Sunday, November 29, 2009

Finding more than a good deal on Black Friday

Normally I don't leave the house on Black Friday. I'd rather pay a little extra than get up extra-early to stampede with a bunch of stuff-obsessed people like bovine-encephalitic cattle. I'd like to keep what faith I have left in humanity, thank you very much.

But this year I woke up and found myself alone (Brian had to work), with little homework and housework. I decided to fill the space by doing something I haven't done in a while - sit in a coffee house and read (Contact by Carl Sagan). I thought geocaching would be out of the question with muggles on high alert...but I knew of one recently-placed cache that I could grab on the way to the coffee house. Like a junkie, I said to myself, "just this one...I'm just going to get this one cache, then I'm going to read."

I arrived at the cache location and found it deserted. Beautiful.

I followed my iPhone to the coordinates and found...spider webs. So I started reading the recent logs and realized that the coords were off by 60-80 feet. Luckily, it's a boardwalk, so that narrowed down the possibilities, and after reading the description again, I expanded the search radius. When I finally found it, I was 92 feet away from the posted coordinates. How's that for geosenses?

Then I saw this thing. I'll entertain any guesses as to what it is. It's like a bird house designed by MC Escher.

By this time I had unashamedly decided to attempt the mystery cache nearby. I looked at the description and was completely baffled. So I cheated a little and started looking at the log photos for clues. One photo seemed promising, so I set out to find where it was taken. When I finally found that location, I was at the other end of the boardwalk. I realized that they must have parked on this end, and taken a picture before they started looking. Drat. I poked around for a bit, feeling utterly naked without my mirror. When some guy in a minivan asked if I needed a ride, I decided to get the eff out of there. As I walked back to my car I debated whether I should finish the morning drinking coffee and reading...or geocaching. I decided coffee.

When I got to the coffee shop, it was closed. Not closed-for-the-day closed, closed-forever closed. I considered driving to a Starbucks, but it felt like slapping god in the face. How could I ignore this obvious sign? I drove back to the house to plan some caches and charge my iPhone.

Over a bowl of Cheerios I made a list of caches, including a few mystery caches I recently solved. I also picked a multi. Up until now I've only done traditional caches. I wasn't ambitious enough to do a multi (remember I don't have a real GPSr), and not smart enough to solve a mystery. However, I recently got a boost of confidence from reading Digital Fortress (Dan Brown), which is kinda like DaVinci Code (only kinda), but with cryptography and the NSA. I don't know why, but all of a sudden some of the puzzles started making sense. I decoded the messages and ended up with logical I had to trust Motion-X (iPhone GPS app) to get me where I was going. I have grown quite accustomed to Groundspeak's app, so this was a little scary.

The first one was a bust. I drove up and down this one road 50 times. Every road I tried to turn down was gated or clearly posted "authorized vehicles only." I'm a wuss, I know. Again, I turned to the recent logs and found that others had experienced this problem...until they figured out the correct coordinates. My retardedness was confirmed. Smrt, just like Homer Simpson.

Not to be deterred, I headed in the direction of another mystery cache. I parked as close as I could, but soon realized I would need to go into the woods, which was really not cool considering I was already 0-1 for mystery caches. Luckily I didn't really have to do any bushwhacking, there was a clear path straight into the woods. I arrived at what I thought was the location and started snooping around. Not surprisingly, the tree cover messed with the signal, causing my GZ to bounce all over the place. After about 15 minutes, I was ready to walk away. But then I read the description again, which made reference to another cache I had already done, and suddenly it was clear. I found the cache a mere 30 seconds later.

Next I revisited a series of four caches I found a month ago. At the time I didn't realize that each held a clue to the coordinates of a fifth mystery cache. This process was relatively smooth until I grabbed the third cache and something was living in it. I don't know what it was, it moved quickly and had a I'm thinking spider. The coordinates took me to a location that would normally be crawling with muggles, so it worked out that I grabbed it when I did.

Full of ambition, I drove towards the multi-cache I had picked to be my first. I was looking forward to visiting all these different locations, but it didn't work out that way. The cache was a locked utility box mounted on a telephone pole. The key was hidden that's why it was a multi. I was under the impression that a multi was a string of caches where each cache had coordinates for the next. Apparently not.

About a million people saw me open up the cache, but I wasn't worried because if they came back they wouldn't be able to find the key. I'm just surprised some paranoid Progress Enegy employee hasn't reported this thing and had it blown up.

While the rest of America got killer deals on electronics and the latest hamptser toy, I got some cache glory. I'll do my Christmas shopping later. Don't be surprisd if your stocking is filled with swag.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Honeymoon is over

It was only a matter of time. Geocaching, while still very entertaining, is just a little less enticing. We've had our first big fight and it's gained 10lbs. I still love you, geocaching, but we need to talk.

First, there's all this unnecessary bushwhacking. Last Saturday I made a third and successful attempt at a cache within walking distance of my house. I brought Savannah along, and once again she was completely useless. I tied her to a tree while I followed each of several geotrails. Turns out none of them were right. All that bushwhacking was for naught.

To top it off, the cache tried to eat Savannah. Not cool.

And then there's the false sense of hope. After this little victory I suddenly had a misplaced craving for bushwhacking, so I planned an entire day of it. The next cache was near a pond at the edge of the woods. I bravely climbed into the trees and was consulting my iPhone when I felt an intense sting on my arm. "The mf-er bit me!" I blurted out and shook my arm...but it wouldn't let go. So I brushed it away and looked at Brian in horror - "what the hell was that??" And then the buzzing started. I started spinnng around, flailing my arms. "It's a yellow jacket," Brian said, "and now it's on your back."

Waving my arms around my head, I hurried towards the pond. In my haste, I forgot about the briars I had stepped over so carefully before. I was soon covered in scratches and punctures. Before I could take a breath, the buzzing resumed, as did my seizure-dance. I scurried back and forth along the edge of the pond, pausing every few seconds to see if it was gone. Finally Brian yelled "use your bug spray." Considering I had already sprayed myself, this didn't make a lot of sense, but it was worth a shot. I sprayed it all around me as if I was casting a spell Harry Potter be jealous of.

That's when I got a look at my first hornet sting, which was now quite painful and starting to swell. "I want to go home," I mumbled. Then Brian yelled that he found the cache. I sprayed a liberal amount of bug repellant into the bushes and headed towards him.

I dub this ammo-camo. Some of that bark is glued to the can.

We spent the next three hours bushwhacking to no avail. The words "this isn't fun anymore" were spoken.

The next day I awoke with a new perspective. I planned a day of easy urban caches, but of course it didn't work out that way. It started out with an uncooperative iPhone and was punctuated by geotantrums (as Brian called them). Here are the highlights.

Early in the day we went looking for a cache that made reference to finding an X. I got out of the car and saw this:

Bingo! Not so much. This X was just a coincidence. It's a good thing Brian found it because I was too hung up on this area to look elsewhere.

We had the pleasure of finding another sticker-cache. This one is notable for two reasons: a) I think it's an actual sticker, not one of the sticker-caches you buy on ebay; and b) I actually poked and dismissed it twice before finally realizing it was the cache. Well done!

I found a rock cache. It wasn't as devious as I imagined since it was actually a plastic hide-a-key. A real rock turned into a cache would be a lot tougher to find.

For the second time this month, Brian's cane proves invaluable. This cache was a bison tube with a magnet attached, placed about 8 feet in the air. It was an easy grab...for him.

The goal last weekend was to get my 200th find. It was all cool until I realized I had to go in here.

After walking face-first into a spider web, I resurrected the spider-whacking stick. It was an easy find once I got to the location. Go me.

On the way home, we grabbed one last cache. A first-of-it's-kind for me - a butterfly attached to a test tube (test, not bison), hanging from a branch. It was definitely original, but I'm afraid it's going to be a target for muggles.

And finally, to celebrate my 200th cache, Anatomy of a Geocacher.

Click to view full size.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


As you can tell from my lack of posting, I haven't had a lot of time to go geocaching in recent weeks. This week: one cache.

We met some friends for breakfast (on the way to the Lady of the Lakes Renaissance Festival...go ahead, point and laugh), and we got to the restaurant 70 minutes early. They said 9:30, Brian heard 8:30. So, we decided to grab a nearby cache to kill some time.

The search was short. After a final review of the description, and the realization that it was a 2.5/1.5, I stumbled upon the cache. As we took it back to the car, I said to Brian, "I don't know why this is a 2.5 difficulty, it was practically out in the open." Then, in Saw-like fashion, I opened the cache to find instructions and a locked box.

I exclaimed something quite profane when I read the instructions. They included a new set of coordinates and instructions for how to get the combination. My first thought was, extract the log (which was inside the locked box) with tweezers...but that's dishonest. Plus, you have to email the combo to the cache owner or he won't let you claim the find.

With hesitation, I closed out the Geocaching app and opened up Motion-X GPS, which is a pretty comprehensive GPS app for the iPhone. In the past I've used it to location-stamp photos, so this was the first time I used it to find something. I fumbled a bit with the settings, but eventually I entered a new waypoint and off we went. Our instructions were to use the nearby addresses to figure out the code.

I have a geo-confession to make, and I shouldn't admit this in print. I kidnapped the cache. I knew we were staying close and wouldn't be gone long, so I took it with so we could guess at combos on the spot instead of writing them all down and taking them back to the cache. If you have less respect for me, I understand. The good news is we quickly figured the combination, signed the log, and replaced the cache. No harm done.

I'm classifying this as a mock-multiple. I didn't even think of it as a multiple until the two people I told both misunderstood and thought I was talking about a multiple. Yes, we had to go to two locations, but there was only one cache. We just had to go to a different spot to get information.

I hope we come across more like this. It was slightly challenging, but not mind-bendingly difficult. As the only cache I grabbed this week, I don't regret that it was this one.