26 May 2008

Grateful to remember, not BE remembered.

Edited 27 May 2008 1914 to add a wrenching story from Sunday's NY Times.

Joe Heller, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette

"People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on thier behalf." George Orwell

It's been a lazy day around the ole Spencer household. I'm still recuperating from a fall on a slick driveway Friday that tweaked my bad knee. Tim is watching TV and eating everything in sight. Elizabeth and William are picking at each other.

What I'm not doing is guarding our home with a rifle. I'm not worrying about getting shot sneaking down the road to get food or halfway clean drinking water. I'm not really worried about being killed by some moron who thinks blowing up grandmothers pushing strollers at the market makes him a "brave warrior." I'm not afraid of having to pass a military checkpoint if I drive my truck today (though someone did back into my fender a week ago). Gas may be expensive, but I'm free to drive up to any one of a hundred stations in town and buy all I can afford. In fact, here in Oregon, I don't even have to pump it (but don't get me started on that stupid make-work law).

I can do (or not do) all these things because someone else DID carry a rifle. Someone else killed that moron over there before he got over here. Someone else DID get shot at, and all too many times, didn't survive the encounter.

There's a saying: "All gave some: some gave all." I know a lot of guys (and girls) who gave some. This short post is to say thanks for your "some," and I'm glad you didn't have to give "all."

As you remember those who give all today, take a moment to remember those about whom we still aren't sure.

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." John Stuart Mill

19 May 2008

Keeping an old geocache alive

Geocachers who know me will know that I have an affinity for older caches. I like to attribute it to a respect for the sport’s roots. One constant even since the sport began in 2000 is that some people will try it, and for them it just won’t catch on. They’ll find 10; hide two, then quit. Most of the time nowadays, the two they hide will be film cans.

In the early days, though, almost all of the caches were regular size, ammo cans, occasionally Tupperware, etc. One such cache is Memaloose Island View, in the Columbia River Gorge area of south central Washington State. It was hidden by someone who went by the name “DoubleB.” He (or she) joined in 2001 and has not logged onto the GC.com site since 2002. Amazingly, the cache has survived on autopilot for 7 years, until recently that is.

While cruising through the GC.com forums last month, I noticed that a Seattle area cacher that I knew had posted a note about this cache needing to be adopted. Unfortunately, GC.com must have had a bad experience with adopting out seemingly abandoned caches, because they now will NOT adopt a cache to anyone without written permission from the “owner.” I’ve tried to contact the owner, but to no avail. However, I don’t need permission to put the cache on my watchlist and do an occasional, unofficial maintenance check. I felt like this old cache, one of the first 900 listed and part of the Washington History Challenge, needed to be saved.

Last Saturday, I loaded up a new ammo can and set out from Salem about 7AM. I knew it was a pretty long trip, but it turned out to be even longer than I figured. But the area is one of the prettiest I’ve ever encountered! Heading up I-5, I stopped briefly at a scenic overlook to grab a cache that was just too easy not to grab. I’d stopped here several times before, but the area is usually crawling with watchful eyes. This morning, there was only one car, and he was nowhere near the cache, so I grabbed it, then hit the road again.I took the I-84 exit toward The Dalles. The highway winds its way along the river, with enormous mountains on the other side of the road. It was tough to keep my eyes on the road and not on the spectacular views! One of the best was when I rounded a corner and came face to face with Multnomah Falls! It’s literally right off to the side of the interstate!

I stopped briefly for a Pepsi and to hunt a TB hotel in Hood River. I made my way up a rocky hillside, only to reach the top and find a dirt road leading to the truck stop sign at the top of the hill! I spent about 30 minutes looking in the million crevices around boulders weighing hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, but even with the hint I couldn’t find anything. The place was teeming with poison oak, though. Fortunately, I’m not allergic, but as I understand it, if I keep exposing myself to it, I will almost certainly develop an allergy.

So I finally give up and figure I’m just letting the sun get hotter and higher in the sky. I made my way back down the way I came (the easy way was too long of a walk), and jumped back in the truck for the remaining 10 miles of my trip. Crossing the Columbia at Hood River is done via a $.75 toll bridge. It’s one of those metal deck bridges that makes you feel like your tires are wandering from side to side. Personally, I think they should have made the toll $1 and made the bridge 3 feet wider!

I finally get to the parking lot .83 from the cache. There are two other caches nearby, but I figured I’d better accomplish the mission, then if I had time I could hunt the other two. I set out from the trailhead at 11:11, with my GPS reading 256 feet of elevation. I could see even from below that this “2.5*” terrain rating was likely to be on the low side. Seems to me that cachers used to rate things lower than we do now. The trail starts off in a wide open slope. You don’t even encounter trees for about the first few hundred feet. The terrain is mostly small rocks with a thin covering of scrub grass and a few trees, some Douglas fir and white oak. But the real star of the hike is the wildflowers, which were quite prevalent, although from reading the pervious logs on the cache, the abundant moisture that made them bloom so much may already be gone for the “dry season.” The grass was crunchy except in the shade of the few trees. Even the moss was dry and brown.

At about the 350 foot level, I encountered a couple that was taking pictures, complete with a tripod. They were curious about the box I had in my hands, thinking I was headed the wrong way to be fishing. I told them about geocaching and remarkably they had heard of it. I told them about the cache, figuring that no one would hike another 500 feet up the hill just to get a box full of toys. They said it was their first visit to the area and wanted to know how much higher it was. I guessed at 500 feet, and I was off by about 100.

By this time, I was huffin and puffin pretty good! I started stopping at each large tree, resting in the shade each time. The ammo can made a pretty good portable seat. At one stop, I checked my pulse, which was 133. According to the American Heart Association, my target heart rate for aerobic exercise is 90-153. “If you can talk and walk at the same time, you aren't working too hard. If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you're probably not working hard enough. If you get out of breath quickly, you're probably working too hard — especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.” Since I was getting out of breath I decided to stop and rest to get my hr down a little. Had I been a little more comfortable on the ground, it would have been a perfect place for a nap! Mildly warm in the shade, the gentle breeze made it quite nice, and the filtered sunlight would have made it just warm enough to doze off quite easily. The clear, cloudless day yielded a spectacular view of Mount Hood to the southwest and the island to the southeast.
“Memaloose” is an Indian word for the dead, and supposedly, there are grave on the island, but I wasn’t going to swim out to find them. I was more concerned about making sure there wasn’t an impromptu grave up HERE! Oh, did I mention I did this on the second hottest day of the year? In a black t-shirt and jeans? And I forgot sunscreen?

As I reached the area of “ground zero,” my energy level increased in preparation for the search. Funny how that happens! In very short order I found a Ziploc bag which contained a printout of the cache page and all prior logs, which another cacher had left in the logical place for a container to be hidden in the area. It quickly became apparent that my GPS and DoubleB’s did not agree. MY ground zero was 60 feet east, and nowhere near anything taller than a blade of grass. After setting my GPS down to get a new reading, I made a thorough search of the surrounding area to make sure the old cache really was gone. I marked the new waypoint and placed the printouts in the new ammo can hiding it in something resembling the hint. At least, I hope that’s what that plant was. Not being allergic to poison oak, I tend to ignore it.

I glanced at my GPS to get an elevation reading before heading back down the mountain (979 feet). This was the first significant hike I’d taken without a knee brace since I blew my right knee out in September. As you’ll know if you hike steep terrain, going down is easier on the heart but harder on the legs. Going downhill is no problem. Going downhill and staying on your feet is a problem. My legs were quivering pretty good by the time I reached 400 feet or so. I stopped fewer times than on the trip up, but still stopped every now and then to catch some shade and a drink (note to self: take more water next time). The views going down were even better than going up, since on the way up I was pretty much looking right at my feet the whole way. The trail has some twists and turned to watch out for, though. The western edge has a nice 200-300 foot drop in places!

Never have I been so glad to see my truck again! Even the luke-warm Gatorade was a welcome sight! I was bushed and decided I just didn’t have another hunt in me that day. It was 1343 (1:43PM), and I still had a nice long drive back home. About this time I realized that I had not put a “geocache” label on the ammo can! D’oh!

I didn’t get an official smilie for the find, since I don’t believe you can find something that you hid yourself. But I got lots of smiles for the incredible views, the fresh air and exercise, and giving something back to Washington for the fun I’ve had hunting caches up there.

03 May 2008


In the fall of 1984, I enrolled at then “Memphis State University.” As near as I recall, my first class was an 8 o’clock English class. This afternoon, a mere 24 years after that first class, I graduated with a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Organizational Management (a fancy term for an online business degree). Of course, being in Salem, Oregon now, I didn’t attend graduation ceremonies. My degree will be mailed to me in July.

My grades won’t be official until Thursday, but my professor already gave me my grade on my final project, a 95 A. I had a 93 average for the class. The so called “Culminating Project” is a required class, which for me meant a 32 page research paper. My subject was “A History of Geocaching and Geocachers of West Tennessee.” I examined the organizational issues faced by anyone forming an organization from scratch., and the psychology of group dynamics.

How did I manage to cram 4 years of college into 24? Well, I went to Memphis State for one year, then took a short cut at State Tech, graduating with an Associate’s in 1987. By that time, I was working for a bank, making pretty good money for someone with no degree, and I laid out of college for about 5 years. After I got married, I realized if I never started back, I’d never finish, so I started taking one or two classes a semester, and spent one year commuting one or two nights a week to Blue Mountain College, in Blue Mountain Mississippi. By that time, we had two kids and it was hard to physically go to class, so I took one semester at Trinity College in their online program. Then the Tennessee Board of Regents established their Regents Online Degree Program, and I started working on this degree. College had gotten really expensive by then, and I was paying as much for a single class as I used to pay for a semester! Heck I was paying nearly as much for one BOOK as I used to pay for a semester! Ironically, my first spring semester, the Tigers made the NCAA Final Four. My last spring semester...the Tigers made the NCAA Final Four.

So what will I do with my new degree? Nothing I’m not already doing. I got where I am as a trust officer by working hard and learning on the job. I’ve gone to school long enough to see a lot of fellow students who BOUGHT degrees, but don’t have sense enough to come in out of the rain. A degree gets you an interview. In my years of banking, the few times I’ve tried to move around, the lack of a degree got my resume put in the wrong pile. Employers would look at my resume, see I didn’t have a degree, and toss it. Fortunately, my current employer looked past that. Of course, now that I have my degree, I’m working for a place I can’t imagine leaving!

I have three great regrets in life: one is too personal to share here; two is that I didn’t do at least one hitch of some sort of military service; and three is that I didn’t finish my degree when I was young, unmarried, and working part time. But I can finally say that what I started so long ago, I finished! Maybe someday, I’ll be able to say that about my student LOANS!!