Saturday, June 05, 2021

Geocaching: Spring 2021

I found 53 geocaches this season. Travel always helps raise my numbers, and I had quite the road trip in May. Although I had to concentrate on getting where I was going on time, I did target specific caches to help me reach milestones.

Before all that, on March 5th, I drove out the Eastern Shore of Maryland to get my first coronavirus vaccine shot. To celebrate, I found my 600th cache in my 116th county (Caroline County). 

There was a geocaching trackable on the latest Mars rover. I was able to find that by looking at some NASA photos and get Souvenir 78

On March 31st, I found two caches in Loudoun County, Virginia, while waiting for some food to be ready.

Then, on April 2nd, it was back to the Eastern Shore for my second shot. My celebration was more extensive this time. First, I hopped across the border to Delaware for my 21st state, my 117th county (Kent County), and my 79th souvenir (Delaware). Then, on my way back, I found caches in Talbot and Queen Anne's Counties (118th and 119th county). That also gave me Minutes 4 and 9 for the West 76 Degree Longitude Challenge, bringing me to 34 out of 60 minutes.

At this point, I became interested in a new metric, that of "connected counties". I.e., how many counties have you found in a group where you can travel from county to county without passing through unfound counties?

Connected Counties

You can see that April 2nd put me at 42 counties, whereas before that, I had 38, because even though I found Caroline County in March, it was not connected yet. Looking back to March, I found four counties in a day, which connected to six more in the southwest, so I had only been at 28 connected counties then.

May 3rd was the first day of my cross-country drive. I found seven caches in Virginia and Tennessee. I started down I-81. My last trip down I-81 three years ago left some gaps in the counties (and county-equivalents), since I did not have time to make that many stops. This time I had time to stop in Botetourt County, Roanoke City, Roanoke County and Montgomery County (Counties 120-123). That gives me 36 of Virginia's 133 counties.

Once in Tennessee, I really wanted to pick up Sullivan County, where the cache I found at the Tennessee Welcome Center turned out to be classified as a Virginia cache. So I opted for a virtual at Bristol Motor Speedway. Later in May, the Welcome Center cache got reclassified as a Sullivan County cache, but I'm not renumbering. Sullivan County is County 124.

On the way to my hotel, I picked up Greene County and Cumberland County (Counties 125 and 126). Both were at rest stops, including this gem and one that was placed only two weeks earlier, giving me my first April 2021 cache (Month 217).

Caches at rest stops are a really nice way to add counties; unfortunately, Virginia doesn't seem to allow them.

May 3rd was 21 years and 1 day after increased GPS accuracy was available to civilians, enabling the dawn of geocaching. This allowed me to pick up the "Big Blue Switch 2021" souvenir (Souvenir 80).

As pictured above, I now had a line of connected Virginia counties all the way to the Tennessee border. Sullivan County continued the chain over the border, which combined with Washington County (found in 2018) and Greene County, gave me a connected county total of 55.

The next day, on the drive from Tennessee to Texas, I found seven counties. I made a quick grab near my hotel, giving me Gibson County (County 127). On my way to Memphis, I stopped at another rest stop and picked up Madison County (County 128). Then, in Memphis, I found a fantastic virtual that gave me Shelby County (County 129).

It was a quick detour south to pick up a cache in DeSoto County, Mississippi (State 22, County 130 and Souvenir 81). It was not too much further to the Arkansas Welcome Center (State 23, County 131 and Souvenir 83). I found one more cache near a Target on the other side of Arkansas (I needed more shorts than I packed), which gave me County 132. My last cache of the day was in Oklahoma City, at the bombing memorial. That gave me State 24, County 133, and Souvenir 83. Four states in a day was a new record, but one that I would break on the return journey.

Also that day, I picked up enough points for the first souvenir in the new "Science of Discovery" promotion (Souvenir 84).

The next day was a sprint from Texas to my destination in Arizona. Because I have been building up my county map of Arizona over the years, I wanted to get the three new counties along my path. I ended up finding six caches.

The first one was close to my hotel -- it was the virtual at Cadillac Ranch. I stopped by here in 2005, before I geocached. That gave me Potter County, my fifth in Texas, and 134th overall.

In Albuquerque, I found a challenge cache that required me to have found caches in seven states -- I had done that in just three days, actually. But it gave me my first New Mexico cache (State 25 and Souvenir 83=5) and my 135th county. Later I realized it gave me my first difficulty/terrain combination of 3/4 -- my 45th combo. That's what I get for planning ahead!

I picked up a my only unscouted one of the day in Cibola County (County 136) while getting gas. I stopped for gas a lot to give myself the opportunity to clean the bugs off my windshields.

Entering into Arizona, I found a cache in Apache County (County 137 and my 5th Arizona county), and then a virtual in Show Low, Arizona (County 138 and Arizona County 6).

After a drive through the mountains (again), I found one last virtual to give me County 139 and Arizona County 7. Some time that day I completed my set of "Natural Wonders of the World" (Souvenir 86) and found enough points for the "Science of Discovery: Geology" souvenir (Souvenir 87).

That did it for my outbound trip. That weekend, I found four caches in Arizona to complete my best week ever.

I headed back on the 10th. I found 5 caches on that day. First, I found one in Cochise County (County 140 and the only rectangular county in Arizona). I now have more than half of the counties in Arizona. I was going to take a detour to grab a 9th, but it wasn't worth the 30-60 minute added on to my drive. I'm sure I can route trips in future years to pick up more.

Then it was another fine rest stop cache to give me County 141.

I found another one at a stop for lunch (County 142). This actually completed a group of 19 connected counties across 4 states, my second largest grouping.
My last two at the day were in Otero County (County 143) -- a virtual at White Sands National Park, and a traditional near the grave of the first chimp in space. Some time that day, I earned enough points for the second "Science of Discovery" souvenir (Souvenir 88).

So this trip gave me a good start on New Mexico -- five counties. It's a beautiful state -- I hope to find more!

The next day, I found four caches -- all in Kansas (State 26 and Souvenir 89).

The first three caches I found were in Thomas County (County 144). The highlight was Mingo, the world's oldest active cache. I visited it on its 21st birthday! That was my first May 2000 cache (Month 218). The next one was in Dickinson County (County 145).

The next day, I found three caches in three different states. I found one in Shawnee County, Kansas (County 146) near my hotel. Then I found a nice virtual one in St. Louis, Missouri (State 27, County 147 and Souvenir 90).

This cache was also my first April 2001 find (Month 218) and was also my first find at Minute 37 of 38 degrees North (Minute 32).

My third find was at a rest stop in Indiana (State 28, County 148 and Souvenir 91). Also that day, I picked up my last "Wonder of the Solar System", which gave me Souvenirs 92 and 93.

I found nine caches on my final day of the trip. I started with one near my hotel in Indiana (County 149), then another in Columbus, Ohio (State 29, County 150 and Souvenir 94). Passing through Wheeling, West Virginia, I picked up one there (County 151) before heading into Pennsylvania where I found two (State 30, Counties 152 and 153, and Souvenir 95). Note that was my fourth state of the day.

I cut back into West Virginia and found a rest stop cache that gave me County 154. It was only the fifth large-sized cache I found; the fourth was two days prior in Kansas. It was also a new D/T combo, my 46th. I finally have found more than half of the combos.

I found another one the next county over (County 155). In this part of the country, there is a "JOE" (Just Off Exit) series designed for quick grabs. Three of the ones I found that day were JOEs.

Then it was through Maryland to find Allegany County, County 156. That was my fifth state of the day.

I could have added a sixth by finding one in Virginia, but I wanted to get home, and I figure I could leave the goal of six for another day. (Virginia-DC-Maryland-Delaware-Pennsylvania-NJ?)

My final cache of the day was in Washington County (County 157). That was my ninth county of the day, one short of my record. Again, a record for another day.

That was my 17th Maryland county. I started trying to fill out this map not long after starting caching in 2007. The three in the northeast will probably be easier than the four in the southeast, absent a trip to Ocean City.

Some time during that day, I earned enough points for the final "Science of Discovery" souvenir (Souvenir 96).

I ended up with 62 connected counties in Maryland, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Tennessee. To add to this, I have a lot of choices -- the remaining Maryland counties, the remaining two Delaware counties, some nearby West Virginia counties, more Virginia counties... There's even a possibility to extend into North Carolina. We'll see.

Before the month (and season) was over, I made one more caching outing, specifically targeting new months. I found three near home -- December 2010, January 2021 and April 2021. (Months 220-222)

That leaves me 31 unfound months, tied for the lowest I've ever had. But I found two of the "ancient" months, leaving me six. I found no "old" months, leaving me at 10. I found one "middle-aged" month, leaving me at 7. I found three "young" months, keeping me at 8. The challenge is getting closer to reach (although the fact that I've only found two from 2000 indicates how hard it really is).

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