Monday, January 31, 2011

Geocaching in Virginia

I had the opportunity to be in Virginia for a couple of days, and any travel, where possible, means trying to set aside some time for geocaching. My time in Virginia is a perfect example of one of the things I love most about geocaching - going to places I might never otherwise have known about or taken the time to go to.

In the limited time available between home and Richmond, I was able to plan my route such that I could grab easy caches in a few new Maryland counties between Baltimore and Washington, and the do a bunch of virtuals and a webcam on the way to Richmond and in the city itself. First stop south of Washington was in Fredericksburg, where I visited a virtual cache at the top of the hill where Lee's command post was. At the site there are a few interpretive markers, and a couple of guns, including a nice large Parrott rifle.

Several miles south of Fredericksburg is the Stonewall Jackson death house shrine. This is the house which Jackson was brought to after being accidently shot by his own troops during the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. Jackson seemed to be recovering for a while, but then deteriorated and eventually succumbed to his wounds. It was a very moving thing to see the actual room and the actual bed in which he spoke his famous last words and then died.

"Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."

General George E Pickett's grave, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond VA. This cemetery has Jefferson Davis' grave, as well as other Confederate graves and markers beyond counting. An especially moving one for me was a grave of unidentified soldiers from the nearby Battle of Seven Pines. Pickett is best known as the namesake of Pickett's charge on the third day at Gettysburg (a charge better and more fairly described as the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble charge... but whatever...). For a lifelong Pennsylvanian, the amount and intensity of Confederate heritage in Richmond was a very interesting thing to see.

By the time the day was done, I had found 4 more caches in Maryland and my first 8 caches in Virginia. The Virginia caches included a webcam on the campus of VCU in Richmond. Webcams are extremely rare in my area, and pretty rare overall, so it was nice to be able to do that one while I was there (thanks to Ellen for the remote photo capture).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

My First Pipe Crawl

I did something today that I had heard about, but had never done myself before - I found a geocache hidden a ways into a pipe. In geocaching terms, this is called a Pipe Crawl. I have heard stories of areas where this kind of hide is a lot more common, but as far as I know it is a relatively rare thing around here.

These can be metal or concrete pipes that are typically either used to route streams underground, or to serve as drainage pipes in commercial areas. In this particular case, I attended a geocaching event (coffee and donuts) this morning at a local establishment to celebrate someone's 3,000th find. At the event, people were talking about going afterwards to find the cache that was hidden "under the parking lot". I had to take part in that, even though I was not dressed for it.

Making our way down into the large drainage area where the pipe entrance was, it wasn't hard to find what we needed to do.

Being eager to do one of these, I plunged in first, crawling on my knees while straddling the trickle of ice cold water in the center. All was well until I got about forty feet into the pipe, where it opened into a tiny concrete room. At this point I stopped and asked if anybody had a flashlight, which somebody trailing the pack did (you'd be amazed at what geocachers carry around...). I didn't mind the closed-in space or the dark, but not being able to see if there were snakes about was an issue for me (despite it being the middle of winter and 25 degrees out). The little room proved to be a relatively clean and dry 6 foot cube, which 3 of us crammed into, with 3 more in the pipe. We made the find easily, and then had a good chuckle when we realized that 6 experienced geocachers didn't have a single writing implement between the group. Somebody fetched one, we signed, and we were on our way.
In the overall scheme of multi-mile all-day pipe crawls that I have heard legend of, a 40 foot crawl into a nice clean pipe isn't much of an accomplishment, but it was a first for me, and it was a lot of fun.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dakotas trip research, Part 1

or, The Hook is in Deep

Following my prior post about my intention to join the Boys in their Dakotas trip this summer, I have been spending a few extra moments here and there poking around in some online resources on parks and sites in the area. This will help me get a better understanding of what there is out there to do, and what I might want to have on my "must" list.

Knowing that Devils Tower is on Leo's list, I have looked at that first, and my first impression is that this would be on my list too. Admittedly, I think that everything I look at is going to be on my list, and unless we are going to go for a month, many things won't fit. That being said, Devils Tower is a must. The National Park Service website for Devils Tower is here. And the Wikipedia entry is here. I have to admit that I have a strong memory of this landmark because of a stamp that featured it. Way back in the day, I had an uncle who was a big stamp collector, and spent some time with him looking at his collection, and collected a few things of my own. My stamps are still in the basement... I remember this stamp.

Devils Tower is located in northeastern Wyoming, perhaps 50 miles from the South Dakota border. It is an igneous volcanic core, rising 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain, peaking at 5,112 feet above sea level. There are 13+ miles of trails around the park, including a paved trail that circles the monument. I am hoping that a day trip to here is part of the plan. Based on Leo's stated "I do Devils Tower or I don't go", I don't think this will be a problem.

This is only the first thing I have looked at, but I find it hard to believe that too many other things would rival this as a scenic highlight.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Trip Planning - 2011

The Boys have begun planning for their annual trip. Over the past many years, they have alternated years in doing more ambitious and (slightly) less ambitious trips. 2009 was the Grand Canyon hike; a big one. Last year was the better part of a week in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; a more moderate (and driveable) one. I was copied as a bit of an afterthought on an email string earlier this week covering, in general terms, where they are intending to go this year. The site of this year's festivities has been decided as the Upper Midwest, specifically western North and South Dakota. Dave, Leo and Ted will be going. And shockingly, me too! They were discussing a saturday to saturday trip, and a date of July 30 to August 6 worked for me as well, so after years of threatening to do so, I am planning on going with them. I can't tell you how excited I am and how much I hope it does work out.

That part of the country is bigger than it initially sounded to me, and covers a vast number of great outdoors locations. Without having done any substantial investigating yet, I know that the western part of South Dakota has Black Hills National Forest, Devil's Tower National Monument, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park and a number of national grasslands. North Dakota has Theodore Roosevelt National Park and others. And Mount Rushmore is around there somewhere. In other words, more nice scenic places and great hikes than you can count.

Planning still seems to be somewhat up in the air, although a lot of the background legwork has been done by Leo and Ted with regards to flights, dates, mileage, etc... There will be a planning session perhaps next weekend to go over as much detail as possible and get at least dates, flights and rough itinerary set. I don't expect to be able to provide much input, but it will be fun to be a part of and I do have a few opinions. One of the leading options at this point seems to be flying into Denver, driving north into SD through Nebraska, spending the time in SD and ND, and then making the long drive to Minneapolis to fly home.

From the emails, there are a few things that will need to be accounted for, as each person has their personal list of "musts".

  • Leo must see Devil's Tower. Non-negotiable.
  • Ted has been in all but 5 of the 50 states. 2 of the 5 he doesn't have are Nebraska and North Dakota. He can't be right there and not get those 2 states. Also non-negotiable.
  • Dave doesn't seem to have any specific musts (that I know about yet) but does want to make sure we balance all the potential driving with some time actually spent settled someplace. Dave apparently has less tolerance for endless hours in the car than Leo and Ted.
  • I don't have any specific need to see any particular park or site, but my one requirement would be to allow a few minutes to get a geocache in any state that we are in. This shouldn't be a big deal at all. I would be able to get 5 new distant and large states if the flights do end up Denver in and Minneapolis out. Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minneapolis. Wyoming I already have, and Montana is not prohibitively far away, depending on where else we end up. One advantage of my wants in this regard are that Dave would also like to bag these states.

Much more to come, but I am am thrilled at the prospect of finally taking part in one of these trips. If nothing else, it gives me an excuse to buy some maps and books about the area and do a little research, which is fun in and of itself.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Kingswood 3...

[Memory Lane warning: gratuitous recording of old memories and stating of the obvious to follow...]

I read an interesting article online the other day about 10 things that a baby born in 2011 would likely never have seen in their lives; things that us older folks would be used to today (or in the recent past). Not surprisingly, most of them were technologically oriented, some in the sense of technology replacing them entirely, and some in the sense of technology just moving into a new phase.

I remember at different times growing up being fascinated by the idea of what my grandmother (b. 1900, d. 1999) would have seen come about in her lifetime. This with the understanding that I overlapped my grandmother for 33 years, but in her incredibly long life she still would have been 75-80+ in my adolescence, and already 66 when I was born. Her having been born before the Wright brothers first flight in 1903. And then seen space flight. And then a man on the moon. Little things like that. (Unless of course you believe that the moon landing was faked, but that's a whole different story...)

The article I read got me thinking about the dramatic leaps forward in my 40+ years. The thing that makes me chuckle the most when I think back on it is the simple telephone.

Back in the day it was a simple telephone. A heavy metal black rotary phone that hung on the wall. I believe those phones were actually owned by the phone company. The phone company was the Bell monopoly, prior to the breakup into the baby Bells. And our phone number was KI3-xxxx. The "KI" stood for Kingswood, which was the leftover "exchange" from the time when there were actually phone operators who connected calls. "KI" is 54 in numeric terms, but I remember reciting "KI" silently in my head every time I made a call, and translating to numbers as I went. To this day, I remember that my grandparents' phone number was HI6-0337, but without looking at a phone keypad would have no idea what "HI" is in numbers. We were technically in the 215 area code, but you only needed to dial the area code if it was a long distance call. So calling friends in the neighborhood and around town was dialing a 7 digit number. And at that age (pre-teens) dialing a long distance call would have been like dialing the other side of the universe; it never happened. If you called a friend's house and they weren't there, you knew they weren't there because it rang and rang and rang and nobody picked up. There were no answering machines. You just gave it enough time for someone to get there from the other side of the house, and if they didn't answer, you just hung up. So when you were out, you were out; unreachable. Which is a nice thought actually...

It was a big deal when they needed to split our part of the 215 area code into a new 610 area code. When that happened, you also needed to dial the area code all the time, not just for long distance. And they dropped the letters entirely, and our phone number became 610-543-xxxx. Then people got answering machines. Then they invented portable phones. Then cell phones. I'd love to see a teenager today given one of those old shoebox size car phones to use.

Today my house has two land line numbers, three cell phone numbers, a work number, and all of our phones have email, internet and text messaging. I can go hiking somewhere on the Appalachian Trail, get geocache info online, use a phone app to be the gps, record my finds while out in the field, take pictures as I go, email them to friends, and write a blog entry on the trip and post it before I get back to the car. Being unreachable is impossible.

My wife and kids routinely talk to relatives in New Jersey, Oregon, and Singapore online via Skype video chat and don't even need a phone at all. And the idea of things needing wires is ludicrous. The fact that the landlines have the cordless receiver units that need to plug into the wall is a quaint idea that many have already abandoned, going entirely to cell phones and not bothering with a "house phone" at all. I suspect that number will skyrocket dramatically.

All things considered, I don't think that's too much different than the Wright brothers, Yuri Gagarin, and Neil Armstrong.

Places to Go, Things to Do

Spending a bunch of time over the past two weeks writing about goals in general and geocaching in particular has gotten me to thinking about specific places I would love to go to do some geocaching. The list that has come to mind so far would include (in no particular order):

  • Washington DC. I haven't been to DC to do any real sightseeing since I was a child, and I would like to get back with my family to see everything again as an adult. And because of the wealth of historic places and monuments, the area around the National Mall west of the Capitol is loaded with virtual caches.
  • Gettysburg, PA. This battlefield is my all-time favorite historic location. Being less than 3 hours from home, I have been there a bunch of times, but not since I began geocaching.
  • Harpers Ferry, WV. This is a beautiful scenic spot at the point where the Shenandoah River joins the Potomac, and is also the point where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet. This is the place to get West Virginia.
  • The Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey. Whether on foot or by boat, I would love to spend some time here. Dave has already mapped out a 10 mile hike he would like to do and I am all for it.
  • Eastern or Western shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. I love the area and would take any excuse to spend some time roaming around down there.
  • The Upper branches of the Brandywine River in PA near home. This is only a half hour from home and there is no reason not to do this in 2011. By canoe. Finally.
  • The Schuylkill River Trail. There is a 12 mile or so long section of this multi-use trail from the city out to Valley Forge that has somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 caches along it. This is my best chance anywhere around here to get a 100-find day. When the days get longer and Dave and I can scrounge a couple of bikes we intend to do it. It can also be done on foot, but that would be a very long day. Whatever it takes...

I am sure more will occur to me, but this is a good short list. Perhaps this year with a little planning I will be able to do some of these.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Gerry Rafferty (1947-2011)

I saw a blurb last night that Scottish singer songwriter Gerry Rafferty died yesterday at the age of 63 after a long illness. I can't exactly say that he was a favorite artist of mine given that I don't know all that much about his music, although I do have a greatest hits CD of his which I enjoy very much. Still, I feel a tip of the hat is in order on the strength of a few songs of his that rank among my favorites.

Rafferty would certainly be best known for two smash singles off the 1978 album City to City - Baker Street and Right Down the Line. Baker Street is instantly recognizable for its simple yet iconic sax lead-in, and both singles were played widely for years after they came out. The fact that these years were my adolescence make the songs perhaps all the more memorable to me.

In addition to the more well known ones there are a few other really terrific songs on the greatest hits CD, including Whatever's Written in Your Heart, and The Right Moment.

So, farewell Gerry. If art can give a bit of immortality, then I think you have probably earned it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book Review - The Imperfectionists

I finished my first novel of 2011 last night, and it was a very good one - Tom Rachman's The Imperfectionists (2010). It is the story of a declining English language newspaper published in Rome, struggling to hang on in the fading landscape of print journalism. It is mostly set in 2007, but each chapter of the main story is separated by a few pages devoted to various snippets of time from the founding of the paper up through its demise at the end of the book.

The way the book is constructed is interesting, and reminded me in some ways of Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, insofar as each chapter in this book is about one character. However, in this case, no two chapters are about the same character. The result is a feeling of reading a short story collection where each story has the same general setting and the characters overlap in some ways. I suspect that any chapter in this book could probably be read on a standalone basis and be a good read.

Rachman's prose is effortless, although I did not find myself tagging quotes as I often do.

4.5 stars out of 5 - an excellent start to the reading year.

Books read in 2011: 1
Pubished in 2011: none
New authors: 1
Classics: none

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Geocaching in NW Delaware

Dave and I had discussed getting out on Sunday after New Years to do a hike or some geocaching somewhere, but the weather didn't look like it was going to be very cooperative. My girls heard the words geocaching and, surprisingly, both wanted to go. I can normally get one, but not both interested at the same time. Perhaps I have Uncle Dave to thank for the enthusiasm. After a week and a half of kids home from school and house guests over the holidays, Amparo was pretty happy at the prospect of a little peace and quiet around the house while we went in search of tupperware.

Knowing that we had a couple of short legged girls with us and the forecast was for possible rain showers (not to mention the snow still on the ground), I put together a map of northwestern Delaware that had the easy and recently found caches marked on it. There were 47 of these in total, and I was very interested to see how many of these we could get before the girls burned out. The 47 are highlighted in orange. Those we ended up finding are X'ed out, but I am jumping ahead.

The map below is the track of our journey. Dave got to my house a little before 10:00am, and we were at our first cache (the upper right of the track) by about 10:30am. It was gray and damp, but never really rained until the very end of our day. We worked our way counterclockwise, finding lots of easy walks and park and grabs. I know this isn't Dave's favorite kind of geocaching, nor really is it mine when done solo, but it was nice to be out for much of the day with Dave and the girls, and I know the girls got a big kick out of it.
The first half of the trip was definitely nicer than the second half. The earlier part had us driving through the countryside E and NE of Hockessin, which is very pretty. By the end of the day we were getting into the western Wilmington suburbs along Kirkwood Highway, and it got pretty built up.
Dave and the girls at our second cache of the day, a covered bridge hide near Yorklyn.
When all was said and done in Delaware, we had been out about 5 hours, and had found 22 caches together. Dave had found 2 easy ones on the way to my house, and we would make one more stop on the way home for Dave and the girls to make one last find. So our totals for the day would be 22 for me, 23 for each of the girls, and 25 for Dave. This was the biggest day ever (by a wide margin) for all of the others, and the third biggest day for me to date.
In addition to having a good time together overall, there were some highlights of the day, not the least of which was both Julia and Grace reaching the 100 find milestone. Julia began the day at 94 and ended at 117. Grace began the day at 89 and ended at 112. They were both very proud, and I will be ordering them each a commemorative 100 Finds geocoin. The pictures below show each girl with their 100th find.
The final highlight was the last cache of the day. On the way home, we drove up Beaver Dam Road and stopped at "Walk on Down; How Nutz are You?", a difficulty 5 terrain 3 cache hidden in a crumbling old dam. I had found this before, but allowed the girls and Dave to point out likely hiding spots and do some investigating of their own to let them find it. The girls did not take part in the actual retrieval for obvious reasons, but can claim to be part of the team that made the find. So now everybody has a difficulty 5 cache in their history.
Despite the gray weather, just writing about it makes me want to grab my GPS and head out somewhere...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Geocaching Goals for 2011

Writing a post to review my geocaching exploits in 2010 inevitably got me to thinking about what I would like to accomplish in 2011. Despite much of my last post being about numbers and badges and the tangible signs of all that activity, my more important goals going forward really wouldn't be driven primarily by numbers or quantity. Mainly I just want to continue to have fun. If I do that, numbers will come naturally. So, beyond the overarching hope that my girls continue to get some enjoyment out of going out on these little expeditions with me, my personal goals follow.

In 2010, I averaged about 60 finds per month. Which isn't bad at all, although one downside that I have mentioned before is that I have cleaned out the area immediately around home pretty well, and caching from home means a modest time commitment to drive somewhere, make a few finds, and get back home. Realistically a minimum of an hour. Work (an hour from home) still has more caches, but I am whittling away at those too. The paucity of caches left close by means that maintaining a daily streak of any length would be very hard. Although as I was recently reminded, I said the same thing when I was about 30 or 40 days into my 100 day streak (and pretty much continually since then), but after missing only one day, I am now back to a streak of 29 days. So who knows. But one every day is not a goal. A habit maybe, but not a goal. That being said, I would like to fill as many empty days on my calendar as possible. Starting the year with 182 dates found, a goal of ending the year with 250 dates is realistic, and 300 dates would be a stretch.

Anticipating that the pace of my finds will slow somewhat as I clear my home and work areas more and more, hitting 1,000 finds this year is still very likely. It is a major accomplishment that I really do want to reach, and would require about 35 finds per month. This is significantly less than my current pace, continuation of which would get me to about 1,300 (which I do not expect). This is less a specific goal and more just where I think I will end up.

Earning badges is a natural side effect of doing a lot of geocaching, and therefore running up numbers. Without any specific effort to do so, if I continue a level of activity anything like what I would estimate above, I should probably have no problem earning at least 6 new badges this year. These would be for puzzle caches, virtual caches, multi-stage caches, micro sized caches, small size caches, and the cache owner badge for having placed 10 or more caches (I currently have placed 7).

Placing Caches
I have placed 7, and would like to get to 10 or 15 this year. I need to try to do some creative ones beyond the simple stuff that I have done thus far. Placing caches helps everyone, and it's a way to repay the geocaching community for all the enjoyment I have had.

Trips and Adventures
Probably the goal that will give me the most enjoyment is to continue to make an effort to explore new areas while geocaching. By my quick estimation, I have found caches in 45 different counties in 10 different states. The desire to fill in a US state map with cache finds is very very strong for me, as is the desire to fill in the county maps of those states closest to home (PA, MD, DE, NJ). Having done most of the close-to-home counties (south Jersey being the notable exception), the only way I am going to be able to accomplish this is to go out of my way to get in the car and go to some places I would not normally have a reason to go to. Coupled with the desire to continue to do day hikes in more state parks and the like, I should be able to kill two birds with one stone with some of these trips. Since Dave enjoys hiking and geocaching, with that kind of caching being his favorite, it shouldn't be tough to talk myself into some company.

For specific geography goals, I would like to add a half a dozen or more new states (hopefully business travel will help), complete the NJ counties, get maybe halfway through Maryland, and halfway through PA. This will take some work, but it would be fun work.

There are strings of caches along waterways that can only be gotten by boat, namely canoe or kayak. I haven't researched these much, but I know of ones along both branches of the upper Brandywine in PA, the Christina River below Wilmington in DE, and the Elk River near Elkton in MD. Maybe I can leverage geocaching and Dave's interest in boating to do some of the canoeing I have been wanting to do for years now.

I have made a convert of Dave, and have a geo-friend and mentor way down in NC, but I don't have any other geocaching friends here. Geocaching, especially for road trips, is so much more fun as a shared experience, and I generally do not have anyone to share it with. It would be nice to attend some additional events and meet some like-minded people to geocache with.

But most of all, I just want to continue to have fun at it. This year I had a blast and visited countless cool spots. There is no reason to think that won't continue this year.

Reading Goals for 2011

Last year I gave myself some very specific number-oriented goals about my literature reading. This year, I am less concerned about numbers for various reasons. First, giving myself some concrete goals last year gave me something to blog about when blogging was fairly new to me. I don't need to come up with things to blog about anymore, as my blogging has become a part of what I do. It is second nature. Therapeutic, a creative outlet, and fun. Second, my getting back into serious fiction was also relatively new, and goals would keep me motivated to continue to read. I don't need that anymore, as reading has also become part of what I do every night before bed. I am loving my modern literature reading, and I don't see that interest fading anytime soon (and on the off chance that it does, propping it up with an artificial goal makes no sense anyway...).

That being said, I do have some general goals and expectations for my reading this year:
  • Buy no more than twice as many books as I read. Having stocked my library with a mountain of books over the past few years, and having back filled most of the works of the authors I know and like from the years when I wasn't reading fiction, the need to buy a lot of books has diminished substantially. I suspect that most of my book purchasing this year will be recent or newly published books, or the works of newly discovered (and liked) authors.
  • Increase the percentage of my inventory that I have read. (200 of 755 now is a shade over 26 percent...). As long as I don't buy 4 books for every one I read, this should be easy.
  • Don't be scared away from diving into big books. I have noticed my tendency, when pondering my bookshelves over what to read next, to subconsciously (or semi-consciously) avoid long books. Perhaps some of this is the realization that spending more time reading a longer book will cut down on the number of books I can get through. It should be about quality, not quantity.
  • Try to read a Faulkner and a Steinbeck. These are great American authors who I have not yet read in adulthood.
  • I will probably read about 25 books.
  • I will make an effort to continue to read authors who are new to me in the interests of broadening my horizons.
  • I will make an effort to continue to read books published currently to keep up on the good stuff that is out there. I will continue to place some faith in Amazon ratings and reviews, which have only let me down in a few instances.

Most of all, I will continue to enjoy my reading. And tossing brief book reviews into the electronic void...