10 July 2008

Goin APE

On Sunday, 29 June, a few of my geocaching friends from Oregon drove up to North Bend, Washington for a special geocaching adventure. A little background will bring the uninitiated up to speed.

In 2001, about a year after geocaching was first invented, the producers of the remake of the film “Planet of the Apes” hid a series of 12 caches around the world as a publicity stunt. In each cache, a prop from the movie was placed. Over time, most of the caches went missing and were archived, some within months. Now, only two of the original 12 remain: one is a two day hike into the jungle in Brazil; the other is in North Bend, Washington. Along with a visit to Groundspeak HQ in Seattle, and the site of the Original Stash near Estacada, Oregon, the APE cache completes the “NW Trifecta,” a sort of geocaching Holy Grail, but without the promise of immortality.

My father-in-law is buried in North Bend. My mother in law lives about 45 minutes from there. We’re there several times a year, and yet, it never dawned on me just how close I was to this cache until a few months ago. My buddy Kensquach and I started trying to think of excuses to burn $150 worth of gas and a 14 hour day to make a run on this thing. As it worked out, it was much better for everyone. my ex-wife and the kids left on 23 June to go visit her mom for a couple of weeks. I took the Amtrak from Salem to Tacoma on Thursday the 26th to join them. Her and her mom attended the Women of Faith conference in Seattle on Friday and Saturday while I watched the kids, and I was going back on Sunday to go back to work (they were staying another week with mom). Instead of paying Amtrak to ride back on Sunday, I suggested to Ken that he gather a few friends, drive up, meet me in North Bend on Sunday, do the APE cache, then I could ride back with them, caching as we went. He got two other suckers, er, I mean, willing participants, and the plan was in motion!

I should digress a bit to tell you about my adventure in Thursday with Amtrak. I was supposed to leave Salem at 2:10. When I got to the station, they said the train was running an hour late. Oh well, gives me time to walk across the street and find a cache. When I got back, I was told that there was a freight train broken down north of Eugene, OR in front of our train. The plan now was to bus everyone to Portland at 4:15 to catch the 6:15 train to Tacoma. Instead of getting in at 7:11, I would arrive at 8:41. The bus made its way slowly thru downtown Portland rush hour traffic, to within about 10 blocks of the train station, when the drive pulls over and gets out. He announces that the bus’ brakes were smoking and he had to check it out. He comes back a couple minutes later to say the smoke is gone so he’s going to try to limp the rest of the way, which we did. We arrive at the Portland Union Station, which is like a trip back in time! Old style train station just like you see in the movies! My only complaints were a long line to get re-ticketed (though it moved fairly fast), and that the station’s only snack shop closed at 6PM, just as I got out of the re-ticketing line! The remainder of the trip was uneventful, though we were even late getting into Tacoma.

So, back to the subject: during the weekend, the kids and I visited several of the neighborhood parks in Auburn, along the White and Green rivers. The town has some very nice parks and greenways. We also visited an interesting little historical monument memorializing a couple of Indian massacres along a busy street, just another site I’d never have noticed if not for a fake rock with a piece of paper in it to sign!

On Sunday, Kensquach, Salmondan, and Doylefish left Salem about 7AM and we met at Twede’s CafĂ© in North Bend about 11. Twede’s is the site made famous by the “Twin Peaks” TV show. I had a mushroom cheeseburger that was outstanding! We hit the road and arrived at the parking lot start of our hike about 12:30. This is one section of the “Iron Horse Trail,” and includes a 2.3 mile abandoned railroad tunnel. Pitch darkness, water dripping (occasionally pouring) from the ceiling, and a delightful coolness on this hot summer day. I would have liked to hike it, but Ken talked me into biking it to save time and wear & tear on the legs (though our butts took a beating). I’ve only recently gotten back on a bike after blowing my knee out in September, but the ride was not difficult, and we stopped several times to hunt the two caches that are inside the tunnel itself. Once through the tunnel, we stopped for a few minutes to rest and find the almost 8 year old “Iron Horse” cache, a moderate little climb up a creek bed just outside the west tunnel entrance. While we were there, my cohorts helped a fellow trail rider perform some adjustments on his mount before he and his buddies continued on the length of the 20+ mile ride. We remounted and travelled the remaining .3 miles to the APE cache.

I’d always pictured it being halfway down a hillside, maybe a few hundred yards from the main trail. No, it’s about 20 feet from the main trail, in a pile of stump, rocks, and planks the size of a small car! We spotted it from 100 yards away! I cannot believe this thing stays here, except to say that I guess thieves are too lazy to lug this big @$$ container outta here! We spent several minutes noting all the trackables and making some trades. I left a couple of geocoins, including one of my last three Spencersb coins, a couple of travel bugs, and a GOWT cap. I had brought my Moun10Bike coin with me to visit the cache he now maintains (heck of a nice guy, I’ve not met him in person, but traded coins and emails with him before). I picked up a travel bug that needed a little TLC; we packed the container away, and continued down the trail just a few hundred feet to view the waterfall we could hear from the cache site. The cache is in full sun, and the day was pretty hot (by Pac NW standards), so the cool breeze and shade of the waterfall were wonderful! It was amazing to take literally two steps and experience a 15-20 degree drop in ambient temperature. Back on the bikes, we stopped and grabbed “Micro Tomb Raider” because, well, it was there, and then set out to find the last cache in the tunnel, “Old Bald Bison.” Obviously, there’s no GPS reception in the tunnel, so we had to do some distance calculations using the waypoint projection from the cache page. I was proud that between my waypoint projection and Salmondan’s remarkably accurate distance estimate, we nabbed this tiny difficult little cache in almost no time! We paused again coming out of the tunnel, where it was like standing in front of an air conditioner! Back on the road, we stopped in North Bend to buy just enough $4.55 a gallon gas to get us back into an area with reasonable gas prices.

We stopped in Olympia, WA to find an Earthcache (an educational type of cache that has something to do with geology) called Water is Mightier Than Rock.” It is in a beautiful little park along a creek that used to be the site of an old mill. The concrete foundations are still visible, and parts of it have been turned into a fish ladder. It has several nice waterfall features, garden areas, and a couple of totem poles. We also found a gas station selling regular for $4.09, though I’d never have thought I’d consider that a great price for gas!

Knowing it was going to get late and having to get up and go to work the next morning, we hot-footed it back to Salem, arriving home a little after 10, tired, sore, but with some great memories and beautiful scenery still replaying in my mind.

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