Thursday, January 22, 2009

To continue with my occasional riffs on Beat Generation books, and my quest to re-read all of the "Dulouz Legend", I have another book review to share with you....
by Jack Kerouac

Ahhhh. Very nice. I loved this book.
I actually read this the first time when I was a teenager, but I think I didn't absorb it completely. I couldn't remember many of the details, and my memories were connected with two guys I knew in school that reminded me of the main characters. Perhaps it is just that during that time, my understanding was that they WERE characters, fictional devices used to tell a story about hiking up a mountain and hitchhiking. My knowledge of Kerouac's life is much more complete now, and now, half a lifetime later and reading it again, I understand. I see the character "Ray Smith" as Kerouac himself, telling a story centering around his friend, Gary Snyder(pictured above as he was at the time of the book), known as "Japhy Ryder" in the novel.
Now, granted, Kerouac always told a version of the truth, although probably not all the truth. He certainly made free use of poetic license. He also tended to base his characters on real people, who were "true romantic heroes of the West", but distorted them and blew them up so that what you are seeing is really a caricature, not a character.
Gary Snyder himself said at one point Dharma Bums was not Kerouac's best work, and that "it was written too hastily". It is true that Kerouac was under a lot of pressure from his editors to produce a book to follow up "On the Road" that had more commercial appeal than some of the other things he was working on at the time (like "Visions of Cody", which is a tough read, even for a Neal Cassady (aka "Cody") fan).
However, I really liked this book this time around. It has some of the best descriptions of natural beauty that I have read ever in a novel. He gives detailed descriptions of hikes taken with Snyder, including a climb up Matterhorn, that took my breath away. This is Kerouac laying the groundwork for the "rucksack revolution" he visualized, and probably inspired lots of young people to pick up packs and head for the open road and undiscovered vistas.
The book ends where "Desolation Angels" picks up, with Kerouac on an isolated mountain top in Washington called Desolation Peak (here in the pic). I found it very interesting to read this description of his adventure here, with him painting it in happy tones, instead of the depressing tones of "Desolation Angels". Instead of focusing on his loneliness and inner struggles, he describes the scenery and his place in it with happiness and peace.
Snyder certainly influenced Kerouac in terms of religion. Kerouac was already intrigued by Buddhism when he met Snyder, but here in this book, you see Snyder teaching him more about this religion that they both had in common at this time. Snyder was truly and deeply Buddhist, and teased Kerouac that at the end of his life, he would be praying to his Christian God, with all his notions of "little lamby Jesus", and that teasing was right on. Here in this book, though, they introduce several notions of Buddhism that may have inspired readers to learn more about eastern religions themselves.
Overall, I decided that this was the ONE book I would ask my husband to read. We have been married for ten years and he does not read or have any interest in hearing about the books that mean so much to me, but he told me early in our marriage that he would read ONE book that I selected and talk about it with me. Ten years later, I still had not found that one book that summed up everything I liked about reading.
Well, folks, this one is it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

This weekend, my best girlfriends and I met at a lovely Greek restaurant. We watched the sun set over downtown in a cozy little booth eating hummus. Then our group of two became four and we connected from across wooden tables. I was dragging my friends out to see "Revolutionary Road", which apparently is only playing at the LandMark River Oaks theater in the greater Houston area at this time. Remarkable.
The first show was sold out and the evening found us all united in laughter at a recording studio "in the ghetto", surrounding by interesting people. After this, we sipped hot cocoa in a cappucino bar, then sat in stuffy theater for sad story. There are no happy endings here.
I read this book and I wanted to discuss it with my friends. It was a very thought provoking novel. The movie, not so much. The truth is in the details, and it is difficult to analyze something without all the facts. Just watching the movie, you don't get the tiny little facts.
However, I still want to analyze. I will post viewpoints here.
The first two questions deal with choices and roads...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

One Cache Loop (with Four Stops)
Sam Houston National Forest
Montgomery, Texas
On the Houston Geocaching Society Forums, the owner of a cache called One Cache Loop (with four stops) announced that he was planning on visiting his cache to do some maintenance, and asked if anyone was interested in coming along. This cache, like its predecessor, the Four Cache Loop, which I have written about, is best done with company. If you remember (or read), the Four Cache Loop is close to a twelve mile hike (with the stops for additional caches along the trail) in the forests near New Waverly. The hike to this cache, the One Cache Loop, is approximately seven miles long.
In both caches, one has to find three different redirectors (like the decon container pictured on right) at waypoints within the forest to be able to get to the final location, at which awaits an ammo box filled with fun stuff. The reward at the end of this journey is a pathtag, which is a little collectable (untrackable on coin that many geocachers like to collect. There is also the intangible reward of accomplishing the hike and making all the finds.
I saw the posting on the forums and was undecided on going, until my friend Elisa, aka "Georeynozos", wrote me personally inviting me along. She even offered to pick me up. It is close to an hour drive out to the parking area for the beginning of the journey. This time, I did not get lost. In fact, I showed Elisa a shortcut on how to get out there. The parking area is not far from where my best friend J lives (and now that I know there are more caches out this way, you better bet I'll be dragging J out there with me).
Elisa sweetly even bought me breakfast, and we had a nice little drive out to the parking area, where we met up with GGMorton, Kirbydox, Fendmar, Eric of FiskFamily5, and eventually the cache owner and his wife. It was a brisk Texas winter morning, with the temperature around thirty five degrees at 9:30 ish when we all started to collect in the parking lot. We took a group shot before heading out along the trail, which was marked with colored metal tags. During the hike, we changed trails once, and briefly went along another color, so the color of the tags was important to us.
There are 128 miles of trails in the Lone Star Trail System. The loop we followed is known as the Richards Loop to hikers. Part of it was the Little Lake Creek Loop, and the picture of the White Jeep on the top of this entry is from what I assume is the "little lake". It is a good stop for a brief break.
During the hiking of the Four Cache Loop, I had felt a little "out of the loop" so to speak about how we knew where we were going. I didn't understand how to follow the trail markers or guide myself from waypoint to waypoint very well. This time, I decided I was going to make sure I understood it all, so I led the party to the first waypoint. I looked for the markers during the hike, and tried to find every redirector myself, instead of blindly following the others and letting them lead.
I had lots of energy for about the first half of the hike. I talked with the cachers as we walked, although to the first waypoint, we were almost hiking just fast enough to not be able to talk as much. During the hike, I learned that Larry, aka "HoustonControl", set up the cache in the opposite order as the Four Cache Loop in terms of how the redirectors were placed. In each of the two caches, one of the waypoints is up on a tree that has to be climbed by the use of pegs. Fendmar climbed that tree for us. Another redirector is placed so that it has to be lowered with the use of a rope, and another is simply hidden in/on a tree.
The terrain was somewhat varied, although not as much as the 4CL. There were three water crossings, compared to the, I don't know, 30 of so on the 4CL. I forgot my hiking stick and Elisa let me borrow one, which was greatly helpful in keeping a pace and my balance. This picture on the right is one of the water crossings. Elisa, who is known for falling down when caching, only fell down one time, which I totally missed and perhaps they were only teasing her about that after all.
We saw no wild animals, although we saw scat from a carnivore, possibly wild hog, and deer and horse. Even though the signs along the way marked the trail as off limits to horses (and cars, which we thought was funny, the idea someone might try that), we did see two sets of trail riders when we made it back to the parking lot. I think some of the trails are for equestrians and some are for hikers, but horses had gone our way before us for sure, although some time in the past.
In the end, I decided that long hikes like this are a bit like sex. It always starts out as something that seems like a good idea and exactly what you wanted, but by the end of it, I am just ready to get it over and done with. The last mile was probably the least enjoyable. By then, the spot on my toe that bothers me on long walks was just starting to hurt, and I was just about done with the scenery.
I did end up leaving one of my coveted White Jeeps in the final. I thought it would make a fun thing for someone else to find, a great reward for making the long trek. Also, having that awesome icon next to the cache name is a good lure for some folks like me who love that kind of stuff, and will go find caches just to be able to move that Jeep themselves.
I kind of got caught up at the final. I had this idea that I could make it out of the brush and back to the trail a different way than the rest of the group took. Halfway in, I realized they were getting further away, and frantically I went back the direction they were instead of the way I was going. It is hard to explain what I did, but I still think my way would have hit the trail later, only I didn't want to chance it. This little adventure of mine put me way behind the others at the end, and although I was the first one out the gate, I was the last one to go back through it.
When I got home later and posted on Facebook where I had been, some non-geocaching friends expressed an interest in going hiking. I am going to plan an all-inclusive hike for people like me and my friends, who just want to get out and get some exercise, enjoying nature while doing so.
This next time, though, I am thinking about keeping it to around five miles. I think that sounds better!
I had a really nice time with this group. Eight is a perfect number for a hike like this. We made the whole trek in about three hours. At the end, Kirbydox pulled out a wonderful snack she had prepared for us all of toasted english muffins with chicken salad (with cranberries, golden raisins, and celery) and chips. It was really awesome of her, above and beyond. I also got to catch up with Elisa on the ride there and back, and somewhat along the trail as well. My friends I have met through this activity are just really good and interesting people.
Here is us at the end, just after finding the ammo can. Happiness is only a quarter of a mile away now (the end of the hike, our cars, and refreshments!).

Saturday, January 10, 2009

George Mitchell Nature Preserve
The Woodlands, TX
This day, I met up with two girlfriends to go for a walk in the George Mitchell Nature Preserve. This 1700 acre nature preserve out in the Woodlands was opened officially in October of 2007. At that time, there was only a one mile round trip trail along the trailhead parking that we used today. Since then, another two mile loop has been added on the other side of the creek, accessible by another trailhead. Numerous little trails have been opened up along both creek sides, and volunteers from the parks department have built a new bike trail, as well as maintained the trails since Hurricane Ike did so much forest damage.
My friends who joined me today are not geocachers, but one of them goes caching with me fairly regularly. She is frequently willing to go out to explore nature or walk our dogs together. We brought both her dogs and both mine, putting us at probably three hundred pounds of dogpower between us.
Early along our walk, I convinced her to let her dogs run off leash, as I wanted to let mine loose. My dogs like to explore nature at their own pace, and always come back when called and to "check in" frequently, and I know her dogs well enough to say they will stick with mine. This way we could enjoy our walk more thoroughly without being hampered by excited dogs. There was no one else out on the trail this brisk afternoon; otherwise, I wouldn't have suggested it. My dogs only need leashes in the wilderness to appease other people who feel uncomfortable with large dogs running loose. I have total trust in the fact that they will always come back when called, and will stay within earshot. If they run ahead on the trail and I lose a visual, I just holler for them to "wait" and they always stop and turn back to look at me, as if to say "well, then hurry already!"
They especially like swimming in creeks. Here are my dogs exploring the waters of Spring Creek. One of the two caches we were after today had sort of an interesting first couple of days. Typically, caches around here are found within the first 24 hours, no matter what the difficulty/terrain rating is (this one is a 2/2). This one, Knarly, was published January 7 and gave people fits. Here are the notes back and forth on the cache page. See if you can figure out what happened (now, mind you, the cache page states it is right off the trail, and gives parking coords...for the north trailhead):
January 8 by Team Troglodyte (2856 found)I spent about and hour wandering around the pleasant trails in the preserve looking for the one that this cache might be "just off of." The closest point I could find was about .21 from the cache, and the terrain was very inhospitable appearing. I applied my theory of "if it's that hard, it's probably not the way." and decided to keep looking. Finally ran out of time and abandoned the hunt. When I get a chance I'll be back with more time and/or a bicycle.
January 8 by HuntersKeepers (468 found)My apologies to Team Troglodyte!!!! I put the wrong parking coordinate in when I set up the cache. You were on the wrong side of Spring Creek.
January 8 by Team Troglodyte (2856 found)So, attempt number two goes down in flames with me standing 220' from the cache on the wrong side of the creek. I should have trusted my mapping software which was showing the cache on the other side. Upon returning home to log this failed attempt, I found that the parking coordinates were incorrect. Hopefully the third try will be the charm.
January 8 by rchaag (36 found)LOL, I was on the wrong side as well. Was trying to figure out if the trail had been extended past the creek.
January 8 by HuntersKeepers (468 found)I guess I could have left the wrong parking coordinates and just increased the difficulty of the cache to about 4 1/2. I'm just trying to help everyone's New Year's resolutions of getting more exercise.
January 9 by Nathan_Texas_Taylor (88 found) FTF!! Looked a while before spotting it. T-TB L-TB
January 9 by Team Troglodyte (2856 found)This cache is getting to be my nemesis. Looked for about 15 minutes before throwing in the towel. It was particularly annoying, knowing that it just been found minutes before. On the way out, I re read the cache page and noticed it was a small - for some reason I was thinking ammo box, but it still should have turned up.
In any event, I had the pleasure of meeting Nathan_Texas_Taylor while en route to GZ.

So, after all that, poor old Team Trog gets pounced by a newbie! And, after all that, the cache page still lists the parking coordinates on the north side. However, I could see from looking at these logs, and knowing which caches these same people had hit in the preserve on those days, that the parking lot listed would not get me on the right side of the creek. Hence, we chose the south trailhead today, and were successful. It was about 0.80 miles back along the trails from parking.
Before we found it, though, we made a stop at a cache called The PileUp. Before today's logs, this one only had a 50% found ratio. It was five for five on finds/did not finds. I had previously dismissed it on another caching adventure out on this side of the preserve, but the cache owner recently updated the hint and then a newbie found it, so I figured I could certainly find it.
It is an ingenious hide and I certainly don't want to give it away to any local cachers who read this blog. I almost didn't find it myself but 1) I was determined to find it, since every time I try to show one of the other girls I am with about caching, I can never find the darn things and 2) I had a moment of insight when I saw something just a little...different...
So, two caches, a nice walk outside in a peaceful nature environment, some good conversation, and a chance to let the dogs burn off some energy made for a relaxing spot of time in the day. After this, they followed me to a park in the same area for a quick park and grab style cache near some shady benches, and then it was home again. This bit of peace that I find on walks like this is what helps me through times of stress during the weekdays.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Amy Ray - Measure Of Me

This song reminds me of a "friend". For those unfamiliar with Amy Ray, she is one half of the Indigo Girls, my favorite band for about half my life now. She has gone on a solo adventure and I am loving it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

So I am on looking at the list of Yellow Jeeps out there, and something strikes me as odd. One particular cacher has his hands on a lot of Jeeps. Jeep hoarding happens, but the weird thing is many of the Jeeps are listed as having 0 miles on them, and some of them are listed as dropped by him, which means he's not just hanging on to them. I go to where the Jeeps were "dropped" and they are not events, so it is not that the Jeeps are just being shown off at events. They are actually being moved. One of the places the Jeeps were dropped is called Jeep Paint and Body Shop. The Paint and Body Shop I can't look at because it "hasn't been published yet" - (is this how people have "home" caches? I could never figure out how to do that before but I think I am on to something....).
I don't know, I am curious, so I write the cacher and ask him what the deal is. This is what he writes back:
"I, and others, search for jeep tracking #s to find jeeps that have been lost, stolen, or just being hoarded by cachers. When we find a tracking #, off to wal-mart we go and buy us a matchbox jeep, make up a TB tag and send the jeep on its way....(he then explains the process for getting the tracking numbers, which I don't want to post here) I find it interesting and a thrill when I find a jeep that has not been placed into service. I claim it as a find and stick it in my paint shop. From there, I’ll search the stores for a toy jeep, paint it if necessary, attach a made up TB ID tag and put it on the geocaching road....
Something about jeeps will turn an honest cacher into a thief....
.....I’ve had a few people say that when I put out counterfeits, It takes the thrill away from finding a real Jeep. I just refer them to my cache “Yellow Jeep Hangout”. Good luck and happy caching. "
So, basically he has a system for finding tracking numbers from Jeeps that fell out of circulation, and then gives them new life.
Technically, the Jeep TBs belong to Chrysler, who probably doesn't care what happens to them after the contest is over. It's not like someone's personal TB that has the ID number hacked. I don't know, I am sure people could interpret this any way they want. Is it legal? Is it moral? What do you think?
Personally, I think it is ingenius. I like the idea that someone else likes Jeeps this much, and will go out of their way to put them back out in the geocaching community when they get lost, stolen, or otherwise disappear.
It's a Jeep Resurrection! Now that he explained his process, heck, maybe I'll give it a try....or at least try to find that Yellow Jeep Hangout next time I'm out near Dallas!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Beep Beep! A Tale of Two Jeeps
For four years (2004-2007), Jeep Chrysler ran a promotional campaign involving geocaching and photography. During the months of the contest, which usually ran for half the year, the company released small model Jeeps attached to special travel bug tags. If you found one of the Jeep bugs, you could use it to enter the contest by taking a picture with the Jeep involving that month's theme. Typically, the monthly winners won a free GPS unit, and the overall winner won a brand new Jeep of the model featured in the contest.
They decided not to do the contest anymore, which is slightly disappointing to me, because I was always watching for those Jeeps, taking pics, and trying to win the contest. However, the Jeep Tbs are still in circulation. The most numerous are the 2007 Red Jeeps, then the Green Jeeps from 2006, and more rare are the Yellow Jeeps from 2004 and the most elusive of all are the White Jeeps from 2005, a larger die cast model of the Rubicon. (For accuracy sake, I just checked the site again, and saw there are actually 93 Yellow and 96 White Jeeps left out in circulation, and I have less Yellows than Whites on my profile, but anyways...)
I have seen White Jeeps at events, but I have never seen one in a cache. I like to joke that they are "only found in captivity, never in the wild". Sometimes they are listed in one, but they are never to be found in one. There is a lot of disgruntled cachers out there who complain that some cachers are "Jeep hoarders" or "collectors", and hold on to them and simply take them from event to event, or never share them at all. Each of the Jeeps has it's own icon when logged, so they are more akin to geocoins than other travel bugs.
Well, at our annual White Elephant Gift Exchange event, the gift I ended up with was a wooden box filled with supplies to hide a new cache, and one of these rare White Jeeps. Each of these Jeeps were given names that year, and this one is called "Reynold". I was super excited. We looked online to see how many White Jeeps were actually in circulation still and the answer is only 96 of them. (For comparison, there were I think 4500 Green Jeeps and 5700 Red Jeeps released each of those years). I decided I wanted to hang on to this one just a little bit to enjoy it thoroughly, take some pictures, and show it off to other cachers at events.
Then, this week, something very odd happened. I found one in the wild! It was a total surprise. It was not logged into the cache, because the cacher had accidentally done the virtual drop into a different cache. I was out caching with one of my friends and our kids, and when she said "There's a White Jeep in it!" as she opened the cache, I was hoping she would let me hang on to it, and she did.
So now I have two, two White Jeeps! It is like the Holy Grail of geocaching travelers doubled! I think it is really neat. I've been scouting for photo ops and events to take them to for show, and thinking about where, in the end, I might finally leave them...