit up these other spots. Oh well.

Tri-state corner

I was only in Oklahoma for less than an hour. Kansas would be the majority of my drive, and Kansas was flat. Big and flat. The highway I was on was a small state highway, just two lanes going opposing directions. The towns were spread pretty far apart, and SW Kansas towns seemed to be extremely rural. Farms lined the road just about everywhere, and there wasn't a whole lot to look at most of the time. I burned through quite a few podcasts during this portion of my drive. I also eagerly looked forward to the handful of interesting geocaches I had tagged as being worthy stops along my way. one was at a massive wind-farm. Another at a rural sod-house museum at a town that claimed to be the mid-point of America. A third was at Pawnee Rock, which to someone from NM, seemed to be a rather unremarkable rock outcropping, but for West Kansas, was a pretty big deal as a landmark. Pawnee rock was also a stop along the Santa Fe Trail, and while I was there I ran across another NM geocacher team who were on their way to MOGA as well. All these little stops help make the long drive a little more bearable, providing milestone goals along the route, things to look forward to in the next 50-100 miles.
Windfarm

Midway America?

Pawnee Rock

At around 5pm I finally drove into the bustling little city of Manhattan, KS, and quickly found the event hotel. The place was packed and thrumming with geocachers, as the Packet pick-Up event had just started. I checked into my room, then stood in line for my packet. The number of geocachers i ran into that I recognized kind of surprised me. I'm not that much of a social geocacher, but there were loads of people from east Tennessee, and a fair number of NM cachers that I knew and I tried to say hi to everyone. I also ended up talking to some Groundspeak Lackeys, Moun10bike and RockChalk, which was pretty cool. I knew both of them by reputation only, and I tried my best to talk them into competing in the MOGA events.
Quieting down at the MOGA central

The folks I was really looking forward to seeing though were my team, TKO, and I had to leave the event and drive over to a local brewery to meet up with them. Nothing beats meeting up with good friends over drinks and hearty food. And the best part was, my flu symptoms seemed to be fading. I had been checking my temperature throughout the drive and was usually in the 100-102F range. But I was feeling better now that I was eating real food and hanging out with friends. I was still coughing a bit, and had gobs of phlegm. But what can you do. I was committed to race and that was that.

My team was up for some more geocaching that night, but I was wiped, so I said my goodbye and made a bee-line straight to my hotel bed, where I practically fell asleep in my clothes.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

One last training run for MOGA

Panorama view from Tetilla Peak
I had a chance to do one more training run for the MOGA comps coming up, and much like my last training run, I chose a geo-art out in the deserts west of Santa Fe. This one was called the Bajada Arrowhead, and consisted of 18 caches out in cholla filled plains. The hides were much easier than the Geo-circle, all PVC pipes sticking out of the ground and for the most part very obvious to spot. So the training was mostly just me running around in the desert for an hour. After completing the art, I decided to hike up the nearby Tetilla Peak.  This made for a nice little finale to my training run, but was actually pretty tough on my dog. I forget how she is getting older and has a much harder time on rugged off-trail terrain. She was absolutely wiped at the top, and I ended up taking a different route down that was longer, but on more roads/trails. Poor girl.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Passover Geocaching

Nearly every year we visit the Washington DC area for our family Passover gathering. I always try to find a few caches while there, and this year I was able to rope some other family into helping me find caches including my brother and his wife, and my nephews.
My son and his cousin at one of the geocaches we found
Mainly, wee just needed some outside time in the nearby parks to allow the kids some time to blow off steam, and run around in the woods. The fact that I scored a set of water-pistols from one of the geocaches was just a lucky happenstance.
My bro climbing through thorns to look for a cache we couldn't find.

My son near a cache at the base of an abandoned fire tower.

The kids monkeying around at Meadowside Park

My intrepid caching companion

Friday, March 31, 2017

Earworms!

Sometimes, an idea for a geocache just hits you and you think, "I have to do this somewhere". That idea sits around for a good long time, and you think about different ways of execution, come up with improvements, and generally dream about how cool this geocache is going to be. And time slips by... For one reason or another, the right place, and right time, and right equipment doesn't present itself. But the idea persists. And eventually, you get it together: the parts, the location, the theme. Everything falls into place and the cache is published, and it is awesome!

One of my most recent caches was this idea, GC70M9E. If you happen to live in Northern New Mexico, and don't want to have this cache spoiled for you since you may actually go find it, then read no further. However, I'm gonna blog about it anyways, just cause.

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The idea that struck me some time back in 2013 had to do with a song that was stuck in my head.
Miles from nowhere
I guess I'll take my time
Oh yeah, to reach there
 
Look up at the mountain
I have to climb
Oh yeah, to reach there.
 
Lord my body has been a good friend
But I won't need it when I reach the end
 
Miles from nowhere
I guess I'll take my time
Oh yeah, to reach there
 
I creep through the valleys
And I grope through the woods
'Cause I know when I find it my honey
It's gonna make me feel good, yes...
Maybe you recognize the song, an old Cat Stevens one. It got stuck in my head while I was out geocaching. I can't remember exactly where I was, but I was probably, miles from nowhere and climbing up a mountain in order to find a geocache and make me feel good. This song has geocaching written all over it. And it would get stuck in my head over and over as I was out hiking towards geocaches. It occurred to me finally that it would make a rather nice multi cache. The verses are broken up in such a way that you could have a verse for each stage. Ideally, it would be placed on a remote mountain top, miles from any nearby town, and requiring a good long hike, say 15 miles round trip. This was my original concept for a pretty straight forward multi cache. And at the time, I was living in Southern New Mexico where there are mountain ranges that are very remote, and were just perfect for a cache like this. But then I got some more ideas... what if I put a small voice recorder in the final so that when someone found the cache, they could hear the entire song, and also record their own song. This idea really grabbed hold of me, despite the fact that it requires a bit more investment in materials. How cool would it be to hear what songs get stuck in other people's heads?

I was starting to look at materials to make this cache a reality when we found out that we would be moving to Tennessee. The last thing I wanted to do was place more caches in an area that I wouldn't be able to maintain once we moved. Also, I wouldn't be able to come back and hear the songs people left. That was one of my prime motivators. So I sat on the idea. In Tennessee, the landscape just didn't seem to be right. Yes there were mountains, but they weren't as big, nor were they as easy to see from far away, nor were they miles from nowhere. There are a lot more little towns in the east.

As luck would have it, we recently moved back to New Mexico, so I started thinking about the idea again. I purchased a DVR (digital voice recorder), and a good final container, and I began scouting maps for a good place to hide this cache. Originally, I wanted this cache to be really remote, a true "miles from nowhere" kind of cache. But the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to make it somewhere that I could check on frequently. My sights turned to one of Santa Fe's local hills, Moon Mountain. Located right in town, but apparently a location that has never had a geocache on it. It wasn't really "miles from nowhere", but it was a decent little mountain, requiring a couple miles of hiking, and I would be able to run up and check on it really easily. Plus, being in an urban location would give it a bit of a better chance of actually getting found, and with the investment I was putting into this, I really wanted it to be found more than just a couple times (like my Organ Saint series, sigh....).

The final push for me to get this idea out was when another geocacher published a cache on Moon mountain, scooping my spot! GC70D5M was published and my first reaction was to assume that my spot was gone, and that I had waited too long. But on closer inspection, I realized that there was room enough on the summit of Moon mountain. So got my containers together, put together the geocaching.com listing and my Earworm Multi was born! GC70M9E! So far it has been found by two geocachers, and I have already ran up to the summit to listen to the earworms that get stuck in other people's heads. Awesome! Now that it is in the real world, I am even more excited about it than when it was just an idea in my head.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Consolation Hike

A few weeks back I was contacted by DesertRomantic about going after a really cool, and yet unfound, canyoneering Geocache, GC5WZF4. I've been eyeing this cache for a while, so I jumped at the opportunity. The day came that we were to head out for this adventure. i had all the gear I thought we would need: 50m of rope, etriers, ascenders webbing, rappel device, plenty of biners... We were set for hopefully anything this canyon would throw at us. At least that is what we thought. Turns out there was one thing we hadn't counted on. Roads. The turn off from the tiny town of Galina was on French Mesa Road, also known as FR 8. Not even a mile up this road, we encountered quite a bit of snow on the road. And the sections of road not covered in snow were thick mud from recently melted snow. I drove my CR-V through a few patches of this but stopped short at a particularly muddy section. Checking the GPS, there was still >8 miles of this road to go. It was clear to us that if we continued, there was a very high probability that we would get stuck. As much as we didn't like to, the best option would be to turn around and leave this cache for later in the year, when the roads are better.

So what to do? We were far from home, and rearing to go do ... something. One nearby destination immediately sprang to mind, Cerro Pedernal.
Cerro Pedernal in the Distance. A striking peak.
I first saw Cerro Pedernal last summer when the family was visiting Abiquiu lake. It is uncommonly pictaresque. And I knew I wanted to hike up it. Luckily DesertRomantic also wanted to hike it, so it became our Consolation Hike. The road up to Cerro Pedernal, FR 100, was in fine shape, and we were soon at a point where we could begin the ~3 mile hike up to the summit.
The one scrambly bit

Below the headwall
Cerro Pedernal is actually a misleading peak. From afar it looks like it should be a huge mesa top. But in actuality, the summit is a narrow rocky ridge, basically a 200-300 ft high rock wall that tops off the mountain. From some angles it doesn't look like a mesa at all, rather a rocky spire. When we got up to the final headwall we weren't too sure which way to go around the summit wall to find a way up. We started off heading around the north side, only to get stopped by deep snow. So we back-tracked to the south side where we found an easy scramble through the headwall and up to the top. The summit is about a third of a mile from end to end, and offers some incredible views. We ate lunch on the east end, gazing out at the Rocky Mountains in the distance.

We completed the hike in good time and still had a bit time left in the afternoon, so we did one more little hike in the area. I had wanted to go after some unfound caches placed by Desert Romantic, but he had a better idea, to hike up the Rim Vista Trail across from the Ghost Ranch. This trail had a handful of very lonely geocaches and ended up being a fine late evening jaunt.
Rim Vista Trail

Pastel Cliffs near the Rim Vista trail
I still really want to visit Big Canyon, but considering we weren't able to do that, we ended up having a pretty good hiking day.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Training for MOGA 2017

I registered to compete at MOGA again this year. After last years smashing success, I feel like there is some pressure to perform well again this year. MOGA 2017 is in Manhattan Kansas, about a 10 hour drive away. It's actually the furthest west that a MOGA event has ever been. I think if it had been further east I wouldn't even have considered going. I'll be teaming up with Lostsole, Sequioa and Kimpossible again and we'll be attempting to defend our title. So better get training....

Just outside of Santa Fe is a nice geoart series in the shape of a geo-circle that seemed like it would be a perfect training run. The art consists of 25 caches spread out over about 6 miles of hiking/running. The terrain is hilly, juniper scrub and without many trails to utilize. Trying to find all these caches in the 2.5 hours given for a MOGA competition event would be my challenge.

I began my run at 7:25 am on a warm winters day. My first decision was to decide how to run the route. A classic traveling salesman problem. But no fancy algorithms for me. Just gut intuition. The distance between each cache was usually .12 miles, which was just enough for me to get winded. The geocaches themselves were all bison tubes in trees, mostly junipers. These are not always easy to find and I spent as much time stopped at geocaches, searching, than I did running. The experience reminded me a lot of MOGA 2016 actually. Each cache on this geo-art is labeled Geo-#. The order of my finds was 20-21-22-23-24-25-9-10-6-5-1-2-11-12-13-14-15-8-7-16-17-18-19-3-4. It ended up taking me 2 hours and 22 minutes. On two of the caches I spent too long searching for the cache though. #17 I spent about 14 minutes searching for and finally found it. if this had been a MOGA competition I would have probably skipped it so that I would have more time to find other punches. And #4 I flat out didn't find. I initially spent 5 minutes searching before skipping it and going on to Geo 3. Then on my way back to my starting point I stopped and spent another 19 minutes searching. Those little bisons can be super elusive!

All in all it was a good training run for MOGA though. I'll have to find another art to train like this again. One major difference though is that I expect the terrain in Kansas not to allow straight line connections between points. The juniper scrub out here is relatively open and without much real bushwhacking. Kansas will eb adifferent story and I will have to plan my routes to follow existing trails more... probably. That's what I did for MOGA 2016 in Ohio at least.