Journey Into the Heart of Mordor
Every so often, things just come together. The stars align, the auras are fluffy, and all just falls into place. Fortunately, this was the case for the first joint event from the Zen Bassmasters and the Fellowship of the Bling. We, along with the evil hobbit Cacheburns, had been planning this event for ages and at every step there seemed to be peril. The forecast was for cold, possible rain, and maybe even snow. Most of our MTGC pals had other commitments and couldn't make it, a large number of our Dixiecacher regulars were on the fence about whether they could attend or not until the day of the event, one of the Zen Bassmasters had just been diagnosed with a heel spur, another was just recovering from a severe ear infection, and two had gotten oral surgery that week. It seemed like the signs were all against us. We worried that no one at all would show up for the event and we'd be left to wander the caches of Well's Hill Park by ourselves (which, as Vorin rightly pointed out, is not really much of an event since we've done these caches 6 times now).
But all the worrying was for naught. As we prepared to meet Vorin and Mad Mike in the Zen Bassmaster "ready room", aka the Elk River Coffee Shop, to fortify our sick selves with caffeine and painkillers and to plan out the day, I began to get a flood of e-mail from the fence-sitters confirming their attendance. Saintseester, check. Cyrusel, check. Alabama Rambler, check. Things were looking up.
The Bassmasters arrived at the coffee shop and got ourselves caffeinated and then looked around and noticed that Tserof was missing. So we began what has become an almost weekly tradition for us. Calling Tserof 26 times until he wakes up and answers his phone. Now understand that I am not exaggerating much when I say that we call Tserof 26 times. Tserof could sleep through a Megadeth concert in his living room (more on that later) and it usually takes about that many times for us to a) be heard over his alarm that has been beeping unheeded for an hour and b) to make him finally realize that the Deadwood theme music he's hearing isn't a dream but a phone call from his annoyed teammates. We've got to work on getting that boy a curfew on the day before cache day.
Once we got Tserof awake and at the rendezvous point, we headed to Well's Hill Park to meet up with our event Co-coordinator Cacheburns. We began working out our plan to divide into groups and our other plan for Tserof, who wasn't interested in walking 3.5 miles today, when Keymaker and Vesole drove up, over an hour early. Greetings were made and I immediately began an attempt to lull them into a stupor with my boring caching tales so they wouldn't see the preparation going on behind me. Unfortunately, Keymaker has extensive experience caching with the Fellowship and displays a surprising immunity to being bored into a stupor with caching tales. Must be all those events with Toids. Sure enough, he immediately catches on when Cacheburns, Mad Mike, and Tserof leave in Tserof's truck and only Cacheburns and Mad Mike come back, a full hour later, without the truck or Tserof. He is suspicious so I have to come up with a story on the fly. It was like an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway as I attempted to not outright lie but to still conceal the nature of our work. I maintained that Tserof had been given the duty of "distributing water", which was technically true, and that his truck had been left by the crossroads to hold drinking water, which was definitely true. Keymaker couldn't understand why it took them an hour to drive halfway down the trail and walk back. For that I didn't have a good answer so I did what any good friend in a bad situation would do, I threw the hot potato to Vorin who caught it like a Division IV-B Freshman Wide Receiver and mumbled something about them doing "trail maintenance."
Why the secrecy? Because we were trying to hide the fact that Tserof was going to be stationed at the top of the main waterfall with a cache of water balloons to throw down as people showed up. He was instructed to grunt, growl, and act like a cave troll. As you'll see in a bit, this worked with limited success.
Finally they got back and we began the event in earnest. I gave a short presentation of the "real" history of Well's Hill Park, which was home to the nation's first gravity-feed city water system way back in 1892. Cacheburns then took over and gave a little speech about the history of the Zen Bassmasters/Fellowship feud. We then broke up into five groups to begin the tour of Mordor.
The five groups were each led by either a Zen Bassmaster or a Hobbit. The groups were Team White & Nerdy, led by Ashlynne, Team Warrior Clan, led by Mad Mike, Team Cacheburns, led by Cacheburns (wonderful creative name there, bud), a team led by Vorin which I never got a name for and so will heretofore be known as Team &, and my team, Team Shortbus, so named because we were the self-styled "remedial" team.
I didn't do a very good job of getting the names of who was one everyone's team so forgive me for that. Hopefully some of the others will post comments with their team rosters. Team Shortbus consisted of Saintseester, RN2B, Neoncacher, Eeeeee, Cheezehead, Where'sDib, Tasia, and our "shortbus driver", Rick618.
My team immediately became concerned as we walked toward the caches as they noticed that they had the only guide who didn't have a GPSr. There's only one in our household and the wife was using it. Not to worry, I said. I don't need no stinking GPS. Famous last words.
Rick618, being a noted Hobbit sympathizer, was immediately suspicious of everything (having spent too much time hanging out with duplicitous hobbit-y folk) and quizzed me mercilessly. He should have been a private detective as he quickly picked up on several clues that others missed. Where was Tserof? When I told him he was "distributing water", he didn't believe me. He noted that the event page mentioned at least five times that "you'll get wet" which he thought was overkill for stepping in some puddles and insisted that we were "laying traps somewhere". I tried to play innocent, knowing that our first scheduled cache was "Trolling for Trouble" which was the one where we had Tserof and the water balloons posted. He wasn't buying.
As we headed up the path toward Trolling for Trouble, I reverted to typical Zen Bassmasters behavior and got us on the wrong path. About halfway up it Neoncacher keeps insisting that we're moving away from Trolling. Sure enough, I took a right where I should have taken the straight path and had inadvertantly led us to "Seduce the Spider." Rick and Neoncacher made plenty of disparaging remarks about the quality of their guide as I tried to play it off as "all part of the act to give you the full Zen Bassmasters experience." While this is going on my "embedded reporter" Saintseester was recording everything on her camera for posterity.
Not much to say about Seduce the Spider. It's probably one of the two tougher climbs in the park so we sent our ringers, Rick, Neoncacher, Eeeee, and Cheezehead while the rest of us stood at the bottom and yelled up encouragement, or something like that.
From there I got us back on track and we headed for Trolling for Trouble. A few hundred feet away, Rick spots a massive, unmoving person-shaped thing on top of the falls. He is immediately suspicious. I try to play it off as a local until we get closer. RN2B notices it isn't moving at all and thinks we've put a scarecrow up there as part of the show. As we get a bit closer, she sees it's Tserof, but he's not moving at all. Sounds of light snoring travel down to us, echoing off the walls of the ampitheatre. Our "surprise" cave troll was asleep on the job. I try to make the save and start screaming in as loud a voice as possible "OH YEAH! THAT'S OUR PET CAVE TROLL FLUFFY! HI FLUFFY! GREET EVERYONE FLUFFY!" Finally, after I yell myself hoarse and our "scary surprise" has the team in fits of laughter, Tserof wakes up and remembers he's supposed to be working. He stands up, bellows, and throws the water balloons. About half don't break... Neoncacher officially becomes my favorite person of the day as he grabs one of the unbroken ones and returns fire, bouncing the still unbroken balloon off Tserof's chest. While he keeps the troll busy, Cheezehead scrambles up and gets the cache. We marvel at the beauty of the waterfall (pictures of which are available in previous blogs I believe) and begin our climb down. Dib develops a fear of falling at this point and is moving at roughly the pace of a dead snail. And for good reason as, just as I'm trying to tell him it's perfectly safe, Tasia slips and plants her seat directly into the cold water. She breaks a nail doing this, which ends up being the most serious injury of the day at the event (more on that later).
Before I move on to more Team Shortbus adventures, let me tell you some of what I heard from the other teams' encounter with the cave troll. Lewtercris, who was on Team &, got the worst of the splashing, as Tserof went to school with her and thought he could aim straight for her with no reprecussions. He was wrong as our team met that team, including a soaked Lewtercris, coming out and she walked up to me and said "Jason USED to be my friend..." and stalked away. But the worst cave troll incident of the day came from Team Warrior Clan as Tserof threw a water balloon straight at Cyrusel's seven year old daughter. The combination of the stressful climb, the bellowing fat "troll" at the top, and being pegged with water balloons was too much for the little thing and she began to cry. It got worse when Cyrusel picked her up to move her out of the line of fire... and set her down directly in a sink of mud up to her knees. Cyrusel's son helpfully declared it "quicksand" which didn't do much for the poor girl's state of mind. Fortunately, it had a good resolution as the "cave troll" yelled down apologies to the poor girl (as well he should) and she yelled up "I forgive you" as her mom led her out of the fire zone.
Team Shortbus was then supposed to move on to Shelob and the Cave Troll. But once again, their guide got turned around and we ended up at Nazgul's Nest. This is a pretty nasty climb as well (cacheburns route plan for the remedial team somehow had all the 4 terrain caches first. Coincidence? I think not) so we sent, I believe, Eeeeee and Cheezehead up for this one. Let me say here that, when they're well behaved as Cheezehead was, kids are awesome to cache with. They can climb things you wouldn't dream of climbing, balance on things that would break under you, and get their hands in holes that your fingers won't go in. He was a great help. Eeeeee, you got a good kid there.
We then moved on back to Shelob. Dibs and Saintseester didn't want to risk the climb to this one so I sneakily suggested they go sit right under a specific tree (where the final of the multi was) and the rest of us went up. Well, Rick, Neon, Eeeee, and Cheezehead went up. RN2B, Tasia, and myself stood at the halfway point and "supervised" them. When they got to the top Rick yells down "I thought this one was a multi". Apparently some members of Team & had gotten to the cache before us and proceeded to sign the paper containing the final coords... The only other thing of interest here was that we met Team & before we did this and brand new cacher Flyinggranny told us "You guys should be warned. Your UPS is useless back there." Many jokes were made for the rest of the day about the lack of overnight delivery services in brown trucks in Mordor (which is not technically true. Mordor uses the Black Rider Pony Express delivery service, whose motto is "when you absolutely, positively, have to have it before the Dark Lord's rise).
From here Rick had given up on my leadership and was trying to get the team to go find Mortality, which he showed as closer than Underground Railroad TB Hotwl. I insisted that I actually knew where all of the main trail caches were (which turned out to be not entirely true, more on that later) and that Mortality was on the way out so we should hit the back side caches first. They finally see the wisdom of this and we move on. The TB Hotel was an easy enough find. Unfortunately, a little kid muggle saw us putting it back and when another group went after it the contents had been dumped and the box taken. Little thieving bastard...
From there we went to get the first part of my Underground Railroad multi. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the cache is mine, I had forgotten where the first stage was hidden. I tried to pass it off as being mysterious, even attempting to barter the answer to California Frustration out of Rick for the answer to this cache, but Neoncacher found it before I could complete the barter.
From there we found the last part of Vorin's "Wells Hill Park" multi. At this point, Dibs is looking a bit peaked and I, knowing all too well the signs of someone not used to hiking who has pushed himself too far, begin to get worried. But Dibs was a trooper and made it out fine.
Our final two caches were Mortality and the end of Underground Railroad. Not much to report on these. Fairly easy finds. We walked back to the cars, tired but feeling accomplished. Turns out we were one of the few groups who didn't skip at least one cache. Not bad for the remedial team.
From there, everyone adjourned to La Fuente restaurant for good food and some awards presentations. We gave out the following awards;
Cave Troll Target- to Neoncacher for firing back and Lewtercris for getting wettest. We would have unanimously given this to Cyrusel's daughter but they didn't make it to the dinner. Neoncacher got an umbrella with a target painted on it and Lewtercris got an umbrella and poncho.
Pigpen Award- to Dibs, who was the only cacher to get dirty enough to have to change part of his clothes before the dinner. A dry day made all the difference here as the Zen Bassmasters trip in the rain last week had us all coming out looking like Al Jolson singing "Mammy". Got soap on a rope, homemade by my wife, Ashlynne.
Blind Man's Bluff- Given to Alabama Rambler who was veered away at the last minute from trekking down a steep ravine in search of a cache that was 15 feet in the other directions. Given a blindfold and earplugs.
Vorin's Red Badge of Courage- given to Tasia, who suffered the worst "injury" of the day, breaking a nail. She got a first aid kit. We also gave Saintseester an honorable mention and a flashlight for breaking a very expensive looking camera lens.
Awards were also given to Flyinggranny and Lewtercris for being our newest cachers, and an award to Last Chance for being the cacher with the most finds.
We also gave a special "honorary Zen Bassmaster" award to RN2B, for excellence in hiding caches that stupid people like the Zen Bassmasters can find. She got a Zen Bassmasters t-shirt.
Then it was our turn to be surprised as Rick618 had LOTR themed toys to hand out to each of us. Cacheburns got a "birthday Bilbo" toy, I got a talking Smeagol, and we got a communal One Ring to share amongst ourselves.
All in all a great event. We had fun, everyone else seemed to have fun, and we brought some people to Lincoln County who had never been before. I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as we did.
Until next time, from Mordor, the land of milk and honey...