CIA-NEA13 Day 3: From tall buildings to witch burial grounds


This is day 3 of 5.  Click here if you wish to read from the very beginning.

It felt like no sooner had I fallen asleep that I was being shaken awake to start the day.  What was the point of stopping to sleep if all you’re going to get is about 3 hours?  We might as well just kept driving through the night and took sleeping shifts.  Oh well, at least this time I’d get a nice, refreshing shower out of the deal.  #smallvictories

Our scheduled visit to the 9/11 Memorial was at 10am, the first visit of the day, so to ensure we had enough time to get there, we needed to make the 8am ferry.  After waking up and showering, that left us with about 40 minutes to get there.  We were about 20 minutes or so from the terminal, but since I didn’t really know where I was going, I would have liked more time to figure it out.

I checked us out of our room while the others stopped by the complimentary breakfast room to nosh.  I wasn’t really feeling like eating much so I used the time to get our stuff back in the van and everything situated.  The others came out a few minutes later, none with glowing remarks about the breakfast options.  I guess it was just as well that I wasn’t hungry as I’m sure whatever they had probably would have just made me sick anyway.  With that, we loaded up and headed out, now with just under 30 minutes to go before the ferry would depart, with another one not due until 9am.

I was informed well before our trip that Staten Island’s roads are notoriously narrow.  I guess my idea of narrow is a lot different than theirs because these roads were TIGHT!!!  Luckily, with it being so early on a Sunday, traffic was pretty much non-existent.  The drive was pretty quick and painless and as we neared the terminal, we began to see the Manhattan skyline in the distance, beckoning us.  Again, it was one of those moments where I wished I wasn’t driving so I could take it all in.

We reached the terminal with about 5 minutes to spare.  Parking was a bit confusing as we had followed some cars in that turned out to be employees so we weren’t at the parking facility, but rather the drop-off area.  As we circled the area, we found a municipal parking lot that appeared to be metered so we decided to park right there and pay what appeared to be slightly higher prices than what the garage was charging.  However, it wasn’t until we tried to pay that we discovered that, on Sundays, parking is free, so things were definitely starting off on the right foot, although there was a little worry that we were parking somewhere we weren’t allowed to and the van would be towed while we were in the city.

As we entered the terminal, we found it pretty easy to navigate to the dock and got right onto the ferry pretty quick.  I was expecting some sort of bag search or security checkpoint but there was none of that.  We found ourselves some seats near the windows and not 2 minutes later, we were moving.  The anticipation and excitement had been building up since I woke up and once we turned towards the city and the skyline came into view, it boiled over and I was as giddy as a schoolboy.  The sky was pretty overcast and there was a bit of fog over the water but that didn’t matter to me.  NYC had been on my bucket list for years of places I wanted to see and I was finally able to check that off.  It could have been pouring down rain and I still would have been happy.

The Manhattan Skyline in the distance

The Manhattan Skyline in the distance

You can almost make her out

You can almost make her out

Me and Lady Liberty....sorta

Me and Lady Liberty….sorta

Getting closer

Getting closer

The ferry ride took about 30 minutes and was very smooth.  Had I not been looking out, I never would have known I was on a boat.  Disembarking was just as quick as the embarking process and after a restroom break, we were out the doors and in Manhattan.  Sensory overload immediately kicked in and all plans to try to not act like a tourist had fallen by the wayside.  I couldn’t help but stare off in every direction trying to take everything in.  The cars whizzing by, the people talking loudly, random strangers puking on the sidewalk (I wish I was kidding about that last one).  It was just like the movies.

Our first stop was at Bowling Green.  This little park in the middle of urban madness was lush with greenery and looked very out of place here.  There is a cache in this little park, but with the amount of people nearby, not to mention a member of NYPD standing not 10 feet from the coordinates, we just didn’t want to chance looking too suspicious in a city that, rightfully, can be a little jumpy.  The “Charging Bull” statue is right across from the park and there was a large group of people gathering around for pictures so we stared at that for a few minutes before heading towards the memorial site.

Some people were doing disgusting things with its dangling unmentionables

Some people were doing disgusting things with its dangling unmentionables

While I am far from a rural country bumpkin, I really wasn’t prepared for the number of buildings we saw.  I’ve been to Chicago, and while that city is massive, this just felt more condensed, somehow.  Almost like the buildings were even more tightly packed together, which I know is impossible, but still.  We walked past Trinity Church on Rector and Broadway and it looked just like it did in National Treasure (the final destination where all the treasure is located underneath in the supposed Masonic catacombs).  It was then that I began to regret not having more time to spend in NYC.  Not just for the caching, but also for the sights.  Regrettably we passed the cache that was at the church because we needed to make sure we were at the memorial early enough to secure a place in line and make sure we didn’t get stuck waiting for an hour.

They just keep going on into the distance

They just keep going on into the distance

I was quite shocked at how quick the walk to the memorial site was.  Looking at it on Google Maps, it looks like quite a distance, but in actuality it’s just over a mile.  We made it there with ease and had about 45 minutes to wait.  I was beginning to regret not spending time at Bowling Green looking for the cache or stopping at Trinity Church to search for that one.  I had no idea what to expect on our path and had no idea that foot traffic would be as light as it was for 8:30am on a Sunday.  I guess had this been a weekday it would have been mad crazy with people and we would have taken a lot longer to reach our destination with the crowds.  But no matter, we had arrived.

DynamicDs and myself standing outside the queue line at 9/11 Memorial

DynamicDs and myself standing outside the queue line at 9/11 Memorial

At around 9:45, they began allowing us to queue up inside.  There were 2 lines, one for those who had already secured their passes in advance, and one for those who did not.  It appears there was a bit of a donation shakedown for those who chose to just show up, which I can totally understand, but was still a bit disturbed by.  Being the planning-type, I had secured our passes well over a month in advance, making sure we would get the opportunity to be in the first group of 1,000 visitors.  We had to only wait about 10 minutes before the began to let our line head towards the first of 4 security checkpoints.  They take their security seriously at this location, and for obviously good reasons.  The first checkpoint was just a couple people checking our passes against our IDs.  The next one was a full-on medal detectors and X-Ray exams of purses and other personal effects.  We then passed another checkpoint that looked at both our passes and IDs before being stopped just outside the memorial to wait until 10am.  During this 5 minute or so wait, we were standing almost directly underneath an old connector bridge that still had damage from when the Twin Towers fell.  It was an eerie reminder of what happened here almost 12 years ago, and was definitely in stark contrast to the beauty that lied ahead.

Magnificant

Magnificent

We were allowed entrance just after 10am, but not before passing our final checkpoint.  This was the least stringent of them all, just checking to make sure we had our passes.  Once inside, it was like an entirely different world.  There were young trees everywhere and the only sound you could hear was the rushing water from reflecting pools.  Sure, you could see the surrounding buildings, but the sounds of traffic, people, and even the construction crews on site working around the clock were completely absent.  The reflecting pools were an awesome, somber sight to behold.  Knowing these were the footprints of the towers, you really got a sense of what was taken from us.  Of course, having all the names of those that perished engraved along the outer wall of the pools completed that effect.  The memorial also pays tribute to those who died on Flight 93 and at the Pentagon, as well as those who died during the WTC bombing in ’93.  We spent quite a while slowly walking around the pools and taking it all in.  Unfortunately the museum is still not open to the public so we didn’t get to go in there, but I don’t think we missed out on any of the magnitude this memorial conveys to the actions of that day.  The new One World Trade building looms tall above the North Pool and staring up at it, you really feel very small and insignificant.  Also on the grounds is the Survivor Tree, a tree that was located at the old World Trade Center plaza that survived the destruction of the towers.  We stopped and took some pictures of the tree as we were leaving the memorial.  We could have spent hours here, but with the growing number of people filing in, and still much to do in a short period of time, we decided to leave after about an hour there.

South Pool

South Pool

Most amazing site ever

Most amazing site ever

Reflecting about that fateful day while at the North Pool

Reflecting about that fateful day while at the North Pool

The Survivor Tree

The Survivor Tree

Originally the plan had been to head north of the memorial to Silverstein Family Park to see the 9/11 Memorial they had there, which also happened to be a cache, but the exit of the memorial is on the southwestern side of the site and it would have required us to walk over a mile to get to it as the most direct route is off-limits due to construction.  We were still feeling the pain from the previous day’s 5.77 mile walk, and had already logged over a mile of walking and still had over a mile to go.  I know, that’s a lot of whining for someone who geocaches.  Well, I’m not exactly small in size so my feet tire much easier and my legs burn much quicker than others.  The group stopped inside the 9/11 Memorial Gift Store but with the number of people crammed in that small space, I wasn’t having any of that, so I waited outside.  After a couple minutes, they came out and we headed south along West Street.  It was a little after 11am at this point and none of us had really eaten anything yet, so we stopped at a street cart.  I got a massive soft pretzel.  It was probably the best pretzel I’ve ever had….and I got it from an honest-to-goodness legit NYC street cart.

The walk south towards Battery Park was uneventful.  We stared at all the building around us, marveling at the talk apartment buildings in Battery Park City and remarking on how uncharacteristically clean the city was, at least on this stretch.  Obviously movies showing the grittiness of New York don’t choose their filming locations here.

As we entered Battery Park, the remnants of Superstorm Sandy’s destruction was still very visible.  Castle Clinton was closed to visitors so we could only stare at it from the outside.  We stopped by the Merchant Mariners Memorial near the Water Taxi dock and took a picture with some silly Statue of Liberty hats DynamicDs bought us.  A friendly could took the group photo for us and managed to pose it just right so that the real Statue of Liberty could be seen in the background.  After that we walked to the East Coast Memorial to what would end up being the only cache we grabbed in NYC, Flying into Memories.  The area was full of muggles milling about but luckily DynamicDs had the stealthiness of a shadow going for her and she was able to grab the cache while a large group of tourists sat just 5 feet from the GZ.

We are silly

We are silly

Merchant Mariners Memorial

Merchant Mariners Memorial

Battery Park

Battery Park

After we’d secured our find in New York, it was time to head back to the ferry to take us back to our van on Staten Island.  I was really being racked with regret that we weren’t able to stay longer.  This was probably the only moment of the trip where I really wish I hadn’t routed us somewhere because there was just so much I was having to turn my back on.  I know I went into this fully prepared to not see Times Square, ride the subway, walk down Broadway (well, where all the theaters are, anyway….I DID walk down Broadway for 4 blocks),  go on top of the Empire State Building, or walk through Central Park, but that doesn’t make it sting any less that I was so close.  Naturally I’ll be coming back with my family for a proper visit….believe that!

We got a lot closer to Lady Liberty on our way back to Staten Island.

We got a lot closer to Lady Liberty on our way back to Staten Island.

The ride back to Staten Island was fairly uneventful.  There were a lot more people on the return trip than when we arrived and this trip took us considerably closer to the Statue of Liberty.  Upon arrival at the terminal, we made our way back to the van and discovered that it had not been ticketed or towed so we definitely parked in the right spot.

For whatever reason, I chose to drive the next leg of the trip.  I don’t know if I was spoiled by the lack of traffic I experienced between Philly and Staten Island the night before, as well as through Staten Island to the terminal earlier that day, but I was in the mood to do some driving.  My luck was soon going to run out of the traffic-side of things as I found out real quick that even though it was a Sunday afternoon, traffic in the boroughs is anything but light.

I had my brother punch in the coordinates for the next cache into the Nuvi and it was showing that we had about 63 miles to our destination, just outside Fairfield, Connecticut.  That didn’t seem like too long of a drive, especially since we’d be on all interstate.  However, as we began driving, I started noticing that the ETA was increasing quickly.  What began as a 93-minute trip was suddenly standing at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  It wasn’t apparent at first as we were driving through Staten Island as the traffic was still pretty light, but as soon as we got near the Verranzo-Narrows Bridge, what was a fairly painless drive quickly turned into a 40-mile, nonstop stop-and-go traffic nightmare that took over 80 minutes to get through.  Not to mention that drivers seem to forget that turn signals are a thing and just push their way through.  Seeing cars with bumper guards painted a picture of a bunch of hotheaded drivers who are ready for the fender benders.  My blood pressure and heart rate were elevated the entire time, but I am happy to report that we had no incidents to speak of and I feel I am a much better driver for it.

It was during this leg of the trip that the lack of sleep began to catch up with me.  As each mile passed, my eyes started growing heavier and it began to be a chore to keep my leg pressed on the pedal.  Switching to cruise control will help with the leg issue, but now that I’m no longer exerting constant force to keep the pedal pressed, my body quickly began to shut down.  We reached the GZ for the next cache, ROAD WARRIOR SERIES CT I-95 Cache 2 Exit 18,  and while Team Duckman and DynamicDs went on the hunt for it, I sat behind the wheel and dozed off.  When they got back in I announced I couldn’t drive much further and asked if we could stop to eat and trade off.  We found an Arby’s down the road (yep, still eating chain food instead of local fare…what’s wrong with us?) and I got us there pretty quickly.  After our late lunch, I hopped into the middle row and tried my hardest to steal some shuteye while we continued through Connecticut.  I did miss quite a bit of scenery from what I was told.  Had I been up, I probably would have had us stop at Mystic Pizza for our late lunch/early dinner, but since we had already eaten an hour prior, it didn’t much make sense for that to happen.  Oh well.  I slipped in and out of consciousness over the next 2 hours while we drove to our next cache, this time in Rhode Island, a virtual called H.P. Lovecraft.  Being a lover of literature, I absolutely had to make sure this was our cache for the state.  The final resting place for one of the greatest authors in horror literature.  You don’t get more cool than that in my book.  Of course, the site itself was a little less than stellar.  The tombstone was pretty nondescript, save for all the sea shells (a nod to one of his greatest stories, The Call of Cthulhu, allegedly inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson’s The Kraken, written nearly 100 years prior).

After we found the necessary information and headed out of the cemetery and on toward the next state, Massachusetts, I felt reinvigorated.  It’s amazing what 2 hours of broken sleep will do for you.  I started to take note on the way the landscape laid before us.  While we are technically a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean, you’d never know it with all the surrounding trees.  While I can imagine it is boring to look at for those who live and commute in the area, it is far more enjoyable to look at than the farmland and empty fields of the midwest.

Initially I had planned for us to stay the evening in (or around) Boston and then grab our caches for the state in the morning.  But we were currently running almost 50 minutes ahead of schedule so I asked the group if they’d rather try for the next cache now and then find a place to sleep or wait until morning.  It was just after 7pm at this point and there was a good hour of solid daylight left so it would have been a shame to waste it.  The group agreed to keep caching so we went for one of the main highlights of the trip, The Depot.  Unfortunately, this tale does not have a happy ending.

I had done a little bit of research on the location of this Letterbox cache for a couple weeks, and with each item I found, I got even more excited for it.  Hidden in the woods behind the CO’s house along a neighborhood trail system, the GZ is a huge model train landscape, complete with houses, bridges, and all the trimmings.  Getting there also involved looking for tiny little birdhouses on trees along the trail.  This would prove to be our undoing, however.  Since none of us had brought a proper GPSr, we were forced to rely on smartphones and my tablet.  But what made things most confusing was that there appears to be 2 or 3 sets of tree houses along the paths, and we were supposed to be looking for one in particular, and seemed to have missed it.  We spent a good 45 minutes hiking, backtracking, hiking some more, stopping to try to figure out where we were, heading back towards the van, all in a fury of frustration.  We tried a phone-a-friend with someone we knew had found it previously, but learned real quick that they were led to the GZ not via the trail system, but through the owner’s house and into their backyard.  I tried to send a message to the CO, hoping he would be near a computer/smartphone and would quickly respond with some sort of hint.  Alas, with the last few moments of daylight fading fast, we made the unfortunate decision to DNF for the cache.  I was pretty pissed off that we had come all this way and was within shouting distance of one of the coolest-looking caches I had ever seen online, only to walk away without the smiley.  But I had to look at the bigger picture.  If we had stuck around into dusk, not only were we breaking the rules of the trail system, which is to be off by dusk, but we could have potentially hurt ourselves as the terrain was a bit rugged in places.  So safety (and sanity) needed to be preserved.  Unfortunately, I made a bit of a blunder because of my aggravation.  See, we were supposed to stay the night in or near Boston so we would have a chance to see some of the city.  But in my haste to get us away from the DNF, I routed us to our next cache instead of the city.  This cache, #1 – The Salem Witch Trials, took us northeast of the city, and there really wasn’t much point in backtracking as we were supposed to be going through the city to get to the GZ in the first place, but because we were coming from the far westside of Boston, we ended up completely going around the city.  I know my brother was a bit bummed out by it because he had wanted to drive under the city in the tunnels dubbed “The Big Dig”.  I hope I’ll be able to make it up to him some day.

For those of you who’ve never been to Salem, heed this warning:  The roads are madness.  Everything is super tight and packed in deep and we quickly became disoriented as the GPS had us turning down roads, only to then have us turn and backtrack a few blocks before turning again.  For a while it looked like we would never arrive to where we needed to go, but finally we pulled up in front of a dark, ancient-looking house.  It was then that we figured out where we were….the Charter Street Old Burial Point, the oldest burial ground in Salem and the final resting place for several prominent members of Salem’s early settlement, including one of the judges of the Salem Witch Trials.  Also on this site is the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, a 20-year old memorial dedicated to the memories of those who were accused and tried for witchcraft to serve as a reminder of our dark past and pay tribute to those who, even in the face of widespread doubt and convicted of heresy, continued to plead their innocence to their last breath.  Night had already fallen by the time we were dropped off to find the cache so the atmosphere was very eerie.  It also didn’t help that each memorial stone we saw described their gruesome executions, one of which was by being crushed to death.  The cemetery next to the memorial was fenced off so we didn’t get a chance to look in there, but this is by far the oldest cemetery I have been to yet, dating back to 1637.

We spent about 10 minutes looking for this cache.  It was pretty well hidden, especially in the dark, but in the end, DynamicDs came through with the find and we signed the log.  I dropped off a trackable that had been in my possession for almost a year.  It’s goal was to get all the way to Boston so I made sure I got it as close as I could.  I originally wanted to drop it off at The Depot, but this worked out just as well.  We then met back up with my brother, who had to circle the block as there weren’t any public parking spots available at the time.  We then headed to the nearest gas station to fill up before leaving town.

We decided while driving out of Salem to stop for the night at our next GZ, which happened to be located at the New Hampshire Welcome Center on I-95, only 30 miles north.  It took about 35 minutes to reach our destination for the night, and we were all pretty excited about that prospect.  Of course, if you’re keeping score, this now makes 2 nights where we have slept in the van instead of in a motel/hotel.  It’s here that I want to apologize to my travel companions for forcing them to sleep in the van at all.  Since it was such a small group of us going, I wanted to keep the costs down to as low as I possibly could.  It wasn’t ideal, and if I had to redo the planning all over again, I would have made sure we stopped every night in a motel.  We all deserved a good night’s sleep every evening during this trip.

Leg 3

Trip Statistics – Sunday 6/16

Miles traveled

350 miles

Total miles traveled

1256 miles

Caches found on leg

4

Total caches found on trip

19

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