So, I finally got to combine one of my favorite hobbies with another favorite hobby. No, not reproduction practice and watch movies, although that sounds like fun…
I got to geocache and hike at the same time. Normally, hikers don’t do much geocaching, and geocachers don’t do that much hiking.
Hikers normally like to get somewhere, and stopping all the time gets to be a pain in the ass, when there are waterfalls and mountains to see. Geocachers normally like to go a quarter mile or so and then get back to the car so they can go to the next cache.
But – some geocacher group decided to make hiking and geocaching go hand-in-hand, and created the “50 state star” geocaching art (GeoArt) series. They are trying to organize teams and clubs to put one in every state, and when I heard there was one in North Carolina, I wanted to try it out. One of my long time Geocaching friends (I’m not sure who started it first, but our first finds were within about 10 days of each other, way back in February of 2002) said he would go with me.
He made me the “ops planner” for the trip. I read through all the other people’s cache logs and quickly discovered something: They sucked. People mostly made vaguely generic logs consisting of a paragraph or two and posted it to EVERY cache. Things like “the hills were tough and stepped in two yellow jacket nests” are nice to know, but specifics like “the yellow jacket nest between 44 and 48 was brutal!” are a lot nicer. But enough people finally started logging things specific to caches that I figured out the south east point between 38 and 50 was a bee problem, and the northwest point contained some hellacious terrain and plants.
We started off on Veteran’s Day morning, intending to try it out over one day. Hoping the recent cold weather calmed the bees and sent the snakes in, we left the house at around 40 degrees, and headed north. Our first cache (at P) was the parking area cache. After that we began an incredible journey that soon became a mesmerizing event. I’ve never hiked 600 feet at a time for six hours.
A natural sort of workflow started to emerge after only a few caches. Since I had the GPS with the caches in order and a crude “trail” pattern I had drawn, I led us to the cache. At 0, we dropped packs and fanned out. When one of us found it, John would sign the log and re-hide the cache. While this happened, I marked the cache as found on the GPS, selected the next one, and checked my little notebook for “special notes”; things I had found from looking through logs, like clues, warnings, terrain issues, or stream crossings.
We went up and down a series of hills all day, including a couple of really steep ones. The caches look nice and neat in their star shape, but in reality one cache could be 200 or 300 feet below or above the last one. The clubs that put these out have to find a center point, and a two square mile area. They send that to the 50 State Star group, who then sends them coordinates for the other 50 caches.
Of course, this leads to some interesting topography and problems. Your cache spot might be in the middle of an open field, in which case the cache hiders have to get creative. One cache told us to: “Go to the zero point, look east. Find the pile of rocks 50 feet south of the X shaped trees at the edge of the woods”. Okay, that I can do.
We had some pretty good luck in the beginning, and by 90 minutes in we were halfway around. We figured we would be out of there really early, and wondered what took some of the other teams so long. We soon found out. Working clockwise around the star, when we hit number 30, things began to get interesting. Bad terrain, a few tough hides, and some awful bushwhacking through dense Rhodos made the hike really tough. At one point I was on all fours climbing through brush, and at another point I was sliding on my butt, on purpose, down the hill trying to keep from slipping off the slope into the creek.
We skipped 6 caches, I believe. We had a self-imposed time limit to make sure we made it back to the car by dark, and any cache taking more than six or seven minutes was deemed a waste of time and we moved on. John asked me for the time stamps for our finds. I was able to dig through the GPX file and pull them out, and sent them to him. He did some math and showed me our finds were pretty interesting, all around 7 minutes for the first half, with a higher average on the second half, including as much as almost 30 minutes between two caches at one point. Our shortest time was four minutes, from logging a find, walking the 600 feet, and finding the next one. I thought that was pretty good.
Overall the park was a nice place. I’d never been to Uwharrie Forest in NC before. It had some great spots. I could imagine doing a hammock hang back in there if I could find some geocaching-loving ham mockers. Of course, there would need to be more caches here. I’m not finding this series again.
Up until now – our toughest find together was Tube Torcher II. That involved much scarier crawls through drain pipes underneath Asheville NC. That was two days and ten hours of work for one cache. I’ll take seven hours of work in one day for 50 caches instead. And no drain pipes. I had to confront a few fears in those pipes…
Of course I learned a few things like always. Caching with a partner in the deep backwoods is productive and makes the day go better. Bees were the least of our problems. The sixteen small stream crossings were a bit more of an issue in my open-sided shoes. I was more worried about snakes by the end of it than I was bees. Not to mention the really scary-looking old trailer home across a field, with the baying dogs. The whole thing screamed “meth lab in the woods” and made me glad I brought a pistol with me on this particular hike. We met an DNR guy there at the end, who gave us a quizzical look and confirmed pretty quickly that we were in fact, not hunting deer.
Caches are more fun than hunting deer. Sure, you can’t eat them, but they don’t run away, you don’t need a license, and generally you don’t get too bloody.