Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Trip to California and GEOWOODSTOCK VI
When thinking about how to put this trip into words, I thought at first I should do different stories to concentrate on the many different things I wanted to talk about. I know most of my readers are curious about the geocaching aspect, and I thought I would talk about that seperate from some of the travel and sightseeing adventures, but when I thought about it, I realized I couldn't write just about the caching without talking about the elements behind it - where we went, what we did, what we saw and experienced. So here is the entire version of the story of the weekend trip to (cold) sunny California, all aspects included.
Early Friday morning, my oldest son AJ (aka "happyhunter99") and I boarded a plane bound for San Francisco. I have been researching this trip for months now and hand-picking places to see and caches to find. We had about three or four hours in San Francisco proper before we needed to head across the Bay Bridge to beat the traffic out of town. In this time, I had plans to meet an old friend for lunch, some sights I wanted to see, and had bookmarked 13 caches. I know, it was a little ambitious, but isn't that just like me?
I was totally unprepared for certain slow-downs on this part of the trip. It took us an entire hour from the time we got off the plane to make our way through the airport, take the train to the rental car station, and get through the line to finally get our car. When I left the airport, I was stressed out already and thrown for a caching loop. I thought I had enough time to get to some locations before meeting my friend, but this was one of my first lessons in caching while traveling: sometimes the way the city looks on Google maps gives you absolutely no idea of how it is going to be to travel in. Downtown San Francisco is rather small - it is only seven miles by seven miles - but it takes a long time to navigate around because of the many pedestrians, one way streets, congestion, traffic lights, trains, and trams. When I first got in communication with my friend, I was only three miles from the Haight district where I wanted to stop first, and two miles from where I needed to meet her, and I had thirty minutes. Plenty of time!
Not in San Francisco time, apparently. After a failed attempt at a cache, a brief look around Haight-Ashbury, somehow taking a wrong turn that took me on a freeway I couldn't get off until I was miles down the road, and struggling to find a cheap but close parking lot, I ended up being 45 minutes late to our meeting spot - Mario's Bohemian near Washington Square. It was really great to see Amy again (Old Friends Episode II). I first met Amy in kindergarten. We were in the same class, and she was one of the tallest girls. I remember she had to stand in the back when we did our class photo. We ended up becoming close friends in junior high. She moved to the Bay area when we were around sixteen, and I have only seen her a handful of times since - twice she visited us (Mari and I) in Spring, once we visited her in Austin, Jennifer and I visited her in Boulder during our college years, and only in Austin twice since.
After dining in Marios, we introduced Amy to geocaching with a cache right across the street, In the Square. We were walking down the street after this and Amy and I briefly talked about my location and memory theory, and she tells me, "And it's not just location, that mind of yours is like a steel trap!" Ironically, she had to remind me what I came to this specific area for, the main reason I chose to fly to San Francisco for this trip: City Lights bookstore!
It was a short walk to the indie bookstore founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953. Ferlinghetti later founded City Lights Publishing, which published Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, among others.The upstairs wing has a beat section that baffles the mind. I chose a Kerouac biography through his letters and a pocket book of beat poetry, which seemed fitting. Amy caught this picture of me shoudler to shoulder with my favorite writers: Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. After this she took some pics of me in Jack Kerouac alley. I could bore you with photos but let's move on. This ain't no Kerouac On the Road show. We drove through Chinatown on our way out . As we pulled on to the Bay Bridge, I felt the tension start sliding off my body. The traffic was not bad at all, we just breezed along, so I suggested we stop at Treasure Island. There are quite a few caches there, but I only bookmarked this one: What A Sight! It was a virtual cache, meaning there is no actual container to find, but you have to obtain some information from the area to answer a question or two. After this, we were booking along, grabbing three quick and dirty finds, before getting stuck in this terrible traffic along I-80 between Vallejo and Davis. We covered probably five miles in an hour, I am guessing. Sucked. AJ was sleeping and I was calling people, looking to escape this madness.At this point, I am really behind schedule to make the Friday Night Meet And Greet event. An Event cache is one where finders get credit for showing up at the coordinates for some fellowship, meeting each other face to face. Suddenly the lanes are clear, and I start trying to make up for lost time. We reach a point where I am anxiously watching the nine miles away compass on my GPS start going up. I get up to ten miles away and realize I missed my exit, and took the residential area main artery back up to where I needed to catch the other highway. This cost me more valuable time.
AJ and I arrive at the Meet and Greet as everything is being packed up. They let us buy the last plates, and we eat cold hamburgers at a silent picnic table and wonder why nobody is talking. I am flashing all the signals: a warm smile on eye contact, a question, a friendly interest, but mostly the groups are contained among themselves. Mind you, at this point most people have left to go caching. I wish we were, but the kid was pooped.
We check into our hotel in Rocklin. We had gotten six caches (counting the event as one) and needed seven more to reach our 1K milestone. AJ watched TV as I plotted and schemed. I decided on a LetterBox Hybrid called The Color of Roseville.Letterbox Hybrid: a cache in which one uses clues instead of coordinates. In some cases, however, a letterbox has coordinates, and the owner has made it a letterbox and a geocache (hybrid). In letterboxing, you stamp the log with your personal stamp and stamp your journal with the one in the cache.
I didn't have a letterbox hybrid icon on my profile yet so I decided to give it a try. This one was really fun. But we had to get there first, and that meant doing six caches between 7:30 and 8:30 in the morning. It was drizzling, damp, and cold this morning, but we bared it and saw some cool caches. This one, Cosmos, was a micro near some interesting sculpture.
Finally, we were at 999 and it was time. I found a parking spot, then moved to another, and drove around a third before parking. It just didn't seem right, and as we walked from parking, we thought we were on someone's private property and were trying to hurry. Turns out once you get to the starting coords, they lead you right back to that spot. We walked right past the cache on our way in unknowingly. We had to look for certain types of trees, then six boulders, and it was behind the last boulder, right near a parking lot. I had made a sign with the clues sheet I had with me, but of course you can't read the big "1000" on there.
We were going to go back to our hotel after this but I suddenly wanted to make it to the event. It had started already and I was anxious to pick up my packet. We found some caches along the way, and other cachers as well, starting at the first cache we stopped at. A German man recently from San Jose ended up doing six caches with us along the road, and we met up with another family along the way as well. Four caches were along an idyllic coutnry road, complete with bubbly brook and dusty trails.
A lone cowdog chased our tires. I wondered how tired he would be at the end of the day.
The last cache before the event, coming into town at the Dairy King or something like, I briefly looked and didn't feel like doing it. It's a game, and sometimes I don't like to play. Sometimes I am no good at it. The German and the dad and boys didn't stop at this one, and I was walking away muttering something I said to AJ this morning about how if I am no good at it, why do I play? But just then another group of cachers came up and suddenly I spied it and walked right to it, making me look like the hero when previously I just looked silly.Finally we pull up and get ready to enter the festival. Here is the main event, GeoWoodstock VI, held at Bishop's Pumpkin Farm out in Wheatland, CA. The pumpkin farm was the perfect venue for this. There was plenty to do and see, and it was so large and spread out you were never bumping into people. It had the feel of an outdoor festival in your hometown, where you never know when you might run into someone you vaguely remember. The live music was good, and the company choice.
They also had lots of activities for children to do. AJ was given a letterboxing sheet, in which he had to follow clues to fill the squares on his page with unique stamps found inside a container hidden in each of the areas of the farm. He panned for gold, went down a large slide, checked out the petting zoo, and made friends with a boy named Will that he wanted to follow around all day. At every point the first hour, I was talking to people, trying to fill in my Bingo squares. At geocaching events, they often give you a bingo card as an icebreaker, where only those who have had the experience listed on the square may sign, things like "hiked more than five miles for a cache" and "Has over 5000 finds". By asking people to sign your squares, you are learning something interesting about them right off the bat. I met all kinds of people that way and had many random coversations that started with that Bingo card. I turned it in midday in exchange for tickets for a drawing later in the afternoon.
I found the petting zoo to be the biggest draw for us. There were clever little signs on each exhibit telling stories about the animals. I took all kinds of pics, but this is probably one of the cutest.
We walked around the vendors for a while. It was so hard to resist, and then, once I decided to buy something, to choose. I ended up buying a coffee travel mug with the geocaching logo on it, cache stickers, three nano caches, the premiere issue of Geocacher Magazine, and some other little things for a grand total of $25. I also got to see the "holy grail" of caching - the legendary "Can O Beans". This can is the only remaining item from the first geocache hidden in May of 2000 by Dave Ullmer. This can is kept, as you see, in a hermetically sealed container and supposedly it is a travel bug, although when I asked about this, the people at the booth shrugged their shoulders at me.
Around midday, we left the festival to go grab some caches. The organizers had hidden six new ones for the event with a "card run" activity, and for each card you brought back, you got another ticket for a chance to win an item. We ended up grabbing about thirteen caches in an hour, which is great timing for our team.
It was the funniest thing to me to see the geocachers descend upon this tiny little town. They probably thought we were nuts. Every cache I pulled up at, I was either meeting people there or holding a cache as someone drove up. Great hordes of cachers were stopping along roadsides to get out and look around landscaping and signs for tiny little camouflaged containers. Often there was this "telephone game" moment, a relay of information about where the cache was hidden. You didn't want to be the last one holding the cache, because then you were responsible for explaining to the person who would drive up as you sign the log where to put the cache back. I met so many people while out caching that day, most of whom were from San Jose or somewhere else in the Bay Area. When I came back, we found Will again and AJ and Will played around the little farm.
Right when I had walked in, I saw MaxB On the River manning the travel bug station. I came by to introduce myself to him. I had a geocoin that wanted to go to him and he was carrying one of my bugs, Travelin' Tin Man. He gave me my bug back, and later asked what I was going to do with it now. Isn't that the burning question? I participated in the travel bug exchange midday. I ended up dropping ten traveling items in the bug exchange. The Texas bin only had two items in it. I ended up mostly taking bugs bound for Florida, where I am going in about two weeks. I was so mad at myself, too, because I had left my sheet in the hotel with the phone numbers of the people who were carrying my bugs. They said if they didn't hear from me, they would drop them in the Texas bin, but I didn't see them or hear about them all day. I want to talk more about what happened to my bugs and the bugs I dropped, but will save that for another entry. But here was the coolest TB of the day: Signal the Frog.
I had started getting hungry midday, but we had the late meal ticket. Quite a line was forming, so we opted to take the train ride instead. It took us past some perfect pigs, goats at play, beautiful ponies, almond trees, and the cachers sitting down to eat. When we got back, it was time to get in line. I showed off my First 500 Geocaching Scrapbook for discovering and talked to the people next to me. As I walked to the trash can, I realized I was looking at two people who fit the description of Rock&Crystal, part of the team responsible for bringing you this year's GeoWoodstock and who also hid a cache I was the FTF on four months after they hid it.

I walked up to them and introduced myself, and just then MaxB On the river approached, so I got a great pic of the two "celebrity" geocaching couples. MaxB is the top travel bug mover in the world. They take some awesome pictures of the bugs and tell little travel jokes, and they tag all the TBs they move. Rock&Crystal and the other members of the GeoWoodstock VI Planning Committee deserve a big hand for this one.
We stayed until about five or six pm, and then we took off and grabbed caches on the way back to the hotel room. We ran into people all over the place at first - nothing like a line of seven cars all heading down the same deserted road to head for the same remote spot. Our grand total of finds for the day was 32, which is our personal best daily record.
I had wanted to go to the GeoCoin SwapMeet event after we rested for about an hour, but after bouncing around for 45 minutes, AJ announced he was so tired and wanted to go to sleep. We had a big day the next day. We woke up early and drove north to Lincoln for a breakfast with the geocachers at the Waffle House as a last event before heading out of town. I heard all about some cool puzzle caches in San Jose. We left around 8:30 and stopped at one cache along the way, then checked out of our hotel and began our great caching road trip back to San Francisco.
We started out in the town of Auburn and worked our way into the Auburn State Recreation Area along Highway 49. We found many caches along this highway and the entire drive. Some of the highlights were:
Down Murphy's Driveway and Murphy's Gate: right when you enter the recreation area, these little caches were along a trail that was marked with a warning sign about mountian lions and rattlesnakes. The mountain lion thing had AJ all freaked out and he didn't want to help me look for the cache. Here is a view from the cache site for one of them on the left.

On the right we have the North Fork of the American River.
I actually moved the Jeep named after this river and had looked it up on Google Earth during that time, never dreaming I would see it in real life. Just gorgeous. We drove south along a windy Hwy 49 though "Gold Rush" country. We learned all kinds of history along the way and felt like we had gone back a hundred years. We stopped at caches that were small hikes up in the sierras and park and grabs along the highway.
The caches in this area I would highly recommend:
Bessie's Booty:
A multi-cache is one whose coordinates lead to to a starting point, from which you must decipher one or more further points until finding the cache. At the coordinates for this one, we found a treasure map with clues to the final destination, where Bessie hid her booty before walking the plank. You had to count out paces to the cache and AJ and I had a lot of fun with that. It was a true pirate cache filled to the brim with booty. We traded our coins for their coins.
An Earthcache is one that leads you to an area where you have to answer questions or perform a task related to the geography of the area. We continued to cache our way to Amador City, where we ate our lunch and answered a virtual. If you dine in Amador City, bring cash with you, because they don't take cards and you will have to drive to Sutter Creek, two miles away, for the closest ATM to get your cache. The food can be pricey, too. At the diner we stopped at, a hot dog plate, cheeseburger plate, a root beer float, and an iced tea ran us $16. On the way to Sutter Creek, we stopped at a goldmine, also an earthcache called Gold! Gold! Gold! At Sutter Creek!
This was our first earthcache. We had to take a picture with a sign and answer a question about gold. I told AJ we were not going to do the mine tour but he could pick from panning for gold flakes, gems, or pick out a geode to have cracked open. He chose the geode, which turned out a soft pretty white inside.
After this, we headed towards Highway 88. I accidentally went the wrong way on 88 at first and we grabbed a couple caches that way before I realized my error, and so we turned around and began grabbing caches again. When we got past Lodi, we took 12 heading west towards Fairfield, then cut to I-80 heading back to San Francisco. There was a lot of dead time along this drive and we entered the much-dreaded DNF (Did-Not-Find) zone along the way. Luckily that zone did not last long, but it led straight into Don't-Wanna-Cache-No-More zone.
Our favorite cache was one off 12 called Wind Farms. We had never seen wind turbines up close. We decided they must be doing a pretty good job growing wind on that farm because it sure was gusty out here.
I was considering stopping in Fairfield overnight when I first planned this trip (well, once I realized the road I wanted to take originally, the Mormon Emmigrant Trail, was still closed), but we had wanted to see more of San Francisco and it was only 5:30 pm, so we kept driving. I needed more cash for parking, so I was looking for a hotel with high speed internet near a Bank of America, and I found just the place in San Pablo. We were eleven miles away from downtown San Fran, just over the Bay Bridge. We checked in and relaxed for a while, bathed the road and caching grime off of us, logged some finds, and then headed out to cache and dine in the City.
We got a couple more cache finds this evening, including a couple virtuals and one of the best traditional caches of the trip, Poet's Peak. This cache, which celebrates a famous poet of San Francisco, treats one to a beautiful view of the city from on top of a hill. We had parked uphill, so getting to the cache was fairly easy, but getting back up to our parking nearly wiped me out. The cache was great, very well-camoed. It is right there in front of everyone's face but no one would never notice it. We had to use the clue to find it.
We were very hungry, so we headed down to the Fisherman's Wharf area to dine. Amy had said she would give us a recommendation, to avoid the tourist trap places, and she texted me a couple, but we fell for the glittery lights anyway. The food was terrible, but I really enjoyed the experience, both in the restaurant and out. We walked around the Wharf area and bought some souvenirs from a shop before heading back to San Pablo.
In the morning, we woke up in time to check out the city some more before catching our flight. We did a virtual or two and headed for the great tourist destination in San Francisco - the Golden Gate Bridge. We walked along the ped walk on the Bridge and took photos in the fog.
Overall, I think we had a great trip. We managed to grab a grand total of 64 geocaches, including two with icons we didn't already have. No one got hurt. We didn't lose any of our portable electronics. We learned a lot about history and geography in this part of the world. We each got the offical t-shirt and geocoin. We came home with a stash of sig items, nano caches, pathtags, pictures, info cards, travel bugs, and memories to last a lifetime. You just couldn't ask for anything more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Stimulus Checks and Balances
So I am sure most of you received a letter in the mail from Uncle Sam this year informing you about the economic stimulus tax rebate. We were pretty happy about this because we had to sink our actual tax return into car repairs. I'd say we already stimulated the economy on our neck of the woods. We were hoping for a little breathing room in the budget with the stimulus check.
On the radio, they asked several people what they were planning to do with their stimulus checks. It seems like most callers were making the same plans we were - pay off those bills that have been waiting for a while. We had these minor bills we kept tabling and not paying because there wasn't any room for the budget for them, but it was becoming mission critical that they get paid.
I was balancing the budget one week, trying to figure out which checks I could afford to send out. It was making me a little anxious. Suddenly, I checked our balance, and there it was, the check had arrived. So I paid off some bills, but I also think there should be a balance between work and play. In this case, I wanted to buy myself something that was long overdue, a gift my husband and I kept saying we would buy ourselves - a digital camera.
Woo-wee! Let's see what becomes of this.
The Road to 1K
Two years ago, I was just getting into geocaching. I had less than ten finds under my belt, and I drove four hours to GeoWoodstock IV, held in Cedar Park State Park, right outside of Dallas. I was such a beginner. I look back now and see how much I didn't know. I was such a newbie!
Now, two years later, I am preparing to leave for GeoWoodstock VI, near Sacramento CA. I am getting on a plane Friday morning to fly to the west coast to participate in the annual mega-gathering of geocachers. So far there are 1050 teams who marked "will attend" on the event page, but they are expecting around 3500 to show up.
Two years ago, I had never heard of a travel bug. Now, my profile stats state I have moved 334 travel bugs and 643 total trackables, which includes 40 Jeep travel bugs and what, 269 geocoins. I am a trackable nut, I think they are way fun.
Two years ago, at the gathering, I bought my first travel bug and geocoin. Now, I have purchased 25 travel bug tags alone, and 30 geocoins. I am taking about a third of my geocoins to the event, and a couple bugs of my own, but I am taking 14 into the travel bug exchange. I can't wait to see what there is to bring back.
Two years ago, I didn't know how to"plan caches along a route", but now, I have been obsessively plotting a course through the California highways to maximize my cache finding. For the past two months, I have devoted my lunch break to researching my plan of attack. Ironically, after all that planning, a route that I was most excited about turns out to be inexplicately inaccessible (the Mormom Emigrant Trail), so I have to do some last minute shuffling around.
I had decided in honor of my first GeoWoodstock, where I learned so much, I would try to get to my 1000 milestone at or near the event.
I've been trying to push those numbers, and folks, it's close.
I am sitting at 987.
I have 150 caches bookmarked for my trip. I know I will hit 1K out there, but where?
I am going to try to make it special. No lightpole caches for me! Give me one that takes me to a beautiful place or opens my eyes to something I had never seen.
Wish me luck..........

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stacey Westfall Horsemanship

Simply the best example of what I am talking about in the essay below. This girl is riding with no saddle or bridle, but yet is doing the most amazing things with her horse in this ride.

My littlest one has suddenly become obsessed with horses the past two weeks. He calls them "neighs" and wants to watch videos of horses on YouTube all the time.
I've started to dream in horses. Watching the videos awakened some kind of longing in me that has been dormant for a long time. When he reaches to the computer screen and opens and closes his hand and starts whining, "mine, neigh, mine, neigh!" I completely understand. Watching them on the screen is just not enough.
I want a neigh.
Of course, he is only two and doesn't remember ever seeing a horse up close. He doesn't know what I know. He doesn't know about the great wonderful feeling of giving a horse hug, of being on top of a horse and leaning over to hug their neck and bury your face in their mane (only possible if you are not riding in a western saddle - otherwise you get a saddlehorn in your gut). He doesn't know how it feels to have a horse rub its head on your back, or to press your face up against their face, or to exchange warm breaths through each other's nostrils ( a true equine greeting). He doesn't know about the incredible physical sensation of riding, about how it feels like flying when you go over a jump together, or the complete bliss of cantering bareback and raising your hands in the sky as if in communication with our maker. He has no idea about the collabrative partnership of teaching a horse a new skill, how cool it is when you finally get that sidepass you were asking for, or when the horse understands what a flying lead change is all about.
I do, but I have supressed all these things for a long time. After I sold my horse, I tried to convince myself that my relationships with my dogs would compensate. After all, I get a lot of the same benefits of a relationship with a horse at about half the expense and hassle. I don't have to worry about hitching a trailer to take my dogs out into the wilderness. I can still have the kind of partnership, still work on teaching new things to an animal, have experiences with them, have a deep relationship with something that doesn't understand my language but still understands me. We can still sit and watch the sunset and sigh together and be one in spirit.
But it is not the same. The more I watch the videos, the more I see what I am missing. There is nothing like a deep relationship with a horse. When a person and a dog do something in unison, when a training moment finally clicks, it feels like you are sharing one mind, and that is cool. When a horse and a person do something in unison, when they come together with a goal in mind, it is more than sharing one mind, it is sharing one body. It is the true expression of the term "and two become one".
People say that about marriage, I think that is even part of most people's vows, part of the expectation of marriage. Two bodies become united into one flesh. That is not really as true with people as it is with horses, though. You don't become so linked with your spouse that you are in constant communication to move in unison together literally. You are still two people. In a deep relationship with a horse, there is a spiritual connection as well as a physical one, and two bodies become so intertwined that they move as if of one mind. Your thoughts and desires move through the reins, through your seat in the saddle, through your legs, without even realizing it, and the horse responds to those thoughts and adjusts accordingly.
I want to experience this again. At first I started to think about taking lessons again just to get around horses again. Then I considered leasing a horse to avoid the expense and commitment of actually buying one. The more I think about it, though, it is not just the fun of riding that I want to experience. I want it all. I want to have a true, deep, intimate relationship with a horse. I want to be able to train a horse to work in new ways with me, to challenge myself to work on my training and communication skills. I want the bond between a horse and handler, I want to experience true horse love.
Sigh. I want a neigh.
I am going to post a couple of my favorite videos that kind of represent the level of deep understanding and complex training that I want in my life.

Andalusian stallion, Apassionatta

Dressage artistique -Piaffer-Passage

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Travel Bug Feature Story #4

I know it has been a while, fellow cachers, since I talked specifically about travel bugs. I had planned on posting a travel bug feature story once a week, but...I've had other things on my mind to write about. I think I might be doing more of these, though. I have a shoebox full of bugs right now that are going with me to California in ten days (!) for GeoWoodstock VI, and I can't wait to see the bugs there.

Let me share with you what I am carrying in my shoebox:

Yellow Bunny : Wow, I have never seen Baby K adore a travel bug quite like this one. He wants to get it out of the bag every day and carry it around the house. We even took it on outside adventures to look for other things that are the color yellow. He likes the fact that it has tags on it that have pictures, including the one pictured here, and a card as well in the bag with the same picture. He likes to hold Yellow Bunny up to the computer and match it up with the picture on the travel bug page. It is going to be hard to let this one go, but I think I am going to try to hang on to it through GeoWoodstock and take it to Florida in June to release it there. The goal is mileage, and it has a card to check off which states it has visited. It has not been to either California or Florida. So it is going to both. So is another bug,
Cameron's Flip Flop: This one has the goal of going to Florida, then California. We are going to do that backwards, then release it again in Florida. The owner is cool with those plans. I picked this one up on the way home from the Texas Challenge specifically because of the Florida goal. Meanwhile, I have been carrying it and Yellow Bunny around to various geocaching events around town, checking them in and out again. Much like a couple of other travelers:
Moochie the wanderer: This one's goal was to stay in California. I found it around Christmas time with another bug, Tassie, whose goal was to stay in Oregon. Both of them were in a cache right on the California-Oregon border, which I thought was kind of funny. I am taking both of them to GeoWoodstock and dropping them at the event so they can resume their goals.
Fireman Flash wants to get to Maine. I just picked this one up at our local World Wide Flash Mob Day event and it has never made it closer to Maine than Oklahoma, so I think I can give it a big help by putting it in the right box at GW.
This gnome is too cool. We found him in this awesome cache that I didn't expect to stop at on the way home from the Texas Challenge. Coincidentally, we had ran into one of my caching buddies from home when we started along the path, and she didn't have the waypoint in her GPS, so we made the find together. It was a fun find and grabbing the little gnome was a cool bonus. We had our travel bug High Gnome with us on the trip, and we took this cool pic of them riding on the dashboard together. They will both be making the trip to GeoWoodstock. Zordnick is the smaller one in the back and HIgh Gnome is waving.
Flatty Patty This one wants to head towards flat land. I don't know if the part of California we are going to counts, but this TB is small and fits in the box easily, so it's going. We might drop this one in a cache along the way.
Fly N Fish - This one's goal is to make it to all the places Alaska Air flies and have its picture taken with fish. This is an interesting goal. I have flown Alaska Air a lot because they are the ones that run the little DC8s that take you from Portland OR to Klamath Falls, my husband's hometown where we used to live. Klamath is one of the places listed on the card accompanying the TB. So is San Francisco and Sacramento, where we are heading. So I guess I'll have to find some fish while I am there!
This Jeep confounds me. Every year, Jeep Chrystler releases Jeep travel bugs out into the geocachers to participate in a contest for a real Jeep. The geocachers compete by finding the Jeeps and then taking a photo with the monthly theme that must include the Jeep TB. The monthly winners get the latest GPS unit and the annual winner gets the Jeep they are promoting that year. I really want to win that Jeep, and each year when the contest starts, I am on the hunt for Jeeps and taking photos. This particular one is a Red Jeep, the model for the 2007 contest, but somehow it was never grabbed and released into the "wilderness" until February of this year. What a mystery. Anyway maybe I can move it towards Arkansas.
United Together: This is a cool coin with the American Flag on it that reads "United Together in the Fight against Terrorism". It is not a trackable coin so the owner gave it a TB tag and just wants to share the coin.
FuRbRaT's Sierra Autocars Travel Bug Dog Tag and The Traveling Antenna Ball I just picked up today from one of my caches during a maintenance visit. The Antenna Ball wants to go to the UK and the Sierra Autocars wants to go to places bears would like. I think I can take it to those kind of places, since we are planning on caching in the El Dorado National Forest the day after GW6, and the cache pages warn about the potential for bears, among other dangers.
Then there are the geocoins.
Two of them are owned by my caching friend around here, Elisa. One of them wants to meet MaxB on the River, the number one travel bug mover in the world. MaxB is running the travel bug booth at GW, AND happens to have one of my TBs in their possession (whose goal was to be "tagged" by them and it got to them after only passing through the hands of seven cachers (seven degrees of seperation?). I'm gonna ask them if we can exchange my TB for the coin to move along. The other coin of hers is the coolest, most gorgeous coin I have ever seen - the Girona Fire Salamander Geocoin. Isn't it beautiful?
Two of them are owned by Caching Coins, who is the sister of my friend WhippetTx. I have never met Caching Coins but I have moved a lot of her coins. She puts a lot of effort into the. They all have laminated info tags, travel bug buddies with her gc name on them, and unique, specific goals. This time I have Engine, who wants to be in "front", and Pathfinders, which wants to be placed in caches with "find" in the title.Then I have this Peace Flag Geocoin, which is pretty cool and has no specific goal in mind.
Oh and I havea couple of Diabetes Bugs that want to go to the UK. I could not be less concerned with the Diabetes bugs. I think it is a great idea to make travel bugs to promote awareness of a disease. Fabulous. However, due to market saturation or lack of variety, I have become completely apathetic to the poor underrated Diabetes bugs. I will help this ones end up in the EUA (Europe/Africa) bin, though.
As I was going through them just now, I was placing them one by one back in the shoebox. Help! It won't close now! I still have to tag 'em and bag 'em, and I have one more event to attend before I leave, so there might be some rearranging.
Travel bugs, tallyho! Here we go!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Baby Got Back (Ache)
Every year around this time, when Texas starts getting really hot and the skeeters come out, I try to stand by the decision I made a couple of years ago when I first started geocaching. I have to repeat it like a mantra sometimes - "I will not risk life and limb to pursue a geocache, nor will I do that to my children". It seems like a really simple thing to live by, to not put yourself or your children in danger to play a game, but geocachers, speak out here, how many times does our obsession overrule good sense?
Sometimes going after a cache doesn't seem harmful, but then you get out in 100 degree heat or suddenly get swarmed with mosquitos potentially carrying West Nile while walking to it. We are not quite at that level just yet, but we do have the danger of snakes. Why, just a couple of weeks ago I was caching in a park with my children, and later read the logs that almost everyone had seen a copperhead right near the cache, where both my children were. Just yesterday I got scratched all along my legs by little briars going after a cache that I didn't even find. That was frustrating.
So far this year, though, the worst crime I have committed against my person in the name of the game was the weekend before last. Just hours after that pedicure that I last wrote about, our family was out in this nature preserve, and I did something incredibly stupid. My husband wanted to fish with the oldest son, and I wanted to go after the geocache that was a quarter mile further down the trail. They did not want to be bothered with my younger son, who was really in need of a nap, and insisted I take him. I thought it would be no big deal, that he could certainly walk that far. We would just take it slow and easy.
We had gotten five feet on to the trail when I realized it was not going to be that easy. He refused to walk, and was crying, hands up, like he does when he is asking for me to pick him up. I did not want to not get the cache, but knew if I took him back to my husband, I would run that risk. Heck, I'll just carry him, I thought.
Carrying him on my hip was slowing me down, so I lifted him on my shoulders and carried him that way most of the way there and back. Occasionally there were low hanging limbs so I would have to lower myself to a squat to get through without clocking him in the face with a branch. I was energetic and eager, and even ran a little along the trail. The cache was located about 200 feet off the trail into the woods, so that part was a little taxing. My hair was becoming plastered to my face with sweat, dirt, and baby weight.
When I got back to our fishing hole, my husband remembers me saying "oh, that just killed my back" before sitting down in the chair. I forgot all about it and the next day was running around with Lara and our dogs hunting more caches, bringing groceries in, carrying the baby around, and generally doing all the active and energetic things that are a part of my life.
The next day, I was sitting in a chair at work, just sitting working on a task, and when I got up, my lower back was aching. It got progressively worse during the day. I kept thinking that it was just from overexerting myself and it would go away after a little while.
Well, it's been a week now, and still hurts. I was really pathetic for a while last week. I was all laid up. I still went to work every day, but when I got home, I was useless. I usually attempt to have the house picked up and dinner going when my husband comes home, but we ordered out twice last week, and Mama wasn't doing any housework.
By Friday, my husband was grumbling that the house was a mess. This is where I jump in with my half-joke about how women's lib really bit us in the ass, because now we have to work AND take care of the house. We didn't get out of our old job just because we joined the workforce. My feeling is that if he thinks the house is a mess, he can clean it, because we both work the same number of hours a week and that is just not fair, especially when I am gimpy. (He says I should mention that he did do HIS chores, including taking out the trash and the laundry).
I spent all week debating about whether to call the doctor or the chiropractor, and could never decide, so I did neither. It got a little better every day, which also stopped me from picking up the phone. The first few days, painkillers in the morning and muscle relaxers at night weren't even touching it. After a good back rub by the hubby, I could almost walk normally, not hobbling around like grandma, but if I didn't step exactly the right way, my lower back was wracked with spasms of pain.
I am doing better today. No painkillers and I am walking with not just my normal gait, but my normal fast pace as well. It still hurts, but not enough to keep me from getting eleven caches over the weekend (and hiding three over the past two days).
It really makes me think, though, about the things we take for granted. Between my broke down car and my broke down back, I've had a lot of realizations about things I take for granted. We just assume that when we turn the key in the ignition, the car is going to start, that it will get us where we are going safely. We don't think about people who live in constant pain, or suffer poor health, when ours is good. We don't think about how often we use our back in our daily movements until our movements are impaired. I am just thanking my lucky stars that I am not working with dogs anymore. My job does involve lifting, carrying and pulling heavy objects, bending down, and reaching up, but I am so thankful I am not carrying sixty pounds of anesthetized dog back to a kennel, or lifting one hundred pound Rotties up on the X-ray machine. My job is awesome.
For Mother's Day, my husband was really sweet in that instead of a bouquet of flowers that would die in a few days, he instead presenting me with two flats of flowers to plant in the yard. He told me that since I said I wanted to do more things as a family, he got me these so we could all plant them together as a family and I could have flowers every day.
This afternoon we planned to do the spring planting. As it turned out, he had the urge to mow the backyard instead, so our family flower planting turned into me and the two kids in the front yard. The older one was helping me (he's the more experienced of the two of us in flower planting), but sometimes helping me involved simply keeping brother in the yard.

End result: six Wax Begunias and eight Portulacas are planted in the front yard, and I am planted on my rear, or else hobbling around like ole grandma, hand on the small of my back, muttering under my breath.

Baby Got Back. Ache.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Just What the Doctor (Never) Ordered
There it was, on the open top of my husband's dresser, a pink envelope with my name on it. I had no recollection of what this was, and opened it up to find a Mother's Day card from last year from my own mother, with a generous gift certificate to the nearby nail salon and a smaller card to a nearby bookstore. I was very excited to find the bookstore certificate, because I am in bad need of some new fiction (remember in my Dick Francis review how I mentioned I don't really enjoy mysteries? I've been reading the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, for pete's sakes, for lack of anything else in the house to read), but I noticed the expiration date on the nail salon certificate, and that it was one week away. Use it before you lose it, right?
So here I go, picking up the phone to make an appointment for only the second manicure/pedicure of my life. It just feels so foreign to me, because I never would spend money like that on myself. It feels frivolous to me. I know lots of girls do it, but I am just not oriented that way. I always liked that about myself, the fact that I was low-maintenance, not overly concerned with falseness of appearance, someone who puts others before herself. I am much more likely to spend forty bucks on entertaining my children than sinking it into something that feels like a vanity to me.
After this weekend, though, I am completely changing my point of view on this. As I sank into the leather chair and rested my feet in the tub of hot water, I began to feel some of the tension of the week slide off of me. It has been a rough week. My car broke down mid-week, crashed and burned. I was without sufficient funds to replace it but desperately needing transportation to make my daily hour long rush hour commute both ways. I was in a tough spot. I had to rely on my parents to help me out, something I hated to do, something that made me feel like an absolute failure. I had gotten myself emotionally worked up about it without any real release. Well, except for those two margaritas the night before this - boy, that felt good, but seeing as I passed out as soon as we got home, the reward was short lived.
I remembered the last and only time I had been here, and how the chatter of the Asian women who worked there made me feel very comfortable and relaxed, although I had no idea what they were saying. This time, I was introduced to the massaging action of the chair, and as the chair kneaded the tightly wound muscles of my shouders and neck and the woman rubbed my calves and feet, I began to allow myself to relax. This is huge for me, a letting go that I seem to have a hard time doing.
I read something once about Virgos, my birth sign, that made me laugh. It said that because Virgos are so uptight and tend to be nervous and high-strung, they should avoid intense cardio workouts and instead pursue yoga and meditation for their physical health. It went on to explain that cardio workouts bring a soul's energy up to a higher level of excitement, but the Virgos need to force themselves to relax and instead calm their energy down. I think it is so true, but because I don't like relaxing, I have avoided yoga and instead tended towards the cardio they suggested my sign should avoid: running, stairmaster, swimming, team sports.
As the woman dipped my feet in the paraffin wax and smoothed away my skin, I wondered why, with all the doctors and therapists I've seen for my "nervous" conditions, no one ever suggested yoga, centering exercises, meditation, getting pedicures, massages, or simply practicing relaxation techniques. They always rushed to the prescription pads, wanting to give me muscle relaxers to calm down, or antidepressants to take the edge off, without really looking at the root of the problem. The problem is not that I have a chemical imbalance, but simply that I never learned how to calm myself down. I joke with my friends sometimes that even my hobbies start to stress me out, because I begin to take them too seriously. I frequently bite off more than I can chew, take on more than I should handle on my own, thinking that I am simply strong enough to bear it all. I push myself too hard and don't ask for help when I need it. I go and go and go until I fall down or freakout, and I know it takes its toll on my body.
I was having a hard time even accepting this gift. I was watching the woman work the dead skin out from around my toes and shape my cuticles and it made me feel so uncomfortable I wanted to tell her to stop and just go on home. Strangely, though, it started to make me think about Jesus. I was thinking about how in our Wednesday night Bible Study, we were talking about the events of the night of the Last Supper. Do you remember what Jesus did before the meal? He took off his robe, pulled on a towel, and began to wash the feet of each of his disciples. I remember our leader posing the question to us, "How do you think this made the disciples feel?" We had decided that probably felt pretty strange to them, pretty humbling. This man who they looked up to as their leader, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the one they wanted to serve, was instead serving them.
There is some controversy to this in some churches today. Some feel like this is a ritual Jesus wanted us to continue literally, and hold ceremonial foot washing ceremonies where they gather together latex gloves, antibacterial soap, towels, and small tubs and host a gathering where some wash others feet. Some feel like this was something that was relevant to the times, but has lost the relevancy today, and really what Jesus was saying was for us to take care of each other, even if it means humbling ourselves to do it. As Matthew 23:12 reads, "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." As Jesus humbled himself to wash the feet of his followers, he said to them, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." (John 13:1-7).
Does an example mean we take it literally?
Some people even incorporate foot washing into their marriage ceremony as a way of demonstrating perhaps what Jesus was trying to demonstrate - that in order to love each other, we have to love each other selflessly. We have to be willing to serve each other.
I, though, like Peter in the Gospel of John, am uncomfortable being served by someone else. Sure, we both have our same reasons. As I am thinking about this, however, a woman comes in. The Asian nail girls greet her by name, and she take the chair next to me and begins to soak her feet. Before my lady is finished with my nails, this lady (who has been very helpful to me, helping me understand what was expected of me next) announced that she had to come back later, because she had a massage appointment. As she walked out, I thought how she was a woman who was taking care of her need for relaxation. She had no qualms about being served by someone else. I found that inspiring.
Just then, I overheard one of the other customers near me telling her manicurist that "I thought I had found my path, but God had other plans for me." She was telling of a story in which God revealed his plan to, instead of having her teach children, tell her to get her real estate license and work alongside her husband. I found that comforting to think about as well.
Sometimes I think my source of stress is that I am worrying about the road I am on, and if it the one of destiny or the one of my own free will. Is my free will standing in the way of God's plan for me? I wish for signs to appear pointing me in the right direction, or assuring me that I am following it. What this woman said, though, made it all feel simpler, like I was falling backwards into the gentle hands and plans of the Man Upstairs. God will decide the plan for you. All you have to do is listen, and if you are not on the right road, he will let you know.
After these moments of clarity in the leather chair of the nail salon, I decided I was going to try to keep myself in this "pedicure bubble", where nothing could bother me. I had pretty pale pink perfect nails, and nothing could touch me. If I could stay here, I could stay relaxed.
Determined to keep my "bubble" intact, I tried to relax into other recreational opportunities. We did some fishing, I got some nice wilderness hike geocaches in, grilled some food in the backyward, went to the park. In order to preserve my bubble, I just enjoyed the hike while grabbing three geocaches, and didn't let the fact that if I don't get at least ten caches a week, I do a backslide on the Grand Poobah List give me a moment of performance pressure.
I wish I could stay in that frame, and I decided to make that my goal. I made a mental list of that I want to do more of, and what I wanted to do less of. Making a point to take care of my mental well-being by playing more classical music, worrying less, enjoying the moment fully, giving in to the massage chair, and letting go.
As I left the nail salon, it was with the realization that I had enough money left on my certificate to come again. I asked about the date and the woman assured me she would honor it.
"Don't wait too long, though."
I think I have, but I don't think I will again.

P.S. Saturday afternoon the Kentucky Derby was marred by the unexpected death of a racehorse, Eight Belles, a filly who placed second, and then broke both ankles after crossing the finish line. She was euthanized on the track immediately after diagnosis. Please watch the tribute I chose to post about her. So sad.