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

 

Parking Garage Photo Collection

I am absent-minded when I park my ride.  If I am heading to the airport, hospital, shopping mall, or a work location to give a presentation I usually space out where I left my wheels.  It is actually a little embarrassing.

I have had enough of walking through parking lots or garages with my hand in the air pushing the lock button and waiting for the horn to sound. Sometimes I end up hitting the panic button and waiting for the full cacophony of headlights and horns and discover that I am on the wrong level.  That leads me to my next mystery, did the sound come from the level above or the level below? I am hoping that someone reading this post is thinking “Oh yeah, I have done that!”

I have begun using the camera on my iPhone to record where I have left my Jeep.   This usually means that the clue to the location of my car is just a few swipes away in the picture folder on my phone. An example to the left is of the long-term parking garage at the Norfolk International Airport.  I snapped that on my last business trip out to San Antonio.  That was only an overnight trip, and I had to pull out the phone at baggage claim to remind me where I had left the Jeep the previous morning. (The airline made me check my small suitcase because the overhead compartments were almost nonexistent on the flight from Charlotte to Norfolk.)

On Friday, 22 December, I had an appointment at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia.  I arrived to find the communal garage pretty full, even for the Friday before Christmas.

After circling the first and second levels for a few minutes, I finally found someone pulling out of a spot.  Once in the parking space, I mindlessly pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of the closest location sign to where my Jeep sat waiting for me. I heard a small laugh behind me.  When I turned around a woman, walking in the same direction as I, looked at me and smiled. I was busted getting my photographic waypoint before heading for my outpatient procedure.  “That is actually a good idea,” she said.  We chatted as we headed to the elevator about the joys of the times when we had not remembered where we parked.  It is easy enough to do in some of the larger parking lots or multiple story parking structures that have become ubiquitous in modern life.

As I waited for orthopedics to see me, I scrolled through my phone and found about two dozen shots of parking lot location signs from all over the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  There are also shots of street signs and neighborhood streets in Savannah and Washington, D.C. where I have found on street parking.

You may think that I am a forgetful middle-aged man who is overly reliant on a photographic prompt to find my car.  But next time you are wandering from row to row trying to find your wheels in stormy weather or dragging luggage behind you, I will be making a beeline for my Jeep, currently parked on Level 3, Aisle D.  Safe travels, my friends!


Communal

How you delayed my flight…

You don’t know you did it because you were in a rush to get to your connection at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. This was not a delay caused by the airline or by the weather, it was caused by the inconsideration of a fellow passenger.  Let me explain.

On 22 December 2016,  I hopped on an American Airlines flight (AA 4054) from Norfolk, Virginia (ORF) to Washington D.C.(DCA). There I was to pick up a connecting AA flight (AA 4142) to Savannah, Georgia (SAV) to be a +1 at an event on the 23rd.   We had a short ground delay in Norfolk, but we were wheels up pretty quickly for the 40 minute flight north.

cl-65The flight to D.C. was  uneventful. That is until we aborted the landing because, as the pilot said in his announcement, he was uncomfortable with the separation between landing aircraft.  We bolted out to the west and rejoined the pattern to the south of the airport for a second approach.  This time there was no issue and we were on the ground heading to the apron area where the Canadair CL-65 aircraft were serviced at a common gate.  There was a younger woman a few rows ahead of me who was agitated about the “go around”, concerned it would cause her to miss her connection. Even with the short ground delay and the second approach to Reagan National, we landed close to our published arrival time. The passenger a few rows up was working herself into a lather.

If you have been in the AA terminal at Reagan National where the regional jets are managed, you will know that you do not arrive at a gate.  You arrive at an aircraft parking area where passengers are unloaded onto buses that take you to the nearby terminal building at Gate 35 X.  Your departure from the aircraft is really dependent on either the slowest baggage handler or slowest passenger deplaning the aircraft.  With the opening of the cabin door and the placement of the ramp off the jet, we began gathering our stuff from overhead bins and headed out.  My young friend about two rows up had really spun herself up and, in her haste to deplane, caught the strap of her bag on the armrest of one of the seats in row 8.  Instead of reaching down to release it, she gave a violent jerk and pulled her bag away from the obstruction.  In doing so she ripped off a large plastic piece of the armrest and scurried off the plane (to wait in the bus).  An older woman immediately ahead of me from row 9 stopped to move the broken piece of armrest out of the aisle.  The rest of the passengers exited the plane, collected their red tag bags from the baggage cart beside the plane and boarded the bus for the terminal.   Once there I saw our young, agitated traveler hop off the bus at a run and disappear into the terminal.

My flight to Savannah was scheduled to board very soon after I entered the terminal.  I had enough time to use the rest room before hopping back on a bus that would bring me to my next regional jet.   Once I was aboard the bus with my fellow passengers we went out to the aircraft.  I was amused to note that we pulled up in front of the very aircraft I had just arrived on from Norfolk.   We waited on the bus for 45 minutes for a “maintenance issue”.

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While people were generally in a good mood because of the holidays, it was a little confining to be packed into a bus, standing, on the tarmac waiting to board a plane.  Patience was beginning to wear thin as we cooled our heels.

We finally did make it on to the aircraft.  I said “hi” to the flight attendant who recognized me from the first leg of the trip.  She asked me where I was sitting on the first flight and then asked me if I had seen someone damage the seat in row 8.  I told her the story and she just shook her head.  We were going to be an hour or so late into Savannah because American Airlines maintenance had to effect a temporary repair to the armrest.  Once the jagged plastic remaining on the armrest was taped up, no longer posing a threat to crew or passenger safety, we were off to Savannah.

My point here is that the young, impatient traveler on my first flight, who was so annoyed at the potential of being delayed or missing her next flight, did not take the time to calmly free her baggage strap from the armrest and leave the aircraft.  As a result, she damaged the armrest, created a minor safety issue for the airline, delayed 50 people from leaving on time to their destination (although I doubt anyone was connecting to a flight out of Savannah) and put that aircraft behind on the rest of the schedule for the day. That may have had consequences on crew availability.  All this during the busiest travel period of the year.   While  being in such a rush, her lack of courtesy probably inconvenienced hundreds of people during the rest of the day. I wonder how many people missed connections on the other legs flown on that aircraft because of the hour delay she unnecessarily and unwittingly created.

There are unintended consequences from our actions.  I think that if were all a little more mindful of our behavior and treated our fellow travelers with a little respect, those consequences may be more positive.  We really do impact the lives of other people with our actions, even those with whom we share a fleeting moment in an airport or an hour in an aircraft.