Almost Stranded in Governor Dodge

Starting out on the journeyAfter a week of rainy weather, the sun was finally out, so Amanda and I thought we’d take the family out on a caching adventure in nearby Governor Dodge State Park. Just one trail (Mill Creek Trail aka MCT) with several easy-to-obtain caches. We’d been on the particular target trail before (or so I thought), so I didn’t figure it would be too difficult of a trek.

Samantha's FrogL. was loving her backpack ride, and S. found a pet frog for awhile. Things were off to a great start. Little did I know this day-after-DST-ended trip was going to take a quick turn to terror.

After searching just a bit for the first part of a multi-cache but then moving on (since several recent pros reported not finding the final), H. quickly spotted our first find near some very interesting Bendy Treestrees. We had fun FTF-ing the replacement log! (That’s geocache-speak for “first to find” a notable achievement, but not really for a log that the owner just replaced!)

I had loaded some offline maps due to poor cellular coverage in the park. The map showed our trail continuing on quite a bit SE before looping back and coming very close to where we found the first cache. Efficient Dad figured we could cut a few minutes off by the popular geocaching trick of “bushwhacking.” While there weren’t significant blockages, we did run into quite a few thorns. Good thing we all put on pants and long sleeves for the trip!

TreeAfter offroading a bit, we grew a little concerned when the GPS showed the next cache a ways off of the obvious trail, but then saw that an older smaller trail (shown on our offline map, too) looped around right next to this one. S. nabbed this one, and we were on our way again.

The previous years’ tornados definitely did some damage through these paths, as evidenced by the attached picture. Pay no attention to the slightly lower amount of daylight remaining. I know we didn’t!

Tornado wreckage

Down the path a little bit we found a cache set in a grove of huge pine trees. These trees were a nice break from all the other varieties of trees we’ve seen (I’m not so great at outdorseyness, as evidenced by upcoming notes…). Why couldn’t our previous bushwhacking have been something like this?

It was at this point I noticed, “wow, it’s pretty dark here.” But we just chalked it up to being under all the thick pine trees. Once we were back on the trail, it wasn’t nearly so bad. Still, we thought we had quite a bit of trail left for the amount of light left. But there were a couple of obvious places we could shortcut the trail, at least according to the offline maps. And who wants to backtrack at this game? Onwards and … well, about the only good thing we can say about the rest of the trek was it was mostly downhill from here… in more ways than one.

With daylight slowly failing we picked up the pace as we headed towards a cache named ‘Enjoy the View’. Only a couple of times on the way to this cache did we think about turning back. But it always seemed like we were at least halfway through the trail… I really don’t remember the trail being this long!… and we could always cut cross-country again if need be! It wasn’t so bad last time (famous last words).

S. almost petered out before the last corner. This is where I began to get a little more nervous. She picked up speed when she saw a bench, rejoicing at a place to sit down (plus the announcement of another nearby cache always meant a few minutes rest-stop!).

After finding the cache, I rejoiced because a nicely mown path north of the bench looked like it might be a trail that would cut out half of the remaining loops of MCT. But an incredibly thick barrier of fallen trees, bushes, and thorns immediately struck the thought of bushwhacking from our minds.

A little further down the path, the undergrowth looked a little less menacing, so we tried a shortcut. Terrible idea! Halfway down we met the same thickness of detritus, but as we were well down a steep incline, we trudged on. There was wailing, gnashing of teeth, and I received quite a few cuts and scrapes as I carried N. through the fray.

We finally reached the bottom, battered but alive, though now it was most definitely dark out. We could still see a bit, but I was nervous that my battery-finicky phone would die out on me (notice the pictures have stopped?). At least I had a cell signal, so I could let the park staff know a family of 7 was out on the far end of MCT and trying to make it back.

The rest of the trek was long but mostly uneventful, and the kids, Amanda, and I held hands and sang camp / Bible songs to alleviate the growing trepidation. We forsook the remaining cache locations and just went as quickly as we could on the thankfully flat trail, trading off piggy-back rides.

Just as it was becoming impossible to see the trail, we finally spotted Cox Hollow Lake as well as the lights of a ranger truck coming to find us. There was much rejoicing as we made it back to the minivan all under our own power. We celebrated with ice cream and, while not going so far as saying this was a “fun” trip, it certainly was memorable!

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