January 12, 2020

Erwin Linear Trail

  • 13.29 miles
  • 3:57 duration
  • 265 foot elevation gain
  • 4 geocaches found

I was invited to ride the Erwin Linear Trail on this beautiful Sunday afternoon by my brothers-in-law Maverick and Patrick. Patrick recently scored big by finding a great bike at a thrift store, and after some new tires and a few minor adjustments was ready to try it out.

I was happy to pump up the tires on the BAT-bike and go for a ride. I ride the recumbent stationary bike at home several times a week, but it is much more enjoyable to get out in the fresh air and feel the breeze as you ride.

We met at noon at the trailhead closest to Food City in Erwin. This put us at roughly the midway point of the four-mile long trail. We chose to ride south toward Temple Hill.

The Erwin Linear Trail is paved and mostly flat with a few gentle hills. It runs parallel to Interstate 26 and much of the way it follows waterways: South Indian Creek, Martin Creek and even the Nolichucky River. I have visited this trail a few times in the past, either riding it or walking it to find most of the caches along the way.

It was a beautiful spring-like day, unseasonably warm for January. When we began our ride it was sunny and 57°. There had been heavy winds and rain the night before, but today the skies were cloudless and blue and the winds were calm.

We rode at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery along the way. At one point I looked behind me to see that the guys had stopped, so turned and pedaled back to them. They had stopped on one of the bridges to gaze into the creek below.

Back on our bikes, we passed a large, cleared area with lush, green grass and a new, black chain-link fence around it. Maverick told me this is a new dog park. The gate was chained and locked, so it apparently isn’t open quite yet.

Just past the dog park is a nice playground. I knew that this was the starting location for a multi-cache that I had never had the chance to log, but not wanting to subject the guys to it, I kept riding. They are muggles and today’s journey was for riding, not caching. I also figured I could come back later and do it alone.

In addition to this multi cache, there were three mystery caches I had never done, and two new traditional caches that were hidden since I last came here. I had solved one of the mysteries at home the night before and knew that it was near the end of the trail in the direction we were riding. The other two mysteries required you to actually visit the location of the posted coordinates and solve a field puzzle to learn the final coordinates.

We continued riding, enjoying the day and friendly conversation along the way. There were many people along the trail, most of them walking. We saw only a few other bike riders, and a couple of runners along the way.

As we emerged from the wooded portion of the trail, it was bordered on one side by the interstate and the other by a city street. I spotted something ahead of us and asked Patrick and Maverick, “Are you hungry? Do you want a hot dog or hamburger?”

We speculated that this must be the company that makes the “food” for Pal’s, and that there must be a new Pal’s being built somewhere. For those who aren’t familiar, Pal’s is a local chain of mostly drive-thru restaurants, easily identifiable by the huge hot dog, hamburger and french fries on their front. I was tempted to climb on top of the hot dog for a photo op, but felt sure that this would be frowned upon by local authorities.

The trail was soon surrounded by woods again, with a large marshy area on one side. We stopped on another bridge that crossed the edge of this marsh. There was a large pond on the opposite side from the marsh. We spent some time here, watching the water and spotting small fish swimming below us. We also noticed a white egret nearby, but it was too far away to get a decent photo.

We continued along the trail until it ended near a home with a large kennel next to it. In the kennel were several dogs, all of the same breed, that barked noisily at us as we passed. They were some type of hounds, perhaps bear-hunting dogs.

We turned around and headed back. I decided to stop for one geocache – the mystery that I had solved the night before. The guys gamely helped me look for it. The coordinates pointed at an overgrown area next to the trail, reaching about 10 feet to a fence. We walked back and forth along the trail, trying to determine what would be a good hiding spot in that area.

Patrick said he remembered helping me look for a cache several years ago in Cuba, New Mexico during our cross-country RV trip. I told him I think of that hunt often because it shows up in my statistics as the highest elevation cache I have found.

I finally spotted a corner of the cache peeking out from a pile of sticks and leaves. It was under a canopy of bare poison ivy vines, so I carefully crawled under, trying not to touch any of them. I have learned the hard way in the past that you can have a reaction after coming into contact with the vines, even when you don’t see the tell-tale trio of leaves.

I stamped my name on the log, and managed to crawl back out without any adverse effects. I did say I would probably shower in Dawn dishwashing liquid when I got home – just in case. It helps to remove the oils that cause a rash on your skin.

We stopped on our ride back to our starting point at a gazebo next to the trail. It was nice to rest there for a while in the shade, drink some water and have a snack. I shared with them some of the delicious Nice brand bacon jerky that I had brought. I love that stuff!

We also joked about a father and very small son that were riding toward us on bicycles. Patrick said that they were members of a rival biker gang and the young boy was actually an evil killer named Spike. We all had a good laugh when they rode past us and we saw that the boy had spikes on his bicycle helmet. It was very fitting for the name Patrick had given him.

When we began riding again, the temperature had warmed up to the mid-60s. We actually worried a bit about getting sunburned, but it felt good to be riding in short sleeves.

We were soon back at our starting point, and decided to ride the other way on the trail since it was still early. We continued past our vehicles, passed under the busy interstate exit, and were soon next to the large ponds that border the trail. I pointed out a small island as we passed, and told the guys how I had waded to it in order to be First to Find a cache hidden there several years ago. That had happened on a coolish spring day, but I took off my shoes and pants, wading through the knee deep water wearing bike shorts. When I arrived at the cache, I realized that my pen was in the pocket of the pants I had left on shore, so I had to wade back across to get it, sign the log, and then cross again to take it back. That was a fun adventure in my early days of caching.

The guys had not been on this part of the trail before, and enjoyed it. At points it winds far enough away from the interstate that the noise of vehicles is more distant and you are surrounded by nature.

Along another stretch is a tall wooden fence separating the trail from the houses along it. I remembered a previous trip searching for quite a while for a cache that was hidden there. I had thought it might be in one of the knots on the wooden fence, but it had turned out to be at the base of a tree covered by leaves.

Eventually, we neared the north end of the trail and paused to decide whether to continue. Maverick told us that they have now extended the trail to Fishery Park, so we decided to keep riding to see the new section.

I was surprised and pleased to see a new tunnel under the highway, built just for the trail. The last time I rode here, I parked at Fishery Park and had to ride up the road, cross the busy highway, and down the other side to start the trail. This is a much better alternative.

We rode through the tunnel and on to the park. Maverick and I followed Patrick around the outskirts of the park to the pool on the back side. We then left the pavement and rode along the grass to a duck pond.

We enjoyed a nice rest here as the guys reminisced about childhood trips to this pond.

When we left the pond, we rode back to the trail and followed it back toward our starting point. We stopped for a photo op at the tunnel.

Once we were back at the parking area where we had started, the guys were ready to end their ride and get some lunch. I opted to ride south again to find the caches I needed on that stretch of trail.

I stopped at the beginning of the multi cache and read the instructions. The multi cache uses signs created as part of an Eagle Scout project. To find the cache you must move from one stage to the other, collecting information from the signs that will give you the coordinates for the final location.

This Eagle Project is a replica of the solar system. It starts at a sign denoting the position of the sun, and then as you travel along the trail you will find additional signs marking the position of the planets in our solar system in relation to their distance from the sun.

I had pointed out these signs to Patrick and Maverick earlier in the day as we rode by. Being young men, they had joked about trying to find “Uranus”. This planet was not one of the ones that I needed to visit in order to find the cache. Instead, I visited the signs for the five planets that are closest to the sun.

Once I had collected the info to determine the coordinates, I saw that the final location was very close to the last sign I had visited. I left my bike next to it and walked over to find the cache. It was a clever container – a blue bowling ball (signifying Earth) that had a tube with a lid inserted in the thumb hole. Inside that tube was the log sheet that I signed to show I had found the cache.

After signing the log, I continued riding along the trail toward the first traditional cache that I needed to log. It was hidden near a bridge. I stopped and parked my bike near the end of the bridge and began searching for the cache. This was not easy to do, as there were many people walking, running and biking by.

The hint for the cache was “Under (Not what you think).“ Right at the posted coordinates was a lamp post with a skirt. I thought maybe the hint meant it was there rather than under the bridge. I had to wait for a bit with my bike leaned against that lamp post until there were no muggles in sight. I was finally able to lift the lamp skirt and look, but there was no cache there.

I then looked under the bridge, but still didn’t find it. I hung around a little while, looking through the previous logs hoping to find a clue. Finally, I decided to send a message to a previous finder to see if she could help me. This is a cacher I have never met, but she and I have traded messages several times whenever one of us is stumped on a cache that the other has found.

I decided to ride on down the trail while waiting for her to answer, so that I could find the other traditional cache that I had passed up earlier in the day. Along the way I stopped to take pictures of some pretty benches next to the trail. I’m surprised these have grown legs and walked away.

The other cache was also near a bridge, but was much easier to find. It was an ammo can, hidden in a grove of bamboo. Once I had signed the log, I checked my messages and saw that my caching friend had replied with a bit more of a hint: “It’s below your feet but not under the bridge.” That was enough of a hint to give me a good idea of where to find it. I jumped back on my bike and headed back toward the cache to search again.

Along the way, I saw a sign flash past me as I rode, and on it read the planet name “Uranus.” Since we had joked about that planet earlier in the day, I decided to turn around and take a picture of the sign to send to Patrick and Maverick.

I turned toward the left, intending to circle through the grass next to the paved trail and double back. As my front tire left the trail, it suddenly hit a dip in the grass that caused it to fold back toward the rest of the bike like an 18 wheeler jackknifing. Without warning I found myself flying simultaneously flipping over the handlebars, while entangling my feet in the pedals and frame of the bike.

My first instinct after landing in the grass was to look around and see if anyone witnessed my spectacular crash. Seeing no one close by, I breathed a sigh of relief. I then picked myself up and checked for damage. The bike was fine, and I seemed to only have a few future bruises where my shins hit the pedals and my body impacted the ground. I was very thankful I had landed on grass instead of pavement. I was pretty sore later that night, but at least I didn’t break anything.

As I picked up my bike and climbed back on, an older woman passed me on the trail. I greeted her with what I hoped was a cheerful and nonchalant “hello!”. Either she had missed seeing my crash, or was too polite to laugh in my face, but she returned my greeting and continued on her way.

I pedaled back to take a photo of the sign, and then turned much more carefully to head back along the trail toward the cache I had looked for earlier.

With the nudge I had received from my caching friend earlier, I found it quickly this time. She had confirmed that it wasn’t under the bridge or the lamp post skirt, so there weren’t many other places it could be.

Once I had signed the log, I continued my ride. I stopped once more at the playground that had been the start of the solar system multi cache. This was also the location of one of the puzzle caches I still needed to find.

This puzzle and the other both required visiting the site of a tree. It then required you to determine the species of that tree and answering questions about it to learn the location of the cache.

I was somewhat sure of the species of tree I was looking at, but since there were no leaves on it, I couldn’t be 100% certain. I decided to save these caches for a time of year when I could more reasonably answer the questions, and call it a day.

I continued riding toward the place I had parked my truck. By the time I arrived there, I had been riding for nearly four hours, and a total of just over 13 miles. I was feeling pretty saddle sore, but happy for a great day of riding and caching.

I loaded up my bike in the truck, and then drove around Erwin to grab a couple more caches that have been hidden since my last visit here.

This turned out to be a very productive caching day, as well as a great day of riding. Where will the BAT-bike take me next?

One thought on “January 12, 2020

  1. Gosh! Cycling and caching in short sleeves! It must have been warm. Like the idea of the solar system multi. I am not usually very fond of multis, they can go wrong so easily. At the moment I am trying to find 100 Ulster multis for the 100 Ulster Multi Challenge Cache. So far, I have found 97 so am nearly there. Hope you’ve recovered from falling off your bike. Happy caching!

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