Finding Modoc Stash or How I Detoured Three Hours For an Old Geocache

Before I tell you my story, I should take a moment and explain that I am a Geocacher.  Geocaching is a hobby in which people use multimillion-dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. That may be a flip oversimplification. A little more of a concise definition for Geocaching may be: hunting for and finding a hidden container, location, or event using GPS coordinates posted on a website. There are over 3 million Geocaches hidden, worldwide.  There are apps that you can use depending on what kind of phone you have. I use a Garman Oregon 450T, handheld GPS for most of my Geocaching trips.

GPSThe hobby became possible May 2, 2000, when the government turned off “Selected Availability” from the geospatial constellation of satellites that enable the Global Positioning System (GPS) to function.  On that May day, civilian use of those satellites became 10X more effective.  On 3 May the first “GeoStash” was hidden in Oregon to test the accuracy of the newly released satellite capability.

If you are not familiar with Geocaching, you can watch a quick Geocaching 101 video.

Now that you are caught up, I will tell you about my adventure.

I had planned a weekend trip to Savannah to see Jeanne in early April.  The weather has been a little crazy since March with some unseasonably cold weather; I was looking forward to a  warmer climate and some quality time with Jeanne.  I had taken a day off on Friday the 13th and planned to drive south.  Jeanne was going to be working; my goal was to arrive in Savannah for dinner.

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National Forest Map, South Carolina

While planning my trip, I was looking to see if there were any challenging Geocaches along the way to break up the seven-hour drive.  I have had my eye on the oldest cache in the State of South Carolina.  Modoc Stash (GCF4) was placed in December 2000 in the Sumter National Forest.  I have thought about coming here before but have had to change plans because of weather, hunting season or a lack of time.   The other issue is that an attempt to find this Geocache would take me over 135 miles out of my way, roughly a three-hour detour off my usual run to Savannah.

Why would a reasonably intelligent man drive 135 miles out of his way to find an ammo can in the woods? If you don’t have the Geocaching bug, you may not get it.  There were several draws for this hike.  First, it is a Y2K hide.  There are less than 175 of the original caches hidden in 2000 still active worldwide. On top of that, it is one of the rare remaining Y2K caches with a four place alphanumeric serial number.  Second, it helps me fill in some challenges.  I add a new county (McCormick) in South Carolina, fill in a new page for the South Carolina DeLorme Challenge (Page 42). This find qualified me for the April 2018 GeoChallenge of the Month.  Yes, I am a geek.

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The Trailhead along South Carolina Route 23

I left my house in Chesapeake just after 7 a.m. and began the trek south and west.  When I came upon the I-95/I-20 interchange in Florence, South Carolina, I went west on I-20 and started the detour hoping to get past Columbia, South Carolina’s Capitol, before Friday afternoon traffic became problematic.  Just after 3 p.m., I exited I-20 west of Aiken and worked my way along country highways until I arrived at the trailhead.   There is parking at this location and a geocache, Modoc Trailhead (GC7B2YZ),  is very close to the parking area.

I had a backpack with me with water, a couple of Kind bars, and some of my usual Geocaching gear.  I also had a walking stick. I usually do not use the Geocaching app on my iPhone for hikes like this one.  Instead, I had loaded my Garmin Oregon 450T with the coordinates for the caches along the trail.   I had the trailhead marked with the first cache that I mentioned in the previous paragraph, another along the path and finally the goal for the day, Modoc Stash.

I have some recommendations for this hike.  First, sturdy hiking boots.  Flip flops or sandals are not going to cut it on this trail.  Second, be aware of your surroundings.  This trail is shared with mountain bikers. You will want to keep a lookout for them.  There is also wildlife in the national forest.  There are over 48 species of mammals including bears, bobcats, beaver, and deer as well as a variety of venomous and non-venomous IMG_4623snakes. Finally, you need to stick to the trail until you get within about 200 feet of the cache location.  At the parking area, you will be about 1/3 of a mile from the target geocache.  That is a straight line reading.  You will not be able to do a straight line land navigation quickly.  Stick to the trail.  I know that switchbacks are a pain, but there are a few elevation changes and water obstacles to cross. Two of those water obstacles do not have bridges.  They are not difficult to handle. If you stick to the trail you will come on a geocache, Eclipsed in the Forest (GC7B2ZG), about halfway to Modoc Stash.  The hike to the old geocache is about 1.1 miles. One last point, I marked a waypoint where my Jeep was parked.  While I used the trail markings, I like to know the distance to the car on the way out.

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Stevens Creek

 

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The first crossing point

 

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Modoc Stash in hand!

The hike was fun.  Early spring in South Carolina with the trees budding and some species of wildflowers in bloom is lovely. If you are interested in birds, there is no shortage of variety from songbirds to the big raptors and wild turkey.  The cool temps, in the low 60s, with a breeze kept the bugs to a minimum.  Once I was within 200 feet of the cache location, left the trail to head to “ground zero.”  Going off trail here is not a difficult bushwhack.  Once I was within 20 feet, I switched from my handheld GPS to my eyes and my “geosenses.”  Within a minute of getting to the general area, I had the ammo can in my hand. I traded some trackable items and signed the log.  It was time to head back to the Jeep and get back on the road to Savannah.

 

 

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The trail on the hike out.

 

I took a little over an hour to complete the hike and find three Geocaches.  I actually had a strong signal on my iPhone that enabled me to do a preliminary log for all the caches and document the trackable items exchanged at the old cache.

From the trailhead parking area, it took about three hours to complete the trip to Savannah.  I was at my destination around 7:30 p.m. in time to get cleaned up and go out for dinner.

The next Geocaching road trip for me will be to collect a group of Y2K Geocaches in northeast Georgia.  One will require a boat to get me out to an island in Lake Lanier.  A friend of mine completed that grouping a couple of weeks ago.  That trip will have to be more than just a detour on the way to Savannah! Perhaps I can convince Jeanne to partake in a little Geocaching adventure with me.

Click here if you would like more information the trails in the Sumter National Forest.

Partake

 

A man with an umbrella is king in a downpour

May in the low country of South Carolina is subject to rapid changes in weather.  On this particular Saturday, I was attending the morning Commencement Ceremonies at the College of Charleston.  With scattered heavy showers in the morning, the event was moved inside to protect student, faculty, family, and friends from the potential of severe weather.  After the event, we were off to the condo on Kiawah Island for lunch and gifts for the graduate, the daughter of my dear friend.

After lunch, I was heading to the elevator with a full trash bag and my umbrella.  As the door opened to the elevator, a gentleman and two women were already aboard heading down.  They were impeccably dressed.  The gentleman was admiring my big, ratty umbrella. He jokingly offered to buy it from me.   I let him know the trash bag was negotiable, but the umbrella was going to stay with me.  I would, however, be happy to walk everyone in his party to their vehicle under cover of my ancient canopy.  He smiled and thanked me and said they were going to wait for a shuttle to take them to the location of a late afternoon wedding nearby.  I hopped off the elevator to head to the dumpster to relieve myself of the trash bag.  When I came back to the front of the building, there were about a dozen people standing under cover in semi-formal attire.

Their shuttle arrived in front of the building.  I started ferrying people down the steps and around the ponding water on the sidewalk that led to the shuttle.  I started with an elderly woman with a great sense of humor and her daughter. She asked me for my name and thanked me for assisting her.  I then followed with some of the other women in the party and a final walk through the downpour with two younger men.

I was soaked by the time I was done, and the shuttle pulled away to the wedding.   I thought it was pretty funny that these folks, none of whom I had met before, were so appreciative of the simple kind gesture of providing cover to keep them dry so they would be comfortable at the ceremony about to take place.  It cost me nothing but damp clothes to keep them mostly dry.

A casualty of all the divisiveness and tension in the country over the past year is civility.  My parents and my grandmother taught me manners as a child in the 1960’s. In today’s world, I think we would all be better off if we offered a kindness to someone who could really use it.  I know that ferrying people under my bumpershoot will not end the unpleasantness that is running rampant.  It is not going to solve climate change or bring world peace.  But maybe it will improve someone’s day or experience, and perhaps that spirit of kindness will manifest itself in a kind act paid forward by one of the passengers under my umbrella.

It can’t hurt.

Final

The Angel Oak

DSCN2304Sometimes you just have to see something with your own eyes from different angles before to you understand how amazing it is. If you live along or visit the southern coast of the United States you will see Southern Live Oaks (Quercus Virginiana).  These are venerable icons of the old south, lining roads and driveways often providing complete canopies that filter sunlight like massive green stain glass windows.   On Johns Island, outside of Charleston,  there is a Live Oak that is thought to be between 300-400 years old. Named “The Angel Oak” because it was on property once owned by Martha and Justin Angel, the tree is thought to be the largest example of the species east of the Mississippi River.

The Angel Oak is over 65 feet tall, 25 feet in diameter, with its longest branch running over 90 feet away from the trunk. That limb has a circumference of over 11 feet.  It is rigged with cables and metal rods to support some of the heavier branches.  It has a shade area that covers over 17,000 square feet.

I had the chance to visit it in July while vacationing in the low country of South Carolina. You really don’t get an idea of the immense size of the tree until you walk around and under it.  The branches run from the main trunk in all directions with several of the lower branches actually going underground for several feet before emerging above the surface.  Sunlight filtered through the canopy throws light and shadow along the branches revealing Spanish moss, ferns and other plant life living off this ancient tree. It is really an amazing thing to explore and behold.

If you are in the Low Country of South Carolina, this is worth an hour or two of your time.