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Rain Gear

This year’s warm, wet winter has given me a lot of opportunities to break out my rain gear for my commutes to and from work. For years, my “rain suit” has consisted of:

  • Patagonia rain jacket with hood
  • Waterproof Gore-Tex biking gloves
  • Novara rain pants (REI house brand)
  • Regular, non-waterproof Altra sneakers with neoprene shoe covers (booties)

I should point out here that I ride flat pedals exclusively, having given up clipless a few years ago.

While neoprene shoe covers are useful as an extra insulating layer on extremely cold days, I’ve never been particularly enamored of them as rain booties. They do the job, but they’re bulky, and the soles get soggy and gunky if you have to get off the bike and do any walking. Also, the cuffs of my rain pants tend to slip off them while riding, leaving the tops open and often resulting in wet shoes and socks. On top of that, I’ve never been able to find a pair that’s large enough to completely fit over my Altras, so there’s always a slight opening at the back, providing more of an opportunity for moisture to get in.

This year, I bought a new pair of waterproof Altra Lone Peaks. These are marketed as trail running shoes, but I bought them with the intent of using them for mountain biking (I wanted something that was going to keep me dry when I occasionally stick my foot in the water during a stream crossing). Since they’re waterproof, I decided I’d see how they work for rainy bike commutes. My last few times out, I left the old sneakers and booties at home, and wore the waterproof Altras with gaiters instead. No more bulky neoprene shoe covers, and my feet and socks have been bone-dry after every ride. The shoes have nice, tough soles, and will hold up much better than booties if I have to do any walking. It’s a win-win all around, and I find myself enjoying my rides in the rain a lot more.

I should add that gaiters are essential in this setup. The rain pants go over the tops of the gaiters, which in turn go over the tops of the shoes. That way, there’s no way for water to get in. Without the gaiters, there would be a gap between the pants and the shoes, allowing water to seep in around my ankles. The Altra Lone Peaks have a convenient metal loop below the laces that is designed for gaiters, making them especially well-suited for this application.

Top 10 Geocache Finds of 2019

I did a lot of caching in the first half of 2019, but the second half saw the beginning of a slowing trend that has continued into 2020. With work and family commitments, my caching time has always been limited. I commute to work via bike most days, which limits opportunities to run out and find a cache at lunch time. I’ve already found most of the caches near me, so finding caches I consider “interesting” now requires driving at least 30 minutes one-way on Maryland’s congested roads. I usually do a lot of caching while traveling, but 2019 was a fairly light travel year (2020 is looking better in that regard). On top of all that, I’ve taken up climbing and mountain biking, and have become more active in my kids’ Scout troop, all of which cut considerably into the spare time I used to dedicate mostly to caching.

That’s not to say I’ve stopped caching, or have any intent of stopping. I’m still doing it; I’m just doing less of it, and I’ve become much more selective in choosing which caches to seek out. I’m also cognizant that my kids aren’t getting any younger, so am trying to maximize family time as much as I can. That often includes caching, but the kids don’t have quite the appetite for the hobby that I had during my heyday in 2013-2018. While I do still occasionally cache solo and with friends, I figure there will be plenty of time for that in the coming years when the kids are out of the house, and even more when I eventually retire.

What’s my point here? I’m not really sure. But in spite of my slowdown in 2019, I did find some pretty memorable caches. Here are my 10 favorites. As usual, these are in no particular order.

  • Merrygun (GC6WQTE)
    I figured it was about time I featured a cache by Vizardo on one of my lists. Vizardo’s caches are all very well-done, and tend to be physically challenging. Most of them are rarely found, probably for that reason. Merrygun was placed in 2016, and to date, has been found only twice. After the initial find, it sat lonely for a little over two years before I came along. It’s a multi-cache which requires hiking a few miles on the NCR trail. The final is in a great spot and has a lot of really interesting swag inside. If you’re ever looking for a challenging hike with a nice payoff at the end, check out one of Vizardo’s caches – you won’t be disappointed.
  • Double Dare – Fizzy Challenge (GC2PZXD)
    I used to be a big fan of challenge caches, but I’ve soured on them a bit lately, for various reasons that I won’t get into here. This cache made the list because I really liked the location and the hide. It is located outside Colorado Springs at around 10,000′ elevation, at the top of a large rock outcropping. Probably nothing special for someone who lives in that area, but I found getting there to be a fantastic adventure.
  • Orlando’s (GC82ZMB)
    Truth be told, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about this cache. It’s a typical hike at Liberty Reservoir that leads to a classic hide with a nice water view – pretty standard stuff for Liberty. It’s on the list as a representative of the Liberty Battleship series, which is possibly my favorite geocache series ever. Between February and April, I made countless trips up to Liberty, hiking dozens of miles and finding over 100 caches, all leading up to this final find, which I saved until October. There are many caches in the series with even better hikes and better views than this one, so think of this as a nod to all of them. Actually, this probably deserves more than one entry in the list. Instead, I’ll compromise and give a nod to:
  • Walking Home From Tumble Down (GC864P9)
    This one is on the list for both the puzzle and the hike. The puzzle was unique – sort of a virtual letterbox, as I think I described in my log. The hike was long, but the views at the end were worth it. It’s easy to get spoiled by water views at Liberty, but there was something about this peninsula that made it stand out, that I can’t quite put into words. Tranquil? Serene? Doesn’t quite do it justice – you have to be there. This is another one that won’t get nearly the number of visits it deserves (it sat for 13 days before the first find) but perhaps that’s a good thing.
  • Psycho Urban Cache #13 – Impossible! Give Up Now! (GCY72P)
    Not much to be said here – how can you find PUC #13 and not put it on your top 10 list for the year?!? Truth be told, I was just along for the ride on this adventure (OK, I did help others out with the ascending rig), but even so, nothing quite beats the thrill of making it to the top and spending a couple of hours up there soaking in the views. Of course, I only hung out for so long because I was petrified to start the rappel. But, I’m still alive to tell the tale. And later on, there was a really cool rainbow.
  • Great Egging Island (GC7B6HR)
    This was an awesome paddle-virtual that I tackled with my family. I had never paddled at Assateague National Seashore before. This particular area was calm, shallow and very warm in the summertime – lacking a kayak, one could easily reach the island with a SUP, or even a cheap inflatable boat or raft. The island itself was very peaceful and serene, in stark contrast to the launch area, which was packed with bathing-suit-clad muggles. On top of that, there were very few bugs on the day we visited, so we were able to hang around for awhile. Just a great spot.
  • Lee, Key, and Teddy (GC7B6WV)
    Continuing with the paddle-virtual theme: this one is located along the Potomac in Washington, D.C. I tackled it on a very hot, hazy, humid day, but got out early and was able to avoid the worst of the heat. It was really neat to see some of the D.C. monuments from the water. There are also nice views of Roosevelt Island, as well as Rosslyn, VA, among other sights. It was a great urban kayaking adventure.
  • America the Beautiful-The Final (GC4Q3R6)
    AtB is a series of caches in Gunpowder Falls State Park. The hike is several miles through rolling terrain along the riverbank, and the caches feature a wide variety of creative containers and hides. I tackled it on a sunny, seasonable January day after a very busy week at work. It was just what I needed to unwind and clear my head.
  • It’s all downhill from here… (GC27265)
    In mid November, a group of us tackled a hike on the Mason-Dixon Trail in York County, PA. This was our penultimate find of the day, and (surprise, surprise) my favorite of the day – because who can resist scrambling up on a rock?
  • 7/16″ (GC7M1TK)
    This is a hide by coiledpigeon near Loch Raven Reservoir. While this perhaps could be called “easy” by coiledpigeon standards, my kids and I had a great time hiking out to it, figuring out the first stage, and scrambling to the final. It’s always great to find a cache that we can all enjoy, and nothing beats quality time spent with my kids, especially nowadays, when they’re usually off doing their own thing.

That about wraps it up for 2019. I wonder what 2020 holds in store?

Today’s chilly ride

It’s that time of year where I post about my cold-weather bike rides. This morning was my coldest ride of the season (thus far) so I’m just sharing a few quick stats and notes.

  • Time of day: 7:10am – 8:00am
  • Temperature: (average) 7°F
  • Wind chill: (average) -6°F
  • Conditions: partly cloudy
  • Distance ridden: 7.75 miles
  • Bike: ’93 Rockhopper with Schwalbe Marathon studded tires, Pedaling Innovations “Catalyst” flat pedals, flat bars with Bar Mitts


  • Head: fleece balaclava, “North Face” stretchy fleece head band, cheap UVEX safety glasses, helmet
  • Torso: Arm warmers, merino wool t-shirt, thin synthetic long sleeve pullover (“32° Heat” brand), winter cycling jersey (Canari brand), windbreaker jacket
  • Legs: Performance Triflex winter cycling pants
  • Feet: Wool hiking socks, cotton boot socks (top layer), Keen hiking boots with fleecy warming insoles
  • Hands: Gore-tex windproof cycling gloves with inner liner

This setup worked really well for about an hour of riding. I frequently have had issues with cold toes in the past, and adding insulated insoles to my boots seems to have really helped with this. I won’t say my toes were warm when I arrived at work, but they were not freezing either, which is an improvement over past rides I’ve taken in similar conditions. In lieu of wearing two layers of socks, I may consider buying a pair of more heavily-insulated wool socks for cold-weather cycling only, and seeing how they work out.

The cheap UVEX safety glasses also seem to be a winner. When I wear my regular cycling glasses with the balaclava, they have to go underneath, which allows more cold air to get in around my face (making descents a bit unpleasant). They also fog up constantly, so I end up sliding them down my nose so I can see, thus defeating their purpose. The safety glasses fit over the balaclava, and my helmet straps hold them in place. I did not have nearly as much trouble with fogging today, although based on what I wrote last year, the extreme cold may have had something to do with that. I’m curious to see how the safety glasses do in more moderate conditions.

I want to pick up a vented balaclava to replace the one I have been using. It seems to be plenty warm enough, but my breath condenses on the inside and then freezes. While this is not as uncomfortable as it sounds, I think a mouth/nose vent would eliminate this problem. Today, I also added a fleece headband, which I think helped a bit with air infiltration.

Two issues I have noticed with my bike in this kind of weather: first, the grease in my derailleur pulley bushings hardens up, and they squeak like banshees. Silicone spray seems to be a good short-term fix. Second, my 1993-vintage freehub occasionally “misses”, which is jarring and kind of annoying. The colder it gets, the more it seems to happen. It might finally be getting to time to replace these old hubs. I certainly have gotten my money’s worth out of them.

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2018 Edition

Once again, I had to make some tough eliminations to trim this list down to just 10. I’ll list the “honorable mentions” at the end of this post. Without further ado, in no particular order:

  • Hyndman’s Mail Path Cache (GCNXM9)
    A classic traditional hide on a mountaintop outside Hyndman, PA, which is due north of Cumberland, MD. This was a great hike in an out-of-the-way rural area, and a great find on a cache that had been lonely for 2 years. It got a couple more well-deserved visits after I found it in July, though.
  • Huh? Too (GC373XV)
    This is a puzzle cache hidden on an island in Liberty Reservoir. It took me quite awhile to get the final coordinates. The challenge was not so much figuring out how to solve it, but rather, where to look to find the solution. Thanks to NCPositronics, I had the opportunity to paddle a kayak on Liberty Reservoir for the first time ever (along with Alzarius, who joined me in NCP’s tandem kayak).
  • Diablo Point Cache (GCFE)
    A December 2000 hide located near the peak of South Mountain, just outside Phoenix, AZ. Quite the adventure hiking/scrambling 5 miles up the mountain in the 100° desert heat, but I came prepared, and lived to tell the tale.
  • USS Midway (a Virtual Reward Cache) (GC7B69J)
    This is my favorite of the virtual reward caches I have found to date. A very well-done scavenger hunt aboard the U.S.S. Midway, a retired WWII aircraft carrier which is now a floating museum on San Diego harbor. A definite must-do when visiting there.
  • Psycho Urban Cache #7 – A Good Day to Die (GCQHBH)
    What top-10 list would be complete without a PUC?? This was a fun urban spelunking adventure just outside Frederick, MD. It was noteworthy in that we completed it in the rain. The stage 1 tunnel was dry when we crawled down it, but after making the final find, we noticed water pouring out of it. I guess we finished in the nick of time!
  • Tarryall (GC18)
    This is the oldest active cache in the state of Colorado, placed in July 2000. I made the drive to it from Golden (just outside Denver) in February, dealing with some really dodgy weather along the way. Again, I lived to tell the tale. As with much of Colorado, the area around the hide is beautiful and bucolic. This find completed my first loop of the famous Jasmer Challenge.
    This is an extremely fun, creative puzzle/multi located in southern Maryland that doesn’t get nearly enough visits. The field puzzle by itself is worth a favorite point, but the hike is just as awesome.
  • The Catoctin Mountain Geology Tour (GC7R9VC)
    An ambitious EarthCache in Catoctin Mountain National Park that features some incredible views and a really nice hike. Definitely not one for the “numbers” cachers. :)
  • Extreme Geocacher Challenge (GC4N1EW)
    Another crazy adventure in Middle River, MD that involves doing fun, dangerous stuff. What more do I need to say?!?
  • The Ghosts of DelMar (MD/DE Virtual Challenge) (GC3VJWF)
    You might say that 2018 was a slow year for caching for me, but I did complete a few challenges that I had been working on for a long time. One of them was this one, which requires finds on every virtual cache in Maryland and Delaware. It was quite an adventure going after all of them, but well worth it.

Honorable Mentions (because I couldn’t just leave them out, could I?):

  • The Maryland and Delaware DeLorme Challenge (GCR7CH)
  • Ever changing Island (GC7B7XC)
  • Thousand Steps Cache (GC59AF)
  • DO NOT Release the Kraken: 1 (GC7WA3N)
  • Puzzle Prep – Cryptography (GC5JJ5H)

Caching in the Sonoran Desert

A couple of months ago, I found out that I would be going to Phoenix, AZ (specifically, the town of Gilbert) for a short business trip in mid-May. I immediately did what I always do: I checked the area for any geocaches of interest that I could target during my free time. Turns out that there are 3 caches that were hidden in the year 2000, all within 30 minutes’ driving time of Gilbert: Geocache (GC57; Arizona’s oldest active hide), Diablo Point Cache (GCFE), and Senda de Tonto (GCED). Being a huge fan of older caches, I put these on my list, in hopes I could get to a couple of them. My day job was on a Tuesday and Wednesday, so I booked my flight out for early Monday morning, and my flight home for Thursday mid-afternoon. That would leave Monday afternoon and evening free, and Thursday morning. Could I possibly squeeze all three of these in?

Monday afternoon: Diablo Point Cache

GCFE is located in South Mountain Park, the largest municipal park in Phoenix. It’s a short 15-minute drive from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. From a timing and driving standpoint, it made perfect sense to attempt it immediately after arriving, as it’s much closer to the airport than it is to Gilbert. My flight was scheduled to arrive at 9:20am, leaving almost the entire day free. The down side to this plan was the weather forecast. The predicted high for the day was 97°F, and I would be out during the hottest part of the day. I reasoned that if I wore a hat, dressed appropriately, used lots of sunscreen, and drank LOTS of water, I should be OK in the dry desert heat. I’m in pretty good shape, and am used to stifling east coast humidity. A few days prior to leaving, I plotted the hike out on paper using OpenStreetMap trail maps. It looked like about a 4 mile out-and-back hike, assuming I started at the Mormon Trailhead, which is along East Valley View Drive at approx. N33° 21.982′ W112° 01.814′ (conveniently enough, there’s a cache right at the entrance to the parking lot: GC78F3K). While 4 miles is no problem, the tough part would be the roughly 700′-800′ of elevation gain between the parking area and my destination. What could possibly go wrong?!?

For water, I packed my Osprey Manta hydration pack, which has a 3-liter reservoir. I also packed two half-liter water bottles, for a total capacity of 4L. My flight arrived right on time (thanks, Southwest Airlines) and I filled my pack and bottles at an airport bottle-filling station before leaving to pick up my rental car. I had the car by around 10:45, and arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 after a quick stop at Subway for lunch. At lunch, I pre-hydrated with about 20oz of Gatorade, so I was as ready as I’d ever be.

The hike started out easy enough. The trail was dry and rocky, with a steady uphill grade and a few switchbacks. I thought I’d be the only person crazy enough to be hiking this trail during the heat of the day, but I passed an older couple slowly working their way uphill, and a woman heading down. After about a half mile, I approached the first cache along my hike: GCCE2F, “Camelback View”, which was placed on 02/01/2003 and named for its view of Camelback Mountain off in the distance. The area also has a great view of greater Phoenix, including downtown and the airport. After some scrambling around, I located the cache, and rested under a shady rock while I signed the log. From here, the distance to GCFE was a scant 0.83 mile, but distances can be deceiving!

The second phase of the hike was relatively flat. A breeze was stirring up, which felt really good. The area was quite beautiful, with Saguaro cacti dotting the landscape, and a very cool natural rock tunnel as well. Soon after that, the going got tough, though. I left the Mormon Loop trail and hiked a short distance on the National Trail, before taking an unnamed shortcut up the mountain to join a trail called Midlife Crisis. The shortcut trail was steep and mostly rock, and I lost the trail in a few places as I scrambled ever higher. My GPSr was a big help keeping me on course, though, and eventually I found the much-easier-to-follow Midlife Crisis. This trail took me up to a couple of peaks with incredible 360° views. You know you’re doing something right when you can see for miles in every direction. Well worth all of the hard work getting up there, even without the cache!

As I closed in on the cache, I had to lose some of my hard-fought elevation. That’s always tough on the morale, as with an out-and-back hike, I knew that I’d have to regain that elevation again! The cache itself was several hundred feet off the trail, near a large rock formation. I won’t give the hide away, but I will say that I read a few logs in advance, and had an idea where I might need to focus my search. After checking a few other places, I looked in the right spot and found the cache. What a hike!! I sat for a good 10-15 minutes resting and savoring the find. As of this writing, the cache still has its original log from December 2000! That kind of longevity definitely is the mark of a good hide.

After signing the log and replacing the cache, I had to hike back to my car. After all that work, it was hard to fathom that I was only halfway through my hike!! I considered taking an alternate route back, which would have taken me past more caches; however, not being familiar with the area, I decided to go with “the devil I knew” and return the same way I came. I was getting a little tired, and wanted to make sure I could get back without running out of water.

The hike back was faster, but still difficult, as anyone who has had to hike a significant distance downhill while tired will tell you. I was really happy when I finally got back to the parking area. All told, I had hiked 5.5 miles with a total elevation gain/loss of around 1500′-1600′. I went through about a gallon of water. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, the temperature gauge in my rental car read an even 100°F.

All in all, this was a great hike with a nice payoff at the end. Perhaps it was a little ill-advised to do alone, but I lived to tell the tale!

Thursday morning: Geocache and Senda de Tonto

The great thing about these two caches is that they are only about 6 miles apart, so it’s easy to combine them into one trip. I had a flight out at 2:10pm, and sunrise was at 5:20am. The parking area for GC57 (along Bush Hwy in Tonto National Forest) was about a 25-30 minute drive from my hotel in Gilbert. I figured that I would get on the road at 4:15 (easy to do, as my body clock was still on eastern time) and by the time I arrived, I’d have enough predawn twilight to begin my hike, and plenty of time before I had to catch my flight. I packed my breakfast to go (a “Which Wich” sandwich that I bought the previous evening) and left right on time. When I pulled up to parking, the temperature was a pleasant 62°F. A far cry from Monday’s hike!!

The area where GC57 is hidden is known as Bulldog Canyon. The parking area has a gate, and beyond the gate is a dirt road that is suitable for most vehicles (although from the looks of it, I think you’d want something high profile to get through some areas). If desired, one can get a free permit from the Forest Service (which includes gate combination) and drive to within about 0.6 miles of the cache. However, I figured I would just park outside the gate and hike in. From the gate, the cache is about 4 miles round trip. The terrain is much flatter than South Mountain, but a little over a mile of it involves bushwhacking through the desert. There are several other caches sprinkled along the road, and I found 3 or 4 of them en route.

The desert bushwhack was lots of fun. It’s not difficult to navigate, though you do have to choose your path wisely and watch your step. The primary hazard is not what you think: yes, there are cactus spines, and you will get some stuck in your shoes. It’s impossible to avoid. However, more so than the spines, there is horse poop literally everywhere!! Apparently, there are herds of wild horses that roam the desert; I wasn’t lucky enough to see any, but I sure saw plenty of evidence of their presence. Aside from that, the area is beautiful, and the views are breathtaking. It’s hard to imagine a better time of day to be there than dawn.

After about 20 minutes of winding my way between prickly plants, I closed in on GZ and found the venerable GC57. After performing the usual rituals (including releasing my own trackable), I worked my way back to parking and found a few more caches. Total hike time was about 2.5 hours, and total temperature gain was around 15 degrees, as it was in the mid 70s when I got back to the car.

Next stop was Senda de Tonto (GCED), which is about 6 miles west of GC57, right along Bush Highway. Of the 3 caches, it’s the shortest and easiest hike. The terrain is hilly, but the hike is only about a quarter mile each way. The cache is along a well-used trail, and I saw several hikers and bikers. There are some beautiful views along the trail, as well. Some of the Saguaros in this area still had blooms, which look to be popular with bees. I wrapped my hike up just past 8:00am, and got back to my hotel a little before 9, early enough to enjoy the free breakfast, finish my packing, and rest for a little bit before leaving for the airport.

I was really happy with the amount and quality of caching I was able to fit in during my limited free time on this trip. I wish all of them could be this successful!

Jasmer Challenge

One of the more popular geocaching “side games” is called the “Jasmer Challenge”. The goal: for each month since geocaching began in May 2000 (when Selective Availability was turned off), find at least one geocache that was placed in that month. As of this writing, that means finding 214 caches: one placed in May 2000, one in June 2000, one in July 2000, etc., all the way up to February 2018. It’s a difficult challenge to complete, because of the travel required, and the scarcity of some of the months. For example, there are only four remaining active hides in the world that were placed in August 2000.

I’ve been working on this challenge off-and-on for about 3 years. Many people, including some of my friends, have taken “geo-trips” specifically for finding caches to help them fulfill the Jasmer Challenge. Geo-trips aren’t really an option for me at this point in my life (not that I’m complaining by any means), but I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel for work several times a year. Work travel often gives me opportunities to work on my geocaching goals, including (you guessed it) the Jasmer Challenge. In 2017, I found myself with only two months left to go to qualify: July and August 2000. I was able to find the latter in April 2017, and the former in February 2018.

April 2017: GC36, “Geocache 612” (hidden 8/21/2000)

“Geocache 612” is one of the four remaining caches from August 2000. It’s located in Kalkaska County, MI, which is in the northern section of the lower peninsula, about 3 to 3.5 hours north of Detroit. My opportunity to find it came in April 2017, when I traveled to Ann Arbor for a work gig at University of Michigan. Upon arrival, I rented a car and drove 7 hours round-trip, with the weather threatening the entire way, and made the find. The full story of this find may become the subject of a future post…

February 2018: GC18, “Tarryall” (hidden 7/2/2000)

“Tarryall” is the oldest active geocache in the state of Colorado. It’s located about 2 hours out of Denver, in a rural area at about 8600′ elevation. I’ve had my eye on it for a long time, as work seems to bring me to the Denver area every couple of years. I had plans to find it in 2016, but decided to drive east and find another old cache instead.

Late last year, I learned that I would be heading to Golden, CO for a few days in early February 2018. Now, if I had my choice, I’d rather get sent to Colorado in spring or fall (note to readers: I am not a skier). I just figured that Colorado at 8600′ in February would be, well, snowy, and to maximize chances of success, it would be better to eliminate snow as a potential complicating factor. No such luck, but I decided to plan a mission to Tarryall in spite of it, and hope for the best.

First thing I would need would be a car. I’ll throw in a plug for Zipcar, a car-sharing service which I’ve used for several years. It’s great for just this kind of thing. As long as there are Zipcars available nearby, they can be rented by the hour, 24/7, and there are no rental counter lines or pushy agents to deal with. Just reserve, find your car, and drive. On this trip, I was happy to find that Colorado School of Mines (the site of my meeting for the week) had cars available. I reserved a 4WD Ford Escape, which I figured would give me the best chance for success should I have to deal with any bad weather.

I chose the first full day of my trip (a Monday) to make my attempt. My day job didn’t start until 12 noon MST, and by body clock would still be on eastern time. I figured I would need 2 hours for the drive out and 2 hours for the drive back. If I left at 4:30am, and planned on being back by 11, that would allow 2.5 hours for caching.

Departure day arrived. The weather forecast in Colorado looked beautiful, with highs above freezing, and no snow predicted in either Golden or the area around Tarryall. Maryland was another story, though: we had an ice storm the day I was scheduled to fly out. No significant flight delays, though, other than to de-ice the plane. I arrived in Golden, got my stuff ready, and went to bed early.

After about 5.5 hours’ sleep, I was up bright and early and making preparations to head out. I left my hotel at a little after 4, found my Zipcar, and was on the road at 4:30, just as scheduled. It was very windy around Golden, as a front had gone through overnight; but the weather at the lower elevation was a balmy 50°F (considerably warmer than back home in Maryland).

The drive was dark. Really, really dark. At about the halfway mark, I drove through Kenosha Pass, which has an elevation of 10,000′. This was the one area where my careful planning failed me. I had checked weather in Golden, and in Tarryall, but not here. Here, it was snowing. Not a huge amount of accumulation, but heavy enough to coat the roads and reduce visibility. Thankfully, the wind had died down, but it was snowing. And dark. And my car was out of windshield washer fluid. And did I mention dark? I was having a hard time seeing the road. The truck in front of me decided to pull over to wait it out. Morale was slipping, and I considered turning back.

I decided to soldier on. In spite of the snow coating the road, I could still see the yellow lines, so I knew it wasn’t deep. I stopped to manually clear my windshield, which helped with visibility. The Ford Escape seemed to be having no issues with traction. Braking was still crisp and responsive. There was no one else on the road to worry about. I cut my speed and drove carefully. Eventually, as the elevation dropped a little bit, conditions improved. I started to see the first glimmers of light in the east. The roads were no longer snow-covered. I might just make it!

I pulled into the parking area for Tarryall at about 6:30am, right on schedule. I had read that with a 4WD vehicle, it was possible to drive on the unpaved ATV road up to about 0.1 mile from the cache. Instead of doing that, I elected to park near the main road and walk from there, which was only about 0.5 mile. I hiked out; I found the cache; I did my happy dance. By now, the sun was up, and the area was just beautiful. I’m not saying that Maryland isn’t beautiful, but we don’t have stuff like this. I hung around for another hour or so, and found another cache, before returning to my vehicle for the drive back.

The drive back was uneventful. I stopped for several more caches. It was hard to resist the urge to stop for even more caches (fellow geocachers can relate to that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling), but I had a deadline, and couldn’t be late getting back. It was still snowing at Kenosha Pass, but the plows were out doing their thing, and the drive was much less daunting in full daylight. I made one more stop, for gas and a really bad gas-station sandwich. I rolled back into Golden with plenty of time to spare.

So, thus ends my quest to complete the Jasmer Challenge. It was fun, and it sent me on a couple of crazy adventures! If you thought it was over, though, don’t fret: once one has completed the Jasmer Challenge once, the next step is to complete it twice. I’m already crossing my fingers that work will send me to Atlanta, where I’m told another August 2000 and another July 2000 hide are lurking…

Frigid-er (sort of)

Today was my second really, really cold bike ride this week. Conditions today were a little different from Wednesday. The air temperature was a steady 10°F, slightly warmer than Wednesday. The real story was the wind, which was around 13mph when I left, and 17mph when I arrived, with gusts up around 25mph. The wind chill ranged from -5° to -8°, which was enough for the NWS to post a wind chill advisory. I decided to shorten my morning ride from my usual 12-14 miles down to around 8 miles.

I wore the same clothes that I wore Wednesday, except I added arm warmers as a base layer, and wore a winter cycling jersey instead of a thin athletic pullover. This turned out to be too much, as my chest and back were sweating by the time I finished the ride. My feet were comfortable for the first half of the ride, but when I turned upwind, my toes got uncomfortably cold. Still hoping to find a good solution for cold feet. My head stayed comfortable, but I was getting winded on uphill stretches that ordinarily are no problem for me. I think the balaclava was interfering with my breathing. I might want to consider getting a balaclava with a mouth vent.

On the plus side, the constant wind kept my glasses from fogging up so much. There’s a silver lining to everything.

I have to admit that the ride was getting a tiny bit unpleasant at the end, mainly because of the cold feet and the breathing issues. I think if I can solve those two problems, and remember not to go too overboard with the layers, I should be fine riding in these conditions in the future.

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2017

Continuing my tradition from last year, I’ve compiled a list of my 10 favorite geocache finds of 2017. It was tough to whittle the list down to just 10, but that’s sort of the point, I guess. In a departure from last year, I’m including a short blurb about why each individual cache made the list. Once again, these are in no particular order. Trying to order them would make this even more difficult. So, here goes…

  • Ruined-Chicken Multicache (GC2BE4)
    This 6-stage multi-cache is located in Fair Hill NRMA in northeast Maryland. It is well done on many levels. I found it back in January with Alzarius. The cache name didn’t make sense until after we had found a few of the stages. A close runner-up is the nearby Fair Hill Multicache.
  • To Catch a Cacher (or Reverse THIS! #3) (GCTM39)
    This is a puzzle cache located near Warrenton, VA. It was published in 2006, and as of this writing, has been found a grand total of 5 times. In spite of some familiarity with the puzzle subject matter, it took me a long time to solve it, but it was quite a learning experience. I chose to make it my 3000th find. This cache also had a very close runner-up: The Digital Detective (or Reverse THIS! #2 ).
  • 91° (GC5BD60)
    This “extreme” cache is located in Gunpowder Falls State Park, in northeast Baltimore County, MD. It is a 3-stage puzzle involving a field puzzle, a tree climb, and a rappel. It’s noteworthy in that it’s the first truly “extreme” cache that I tackled on my own. I feel like I earned my stripes here. It was also a really fun outing with the kids (actually multiple outings, as it took us a couple of trips to complete it).
  • Maryland’s 5 Oldest Challenge (GC25W3Y)
    This cache is noteworthy not for the hide itself (which is just Tupperware in the woods) but for the challenge, which involves finding the 5 oldest active traditional, multi-, unknown, virtual, and letterbox hybrid caches in Maryland. That’s a total of 25 caches, and many of them are quite challenging, including long hikes and/or difficult finds, and they’re located in almost every corner of the state. It took me 2 or 3 years to complete the challenge.
  • The Cache of Wolfenstien Enigma (GC3YTTM)
    A puzzle cache located in Valley Garden Park, not far from Wilmington, DE. A very elegant and challenging puzzle, with a nicely-themed container, located in a beautiful park.
  • Geocache 612 (GC36)
    This is one of only 4 remaining active caches that were hidden in August, 2000. It’s located in Kalkaska County, MI, which is in the northern part of the lower peninsula. The cache is really in the middle of nowhere. It’s located off an unpaved logging road, about a mile from the nearest paved road. The hide itself is not all that remarkable, but the quest to find it was lots of fun. After flying into Detroit for a business trip, I drove 7 hours round-trip just to find this cache (although I did find a few others along the way). The weather was threatening the entire way, but the heavy rain held off until after I had found the cache. It was a long day, but it netted me the penultimate month I needed to complete the Jasmer Challenge. Still waiting for an opportunity to find a July 2000 hide, which is the final month I need.
  • Whiskey! Tango! Foxtrot! (GC3212W)
    This was an extreme cache in Pennsylvania (outside Wilkes-Barre), by the fabled keoki_eme, that is now archived. It had 8 or 9 stages, including an abandoned mine, an old mine shaft, several rappels, and about a 10 mile hike. I tackled it with a group of seasoned extreme cachers, some of whom remarked that it seemed easy for a keoki_eme cache, because it didn’t involve any 70′ tree climbs. Being my first, I didn’t have anything to compare it against; hopefully it won’t be my last, though. My kids came along, too, did a few rappels, and soldiered through the entire hike with minimal complaining. This cache makes the list partly for the time spent with friends, and also for one of the most fun rappels I have ever done (into a deep, narrow crevasse). Sadly, the cache was archived at the time (long story there), and we collected the stages as we went along. Too bad no one else will get to enjoy it.
  • Spice Creek small boat (GC4265)
    This is (to my knowledge) Maryland’s oldest “hydro” cache. It’s located in southern Prince Georges County, on in island in a small tributary of the Patuxent River. It doesn’t get many finds, because it’s not easy to get to GZ. The channel isn’t navigable at low tide, so you need to launch at or near high tide. To reach the closest launch point, you have to portage your kayak about a half mile through the woods, on a narrow trail. From there, it’s about a 3 mile round-trip paddle. The cache is worth the effort, though. The paddle is beautiful. The cache is an old-school ammo box hidden on the high point of the small island. After careful planning, I tackled it solo in mid-September.
  • Not Your Mother’s Multi (GC5MH6R)
    Another “extreme” cache (are you sensing a trend here?) that I tackled with my son. It’s a two-stage multi in a park near Middle River, MD. The first stage is a cleverly-hidden field puzzle. The second stage is about 30′ up in a tree. This was the first “real” tree climb I’ve tackled by myself (with gear), and it was a blast. I used a throw bag and line, and at first, wasn’t sure at all if we would succeed. But sure enough, after a few errant throws, we got the tree rigged. There’s always an extra sense of accomplishment when the outcome is in doubt. Great fun, and I also got to spend quality time with my teenage son. Doesn’t get much better than that!
  • Venona’s Box (GC2WP0R)
    This is a challenging puzzle cache located in Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, north of Livermore, CA. The puzzle solution required knowledge of computer graphics, programming, and linear algebra. I solved the puzzle in 2015, and had intended to find the cache later that year, but flight delays forced me to postpone the attempt until 2017. It was worth the wait, though. An absolutely beautiful hike, with stunning views at the cache location.

Well, there you have it. I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!


My bike ride to work this morning was officially my coldest ever. I left home at 7:00am, rode approximately 12 miles (my phone battery died about 9 miles in, so I don’t have the exact figure), and arrived at work a little after 8. Official air temperature at BWI was 7°F at 6:54, and at 7:54, it had dropped to 5°F. I’ll average the two and call it 6°. There was no wind to speak of, so I didn’t break my wind chill record of 2°F, set back in 2009 (air temperature that morning was 14°). Based on the forecast, that record may fall on Friday, assuming I ride that day.

I rode my 1993 Specialized Rockhopper, which I’ve owned since it was new. I have it outfitted for winter, with Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires, Pedaling Innovations “Catalyst” flat pedals, and “Bar Mitts” handlebar mittens.

Clothing I wore:

  • Head: fleece balaclava, cycling helmet, glasses
  • Torso: merino wool t-shirt, polyester long-sleeve athletic pullover, polyester/nylon/spandex fleece pullover, hi-vis bike jacket/windbreaker
  • Legs: fleece-lined cycling pants (Performance “Triflex” brand)
  • Hands: Gore-Tex cycling gloves with inner liner
  • Feet: Wool socks, Altra “Superior” athletic shoes, Performance “toesties” toe covers, Planet Bike neoprene shoe covers

Overall, this setup was pretty comfortable, as long as I stayed under 20mph, at which point I would start to feel the wind underneath the balaclava. My fingers started off a little cold, and warmed up as I rode (can’t say enough good things about the Bar Mitts). My toes got slightly chilly about 30 minutes into the ride, as they always seem to, but not overly so. I’m a recent convert from clipless back to flat pedals, and I must say my feet stay a lot warmer in the winter than they used to with cleats. As always, the studded tires did their job keeping me upright through icy patches.

The only real issue I had this morning was one that has plagued me in the past: my glasses fog up really easily in this kind of cold, particularly when the balaclava is covering my nose and mouth. I haven’t found a really good fix for this. They clear up on their own, as long as I keep moving, but it’s still a pain, and potentially dangerous, when they fog up and obscure my vision. On climbs, I sometimes have to pull the glasses down so I can see. I may try out a product called “VisorGogs”, as they are cheap, and I have heard that they make good winter cycling glasses. If I do, I will report back here.

The ride home this afternoon looks like it’s going to be about 20°F warmer than this morning. It’s going to feel like summer!

Top 10 Geocache Finds, 2013-2016

I thought I’d start a new tradition of picking my 10 favorite geocaches found each year. 2013 is the first year that I had 10 or more finds, so I’ll start with 2013 through 2016. These are in no particular order…


  • Subterranean Adventure (Thunder Underground) (GC2PD3Q)
  • Magna Cum Laude, My Hat’s Off to You! (GC5FY1V)
  • Psycho Urban Cache #10 – Derelict Grunge Acropolis (GCT9NC)
  • Mingo (GC30)
  • Maryland Heights (part II) (GCGZV1)
  • Vampire Empire (GC1A2T0)
  • Cacher’s Oven (GC3ERVX)
  • The Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay (GC3ECVM)
  • A Triangle is a Perfect Square (GCH4A4)




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