2009-02-24 30 -93
This was completely unplanned. I was just getting up around eleven am, scheduled to work the evening shift, when my morning shift coworker called to tell me our work was cancelled for the day, and she had borrowed a truck. Would I like to go exploring with her? Would I! She had some important business to attend to but would be ready in fifteen minutes. I got dressed and ready to leave and then had a couple of minutes to quickly look up and copy down the coordinates for the nearest geohash. It's in the Lake Charles, Louisiana graticule, where we are, about 20 km away. I wrote down "Jamestown, continue SE on main road until past abeam. Left on unnamed road. Left abeam. Left just past abeam." And then I hurried downstairs for the expedition.
My coworker had heard that Woodville, just across the lake, was an interesting place to go, with museums and antique stores. I didn't think that "fighting through bushes to find an arbitrary spot in the woods" would be an easy sell, so I settled for looking at nineteenth century ox yokes and using the GPS to identify lakes and major highways. We went into the "Indian Village" which was just an ordinary Indian reservation, so we turned around and went back to the "Historic Village" which was a collection of old wooden buildings with recreations of hundred year old dentist offices, general stores and the like. One of my favourite parts were the old bicycles with the tiny back wheels and giant front wheels with direct drive pedals. I was thinking that with a new seat and a bit of grease, the one on display could probably give ICWB a run for its money. They also had an excellent collection of old carriages in very good condition.
My coworker confessed to me that the important business that kept her in her room from time to time was actually a soap opera to which she is addicted, I decided it was thus safe to confess my addiction. It went pretty well at first, she'd even heard of it, and thought it might be fun to come along. Then with more discussion, it turned out that what she had heard of was geocaching and she became suspicious of a treasure hunt without a prize. "For me there's got to be a prize," she decided. She pulled into the hotel and let me go off on the geohash alone. Therefore ...
I suppose I should have gone back and got more details on my search, like maybe a map, but it would be dark before too long, so there was no time to waste. I followed the highway signs through an area that noted that I should not pick up hitchhikers, as it was a prison area. I drove right past the prison, sixteen kilometres from the geohash. Escaped prisoners could easily be hiding in the bush sixteen kilometres from the jailbreak, but I'm going to assume these are wussy prisoners who can't walk that far. I followed the signs to Jamestown and looked at my directions as I approached. The first discrepancy became apparent. I was going NW into town. How was I going to continue SE on the same road? I drove past abeam the geohash about five km away and realized I'd managed to approach town from the wrong end. U-turn, and I took the first left past being abeam the geohash. It was a dirt road, a little bumpy, not so different from the ones around Slave Lake, really. I found what seemed to be the next correct left turn, on a slightly bumpier, muddier dirt road, and then I found the final left turn on what was more like a grass road through an open field. The geohash was almost straight ahead. No geohash should be too easy, so at this point, with 1.06 km remaining, I parked the truck and continued up the road on foot. The field ended before the kilometre did, with the road turning almost 90 degrees to the left following its perimeter. I've bushwhacked to enough geohashes to know that as long as the road is getting closer to the geohash and not further away, stay on the road. Don't go into the bush until you have to. This road was inching closer to the geohash, so I followed it. There were deer, dog and rabbit footprints dried into the mud along the road.
At the point where the road started getting further from the geohash, there was a trail entering the bush. There, you see? Don't bushwhack when there's a trail. Don't bushwhack when there might be a trail close by. I follow the trail. It winds between little pine trees on a solid forest floor, getting gradually closer to the geohash, until, like all such trails, it begins to get further away. And I have been to enough geohashes to know that a trail that seems to go further away may get closer later, and that it's worth staying on it to see. But, depending on how long you've been on the geohashing wiki, you may or may not know Robyn's consistently stupid rule of geohashing. That is "When you're within five hundred metres of the geohash, all other rules become void." As per usual, within five hundred metres of the geohash I simply turned into the woods and walked in the direction of the arrow on the GPS.
 Into the Bush
It was easy going. The trees were cute little pine trees, well spaced apart and the ground between them was solid and level with no debris other than a comfy carpet of pine needles. It stayed that way for a good hundred metres. Almost exactly. At the "four hundred metres to go" mark, the undergrowth became denser, with sticks to negotiate, and the "sticks" had a secret weapon, in very sharp thorns. Fortunately I had a heavy jacket on and just pulled through the thorns, letting them tear against my sleeves and work pants. It's four hundred metres more. Who can't walk four hundred metres? Even with a few thorns.
There is some law of geohashing that says that the going gets harder and harder as you approach your goal, and that did not disappoint. Not that I would have been disappointed had the law failed to deliver. The sticks got denser and the brambles higher. I'm not going in a straight line at all, because I'm zigzagging back and forth trying to find the path of least resistance. And of course every time you turn your shoulder or wave your arm holding the GPS, the little arrow telling you which way to go is off by 40 degrees and you can follow it the wrong way for a while if you're not careful. I'm pretty careful, and normally I have a compass for this, just consulting the GPS from time to time to make sure I'm following the right bearing. But ... hurried expedition ... I don't have the compass around my neck. Besides, in the Hybrid view the geohash looked to be right beside a road.
The footing remained excellent however. I know that Texas is famous for inhospitable wildlife, but I was pretty sure this was too dry for alligators and not dry enough for rattlesnakes. I thought this over in my head like a mantra. Until I came to the big anthill. And then I thought this was just about right for killer ants. Texas has killer ants, I think. Fire ants or poisonous ants or maybe poisonous fire ants. Something like that. I was careful not to step on the anthill.
A bit more bushwhacking and then another trail. It didn't lead directly towards the geohash, but got closer, and every step I took on that trail was proably three shuffling clawing steps I wouldn't have to take in the bush. I trotted down it for a while until I was 215 metres from the geohash, where I plunged back into the bush, knowing that I wouldn't have to bushwhack all the way home. The trail probably meets up with something I can get back to the truck on.
 Through the Thorns
The last two-hundred metres was the hardest. By around the hundred metre mark I knew I was veering back and forth pretty badly because of the GPS not being a compass. I wondered if perhaps I didn't have a compass in my purse. (Shut up, yes I walked five hundred metres into the bush carrying my purse). And you know what? I did have a compass in my purse. Now I could maintain a heading of 310 degrees to the geohash without worrying about satellites. Although in many cases that was a "butting" not a heading. In thick thorns I found it easier to line the south arrow up with the red bracket on the orienteering compass and walk backwards, butt first, through the thorns and sticks. I had a long enough tough enough jacket that that was effective. It was hot tough. The jacket was much heavier than necessary for hiking in Texas. But I thought of UnwiseOwl wearing a toque and jacket at the hottest geohash and I did not whine. I just hallucinated instead. I had created this elaborate fantasy in my mind that the destructive energy that causes bored young people to vandalize things could be channelled into geohashing. It's still doing a completely pointless thing, but at least it's not a completely pointless destructive thing. And in my imagination I was setting a good example for an invisible horde of disadvantaged youth accompanying me on the expedition.
I got to 39 metres away and wondered if the track log I was recording in lieu of taking photographs would show if I called that done. I was shocked with myself. I reminded myself of the ru crawling his last 59 metres. I reminded myself of the horde of invisible people I had to set an example for. And I told myself that if I expected the Intenet to accept my claim for this virgin graticule with no photographic evidence (camera not available this week) I would have to be absolutely trustworthy. I would have to get to the exact point even if it required me to beat an alligator to death with a rattlesnake, while standing on an anthill. I pushed on for another 35 metres. And then what did I see?
No, not a swamp. Not an impenetrable barrier. A nice little ATV trail. The geohash was right on a trail. Had I come the right way, I could have strolled up to it without a single thorn. But, um, that's not the way we do things around here, Robyn. I wandered around until I zeroed the GPS, then constructed an xkcd marker for the trail, with sticks. It was similar to the sign Woodveil constructed but with more delicate sticks. I should state for the record: there was no one else there.
 And Back
I then set off down the trail in the direction I thought most likely to reunite me with my truck. The trail went the wrong way for a bit, and then turned and went even more the wrong way, but I had a theory that it would come out at the other end of the road that I had initially walked on, and I was going to test this well before going back into the thorny bush. I passed a hunting blind. No one shot at me from it. A rabbit hopped across my path. I did not shoot at it. Then the sky appeared beyond the trees and I could tell I was about to reach an open field. My theory was correct and I stopped my track log.
I got back to the truck and climbed in. I felt the now familiar rush of exhilaration after having successfully done something completely pointless, and having done it the hard way. Geohashing is definitely the sport for me.
I reached the truck before sunset, but it was dark before I got home. My coworker covered for me, and is either a very good actor or was genuinely pleased for me that I had achieved my goal. I'll keep her addiction a secret and she'll be quiet about mine.
 Follow Up
Texas doesn't have poisonous thorns, does it? My legs look like I have smallpox or something, all covered in raised welts from the brambles.
 Track Log
Here is a link to the track log. When I look at it I come to suspect that the area is a series of tree (and bramble) farms, because what on Google Maps is a treed area to the west and south of the road I walked along, was an open muddy field in real life, but many of the open areas on the map were densely treed. But that doesn't make sense either, because tree farms are generally planted in straight rows and these were just tangled forest. It's quite amusing to see how the trails I followed appear to be the edges of areas on Google. It looked the same either side along the trail to the deer blind.