Friday, November 27, 2015

It’s time to call it like it is

Baytown Citizens Police Academy Graduates Fall 2015

I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet the last two and a half months as I attended almost ten weeks of the Baytown Citizen’s Police Academy. One reason for this is my friend Natalie Whatley covered it a few years back. Another reason is I wanted to experience the entire class before I wrote about it.

I am by nature a bit rebellious and a loner when it comes to joining or endorsing anything. I am a classic skeptic and make no apologies about what I have observed. Back a number of years ago when I headed up Baytown Concerned Citizens, I was criticized for writing in my column that we needed to continuously watch our police department and hold them accountable. My opinion hasn’t changed in that regard.

The police department is ran in a very military manner and I am not only a Veteran, but also a student of military history. Much of what I learned in this citizen’s police academy, I already knew because I read a lot and have studied martial arts and awareness for many years. I don’t get my information from watching the Lethal Weapon series or CSI in its many spin-offs. I have friends in the police department and as I’ve stated before, obey the law.

We were instructed by the people who do the dirty work and although I think the job would jade most people; these men and women were very professional and appeared to enjoy what they do. I’ve often believed that if I was a cop and rubbed shoulders with the seediest element of society, it would turn me to the dark side. I’m sure in some cases it does, but I observed none of that.

A lot of information was taught and as I’ve stated, I found it to be elementary, but did learn a lot of details anyway. Each week an expert in their particular discipline would go into great detail about what it is they do to fight crime and each week I was impressed with the high level of training each officer portrayed.

The class is facilitated by Stewart Beasley and taught in a relaxed manner that the average citizen can easily understand. We learned about the Swat Team, forensics, gangs, use of force, traffic stops, investigations, live fire, and bombs. We also learned that the City of Baytown is one of the most sought after places for law enforcement officers to train. Our facility on any given day has people from all over the country learning how to do it the legal way.

I am not one to be easily drawn into something just because I have been exposed to it. I am already on the Board of the Texas Geocaching association and Keep Baytown Beautiful, so I refrained from becoming active in the Citizen’s on patrol or the Alumni Association, but easily could have endorsed both as worthy endeavors.

Here is my summary on the entire experience. We are being sold a bill of goods to discredit the police department through constant negative news stories. I don’t understand who is behind it, but to put it in words Harry Truman would use, it is bull crap if the Baytown Police are an example. Lawyers and anti-police advocacy groups have made it where almost everything the police department can do to stop crime works against the officer. The professional criminal holds not only the advantage, but practically all the protection they need to get out of nearly everything.

We watched a demonstration where one officer had his gun drawn and pointed and the bad guy had to raise his gun to shoot. Every single time they fired at the same instant. Almost any approach an officer takes can be turned against him, regardless of how cautious they are. In a high percentage of cases, the officer only draws their sidearm when there is an obvious threat.

The Internet, Facebook, and Youtube show small clips of video which at first appear to be police brutality, when the reality in most cases is just the opposite. The cop is like a referee with his nose in the action and sees things we can’t, but everyone is second guessing them these days ready to scream excessive force.

The bottom line is I think I would make a good police officer, but under these circumstances would I want to be one? Heck no! Everything is working against them on all external levels. It doesn’t matter how much they train, the current aggressive mentality of discrediting the police rips apart the fabric of this honorable vocation.

I have lived in Baytown over 40 years and have yet to be jerked out of my automobile and kicked, tased, beaten, or cursed at by an out of control cop. I think the reason for that is I haven’t given them reason to do any of those things. Another reason may also be that as a rule, they simply don’t treat people they arrest or pull over in such a manner. 

I also understand that if the cops chase you to Cut and Shoot and back and you throw yourself out of your car and run, they are most likely going to hurt you when they finally catch you. It serves you right in my book. If you act up with cops, why would you be surprised when they get right back in your face?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What is your geo-name again?

What is your geo-name again? 
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

My geocaching handle is BaytownBert.  It’s confusingly cryptic in that my name is Bert and I live in Baytown, Texas.  Believe it or not one time someone asked me where I lived after we exchanged geo-handles.  To save space on the logbooks, I usually just put BB and the date.

Over the years I’ve observed some really cool names, like Skunkonthefog, FluxVector, and Bigguy In Texas.  I’ve also heard some astoundingly long, bizarre and undecipherable caching names that left me scratching my head in amazement.  It usually goes something like this: “Hi, I’m BaytownBert.”

“Nice to meet you, I’m 382764956thb938rt8743monkeylips-from_Toledo_Texas and I am a newbie to the game.”  I usually refrain from guffawing, but on occasion giggle a little.  My next question is how they plan to sign the log on a nano, but again stop myself.

A geocaching name should be considered not only important, but precious and a player needs to understand that a lot goes along with it.  Take for instance the trail you leave in loggings, hidden caches, event attendance – well you get the picture.  Your logging name is a snapshot of you.  If you do well, people may not notice, but if you do bad, well again it is a historical entity that other cachers will bat around.

“Who hid this one?”


“Ugh, well that means the coords are probably off 40 feet and it needs maintenance…”

“Yea, that and he’s probably writing a scathing log on someone else’s cache as we search for his stupid choice of containers.”

“I hope not, as all his caches are about the worst example of how to play this game.”

“Yea and he’s always ragging on the reviewers saying how awful they are.”

“I bet he doesn’t even bathe…”

This is an extreme example and I do bathe – I promise I do.  You see, you can play this game for a long time gliding under the radar and no one will actually pay you much attention, but the day you hide one is the day where folks will begin to notice you.

Comments you want to read are “Nice hide” not “Needs Maintenance”.  With a total of 300+ hides and events under my belt, it is not uncommon for me to get one to ten NM logs a week.  I’m retired and usually get to them within 48 hours, but even when I worked 12 hour shifts and 60+ hours a week, I did immediate maintenance.

The reason is simple; I did not want my geo-handle to be associated with anything negative.  Now mind you, some folks will find offense at something I did occasionally and that is not what I am talking about here.  What I mean is when your geo-handle is mentioned folks look at each other and nod. 

The next thing out of their mouths should be, “What is the D/T rating,” or “Is there a hint?”

One of my favorite exclamations when I can’t find a cache is an ode to my old caching buddy.  I raise my fist at the sky and shake it while exclaiming, “Curse you AaronBarbee!”  Aaron hid a series of caches in the Baytown area years ago called the Soda Tube Trials.  At each one, you could be killed or injured and I got all of them and paid the painful price on quite a few.

One of his caches was in the middle of a bee hive colony and I went out in a white Mylar suit in the middle of July to replace the missing soda tube with him.  There were thousands of bees around me, as AB stayed back to watch.  I was only stung twice.

Due to this series, Aaron was widely known and in a good way.  Folks came from all over to do his caches.  Since then he’s kind of quit caching, moving into other endeavors, but he left a very positive image of himself to other cachers.

Recently in the Texas Geocaching Association (, we voted 3 people into the Hall of Fame and minted pathtags to commemorate them.  Texas Dreamweaver, HoustonControl, Mrs. Captain Pickard are well known cachers in Texas and deserve the accolades.  These folks have contributed so much to the game that they are examples of how to do it.  Their geo-names are known to many in a very positive way and that is the point of this primer.

Guard your name as it is precious indeed.  Be mindful of how you sign the logs by writing good ones. Come to events and help out, or stage really cool events. Help newbies and do what you can to give back to the game.  Down the road you might find out that you have inspired a goodly number of people to be better players.

One more thing.  Don’t forget to have a lot of fun!

What is more fun than geocaching?

What is more fun than geocaching?
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

“When geocaching is no longer fun, go home folks.”  If you have attended one of my geocaching 101 classes, you have heard me give that advice.  I know what I am talking about here, because in this wonderful game, you will reach this state of mind, guaranteed.  It can happen to us at the first cache too.  Often, we struggle on and possibly get our mojo back, but many times, something will happen that makes us leave the game and head to the house.

In Texas I am fairly well known for having fun playing this game.  I have a high quality prosthetic Bubba set of dentures and a couple different wigs I like to wear at events and I have been known to take an occasional selfie and post it in a log also.

My Bubba teeth had to be adjusted by my dentist last year when I accidentally got my front teeth knocked out after hiding a high terrain geocache in a park near my home in Baytown.  I named it: “BB's Bust Your Chops Cache!” (GC55G1J0)  For a few minutes there, geocaching was no longer fun.

It was a lot of fun the other day at the 2015 TXGA Lone Star Round-up when we were playing an accuracy game called Place the pin.  I acquired the coordinates with my Garmin Oregon 650 and these were announced to the crowd.  Everyone who played placed their red flag where they felt was the most accurate point.  I observed the distinguished Dr. Deborah Burswell (DJBTEX) and friends walk off after placing their flag and I promptly created a sockpuppet name and replaced her flag with it.

I then moved her flag up on a hill 75 feet from the field of flags.  Later just before we revealed who had won, I was talking to her and pointed at the lone flag up on the hill.  We both laughed and she told me, “There is one in every crowd.”  I guess you can imagine her expression when it was revealed she won the booby prize for being farthest from the flag.  It took her all of 2 seconds to look in my direction and since most everyone knew of the prank, it was hilarious.  She has vowed she will get her revenge too.

Now, on my left calve is a brown scar about the size of a dime.  I got that in Pedernales Falls State Park in October 2014. I walked past an underground burrow of bald face hornets and the guard popped me.  Thank the Lord for psycho motor reflexes, because I can’t think that fast.  I took off like the roadrunner and it chased me about a hundred meters before it swerved off.

I’ve had my share of stings, but that was a solid 3 on the Schmidt Pain Index.  Before it really started throbbing, I realized I was at GZ, but the hint was “stump” and feral hogs had rutted all ten stumps to Cut and Shoot and gone, so I hiked back to my Jeep and my sympathetic Bride.  Geocaching was not very fun the rest of the day as my leg throbbed relentlessly.

A group of us were geocaching in George Bush Park on the west side of Houston and I witnessed something I still find hilarious.  Chad Courtney (TAZ427) attempted to cross a log over some cold water and went into what I like to call, a low-speed wobble and not wanting to risk getting his 15 electronic devices wet, he bailed off the log into the shin deep water.  I wish it had sound effects, because it was awesome!

What’s more fun that geocaching with friends who can laugh when you bust your buns? Here’s a little bit of advice; if you know you are going to fall… SCREAM.  It heightens the whole effect and if you don’t get hurt, it makes it much more dramatic.

About 5 years ago, I made a couple of serious mistakes while caching and all of us are guilty of the same stunts.  The good part is I walked away basically unscathed.  See if you can count my mistakes. I was caching alone and no one knew where I was. I did not have a cell phone and was going after a cache that hadn’t been visited in months.  It was slightly raining and about 50 degrees.  I parked my Jeep on a lonely road and hiked about 300 meters down a muddy trail in the East Texas piney woods.

This area was hilly with many declinations and rises.  I located GZ and it was a tree of about 12 inches in diameter and it grew out over a washed out creek that was about 20 feet below.  The tree had slowly been drooping due to erosion and jutted out at a 45 degree angle over the edge.  I could see a tether about 5 feet up and it appeared that there was a hole on the backside of the crotch.

The ground was wet, and I am agile and I pondered it for a while before I leaned out and caught the tree, hugging it.  Well, the tether wasn’t attached to anything, so I did a forceful push-up backwards and regained the path.  I then wondered if it had fallen into the basically empty creek bed, so I took a few steps to the side for a better angle.

My feet started to slide and there I went, down the side of that 20 foot drop off, bumping my butt on the edge, which sent my torso forward into a push-up position.  I slammed into the sandy muck up to my elbows and pants pockets, but otherwise, was okay.  In most parts of the country that would be rocks and probably would have either killed me, or injured me to the point I couldn’t walk out.

I got up and left the area, DNF’ing the cache and leaving a long log on the cache page.  Geocaching wasn’t fun that day and it was my own fault.  These stories are all true, but sometimes it’s the little things that ruin your fun.  Mosquitoes, a blister on your foot, thorns, poison ivy, fear of snakes, spiders and webs, and often, here on the Gulf Coast of Texas, it is high heat and humidity that zap you like a good thrashing.

Remember folks, this game is supposed to be fun and when it ain’t?  Go home.

What happened to geocaching events?

What happened to geocaching events?
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

I geocached totally solo for a long time before I attended my first event. The reason was I was introduced to the game at a time when caches were few and far apart.  USMorrows and I worked in the same Chemical Plant, he in the Lab and me in a process unit.  I thought the game would be something my Bride and I could do together, but alas she couldn’t comprehend the idea of looking for something in the woods.

I found a few caches in 2003 & 2004 and then stopped caching.  I was aware of the game, but we pursued other common interests.  In 2009 we experienced a family tragedy and I began to hike miles and miles to try and keep my sanity.  I was on a 16 mile hike in Brazos Bend SP in August and staggering as I made it to my vehicle.  I then had an epiphany.

I could be geocaching instead of just hiking!  I logged into and sure enough, I was still BaytownBert.  Boy, the game sure had exploded in that 5 years!  I bought an entry level Magellan GPSr unit that you had to hand load each cache into and started caching again. My brother TJBustem and I occasionally teamed up.  We made some funny videos and posted them on youtube too, but I continued on for a couple of years by myself.

I wasn’t part of “the network”, which we all know is essential for success, not to mention the fellowship that goes with sharing ideas and food with other cachers.  I learned about the Houston Geocaching Society and joined the forum.  I asked a lot of questions and listened.  I was invited to go to the 10 year anniversary event of hosted in Baytown, Texas by the guy who has become by mentor; HoustonControl.

HC knows the rules inside and out and which ones can be bent socially acceptably and those that can’t.  I say that because I have a propensity towards rule breaking, albeit self-justified.  He sets me straight and we have enjoyed many hundreds of hours caching together.  Now, what in heckfire does this history have to do with events?  I’ll explain.

For the last 6 years I’ve attended a lot of events and hosted a goodly number also.  What I am seeing is a golden opportunity being lost or spent and I mean spent as in losing it when it comes to events.  Events for the most part mean you are going into a crowded restaurant full of noisy muggles, sit next to 2 or 3 people you can actually hear and probably know well enough to live with them, and spend at least 20 bucks.  That’s an event these days.

As the SETX Rep for the Texas Geocaching Association, I am sounding the alarm and I do every chance I get.  The restaurant scenario should be the exception, surely not the rule.  Here is the formula for a successful event and it works here in Baytown.

Go to your city’s Public Relations and Tourism director and tell them all about geocaching and what it can do to bring people who spend money to your city.  Ask for swag.  Every city has stamped swag to give away.  Get a bag full as often as they will give it to you.  Try to convert them to become geocachers.  Keep in touch with them and give them reports.  Find out if the city will provide you with a place to hold an event in case of rain and you want it free of charge.  The paradigm that geocachers are a liability is no longer there.  We are environmentally aware and we pick-up trash.  We also spend a lot of money.

Take a good hard look at the history and resources your city has and stage an event close by, either to tour afterward, or to tackle that 5/5 cache everyone is afraid to go after.  Make these things optional after the event, so no one is excluded.  The idea is for everyone to enjoy the event including those on walkers and wheelchairs. I like to hide an unactivated geocoin and then hold up the coords at the end of the event.

In the Baytown area we regularly will have an event in a parking lot and then, if folks want to tackle an 11 mile hike, they are most welcome to come along.  Food?  Bring your own food and I promise it won’t cost you 20 bucks either.  I love to stage potluck events!  Mine Gott!  There is so much food it’s embarrassing and everyone knows how much we love to eat.  After our Block Party event in Baytown this year, we left so much food in the Nature Center pantry that they fed students for a couple of days.

A no-brainer quarterly event is Adopt a site CITO.  Just don’t bite off more than you can do by yourself when the shine wears off.  The way to prevent this is coordinate at least one clean-up with the city and all geocachers will get a t-shirt too.  I always bring lots of free city swag to hand-out and consistently have a good turn-out for the stretch we’ve adopted to clean.

“If you build it, they will come”… to your event.  As a challenge, try to do one event per quarter.  Make it an event to remember.  If it is successful, do the same event next year.  Have fun and talk to everyone, not just those seated beside you at the restaurant events.

Travel bugs and geocoins

Travel bugs and geocoins
This is a primer on proper handling of trackable tags, coins, etc.
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

Please bear with me while I lay a little groundwork on this subject.  Surely if you have played this game very long, you know all or most everything there is to know about trackables, but following the principle that no matter how much you think you know, we don’t always do the right thing and we can always learn more.

Trackables have a unique code on them and are logged on to track their travels.  Someone bought the trackable and paid anywhere from $4 to $50 or more for it (in some cases) and having one in our possession necessitates we move it.

Let’s start at the beginning.  You’ve bought a trackable, or someone gave you an unactivated trackable and you want to activate it.  You do this by going to and under PLAY at the top of the menu, you select FIND TRACKABLES.  Looking at the page that loads, select ACTIVATE TRACKABLE and push ENTER.

A page will load with your trackable number and below it reads:  ENTER YOUR TRACKABLE CODE.  This information comes with your trackable, but if not, then click on the link below this box that reads: LOCATE YOUR ACTIVATION CODE.

A Captcha box has to be filled in and then the tracking number found on the trackable you are trying to activate.  This will give you your code and you then activate it. Now it is time to customize your trackable page, so go to VIEW MY TRACKABLE.  To the right is a line that reads: EDIT THIS TRACKABLE.  Click on it and rename your trackable.

In the box’s marked: CURRENT GOAL and ABOUT THIS ITEM, fill them in or not.  I like to give mine a goal/mission and in the bottom box I may say who gave it to me, dedicate it to another geocacher, or tell why I like it.

Now, upload a photograph and make it the default image.  It can be the travel bug with the hitchhiker (whatever you attach to it) or it can be your photo.  It’s your trackable, so you can do whatever you want.

Now.  Here is an important next step.  If you don’t care about mileage and plan to keep this trackable, move it to your COLLECTION.  No one can grab it from you, but can still discover it if they see the code.  It will not pick up mileage either.  That happens when you move the trackable to your INVENTORY.

Now, let’s talk about ethics.  This is one area that can be quite touchy, especially with veterans who know better than to hold on to someone else’s trackable and not move it in a timely matter.  In the USA there is a serious problem with trackables not being logged and moved, or simply put in someone’s collection and not logged.  Trackables do not belong to you unless you paid for them.  I teach students that unless they feel they can move a trackable in a very reasonable amount of time (or have special permission to take to Uganda or some place) to simply DISCOVER it.  You get the same amount of credit for discovering a trackable and none of the responsibility that goes with moving it. 

Smart phones have awesome cameras to record this tiny code and you can log it at work(!) when things are slow, or at home, of course!  Personally I treat trackables like hot potatoes and they bother my poke sack until I can either hand them off at an event or place them in a geocache.

I also clean-up trackables that need it; attach a new hitchhiker when it comes to me without one (usually it’s a city of Baytown key chain which looks real spiffy), and write a good log and take a photo to attach on the trackables page.  I’ve logged over 1800 and own 83 trackables and most of them are out there somewhere.  Some are missing, some are not and here is another point to ponder.

When you release a trackable into the wild, it is akin to releasing a dove.  Don’t obsess over it.  It will just give you heartache or in some cases, jade you against releasing more.  It is like worrying about Elvis.  He’s gone and it is gone the second you drop it off.  I routinely will buy travel bugs with the sole purpose of supporting the game and release them.  I do my part, even though I know I might as well be throwing them in the Houston Ship Channel.

Education is the key here and keeping a TB or geocoin longer than a couple of weeks is simply holding up the game.  Sure, we’ve all been guilty of finding one in our kit bag, or the seat of our car and when we do, we should write the owner and explain and then get that puppy moving!  One last thing; don’t forget that this is just a game and take care to have fun.

So you want to hide a geocache

So you want to hide a geocache
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

I think it is safe to say that after you’ve found a few geocaches you decide it would be awesome to hide one and then watch the thousands of people look for your evil hide.  Of course it will be evil – possibly the most evil geocache ever!  So you grab a thin taco soup plastic container, wrap some expensive camo duct tape you bought for this purpose and bury it under a pile of leaves by a rose bush in front of a super busy business.

You decide it will be a real challenge because the place is open 24 hours a day, so you give it a difficulty rating of 4 and a terrain of 3.5 because the bushes have demonic  thorns.  Figuring out what all is required on the submission page is a hassle, so you leave anything nonessential off and presto, it publishes 2 days later.

However, the day after you hid it the maintenance crews half-destroy your flimsy container and then comes a frog-strangling rain storm.  The FTF geocacher writes a less than flattering needs maintenance log, as the container was not only in terrible shape, the contents were unsignable, and the coordinates were off by 82.5 feet.  Your Smartphone provided the coordinates.

You are floored and seeing that your experience level is so low, you have no idea how to adjust the coordinates on the page or how to post an owner maintenance log.  Your hours at work suddenly keep you from trying to focus on repairing the cache and before you know it, the Reviewer disables and then archives your geocache, as 2TF claims the owner of the business complained. 

This sad scenario happens quite frequently.

I teach geocaching classes and recommend a newbie cacher find a minimum of 50 geocaches before attempting to hide one.  This gives them a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t as far as containers, locations, and camo go. has very good instructions on their page about requirements located here:  and it is not my intent to cover them in this primer.

I also have a 101 page located here:

What I do suggest is contacting an experienced geocacher in your area through their profile page and asking for help.  You can also attend a local geocaching event and meet other cachers who will gladly assist you.  I’ve been a geocacher since 2003 and own over 300 hides and I have a mentor.  I learn new stuff about the game all the time.

As far as containers go, let me give a couple of pointers.  Hide as large of a container as you can, avoiding nano and micro containers as much as possible.  Forget being sneaky and evil on your first few hides and remember, whatever you hide – you MUST maintain.  The large pill bottles that hold a 90 day supply are awesome free containers that will hold a travel bug or geocoin and can be listed as a SMALL container.  Attach a monofilament fishing line or a wire to the container and then wrap duct tape around it and spray paint it.

After creating the container, you will have to find a place a minimum of 529 feet away from another geocache.  There is a place for this on the submission page and if it passes this test, you are ready to go to step two and make sure you have permission to place it if it is not public land.  Try to pick a cool place for people to visit.  Spend a lot of time figuring this out.  Avoid trashy ugly areas just because they are open.

Next, remember that you must maintain it, so make sure this is not going to be a problem.  That’s another reason to not make the container too elaborate or spend a lot of money on it.  Now let’s say you live down a dirt road and you hide one at the end pretty close to your house.  There are no caches for 10 miles in any direction.  Don’t be disappointed when no one shows up to find it.  Instead hide one every 529 feet and suddenly you have visitors and it’s just as easy to maintain 10 as it is that lone cache.

Pill bottles are also fairly water-proof, so there is no real reason to put the log (you printed off the Internet) in a baggie.  The tether is to keep the container from walking off.  Follow the old acronym K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid) for a number of your first caches and as your experience level increases, you will have the confidence to make them more elaborate.

Add a hint to the cache page.  Something like “knee high” or “ground” to help newbies and those of us who just can’t seem to find it.  Leave the hint blank for your future evil hides.  By all means read everything you can on hiding geocaches before you hide one, but know this; you will soon find out what you did wrong.  Probably the first 20 caches I hid, I had to go back and repair them.  Any large heavy duty plastic container will make a good geocache, just insert a heavy-duty freezer bag inside it to water-proof the contents.

Avoid any vitamin bottle, as they neck down, making it difficult to retrieve the log.  Remember that your geo-name will be associated with your hide and protect it by maintaining your geocache.  When you find a trackable, drop it in your own cache and you will see more activity.  The last thing I want to cover is don’t forget that geocaching is a game and by all means have fun.

Rating a cache’s difficulty/terrain primer

Rating a cache’s difficulty/terrain primer
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

This is a difficult subject (get it?) because the degree of effort is based on our own personal experience.  A newbie will almost always rate their first caches too high. As an example, I’ve seen a light pole cache rated a 3/2 and the first time I found one, it was every bit of that.  I guess it took me 30 minutes to find it looking everywhere but there.

Groundspeak, the parent organization of has specific guidelines for rating a cache’s D/T difficulty located here:

Based on these guidelines about 90% of all caches located in the Houston area are over-rated… but, let’s take into consideration some other factors not listed to possibly justify our ratings.  First there are our high temperatures and soaking humidity.  A 3 difficulty here in July means a 2+ mile hike one way with moderate elevation changes and significant overgrowth.

Going after this lone cache may just be the only thing you do that day and I’m not exaggerating.  We are home to the Big Thicket of Texas and it makes the Georgia woods of the Walking Dead look like an expressway in some cases.  A pair of machetes working in tandem means you can tunnel through at about 2 feet per minute, as we experienced in August of 2014 five miles north of my house.

The terrain was mildly flat and by all appearances a 2 at best, but with the oppressive heat and the thorns, it bumped up both D/T ratings considerably.  The particular cache our intrepid group of 18 went after is “Baytown Bert’s a crying GC3B8ZZ” and 3 other caches.  The distance for all 4 wasn’t too extreme, but we all made the 5 mile round trip cut to pieces and exhausted.  We were done for the day. 

Now, if these 4 caches were located in most sections of wooded area, they could be 2.5/3 geocaches.  However, in this section of heavy thorns, each foot you go is by force and these 4 have very high D/T ratings you would have to experience to believe they are realistic.  The first one is 18 feet up a limbless tree in fact and there is a fake human skeleton lying at the base of the tree.

Another item to note is this is semi-swampy and here in East Texas this means feral hogs, coyotes, alligators, banana spiders, and venomous snakes and with our vanishing wooded areas, they are heavily populated.  In Anahuac, Texas I drove down a dirt road and stopped at a historic marker, as my Bride and I walked up to it, a huge alligator blasted off and into the trees and water behind it.  I can’t say which of was the most scared.

I marvel at the terrain ratings I see in the mountains and other places and have often thought about ours in comparison.  My geocaching friend Hans ter Beek (Dhaulaghiri) is from the Netherlands and has spent an extensive amount of time geocaching here and he can tell you how tough this area can be and he has the scars to prove it as do we all.  My friend Barbara Rush (barbara2015) all but poked her eye out the other night, geocaching near Wharton, Texas and she was in a city park!

In summary, what I usually do when I am looking at a geocache is see the experience of the hider.  If they are a veteran, I pretty much believe what I read.  When it comes to setting the D/T of a cache I am hiding, I use my personal knowledge of the area and how evil it is to set the ratings.

Now after mentioning an “evil hide” I have to define it.  A nano or bison in 17 acres of bamboo is not an evil hide.  It’s a mean hide and I hate them.  An evil hide is one that is in plain site, but other cachers do not recognize it.  That sentence pretty much sums it up nicely.  Remember that geocaching is a game and that the difficulty and terrain ratings especially should be taken seriously if you are physically challenged.

Each year we do a 11-14 mile hike through the Piney Woods of East Texas and inevitably people will post intent to do it, when wisdom should tell them it is a bad idea.  If you want to do a cache or attend an event that is physically exhausting, talk to people who have done it first, or start hitting the track and treadmill.

How to write a good geocaching log primer

How to write a good geocaching log primer
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

“I saw the difficulty and terrain rating was a 2/2, but I was feeling extra caching mojo this morning, so I decided what the heck?” and I parked a mile away.  I pulled out my pogo stick and proceeded to go across the corn field instead of taking the sidewalk…”

Let me say up front that I have written logs just like the one you just read and taken it to ridiculous extremes, but I don’t always do this.  At the very least I will write something like this:  “Was headed north this morning and used this neato cache to get out and stretch my legs!  Thank you for placing it for my geo-adventure.  SLTFTC!” and then I will upload a ridiculous photo of myself with my fake teeth grinning at the camera.

What’s the bid deal on posting more than one fellow who always signs his logs “NC”, which after 3000 finds, I find to be a bit rude?  Looking at his profile, I see all these finds and no hides and then I understand.  He hasn’t hidden any, so he doesn’t understand that possibly a lot of work went into building, placing, and maintaining it.

Without meaning to sound self-righteous, I want to point out something many geocaching veterans believe.  At some point in your caching experience, it is natural to want to give back to the game and at the very least, writing a proper log is one thing a cacher can do.

Contributing to the game can be placing caches, sending out trackables, hosting events, teaching classes, attending CITO’s, and mentoring newbies.  Personally and this may sound rude, I feel like by the time you’ve found 500 caches, you should be hiding some.  Otherwise you are just a game player, not a game contributor. Your mileage may vary, but that’s how I feel.

I have 354 geocaches hidden or events posted and have sent out 83 trackables.  Now granted a lot of these caches have been archived, but I still maintain a heckava lot of geocaches and regularly hide more.  I religiously maintain them too, so I am not just blowing smoke.  I teach classes and serve on the Board of the Texas Geocaching Association as the Southeast Texas Representative.  We SETX Geocachers, under my direction, have an adopt a highway stretch we clean quarterly.

Now to be considered a contributor, you don’t have to do all that.  No one knows your schedule or commitment but you and some of these things are simply beyond your scope, so what does that leave?

Logs.  Writing a proper log may be the only thing you can do to contribute right now.  I use GSAK, which is a wonderful program for geocachers.  I could easily upload the 46 geocaches I found today and write one script that describes what I did and then wham!  They all get published in one fell swoop…

But what about posting an amazing selfie on each cache page?  What about the corn field and the pogo stick?  What about the snake I saw or the wasp that chased me?  What about that important personal touch?  Nope.  I want to relive each cache as I write about it.

I have a friend, whose handle is Skunkonthefog.  At each cache he finds (and he only goes for caches that catch his attention), he will look around and write the first thing that comes to mind and often, his logs are hilarious.  LatitudeAttitude and + The Driver always write great logs and I delight in reading them.

So, raise your right hand and repeat after me.  “I promise to try and write better logs.  Amen.”  Oh, and one more thing, don’t forget that this is a game and a good one.  Have fun and relive your experience through your log.

How to raise the size and quality of your hides.

How to raise the size and quality of your hides.
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

I live in Baytown, Texas; a bustling blue-collar city on the Texas Gulf Coast.  It is fairly saturated with geocaches thanks to me and a number of accomplished cachers.  We usually get out and pick off new ones as they are published as well as logging down everything out to about 20 miles.

What this means is for many of us, we have to drive 30 to 60 minutes to get somewhere that there are enough unfound caches to make it worth the trip – or do not geocache at all.  You see?  We’ve found everything near our homes.  I have over 300 caches that I maintain and I think I’ve come upon the solution to this dilemma.

I will archive my common geocaches and start over and yes, I realize it will be a lot of work.  I’m thinking the best way to do this is one by one disable one listing, retrieve the old container (or box as the Brits are known to call it), repair or refurbish it, move it, rename it, and grab new cords.

Each replaced hide will give me a chance to enhance it, making it better, or harder, or cooler.  In the process I’ll get a better feel for what has worked and what hasn’t and make corrections.  Sure, it will take time, but time is something I have, as I am in this game for the long run.

I’ll take the opportunity to up-size every container I can, attempting to turn back the surge of micro-sized containers that are now common place even in the densest section of woods.  This has gotten so out of hand, that I’ve resorted to leaving travel bugs under LPC skirts or tie-wrapping them on a limb in the woods.

I will refrain from using a lamp post cover to hide anything and bite my lips real hard if I think a magnetic nano or a DNA tube is “really cool choice”.  I will recycle a pill bottle in lieu of purchasing a matchstick holder.  In fact, I will recycle any screw lid type substantial plastic container and insert a freezer bag inside over buying a new container online.

Seeing how I am and know other gym rats, I’ll ask them to save me their large protein containers to use as large and regular-size containers (read boxes).  A freezer bag makes the contents water-proof.  Wrap some duct tape around them and a little spray paint and they are good for about 3 years.

I’ve used 30# monofilament as a tether for a long time and eventually it fails due to exposure to the sun.  I can buy this wire-type fishing line that I think will last from here to yon and is almost invisible.  We pretty much have to tether our caches here because raccoons run off with them otherwise.  We also get a lot of rain and cachers grab the container, run to their car, do their duty, but can’t remember where they got it.  It can migrate considerably after one of these trips.

By the buy, did you know that if you are caching all day and stop and eat a juicy hamburger, you leave that scent on the next 10 caches you find?  Yup, you just baited it for raccoons.

In closing, I think I will do this and if the idea spreads, there should be a whole new set of geocaches appear.  Of course my favorited caches and those with high D/T ratings will remain and those that have a long history.  I’m proud of them.  The others are just caches.

Geocaching safety and a dose of common sense

Geocaching safety and a dose of common sense
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

I remember the day I decided that if I was going to geocache, I had to have a first aid kit with me.  I had scaled 18 feet up the side of a semi-demolished building in old Goose Creek, Texas to get one of aaronbarbee’s infamous soda tube trial caches.  The end of the wall was fired brick and razor sharp and I was cupping one with one hand and retrieving the container with the other when it dawned on my that I had no way to sign the log without a 3rd arm.

On my way down, soda tube in my mouth, I sliced through the palm of my hand on the sharp brick.  Now mind you, I could have fallen and broken no less than 27 bones, but I did not.  Instead I went to my cachemobile and found a rag to stop the flow of blood.  I signed the log and carefully made the 2nd climb, replaced the cache, and came down.

I learned two things that day.  One, I needed a first aid kit and two; Aaron Barbee is a twisted sadistic individual, even if he is my friend. 

Our chosen game has inherent risks; snakes, spiders, scorpions, ticks, chiggers, killer bees, hornets, wasps, not to mention falling down a slippery bayou bank into alligator-infested waters and I haven’t even left Texas.  Your area has these and more, most likely.

One risk we face in East Texas is briar patches.  I’m talking 7 layers of thorn briar patches.  Sometimes when I exit the woods, I look like I had been accosted by Freddy Krueger with a piranha in each hand.  One time I walked across an old dead layer of thorns and I was 4 feet above the ground.  My hands were so wet from sweat; I let a one inch branch slip out of my hand and knocked my front teeth out.

Safety is no joke while out in the wild, but that is not really what I want to discuss.  I want to talk about being aware of the greatest predator on earth, other humans.  I am a black belt with many years of training and have a concealed handgun permit and regularly carry a Glock Model 30 .45 ACP on my hip while caching.  I am a 2 time Vietnam Veteran and a graduate of the Baytown Citizens Police Academy and I am still wary and susceptible to mischief while caching.

I am a big guy of 240 pounds and I exercise regularly at the gym, often doing 5 Group X classes a week and yet under current conditions, I can still be mistaken for an easy target by crazed criminal druggies.  I live in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the US and we have our share of parasites and they freely walk among us.

Now, here we are, standing behind Home Depot or some other giant store and the woods in front of us has a geocache we want to find.  We park and locating device in hand we plunge blindly into said woods and what do we find but a tent and bunch of stuff that tells our senses someone is living there.  What should we do?

I’ll answer that one for you.  Go!  Get out and the sooner the better.  What kind of person camps in the woods behind Home Depot?  Right!  Probably not a reputable character.

More times than not I will find myself at the end of a dead end road looking for a bison tube on a red/white barrier.  No one is around and it is the perfect place for mischief.  While you look for the cache, keep one eye on the woods.  Sadly, one of the safest places to look for a cache is in downtown (name the city) on the Greensheet box where someone has hid a nano.

I often cache alone.  I watch my back due to my training, but many don’t and I fear it’s only a matter of time before one of us falls victim to one of these monsters.  When I am “way out there” I would rather see a feral hog than a human.  There is no predator more dangerous than a human.  The best advice I can give it to team up with other cachers.  The second best advice is to take precautions to defend yourself and by all means stay within the law.

I don’t want to die out there, I just want to find some caches and come home the same way I left.

Geocaching burn-out – it can happen

Geocaching burn-out – it can happen
By Bert Marshall (BaytownBert)
Southeast Texas Representative Texas Geocaching Association

“The old fire is gone, BB.  It just ain’t there no more.  I mean, I still love the game and all, but certain people have said certain stuff… and it hurts.  The events are all the same and I am weary of repairing the same old caches that keep getting muggled or destroyed and now it seems like no one is happy anymore.  Is there a remedy?”

I’ve heard this painful confession a number of times over the last year and I guess it’s time to address it.  Back 10 years or so, the game was played considerably different than it is now and some of the folks feeling this burn-out are the ones feeling it the most, as they’ve been at it the longest.  I know one couple that has 2000 finds they haven’t logged.   They are at a dark place.

Face it, Smart phone Apps have changed everything.  Some of it is good and it is indeed getting better, but initially it was quite a shock to see the online logs appear with nothing on them or published caches that were 150 feet off coords.  Smart phones and the digital age has allowed people to play the game with no more knowledge than the App they see on their tiny screen.

Many of us Vets were slow to embrace the dual technology of Smart phone Apps and our trusty GPSr’s.  Some actually resent the new technologies and those who have joined the game with no regard for old school protocol.  It is important here to note that the majority of newbies coming into the game are just as enthused as we were back 5-15 years ago and that brings us closer to solving the burn-out syndrome.

What has happened for many of us is we have forgot how exciting a FTF is, or discovering a trackable in a cache.  We’ve done it so many times; we simply log both and walk off.  The old “rush” we got is buried deep or forgotten.  A pathtag we find in a cache is pocketed and then discovered in the washing machine later.  We have become geocaching machines.

So, BB, what is the solution?  Quit caching?  Archive all of my caches and start bowling?   Join the Peace corps?  While these options are all honorable, why not simply re-fire?  Why not crank up the old enthusiasm?  Why not develop a plan to get back in the game?

Sounds great, but how?  That’s the ticket isn’t it?  Here is what I do.  I begin visiting my own geocaches and doing maintenance on them.  Believe it or not, I find this as fun as finding caches, I really do.  When I make these runs, I don’t just put a new log in them, I make a decision on whether to change the container to something better.  Sometimes I decide to archive that particular cache and place something new, so local cachers will have something new to look for.

It’s been my experience that when cachers meet too often, they become like families and eventually someone will say something offensive and then bitter feelings develop.  Avoid this at all costs, but if it has happened, put it behind you and move on.  If you’ve been caching a long time, you are a storehouse of knowledge on the game.  Consider hosting a geocaching 101 event.  I promise this is a fantastic way to energize not only you, but those who help you teach.  On top of that, when one of your students blasts off and becomes a productive geocacher, you will feel like a million pathtags!

Somewhere down the many cache trails, we forgot how fun the game can be.  The game IS fun.  It’s a LOT of fun and maybe we need to remind ourselves that those numbers mean nothing.  Bumping your total count by 1000 on a power trail may look impressive to others, but it is in the journey with friends that really make it special.  It’s the journey, not the numbers that count.

Find friends who enjoy your company and go caching together.  There is nothing like caching with friends to kindle the old fires and while we are at it, remember this is just a sweet game and remember to have a good time.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Eschew violence, embrace peace, but keep your powder dry

I live in peace; a relative peace that is. I do not violate the law; well, I speed now and again, so in some ways I do not 100% follow the letter of law, but pretty much I do. I pay taxes, I stay in my own lane, I stop at stop signs and I do not have a police record. In fact I just completed the Baytown Citizen’s Police Academy and didn’t bore everyone with the details by writing about something my friend Natalie Whatley covered in detail.
Graduate class of the Baytown Citizens Police Academy. November 2015
I took my first karate lesson in 1972 and have never been in a “fist fight” since. I have been in many conflicts since, but I outsmarted my adversary by making myself to be a poor choice of a target and this is or should be the true aim of every martial artist. Now, as a senior citizen, I realize I am not as fast as I once was and have taken steps to legally carry a firearm.

I eschew violence and embrace peace, but am not ignorant, stupid, blind, or have this ridiculous idea that mankind is inherently good. When I see a person dressed as a clown, who looks like a clown, acts like a clown, is portraying what I believe to be a clown – I call them a clown and make no apology.

When the newspapers, Drudge Report, Google News and other news outlets continually warn me about extremist groups operating under the umbrella of religion, it is very difficult for me to separate myself from those who practice this dogma and claim it is a religion of peace. The reason I feel this way is the peaceful faction is totally quiet.  To me quiet equates to complicity. Why the news programs are not overran with stories of open condemnation of ISIS by American Muslims is confusing.

If any reasonably intelligent person cannot see that Europe is being invaded by Muslims so they can take over those countries, you are frankly deceived, ignorant, or plainly stupid. European tolerance has been used against them. Now, they are in panic mode.  The Islamic plan is one of conquest and it has nothing to do with serving God, as Christians understand God.

I have another observation and this one is not peaceful. This country was founded on rebellion and this country will not sit idly by and let this kind of terrorism go unnoticed and undefended.  It will swing violently against people who practice this false dogma and be a literal blood bath. Many innocent people, including women and children will suffer a horrible fate due to the constant edict of intolerance from the leaders who embrace spreading this religion.

Party girl suicide bomber
Hasna Ait Boulahcen
The Internet is chock full of YouTube recordings of Imams calling for the killing of infidels and I am not talking about the Middle East. I am talking about here in our country. The incredible influx of “refugees” entering Europe has swamped their resources.  Now, in desperation, they are admitting these people are migrating and 90% are men between the ages of 18 to 25.

The FBI currently is watching 900 Muslim extremists on our own soil.  900! This is 2 or 3 battalions of troops if they were assembled. How many more are secreted here in cells, we have no idea. How many RPG rockets would it take to be fired at one of our chemical plants before we realized we are at war?

Please, if you have your head in the sand, which I do not believe you do, recognize that it will happen here. If you want to be politically correct, that is fine. It is your right to believe what you want, but don’t ask me to bring my assault rifle to your house to protect you when everything goes south in your world. I’ll be busy defending my own home.

I am reminded of the Denver couple who was vehemently against guns and moved to Los Angeles. The first week the wife was mugged. Two weeks later they came home and all their possessions were gone. Two months later they were both carrying firearms.  It suddenly became real and all their lofty ideals of tolerance and world peace went out the same window as their possessions.

What happened in Paris can and will happen here; it’s simply a matter of time. We need to slam shut new immigration into this country right now. We need to aggressively examine those who are in this country illegally and round up any and all until we find a solution to this problem. Anything else is just a form of amnesty to crime. Viewing illegal’s as anything other than criminals has got us in this fix. If you have entered this country illegally, you ARE a criminal and I don’t care how many kids you have spawned after you got here.

You may not be a law-breaker in many ways and you may work hard and contribute to the American way of life, but face it – you broke the laws of the land to get here and you have stayed. I am all for letting people with Green Cards remain in this country. I am for it 100%, but everyone here illegally needs to come forward and I think most real Americans feel the same way.