June 1, 2019

Tweetsie Trail – Lion’s Field to Johnson City and back

  • 8.86 miles
  • 3:21 duration
  • 386 elevation gain
  • 376 elevation loss
  • 76° L/80° H
  • 10 traditional geocaches found
  • 1 EarthCache found
  • 1 mystery cache found
  • 1 DNF (did not find)

After a breakfast meeting on Monday morning, I headed to Elizabethton with the BAT-bike. I wanted to ride the Tweetsie Trail and find some of the caches that I had not previously found.

The Tweetsie Trail is a rails-to-trails project connecting Elizabethton and Johnson City, TN. It follows the route of the historic East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, affectionately know as the “Tweetsie” because of the whistle of the steam locomotives. The trail is constructed of crushed stone packed hard making it easy to ride. It is a wide trail with a gentle grade, making it a popular spot for walkers, runners, and bicyclists.

When the trail was first completed in 2014 I was excited. I had visions of taking my bicycle to work and riding the trail during my lunch hour. My boss at the time, Walter, regularly rode the trail from his home in the Tree Streets neighborhood of Johnson City. However, I never managed to ride the trail, although I walked parts of it a couple of times in search of geocaches.

After my office moved to Boones Creek, I no longer had the opportunity to ride during lunch. I participated in a Cache In Trash Out (CITO) event on the trail in 2016. A CITO event is a gathering of geocachers to pick up trash in a specific area.

I recently thought of the trail again, and decided to plan a bike trip there. On a sleepless night I looked at the geocaching map and planned my trip. I remembered Walter telling me that there is an uphill stretch nearing the end of the trail in Johnson City, so decided that I would start in Elizabethton, riding to Johnson City and back so I wouldn’t have to end with the uphill ride. I would stop for geocaches on the way to Johnson City, and then ride non-stop back to Elizabethton. I even found a puzzle cache on the map and took time to solve it ahead of time so that I would have the coordinates I needed to find it.

I parked near the Lion’s Field ballpark in Elizabethton for the start of my journey. The trail continues on through Elizabethton, but there are not that many caches right along the trail, so I didn’t want to ride it on this trip. When I began my journey at 11:45 am, the temperature was a moderate 76° and there was a nice breeze blowing.

Just a short distance from the start was the first cache that I wanted to find. This cache was named “This ones 4 the Girls” and was dedicated to friends and relatives of the cache owner who are battling breast cancer. It was a good-sized plastic container hidden a few feet into the tree line next to the trail. I found it, signed the log, replaced it and hopped back on my bike to continue onward.

My next stop was for a cache “Tweetsie Trail – No Horses?”, hidden by Reis’s Pieces (Scott). This name is in reference to the fact that horses are not allowed on this trail, a fact that was hotly debated when it opened. Horse enthusiasts felt slighted, while walkers and bicyclists did not want to dodge the “ahem” droppings that horses leave behind. The title also refers to the fact that a horse farm borders both sides of the trail. The cache was last found December 11, 2016.

There were no horses in sight when I stopped. The location was a wooded area between the trail and the fence for the horse farm that was about 20 feet wide. The first few feet were very steep, dropping from the trail bed down to the level of the field. The hint said that the cache was “under the metal.”

I saw two pieces of metal. One was about 50 feet from the coordinates and was just lying on the ground with nothing under or around it. The other was a rusty, round lid, about 19” in diameter. It was lying on the hillside near the posted coordinates. There were many nooks and crannies in the rocks and I searched them all, digging through the leaves and other debris. I figured that since it had been 2 1/2 years since it was last found, the usual forest debris could have buried it well.

Not finding the cache, I took a picture of the round piece of metal and sent it to the nCo members chat. I asked if anyone who had found the cache could tell me if that was the correct piece of metal. I specifically tagged Scott, the cache owner hoping he could help me.

Rather than wait around for an answer, I got back on my bike and continued up the trail. I had already burned about 25 minutes searching for the cache.

The next cache on my list for the day was up a steep hillside next to the trail. The cache page said it was in a hollow stump, and I spotted said stump from the trail. I carefully made my way up to it, and quickly found the cache; a small tin box. Going back down the hill was even more fun than going up, but I safely made it back to my bike.

Riding a little further along the trail, I arrived at the next cache, this one hidden by Got Fossils? (Jerome). Thankfully, it was an easy grab; a magnetic key holder on a sign post. Jerome has been very busy lately and unable to do any geocaching, so finding one of his hides is always a treat.

SIDEBAR: One of the projects keeping Jerome busy is his brand new store in downtown Jonesborough called the Crystal Raven. If you haven’t visited this fun and unique store, you need to!

From this point on, caches that I had already found were interspersed with newer ones that I still needed. I was happy to pass by the ones I had already logged.

My next stop was for an EarthCache created by KickenChicken (Treavor). It was the site of an abandoned quarry. This quarry was opened in 1902 by the Cranberry Furnace Company. It provided lime that was transported along the Tweetsie Railroad to the Johnson City Iron Foundry. It is now filled with water, making it a beautiful spot along the trail.

The Cranberry Furnace Company in Johnson City also smelted iron ore from materials mined in the Cranberry Mine in Avery County, North Carolina. These materials were the subject of the EarthCache, and examples of them surrounded a nearby informational sign. I collected the info I needed, took a picture of myself and Signal the Frog, and then made my way toward the next cache.

Hunting for the next cache involved going up and over a hill next to the trail, pushing through heavy foliage on the downhill slope. I searched the area for about 15 minutes without success and finally gave up, returning to my bike. I didn’t like it sitting by the trail out of my sight for very long.

Back on the BAT-bike, I passed a little wooden shed with General Store on the front. It didn’t look old enough to have actually been a store, but it was cute, especially with the remains of a tractor in the yard.

Although the day was growing a little warmer, the trail was nicely shaded. I never felt overheated, and enjoyed the breeze as I rode along. I had plenty of water with me to stay hydrated, and Signal rode in the bottle holder with it.

The next stop was more successful. I found the small cache here in a hollow space of a tree, covered in poison ivy. I had not been able to see the hollow because of the vines covering it, and wasted some time approaching the tree from all directions searching for the cache. In the end, I found it while standing on the trail.

Another .3 up the trail I stopped for another cache. Again I had to climb a little ways uphill from the trail. I spent longer looking for this one than expected, but finally spotted it. Retrieving it proved difficult as I had to carefully maneuver it out of its hiding spot, but I finally had it in hand. While I was there, I heard bicycles approaching on the trail. One woman said, “Where is the person belonging to that bike?” Just as I started to say, “I’m up here,” She said, “Oh! I wonder what he’s doing up there?”

When I arrived at the location for the next geocache, I took some time to read the previous finder’s log before attempting it. The last person to find it was my friend Lob the Huntsman (Ray). He wrote, “Dude-WOW! You made me work for this one. This is one of the best crafted and executed caches that I have found so far.” He also mentioned that perhaps the difficulty and terrain rating may need to be higher. I groaned because Ray proved last week during our paddle on the Watauga River that he is half monkey, half mountain goat.

Looking toward the cache location, I could see it was up a steep embankment. The hint said “Amongst the tentacles; careful what you toss aside.” I could see at the top of the bank a tree with a beautiful intertwining root system and immediately knew what “amongst the tentacles” meant. I carefully climbed up toward them.

Fortunately, I spotted the cache immediately. I first caught a glimpse of orange, and then saw letters and numbers etched into the side of a piece of wood. The cache was an orange waterproof match container embedded in the end of a stick of wood. The etching on it was the GC code; a series of numbers and letters that are assigned to every geocache.

I happily signed the log, and then made my way back down the hill even more slowly than I had ascended. I now had a ride of about .8 mile to the next cache.

It was called Tweetsie Trail Triple, and when I arrived I realized it referred to a grouping of three benches. I quickly made the assumption that the cache was hidden under a rock that was sitting under one of the benches, but I was wrong. Not finding it there, I checked the cache page and learned that it was hidden under a nearby bush.

As I was logging the cache, I noticed a young couple with a toddler slowly making their way along the trail toward me. He was looking closely at his phone, and I thought maybe they were fellow geocachers. However, they walked on by and I realized that he simply wasn’t able to unplug long enough to take a relaxing walk with his family.

I noticed that it was close to 2:00 and realized I had not eaten any lunch. I sometimes get so involved in an activity like this that I forget to eat. I sat down on one of the benches to have a snack, and then hopped back on my bike in search of more adventure.

The next cache was a quick find – a skinny little container hidden in some rocks around a culvert. I normally do not enjoy rock hides, but I somehow found this one in the first place I looked.

I soon arrived at the trestle crossing Highway 321. This four lane highway connects Johnson City and Elizabethton, and much of the Tweetsie Trail runs parallel to it. This is the only place where the trail crosses the highway. The builders of the trail used the existing train trestle to construct a very nice bridge here.

The next cache is hidden under this trestle. This appears to be a popular hangout spot for late night parties, and several muggles have discovered the cache and signed the log book. Their names and dates are interspersed with those of the geocachers who have found it. Previous online logs for this cache have mentioned finding pills in the container so some of those muggles have apparently not been very kind.

Next up was the mystery cache that I had solved a few days earlier. Created by Scott, this puzzle involved looking up various famous trains and using the numbers on the locomotives to determine the coordinates. When I arrived at the location I found that I had to climb yet another steep embankment. This one was covered with large rocks that threatened to slide under my feet. I made it up and checked several locations before finally finding the cache. Once again, I safely made it back down to my bike, climbed aboard, and continued riding.

There was only one more cache I had not yet logged, an EarthCache near the trailhead in Johnson City. I stopped to look at the informational signs for it and took some time to look at the rock walls on each side of the trail. Unfortunately, once I was home that evening logging caches, I realized I had missed gathering some important pieces of information, so I will need to revisit this one in the future.

I pedaled on to the trailhead to take a photo with the sign that arches over the trail. I then turned around and retraced my route back toward Elizabethton. It had taken me two hours and 55 minutes to ride to the trailhead, stopping along the way for geocaches.

There had been a bit of uphill toward the trailhead, so now I sped back down it. I paused once for a drink of water, and another time to take a photo of the beautiful countryside and the mountains in the distance. It took me just 25 minutes to get back to the location of the cache I had not been able to find near the start of my journey.

During my ride I had heard back from Scott who said that the metal referred to in the hint was a piece of metal roofing. I didn’t remember seeing anything like that, but decided to stop for another look. As I got off my bike I hear a whinny on the opposite side of the trail. Peering through the trees I saw two beautiful horses grazing in the field.

I went back down into the wooded area to look for the cache. Since the only other piece of metal I had seen earlier was a rectangular, flat piece, I decided to go back and look at it again. There was still nothing under it, but as I turned to walk away from it, I spotted something in a hole between some rocks about seven feet away. I walked over, knelt and peered in. There it was!

I stamped the log sheet, and took a picture to show this cache resurrection. Two and a half years since it was found, and a well-earned smiley on my map. After rehiding the cache, I picked up the piece of metal and leaned it against the rocks the cache was hidden between to make it easier for the next hunter.

It was just a short ride from here to the car. By the time I arrived, I had ridden nearly nine miles and found 12 geocaches. I call that a very productive day!

EPILOGUE

After finishing my journey, I decided to travel some back roads toward the town of Watauga to look for some caches near the area where we typically end our paddle trips. I was only a couple of miles away when my phone signaled that a couple of new caches had just been published. I fretted for a couple of minutes until I found a safe place to pull over. One cache was between Johnson City and Erwin but it was the second one that caught my eye.

I remembered a conversation a couple of nights before at a geocaching event hosted by Rudekoolaid (Angela). She mentioned that a new cache was coming soon that was named after someone. I said, “Someone at this table?” She replied yes, and added that the title also included, “Don’t drop it.”

Since I have quite the reputation in the local geocaching community for dropping things, I knew this cache would be named for me. Sure enough, my email notification was for a cache called, “Don’t drop it Antbedy.” It was located on the far side of Kingsport. According to my GPS it would take me 36 minutes to drive there. But, I had to do it!

I made the drive, and pulled into a parking lot near the cache. I didn’t see anyone around, so if I had been beaten to the cache they were long gone. As I had driven in I had noticed a large culvert under the road. I checked the map, and it looked as if the cache was in the middle of that road. One of the attributes assigned to the cache was “flashlight required” so I made my way to the entrance of the culvert.

Thankfully, it was dry and was tall enough for me to walk through upright. Halfway through, I spotted the cache hanging from the ceiling. Knowing what I had to do, I turned on my phone’s video camera to do a “live report.” I stated that I was at the scene of the new Rudekoolaid hide and hoped to be First to Find. I set the phone down so that I could unscrew the container from its lid (which was attached to the ceiling). As I got it unscrewed, I “accidentally” dropped it on the ground and made a big show of picking it back up.

With great anticipation, I checked the log sheet and YES! It was blank! Score one more first to find for butterfingered antbedy! After finishing my business here, I sent the video report to my nCo buds, and then returned to the car.

I looked at the map and saw that there was another geocache very close by, this one hidden by BackWoodsAng. I found it, and then thought about what I should do next. I had heard from Deban who was out of town that it would be late when she returned, so there was no rush to get home.

I remembered there being three caches at Domtar Park that I had never logged, despite driving by there frequently. I decided to stop there on my drive home and tackle them.

The first was an easy park and grab hidden by RedRider99 (Lois). There were tons of people around because all of them ball fields had baseball games. But, no one paid attention to me as I logged the cache.

I then drove to the other side of the park to look for a cache that had not been found in almost two years. It was hidden in a wooded area next to the river. I spent a lot of time in these woods searching for the cache to no avail. I reached out for help through the member chat, and then exited the woods. The first stage of a multi cache was just .2 mile away, so I walked in that direction.

As I was walking, I got a text from Redn3ck (Steven) offering what little he remembered about the cache I had not been able to find. We continued to exchange texts as I collected the info needed for the multi, and as I sat to calculate the final coordinates. I knew from the cache page that the final stage was about eight miles away, so I did not plan to find it today. However, I stored the coordinates in my phone so that I could go find it another day.

Armed with the knowledge Steven had shared, I went back into the woods to give the cache another look. Had told me that he remembered it being in the fork of a tree. The tree nearest the coordinates had a fork, but no cache was in sight. It and the area around it was covered by poison ivy, so I had to be very careful in my search.

After several minutes, I finally decided to give up. I was tired of walking through poison ivy and briars, swatting mosquitos (the bug spray I had applied before starting my bike ride had been sweated away by now) and walking through spider webs. I felt like things were crawling all over me. When I exited the woods, my clothes were covered with stuff. I don’t know how else to describe it. White particles, spider webs, twigs, leaves… I itched all over and wanted nothing more than to get home and take a long shower.

So, in all I logged 15 1/2 geocaches for the day – the half being the first stage of a two-part multi. I had resurrected a cache, and scored a First to Find. It was a terrific day!

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