Sunday, August 16, 2015

A little bit of caching between wedding festivities

A little while back, I wrote about how I am often unable to resist the urge of geocaching, when traveling, (link).  Well, the time for traveling came again, this time for my brother's wedding in San Francisco. Going geocaching was not forefront for this trip, in fact it was very low on our list of things to do. But I knew I wasn't going to be able to resist the urge, so i made a little plan. This time, I created a bookmark list of only a handful of geocaches that seemed worth visiting. There would be no sorry little park and grabs, just caches that would be interesting. A few virtual caches in Sonoma, a few highly favorited caches, some puzzles I had solved, an unusual D/T combination. No extraordinary caches, but no duds either.

For most of our trip, I kept this plan to grab a few geocaches way in the back of my mind. The days leading up to the wedding were full of fun activities, and the best kind of family stress. You know, stressing over making cupcakes for the wedding, stressing over the rehearsal and whether everyone knew their roles, stressing over getting flowers and making arrangements, stressing over kids getting sick right before the big event, stressing out about playing the violin for your brother and his bride to walk down the aisle to, despite not having played in years. That kind of thing. It was a fun, and intense few days. And the opportunity for finding a few geocaches came up nicely.

The first opportunity was on the day of the wedding, and basically owed itself to my getting up early. Not super early, the sun as already rising, but before the kids were up, or anyone else in the Big house we were staying at had stirred. I had an excuse to be going out too, we needed more milk. So I grabbed my kit, mumbled to my sleeping wife that I was going out to find a cache at a nearby wildlife refuge, and I would pick up milk on my way back. And off I went. The cache I was targeting was a challenge cache called, A Century of Abandonment.  It had an unusual D/T combination of 4.5/3.5 but was also a challenge cache that would be hard for most cachers to accomplish. The challenge is to find caches that have been abandoned (not found) for a year or more, and to accumulate over 100 years of these kinds of finds. I wouldn't say abandoned caches are rare, every area has got some, but they are pretty uncommon. And for the most part, you have to seek these caches out because they are not in places that get visits frequently, if they were they wouldn't be abandoned. Some are way off the beaten track in some area that really has no big draw for geocachers or really anyone. Many are difficult caches that are nearly impossible to solve, or ones that are placed in such difficult terrain that hardly any one has the skills needed to go after them. And lucky for me, and also partly thanks to sites like, I seek out these abandoned caches. I've been doing it for years, mostly in New Mexico, but where I live in Tennessee. It took maybe an hour to go through my finds, but I was able to get a list together of caches that would qualify me for this challenge. And I would be only the 8th person to find this cache in about a year, which for the geocacher-rich area of the San Francisco Bay, is saying something.

It was still nice and cool as I pulled up to a trailhead for a a trail system leading out into an estuary along the Bay. To say it was a wildlife refuge is misleading, it is in fact partially protected as an area where waste water treatment flows out. But it has been managed well by the city or county to attract shorebirds and other wildlife and had a nice trail system. I made the hike out, about a mile, watching the shorebirds and various sparrows flit about. The cache was an easy one to find, simply a magnetic nano on a sign. And there were more than 7 signatures on the log sheet, as folks have signed the cache without qualifying in the hopes of some day meeting the criteria. But it was a nice feeling to be out early in the morning, watching wildlife and finding a cache. It was a nice escape from the hectic family fuss, and a moment to relax a bit before the stressful events of the day to come.

I did continue on the trail a bit further to find the step-brother cache to this one, a 50 year abandonment challenge, then turned back to head on to my car and get some milk. I got back to the Big house just in time for the kids clamoring for their breakfast,  with milk in my hands.

After the wedding cam another opportunity to find a cache, this time with the whole family. My new sister-in-law had invited everyone to picnic in Bartholomew park, and our picnic spot happened to be right next to a geocache. It was a regular sized one too, which was good because I wanted to drop off a travel bug that I brought with me from Tennessee.
Note: The small tin is not the cache, just something my daughter traded for from the cache.
The next day, while driving north to Santa Rosa, I dragged the whole family on a small detour to grab a puzzle cache I had solved. It was only a short detour and it gave the kids some toys to play with while at the enxt family event, and let me drop my last travel bug.

So a week long family trip netted me 4 interesting caches, all without interfering with the wedding activities. Not too shabby. I scratched the itch without driving anyone crazy!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

When bears attack... geocaches

My most recent geocache was recently routed by a bear. At least, I think it was a bear. I hid it while out with my kids on July 30th, so it had been out in the wild for a out a week. It had already been found by 3 letterboxers (before it was even published on and I was getting good feedback. Seems like the letterboxer community appreciated our idea. The first geocachers to find it went on Saturday and reported that it had been torn apart by something. They found the stamp, logbook and toys scattered all around the area, and teeth marks in the containers. The geocachers had spare ziploc baggies and replaced stuff as well as possible. Luckily, nothing was wet, so the animal must have attacked recently.

As chance would have it, we were planning on driving back up to Fontana Lake again, this time with my wife, so I would be able to check on the cache and make repairs. As we walked up to the cache from the road pull off, the dog was definitely smelling something interesting in the area. The cache was definitely messed up, but since I used a large metal mailbox as an outer container, it probably would have been ok for some time. The animal must have smelled something inside the cache, and then pulled off some of the rotted logs I had used to hide the mailbox. It then opened up the mailbox and bit into the peanut-butter container that held the logbook and stamp. Peanut-butter container... that is what I think is the key detail here. I had washed the peanut butter container pretty well and couldn't smell anything from it. I had painted it, and replaced the gasket to make it seal better and used it as a container. I've done this before, and seen it done with good success in other places. But I'm guessing that there was still some lingering peanut butter smell, and that is what clued in this animal. Judging from the teeth puncture marks on the peanut butter jar, it had to be something larger than a raccoon or possum. And a coyote or large cat is highly unlikely. Plus, the cache is located on the Southern boundary of the Smoky Mountain national Park, which is know for having a healthy black bear population.So all evidence points to bear.

What was really cool to see was the teeth marks on the stamp I had carved. The bear had obviously chewed on the stamp, cracking the wooden backing and putting teeth marks into the rubber. I tested out the stamp on my letterboxing book, and it still looked ok. I brought with me a container to replace this one... another peanut butter jar. I've got my fingers crossed that it will survive longer than the first one. One small bit of irony, one of my popular caches in New Mexico is themed around what you should do when caching in bear country, Bear Necessities.