Monday, May 31, 2010

Personal challenges

I think most people challenge themselves for their own personal satisfaction.  When I was younger, I used to challenge myself to improve upon my model making ability, usually by being more careful and patient (probably the best way to improve in model making), or by trying to build harder models.  My painting ability was never very good, so I worked on that.  Sometimes, I was satisfied, other times I wasn't.

I do the same thing with my photography today.  It's much easier now, in my opinion, to take good pictures in the digital age than in the film age.  Once you take a picture, you can view it and see if there needs to be adjustment immediately.  Other adjustments can be done on the computer with a variety of photo editing software.  I still try to improve and challenge myself to take better pictures.  Composing behind the lens is important to me and for the most part, I like the results I get.

In Geocaching, I also challenge myself.  Earlier in the year, I challenged myself to see if I could find caches on every date in the year.  There is a challenge cache out there that has that requirement and I figure if there's one close in California, within the next year, I'll be able to go and look for it.  This past month of May, I had three barren days where I'd never found a cache.  I cleaned those up, so now I have four months completely filled on the grid: March, April, May and July.

This next week is going to be the first major challenge for me.   As you can see, I have five open days in the next six.  At first, I was kind of surprised when I looked at this for the first time earlier in the year.  Why is June, especially early in the month, so cache empty?  The answer is readily apparent if you know my profession.  The end of the year for a teacher is usually hectic and incredibly busy.  With the school year shifted over the last couple of years, I'm now out earlier in June.  This might open up some opportunities for me to go caching that might not have happened in the past.  This week is my last week of the school year, so we'll see if I can get out and cache.

The same can be said, even more so, for the beginning of the school year.  I have 10 open days in June.  In September, I have 15 open days.  It's just too hectic at the beginning of the school year to attempt any kind of caching other than on a couple of weekends.  That's probably why I only average less than 10 finds for the entire month of September over my entire geocaching career.  Contrast that with July where I average 45 caches for the month.  Summer vacation does afford me more time to pursue my hobbies, that's for sure.

The two hardest days for this upcoming week will be the next two.  Those are the last two full days of school.  I should be able to leave school and at least get one local cache for each of those days.  There is a new cache just north of my school that was hidden recently that I would like to find, but I think I'm going to wait until Friday for that one.  This particular cache is placed only 189 feet away from where my second hide had been hidden when I lived closer to where I work.  When we moved out of that house, which overlooked the cache site, I archived the cache.  It was fun to watch geocachers looking for my cache.  I think I'll check out the new cache sometime this week.

So I guess the only thing left to do is to wish me luck on this endeavor.   I have 63 open days and if I'm successful, I'll have every square on the grid filled next February 8th.

Graphics created using My Geocaching Profile.

Profile for Webfoot

Friday, May 28, 2010

Broken Benchmark

I have gotten into the habit of logging benchmarks when I stumble upon them.  Chaosmanor and I actively went searching for this particular benchmark, mainly because it hadn't been monumented in over 40 years.  A lot can happen in 40 years and to assume that a benchmark, no matter how sturdy or solid it appeared to be back then, will still be in the same place later on is foolhardy.

I think one of the reasons I didn't enjoy benchmark hunting at first is because when I "discovered" benchmarking, I immediately went out and tried to find the closest benchmarks to where I lived, only to come up empty on four or five attempts.  Being a rookie to this particular GPS activity, I didn't know all of the ins and outs at the time.  I'm not saying that I do now, but I understand what to look for and how to look better than I did 6 or 7 years ago.

The first benchmarks I went hunting weren't there, because of the federal government.  The Feds didn't destroy them, rather other agencies probably inadvertently destroyed them, while complying with the American Disabilities Act (ADA).  I had been looking for disks attached to curbs.  When streets had been widened or worked upon, the curbs had to be made wheelchair accessible.  New curbs were laid and the old curbs, which had the benchmarks attached to them were discarded.

In urban or suburban areas, I would suspect that many early benchmarks disappeared because of new construction all the time.  In rural areas, without as much construction, benchmarks tend to last longer, which is why I find most of the markers on my list out in the desert.  The marker that Chaosmanor and I went searching for was out in the desert, so we assumed that we'd find it in the ground where it should be according to the description listed on the benchmark page.

We were sadly mistaken on this account as we found the benchmark, attached to its concrete post lying on the ground.  The benchmark was in the general vicinity of where it was supposed to be, but some kind of construction, or possibly a farmer tilling his field had pulled the post out of the ground.

Because there hadn't been any kind of report on this benchmark in over 40 years, we can only speculate as to when this took place.  We both estimated that it had been several years at least that the benchmark had been in its present condition.  We could find no evidence of any kind of hole where the concrete post should have been in, indicating that several seasons had gone by for enough erosion to have occurred to refill the hole.

I'm going to assume that whoever pulled it out of the ground had one of those "Oooops" moments and didn't want to risk a fine, so decided to leave well enough alone and just disappear back into the desert environment.  With that assumption, the hole would have slowly filled up over the course of a couple of wet winters and there would have been little evidence of where the post should have been in the ground.  The post is about 3 feet in length, so three or more years would have been minimum I think to fill in a hole.  Then again, the person who pulled it out, might have helped it along by refilling the hole.

Overall, the benchmark is in pretty good shape.  It's just not useable the way it is, because it's not in the right spot.  At least with a little detective work, we've been able to piece together a little bit of its history over the past 40 years.

Pictures were taken near the following benchmark:

Profile for Webfoot

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For the Birds

What you see is a picture of a birdhouse.  Nothing much really to tell about it, other than the occupants of said birdhouse didn't want their picture taken that day.  This birdhouse was quite close to a cache and it worked well as, what I liked to call, a distractor.  In other words, it helped us find the cache, because we could use the birdhouse as a reason for being in the area, in essence, loiter without appearing to loiter.

When you think about it, we tend to look like loiterers when we geocache.  It's hard not to look like you're loitering when you're hanging around a bush by the side of the road and every now and then you end up putting your head inside the bush.  I spent the better part of an hour inside a bush last Saturday and ended up with a DNF on that 4 icon challenge cache.  Come to find out it was muggled.  The owner has promised to have it replaced by the time I head back up there next weekend.

But, back to the birds.  As I said, this birdhouse was in the perfect spot for cache hunters, because it provided a reasonable purpose for cachers to be in a particular area, in this case a parking lot.  While we were looking for the cache, we ended up seeing a groundsman drive past us.  We weren't questioned because we made it look like we were enjoying the flowers and taking pictures of the birds, which is really what I was doing.  Had the birdhouse not been there, it would have been more difficult to justify our presence there.

The Western Bluebirds, that were inhabiting the house, apparently didn't want their picture taken.  It seemed like each time I raised my camera to take a picture, either the male would fly off from the perch, or the female would duck her head back inside.  And of course we had one of those, "wouldn't you know it" moments, because as soon as we were back in our car and leaving the area after finding the cache, both birds were outside the house.  Maybe next time.

Picture was taken near the following geocache:

Profile for Webfoot

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Icon Challenges

Chaosmanor sent me an email last week entitled, "If we'd only known."  In it, he detailed a challenge cache that was all about the icons.  In other words, you needed to find, in one day, six different kinds of geocaches to qualify to find this particular cache.  We didn't know about this cache on Saturday May 1st when we went to the 10 Years event at the Devils Punchbowl, so we didn't go out of our way to get a bunch of different kinds of caches.  The caches just came naturally that day.

We ended up finding five different types of caches, a traditional, a multi-cache (can you see it in the picture?), a mystery cache, an earthcache, plus the event cache.  No such luck to qualify for the One Busy Day Challenge, however while I was planning my route for my road trip this weekend to Stockton, I noticed this challenge cache, which my May 1st day does qualify for, so I'll be stopping by that cache on Saturday to find that one.

My son and I are also going to attempt the 6 icon challenge this summer.  Our planned route takes us through Lassen Volcanic National Park, close to Redding, CA.  Many of you may already know that the GPS Adventure Maze Exhibit is in Redding through September at the Turtle Bay Museum. This particular exhibit offers it's own special icon.  With that in mind, we have planned an earthcache in Lassen, then will drive down to Redding, getting a traditional, and a virtual, before heading to the museum.  After the museum, there will be a multi-cache just north of the museum.  All we'd have to do then is find a mystery cache to complete the challenge.  It should be a fun day, even if we don't finish the challenge.

I think this is one of the things that keeps me going in Geocaching.  I've had other hobbies that have waxed and waned over time, but I seem to have kept an interest in this hobby much longer than others.  Perhaps it's the little challenges that keep me going, keeping the hobby from getting stale.  Either that, or it's just something that I like to do. I would be willing to bet that it's a combination of both of the above.  Either way, I'll continue to watch for these kinds of caches.

Picture was taken near the following geocache:
Devil's Punchbowl - by Kit Fox

Profile for Webfoot

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Winter's last gasp

Every now and then I just marvel at the diversity of life in California.  You can be at the beach in the morning and on top of a fairly tall mountain within in a couple of hours, or out in the desert rock hounding.  It has an amazing array of scenery.  This late in May, it's also extremely rare to see much snow on top of the mountains, unless they are the Sierra Nevada.  Those mountains, which create the geographic backbone of California run as high as 14,000 feet.  They trap a lot of snow during wet year, which this one qualifies as, and will have snow for a long time.  Some will linger year round on the tallest, or sun shaded sides of mountains.

Still, in May, we usually only see a sprinkling of snow in few spots on our local mountains.  Not this year, because we received several very cold storms in April.  The storms dumped snow at around the 5000 foot level and it's still there, not in copious amounts, but enough to notice if your hiking in view of them.  That sometimes lends itself well to interesting pictures.  While on a hike in the Devils Punchbowl, I ended up getting, what I think is a pretty decent shot of a yucca in bloom with the snow covered mountains in the background.

In a month, the snow will be gone, although based upon today's weather, which was cold and dreary, but with no rain, it's not out of the realm of possibility to see more rain storms.  We have been having warmer, rather than colder weather over the last week or so and I ran the sprinkler system on the lawn for the first time last night, so I think we only have two chances of getting more snow on the mountains this season and that would be slim and none.

I'm now trying to figure out when to take my camping vacation this summer.  The plan is to camp at Lassen Volcanic National Park this year.  I've been to Lassen probably 3 or 4 times, but I've never been able to get to the top of the mountain.  It's not a real tough climb, but it is 11,000 feet and because the park is much farther north, there will be more snow on the peak, especially this year.  Because of when work starts in August, I don't have the luxury of waiting until then when it's quite warm and probably snow free, so we'll have to take our chances with the snow.  But, as my son says, "It's an adventure."  Snow, or no snow, we'll be there sometime this summer.

Picture was taken at or near the following geocache:
Devil's Punchbowl - by Kit Fox

Profile for Webfoot

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

To each his own

The nice thing about hobbies is everyone can enjoy them at their leisure and no one needs to be recruited or feel that you're out of step if you don't partake in a particular hobby.  Just like everyone else, I dabble in a variety of activities that keep me relatively busy.  Geocaching is one of my many outdoor activities that keeps me from "getting into trouble" according to my wife.

As we were hiking this past Saturday in the Devils Punchbowl, we stopped several times to watch some rock climbers on the opposite side of the Punchbowl work their hobby.  Even with my acrophobia, I considered this particular sport at one time when I was in college.  Several of my friends in the dorms at Humboldt State University would drive up to Patrick's Point State Park and climb the rocks there on the weekends.

They invited me to go on one of their excursions one time and I incredibly, now that I think of it, accepted.  One friend let me borrow his climbing shoes and another friend set me up with his climbing harness and soon they had me hooked up, on belay and climbing up the face of this rock.  First thing they had me do was fall.  I had to know that I could depend upon them to brake my fall.  That, actually, was the hardest thing about the sport.  That initial rush, or rather, the trepidation of just letting go of the rock probably scares a lot of people off the face of the rock more than anything else.

Once I passed that test, it was on to the actual climb.  The rock that they would climb was probably no more than 50 to 75 feet to the top.  There was a parking area on top, complete with railing and viewpoint, so it made a perfect place to anchor in the ropes.  Then, they would drive down to the bottom of the rock and practice different ways to climb the rock, trying different techniques to improve their abilities.  The rock was pretty much vertical, so it was a good test for most rock climbers learning their craft.

I started up and was doing pretty well, getting encouragement from my friends while I tried different routes.  Then, I made my fatal mistake.  I looked down.  Had I kept my focus on the top as opposed to trying to gauge how far I'd gone, I might have conquered the rock.  But I froze and it was all over.  My friends got me down, but I've never tried it again.  Now, I have no desire to.  I'm content to watch others do it.  I'll just get to the top of the rock by taking a trail, instead of taking the more direct approach.  I'm sure they probably think my hobby is a trifle boring.  To each, his own.  Besides, there's more flowers and things to look at alongside the trail.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
Burbling Brook - by steveel
Devils Punchbowl - by Kit Fox

Profile for Webfoot

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Thanks Dave

In the spring of 2000, President Clinton signed an executive order allowing for the removal of selective availability of GPS satellites.  The implications of this meant that hand held GPS receivers would be more accurate and navigation systems would start to become standard features in many cars.  Another result of the lifting of selective availability was the advent of several different kinds of GPS games like the Degree Confluence Project, GeoVexilla, GeoDashing, and of course, Geocaching.

On May 3, 2000 Dave Ulmer hid a black painted container in the state of Oregon and challenged an on-line community at sci.geo.satellite-nav to go and find it.  The first geocache was born, although at the time it was called the First GPS Stash.  Within days, that first stash had been found.  Contained within that five gallon bucket were a Delorme Topo USA and 2 CD Roms, a cassette recorder, a "George of the Jungle" VHS tape, a Ross Perot book, 4 $1 bills, a slingshot handle, and a can of beans.  The original cache is no longer there, but the spot can still be visited where there is a plaque placed commemorating the original stash.  The can of beans, heavily rusted but preserved, is now a travel bug.

This weekend, I traveled to the Devils Punchbowl to celebrate ten years of geocaching.  Events were held all over the world, but I found myself in a void, with the nearest event more than 30 miles away driving distance.  I decided to attend the event in the Antelope Valley mainly because it's a very scenic spot, plus there were going to be opportunities for some hiking after the event.  After all, when I started geocaching back in 2001, that's what it was all about.  The requirements for a 10 year event, as posted by were that the event needed to have a picture posted showing at least 10 people at the event plus a sign indicating the coordinates of the event in the picture.  Our event picture is here.

This was my 9th event in just over 9 years since starting this silly game.  I don't know why I don't attend many events.  I could probably go to at least one event a month if I so choose, I just don't and there's not really a reason why I don't.  This event, hosted by Kit Fox, was a lot of fun.  I met one of the hiders of the Groundspeak Series and Smiley Series, Bigdaddygrc.  I had a very pleasant conversation with him about geocaching and other things.  I also spent a good deal of time with a fairly new cacher, HD-MsTree.  I got to meet mcattk again, after bumping into him out at the Groundspeak Series a couple of months ago.  Time was also spent with Yosemite John and Debbie and Tevis Clan.  Several of us got a great review of Tevis Clan's new Lowrance GPSr.  My good friend, Chaosmanor and his wife also showed up at this event and we ended up going on a nice hike in the Punchbowl after the event.

While on the hike we ended up bumping into several other cachers that had been at the event.  W_bovine was walking down the trail from a multi-cache as we were heading up to it.  That's w_bovine holding the sign in the picture.  We had a pleasant conversation and I encouraged him to head over to my neck of the woods if he wanted to do some more hiking and caching.  There aren't many hikers in my area, so my caches don't get found very often, so any new finders is a bonus in my mind.  He said he would check it out.  While on the hike, Chaosmanor and I discussed the different rock strata of the rocks in the Punchbowl, while figuring out the requirements of an earthcache along the trail.  We also watched rock climbers playing their game.  I'd tried that once when I was in college and made the mistake of looking down about halfway up a pitch.  Never again.  But then again, I would suspect that those rock climbers might think the game we were playing a little too mundane for them.  To each his own.

At the end of the day, I counted my finds.  Including the event, I found 8 - an event, a multi-cache, a mystery cache, two earthcaches and three traditional caches.  It was a very modest day numbers-wise, but a very good geocaching day.  It's not about the numbers of caches you find, but about the experiences you have as you play the game.  I think I played the game well yesterday.  Thanks Dave.

Pictures were taken at or near the following geocaches:
10 Years! Antelope Valley, California - by Kit Fox
Devil's Punchbowl - by Yosemite John and Debbie

Profile for Webfoot