Monday, 17 August 2015

55 hours in Seattle

2015 Geocaching Block Party

We started planning our trip to America last October, we were keen to attend the Block Party sometime but decided that this year we would go on a road trip to New York state then next year (2016) visit Seattle and attend the Block Party.  So we booked our flights to New York for the end of September and started making plans.  Soon afterwards, it was announced that 2015 would be the final Block Party. Our flights and hotel in NYC were non cancel-able.  Somewhat disappointed we dismissed the idea of going as we didn't have any more holiday left to book from work and the expense of another trip to the US was also a major factor.

The months passed and the will attends for the block party were rolling in, so after a lot of umming and ahhing we decided it would be a real shame to miss out on attending what was to be the last ever Block Party and that it would be really cool if we could attend. After a lot of discussion it was decided that one of us should go and Donna said that as it would take her far longer to recover from a stupidly short trip that I should go by myself.  I wasn't over-keen at first as we prefer to travel together and share the experience but decided it was this or nothing so it had to be done.

Now what?

The plan was to fly from Heathrow on Friday 14th , stay in a cheap hostel for two nights and fly back on Sunday the 16th arriving in Heathrow around lunchtime Monday 17th.  So, that’s how it was that I ended up going by myself.  Far from ideal…


Friday 14th 

Woke up to heavy rain at 02:00 and set off from home at about 02:30.  Far earlier than I needed to but I couldn’t sleep.  I Stopped off to find  a couple of caches en route in order to qualify for some ‘find two caches a long distance apart on the same day’ challenges.

Arrived at Heathrow Terminal 5 long stay car park and got on the shuttle bus to the terminal with my large bag. 'What large bag?' I hear you ask.  Well, as I was only going to be in Seattle for two nights and didn’t need the 23kg checked in baggage allowance, I decided to take my folding bike.  We’d taken the bikes with us to Spain last year and found them really useful.

I’d planned to get as much sleep as possible on the plane but that was not really possible due to the couple with three young children occupying the two seats next to me and the three behind. Goodness knows why they had to talk so loudly and make so many visits to the toilet.  Anyway, arrived in Seattle on time and headed to the car hire desk a short shuttle bus drive away.

I’d booked a car with Sixt and after booking it I was a bit apprehensive because the reviews were appalling.  However, I really couldn’t fault them.  As usual, I’d booked the smallest/cheapest  car possible. I was offered a Mercedes C class for just an extra $50 per day.  No thanks and I was then given a free upgrade to a 4WD Volvo V60. Not bad, not bad...
‘Is it Petrol or diesel?’ I asked.
Puzzled look. Erm… ‘Is it gasoline or diesel?’ – still puzzled
‘It is gas or diesel?’ – ‘oh right! Yeah regular gas’
That’s that cleared up then


I loaded my stuff in and started the engine and a warning light came on telling me to switch off.  Oh dear.  I went and told the car hire bod (who looked and sounded like Fred Durst ) what the problem was  and he gave me the keys to a 250bhp turbocharged Volvo S80 T5! Awesome!

Oh Yeah!

Right now the fun really starts.

For some time I had been planning which caches to do, apart from the obvious ones, but I had to adjust my plans when I found out there was to be 65 lab caches.

First stop Georgetown area. The rain was relentless and really put a dampener on things as I’d planned to park up and whizz around the EXPLORE GEORGETOWN lab caches by bike but it was so wet that I just had to drive round and hop out the car to do them.  I then moved onto the next SEATTLE ADVENTURE lab caches  but the traffic was horrendous by now and I decided it was time to head northwards to Geocaching HQ area.  Couldn’t find anywhere to park so continued on to Kerry Park View point for the amazing views I’d heard so much about…. only, there wasn’t an amazing view – it was awful

The amazing view

Yep that's me fed up of the rain
Feeling somewhat disappointed, I decided to go and find a few more of the more distant QUIRKY SEATTLE TOUR lab caches,  a Letterbox  Hybrid and  a Virtual cache

The evening Geocaching International Film Festival - GIFF event was cancelled due to flooding in Gas Works Park. Oh great! Soon afterwards, I got notified of plans to meet up with a few other cachers at the Fremont Brewery (the location of  an event the previous night) so I thought I might as well pop along and say 'hello'.

Soon afterwards, the weather brightened up a lot so I set of to do the BALLARD AT NIGHT series of lab caches by bike. It was a set of sixteen but I had to stop when it just got too dark, also I was feeling very tired (odd that).  Drove back downtown to the hostel and checked in.

There was no parking  for the hostel but they had a $5 off  arrangement with a nearby car park meaning it would be $18 for 24 hrs. I’d noticed earlier that roadside parking restrictions only applied between 8am and 8pm.  No contest!  I parked on the road and hoped the car didn’t get broken into/stolen/towed away/etc

The Green Tortoise Hostel was very friendly and had real buzz about it. Unfortunately, so did the fans in the dorm and the humming made it very difficult top sleep even though I was totally shattered.


The room rate included breakfast and was available from 6am.  I went down about 5:45 just as it was being set up but there was no distinct ‘start’ of breakfast, guests just wondered into the kitchen and started cooking pancakes. I just settled for couple of pieces of jam on toast and set off towards Fremont stopping to finish off the SEATTLE ADVENTURE lab caches on the way. What a difference a day makes or the time of day as well. As it was before 8am I was able to park virtually where I pleased.

One of the QUIRKY SEATTLE TOUR lab caches ws very close to the hostel. The disgusting Gum Wall

The wall is by the box office for the Market Theatre, and the tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions' Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs. Theatre workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999.
Some people create small works of art out of gum.

A short detour to do a webcam I’d planned.  Just as I’d taken the required pictures a couple of other cachers appeared – a reviewer from Canada. Pleased to meet you

Another Lab cache took us to Bruce Lee's grave

Had to stop and take a photo of this road sign – see previous blog to realise why

Once I’d completed all the SEATTLE ADVENTURE  labs it was time to head back to Fremont.
Parking looked expensive or difficult so I parked ¾ of a mile away by Gas Works Park and cycled back

There was a loose arrangement to meet up with the other UK cachers at the Troll at 10:15 for a group photo.
Crazy UK cachers

Geocaching HQ Cache

The Block Party was heaving with people as was expected.  Spotted the HQ cache in the corner so zeroed in on it and signed the log.

Wandered around the many stalls until the two new sets of lab caches were released.  As expected, the KID'S FUN ADVENTURE labs were very easy and I soon had them all logged.  The BLOCK PARTY ADVENTURE ones were intended for adults and were a bit more challenging.  I teamed up with caching friend Walktall to find these and before long had all of them completed as well.  By this time we were quite a way from HQ and Walktall was keen to finish the SEATTLE BREWERY TOUR labs caches he’d started earlier in the week.  I also needed to finish some but I was aware how far I now was from my bike, which I’d left locked up at HQ so we went our separate ways. I walked along the river and found my first benchmark. Well, actually, the pylon was the first one but the small metal plaque makes a much better photo

Cycled back to the car and drove around to finish the rest of the lab caches.  A couple of the more interesting ones were Edith Macefield's Cottage - a small house where, some years ago, the owner had refused an offer of $1million  so it could be bull-dozed to make way for a development – apparently the inspiration for Pixar’s film - Up!

and last but not least, Salmon Ladder. Sounds strange? Yeah I thought so but it all makes sense once there. It’s a series of pools constructed so migrating salmon are able to navigate past a dam on the river.

Information board

Viewing windows
The Dam

Next stop:  Kurt Cobain’s bench. The de-facto memorial to Kurt Cobain in the small park next door to the house where he lived/died. The bench is covered in graffiti and a few letters ‘to Kurt’. Strange to think that the writers of these notes probably weren’t even born when he died…

Apparently, Bill Gates’s house is visible across the other side of the lake from the lake side but I didn't realise this until I'd returned home


Once again I went to bed fairly early  9:30pm ish  as I’d planned to get up at 04:30. Sleep was pretty non-existent again so I checked out  at 03:30 and headed back up to Kerry Park for  night-time photo.

Driving though Seattle at that time in the morning was totally surreal. The roads were really well lit but virtually empty

The view from Kerry Park was much better this time although a couple of local drunks spitting and smashing bottles was a bit disconcerting.


A group walk to Washington’s oldest Geocache GCD Geocache had been planned by some local cachers meeting at the forest car park  fifty miles away between 06:00 and 06:30 so I had time for a detour off the I90 into the small town of North Bend.

This place really felt like something out of a horror film. There was mist hanging in the air and when I parked  the car an old pick-up trundled by, V8 engine rumbling menacingly. I certainly got the impression the driver wanted to know what I was up to at  5:30

I decided to stop for ‘gas’ before getting back onto the I90.  The pumps were confusing -  Green for diesel, black for petrol.  Pay at pump or prepay cash.  I decided to pay cash as it was 10c cheaper. Basically you have to tell the cashier how much you want and hand over the readies and if it won’t all fit in, you go back and get the change. Simples.
My $30 guess was spot on and it filled the tank nicely

The forest car park is down a track about a 1½ miles from the motorway and there’s a series of Challenge Caches placed along the track which I’d short-listed to do but in the end I just didn’t have time.

The track was rough....VERY rough and I was a bit worried I might cause some damage to the car but the car behind was also a normal car so I guessed it would be OK.  I bet the driver was thinking the same thing as me.

Not surprisingly the car park was full and parking was out on  the narrow track.  Soon changed into walking boots and joined in for a group photo.

Although only just over a mile to GCD in a straight line, the path zigzags a lot making it closer to two miles.  It’s a steep path but we’ve done worse.


Setting off

The views near the cache were pretty amazing


Snow-capped Mount Rainier

Going Ape Mega

There were two options for parking at the Mega. Option 1 was $10 at the event or option 2 was using a $5 pass in the forest services car park 1/3 of a mile down the track. Hmmm… tough choice

Parked up, got the bike out and cycled up to the Mega.

Forest Services Parking Lot

Ultimate Cachemobile number plate
I was quite early so it was not yet as busy as it would be. Collected my pre-ordered goody bag, got the details for the new lab caches and headed off towards the tunnel

Into the tunnel
The etiquette when cycling past pedestrians on a confined track appears to be to call out ‘on your left’ and the pedestrian(s) acknowledge by saying ‘on my left’.  This was news to me and a few pedestrians seem to get very irritated if I just whizzed past without saying anything or, even worse, passed them on the right!

Tucking in behind a couple of other cyclists spared me from my inhibitions for hollering out as I cycled along

The tunnel was just over 2 miles long and very dark  although on the final few hundred yards it was very difficult to see pedestrians due do the dazzling light from the portal.

The end is in sight

First stop, the Iron horse cache which was a new ‘Jasmer’ square for us – only two left now

...and then continued along the track to the A.P.E  tribute cache.

This is the location of  one of a dozen special caches set in 2001 with a Planet of the Apes theme. Unfortunately, the one here was archived  in 2011 after it was stolen but a new cache was put in its  place - same in all respects but without the incredibly rare ‘ape’ icon.

A.P.E Tribute Cache

Friendly local

As the GIFF event had been cancelled I was very keen to attend another event and fortunately one was to be held at a service area just off the I90 back towards Seattle.  This event coincided with a car show for 1950 car enthusiasts – great looking and even better sounding cars

'Log Book'

Suddenly not feeling very hungry

After stopping for a chat and buying a new Cadillac geocoin, I decided it was time to press on.  One last place planned before getting back to the airport.

The Jimi Hendrix Memorial in Renton

A very impressive memorial and obviously gets a lot of visitors

Filled up with petrol, sorry, ‘gas’ at a garage near the airport, returned the car and headed towards departures for my flight at 7.15pm on  brand-new Boeing 777

The flight back was long at 9 hours but I managed to sleep much better on the way back.  Arriving at Heathrow at 12.15pm BST.

All in all an exciting adventure, met lots of interesting people and saw some amazing sights.  It wasn't the same without Donna but we hope to return to Seattle together one day.

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