2012-09-21 43 -90
Wooded area northeast of Fennimore, Wisconsin. SwensonJ is thinking about a late-night run to this one. Idiocy? Only if I actually go....
Run out after the kids go to bed. Maybe do some cleaning and then try for the Midnight Geohash?
There were several times when I should have given up on this hash. The first was at my house, when my wife said, "I think it's dumb." She was right.
Regardless, I left the house about 10:30 p.m. After one quick errand, I got on the road. It had rained during the day, and cooling temperatures made the road dangerously foggy. I'll count the first sign of fog as the second time when a smart person would have quit.
About 11:15 p.m., I turned off on a farm access road and started driving between cornfields toward the south edge of a wooded strip. Intellectually, I was aware that there would be something wrong with the topography: no one leaves woods in the middle of a field otherwise. How bad can it be? I thought. I like to walk in the woods. Anyway, these are only 0.003 degrees across.
I forgot that I do not usually walk in the woods in the middle of the night, when it's been raining, where there isn't any type of a path. I parked the car, carefully writing down its latitude and longitude. As I headed for the point on the edge of the woods closest to the hash, a fox trotted past, marking the third time I should have given up and gone home to bed. Instead, I took a deep breath and pushed through the raspberry vines into the trees.
As it turned out, the problem with this piece of land was a narrow, dry, rocky streambed. I scrambled down one slope to the lowest point, and started to drag myself up the other side. The exertion made my breath come fast -- as did a rising sense of panic. Owls were calling, which should have been fun; in fact it was spooky. Or was I hearing barking? Had an angry landowner turned loose his vicious guard dogs? Probably they were tracking my scent already. They sounded closer all the time.
In this frame of mind, and on the moderately steep slope, I did not have much patience for the GPS dance. I found a point that seemed good enough; by then, it was about 11:50p.m. I sat and watched the clock, taking a few flash photos, then checking them to see what was around me. When my cell phone reported midnight, I took the proof photo, collected the electronics, and prepared to get the hell out of the woods.
I headed back downslope to the streambed and up the other side. By this time I was hearing animals moving around in the night, breaking branches underfoot. I came up out of the valley, then out of the trees -- and was blocked by a barbed-wire fence, which I hadn't encountered on the way in. A few yards to my left, the fence was down, though, so I guessed I had passed it without noticing. The image of an angry farmer with a rifle started to press itself forward in my consciousness. After half a minute, I emerged from the trees, on the north side of the woods, opposite to where my car was parked.
I guess it's better than the alternative, but it is humiliating to be lost while carrying a GPS.
Though there was no sign of the track on which I'd driven in, I could not believe the evidence of the GPS. The sky was full of stars: the night sky of the country, to which I'm not accustomed. I should have enjoyed the sight, but I was mainly focused on the inconvenience -- with fewer stars visible, I could have identified the pole star readily. Now all the stars looked the same.
With no alternative, I headed back down the hill, and up the other side of the valley, only to come to the same barbed-wire fence, and the same trackless field. The panic became intense. I pictured the sun coming up on my wanderings; the shamed phone call to emergency personnel, in which I would have to admit that I was hopelessly lost, but knew my latitude and longitude to five decimal places; my fevered efforts to explain geohashing to murderous vigilantes under a blood oath to eradicate trespassing and trespassers.
Ultimately I decided to walk entirely around the woods on the east side, following the tree line. This took a lifetime, and forced me to expose myself and my blazing headlamp to all the world's violent madmen, but it worked; I got within about 100m of the parking spot, but could not see any sign of the car. A final geocaching adventure ensued, where I found myself pressing along between rows of corn, desperately watching the least significant digits change on the GPS display. I stumbled out of the field, and found the access road at last, but not the car.
The car was around a bend, hidden by corn. I was glad to see it. I thought about my full Thermos of coffee, and my suddenly uncomfortable damp clothes. My heart was racing; my breath coming fast. I did not think I could pour myself a cup of coffee without spilling it, nor drink it without choking. I was just glad the car started.
I left the field without incident, about 1:15 a.m., and headed home through the fog. There were some wildlife sightings to keep me interested in the drive. My car scared up an enormous owl who must have been sitting on the highway -- he was as big around as a soccer ball, and flew ahead of me for several seconds before turning off to the left. A deer, a raccoon, and a skunk emerged from the fog at various times, making me jam on the brakes. Before long even wisps of fog were making me stop short.
Maybe I'm not cut out for midnight geohashing.
| SwensonJ earned the Land geohash achievement
| SwensonJ earned the Midnight Geohash achievement
|SwensonJ earned the Virgin Graticule Achievement|