Archive for July, 2012

Get the CACHE and go!

Did you know that modern technology can be a great way to get you connected to the outdoors?? If you answered no, then maybe you haven’t heard of geocaching – “a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game where players locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices.” While hiking and exploring are fun, treasure hunting is REALLY fun, especially in the woods.

This is how I most recently convinced my family to go for a hike at Hillsborough River State Park. The last time I convinced them to do something outdoorsy was our canoeing trip down Fisheating Creek around New Years, so we were long overdue for an adventure. Since we are a very goal-oriented (aka competitive) bunch, I thought geocaching would be the perfect activity. The adventure began by googling “geocaching Hillsborough River State Park” and several caches came right up. I picked a cache that would take us down a trail along the river and plugged the coordinates into my iphone. And off we went!

The trail turned out to be SWARMING with mosquitoes due to all the recent rains and warm weather, forcing my dad and stepmom to head straight back to the car. My brother, husband and I persevered though, dousing ourselves with bug spray along the way. This was not for the faint of heart, but there was treasure at stake!

The hint that accompanied the coordinates we found online was “magnolia,” so once we were in the vicinity of the coordinates we found a magnolia tree just off the path, and lo and behold, there beneath a bed of dried magnolia leaves was a camouflaged box of goodies! We had found our treasure! We added a beaded necklace to the stash (I don’t normally wear crazy jewelry when hiking, duh), as it is customary to bring something new for the cache and trade with something else in there. Note that my iphone coordinates crapped out on us part way through the trip, but luckily we had another smartphone (meaning my husband takes full credit for the success of the adventure)! May be best to stick to a non-phone GPS if you have one, though the aerial imagry you can get on the phone can be a huge help.

So while it may sound silly to say you are going on a treasure hunt, geocaching is a great outdoor adventure that anyone can do (especially these days with smartphones)! Do you have any geocaching adventures or hot spots you’d like to share? I’m a big fan of Ocala National Forest – it’s PACKED with caches. Get out there!!

What’s that gator doing in that tiny stream!?

That’s right! We have written about bombing ranges before. I know, I know, everyone has heard the one about how I drove across a 6 foot bomb and never knew it until after a flood….but you can imagine how Josh and I felt when….

So, Josh and I needed to visit our Avon Park Bombing Range sites. This is fun! We got our radio with some critical information – they were detonating unexploded ordnance (like the ones we have driven over and found all over) on one of the tracts we needed to get to. CRAP!! They let us on anyway as we would call on and off and only be a short while.

We exited said tract and got stuck in the middle of two sites by other military activities on our other site of interest. So, knowing us as well as you might by now – you know what we did next! We took the buckets and nets and went into the ditches to catch fish to identify!! NERDS….I heard you scream!

So – then we watched as two of the detonations went off without much ado and proceeded to our second site. You can well imagine the looks on our faces when detonation number three went off……KABOOM – shaking the very ground!! I am standing there with my mouth hanging open.

So we were working with that feeling you get when you escape just in time or just miss a bad situation. The feeling that something horrible COULD have happened. What if one of those were the pieces we have found? We will never know.

As if that’s not enough – we are working in a tiny clear creek that is less than 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep. It’s so cute. There is a little pool just upstream of our gage. I told Josh that it was a great place to catch cool fish while I downloaded the logger.

Josh headed through the palmettos 12 feet away to the waterfall pool……how lovely! He came crashing through the palmettos with a strange look on his face….I said – “What did you catch?” thinking it must be something really amazing. He hollers out….big gator!!

He said there was a huge gator hiding in the pool less that 12 feet away. I went up to look and CRAP!! An 8 1/2 foot alligator was snuggled up in that tiny pool! Josh had noticed it when he dipped his net in to see what fish were in there…..imagine how surprised he was when he realized it was an alligator tail.

I took photos and we both gathered our nerves and finished. We left property feeling like we needed to increase our life insurance! We also felt pretty lucky to be able to see such amazing things while working. Needless to say, we will never look at that creek the same.

Yes we follow safety protocols, yes we have JSAs, yes we do a site inspection – but where we work – you can’t see everything! If you could – it would be boring!! We haven’t had a

This is in the palmettos near the gator hole!

lost time incident and we are happy and healthy. We do, however, occasionally have near misses!

I must pause at this moment in our journey to take some time and give thanks. It has always been that people are the catalysts to change in our lives. Well, I am here to give thanks for something – not someone.

There – like a friend who kept us safe!

In the beginning, we realized that we need to carry a lot of crap to remote places. We also realized that we had to walk up and down rivers and creeks with this crap. The best idea was a raft of some sort. Leave it to John to bring a friggin Kodiak raft into the wilds of the East Fork of the Manatee River at low flow….that story is for another day but suffice it to say – we FLOBBED (a term I made up to describe dragging a deflating Kodiak raft filled with very expensive equipment down the river) the thing back to the truck that day!

I had bought a red, old style,

Big Red was always with us!

fiberglass kayak with an open hull from a buddy (Brian) for nothing ($50). We began using it every day. It was PERFECT! It had plenty of room for equipment and gear (and us sometimes), it was a kayak so could be used to navigate places that were small safely, and we could hang on to it with the false sense of security thinking that gators wouldn’t eat us because we looked like we belonged to the kayak and WHAT GATOR WOULD EAT A KAYAK!!!

Years flew by and the team and our trusty kayak, BIG RED, engaged in all sorts of crazy adventures. You will hear some of these tails but others will go silently into the past….unremembered by the team, no photos were taken maybe or maybe we just plain are getting old.

The dark day wasn’t so long ago….the day BIG RED died. We were meeting on a gray 4am morning to go to the Santa Fe and Ichetucknnee Rivers for some serious surveying and recon. It was dark. I was early and I expected Kristen would be late.

I checked the kayak to make sure I hadn’t left anything of value and I entered the Denny’s at Wildwood ready to casually eat breakfast while I waited. Kristen arrived early – we shared a laugh and made plans over breakfast. We paid, and left the restaurant chatting wildly about the days we might spend in these spring fed beauties!

HORROR!!! DOUBLETAKES….that’s what it was HORRIBLE! BIG RED, still strapped firmly in the truck bed, was torn asunder! Someone had hit the kayak end and broken it in several places. It was so damaged that we would have to find alternate ways to work now. It began to rain!

Goodbye Friend!

We had quite a sad moment of realization! This kayak had been with us on most of our journeys, adventures, triumphs and tragedies! It had taken us safely to more places than we could remember. We needed it!! We both teared up. The loss of the kayak was more than that. We lost a piece of our team.

Just thinking about loading up Big Red and trudging into the wilds makes me smile! I will begin to write adventures that included Big Red. There are so many! The day we lost Big Red was the beginning of a very different kind of loss….it wasn’t long after that, that we lost what seemed like everything!

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