Monday, April 4, 2011

My Geo-Community

First, I will offer up my excuse for not writing in...a while. This time, it's school. I'm taking a class that is putting me far outside my comfort zone, so in order to succeed, I have to focus. Unfortunately, that's meant less time for writing. I planned to get caught up a few weeks ago when I was recuperating from surgery, but honestly, I just didn't feel like writing. I felt like sleeping and doing things that required no brain power.

Anyway, this is a post about my recent appreciation for the geocaching community. Brian and I cached for over a year before making our debut at an event last summer. Prior to that, I only knew the random cachers I had run into at FTFs and the few I converted from muggles into full-blown cache masters.

A while back I found out through Facebook that some of my friends were planning a night hike in search of a 4/5 mystery cache. I declined immediately, being that I have a long-standing dispute with all things arachnid. But like a tick, once the idea of this cache took hold, I couldn't shake the itch.

My drive was fraught with anxiety. I had visions of arriving to a collection of empty cars, cachers murmuring somewhere in the darkness, banjos duelling a melancholy melody. And if I arrived on-time, then surely social anxiety was not far behind. After all, I didn't really know half these people, nor did I have any caching accolades to boast. Adding to both fears, I got a little lost on my way over, in an area with one-lane dirt roads, moats, and a complete lack of street lights. Oy! What actually happened was much less exciting - I arrived in plenty of time.

After a brief foray into the woods to find a nearby cache, we were ready to begin our journey. We gathered in a big circle to do official introductions and discover that almost 40 of us had chosen to spend our Friday night dodging palm fronds and cow patties. The object would be to follow a series of Fire Tacks that would lead us to two checkpoints. A set of 3 tacks can be seen in the photo above. After completing both phases, the GPS tracklog should spell out two numbers. Those numbers (below - SPOILER ALERT) would be used to complete the coordinates to the actual cache.

Before you look below, realize that I thought long and hard about revealing these numbers. I do so ONLY because the owner gives them away in the hint and because I have tremendous admiration for what they've done here. I decided to remove references to the cache name and approximate area to conceal the spoiler as much as possible.

We spent over two hours ducking under branches, hopping over downed trees, and for me, blindly following the backpack ahead. There was a lot of friendly chatter, punctuated by the occasional "wait, how long has it been since we saw a Fire Tack?" and "Where the hell did the trail go?"

We didn't see any wildlife, probably because a heard of elephants would have been more stealthy. We did, however, find the cache, about a two-minute walk from our cars.

Needless to say, the conversation was swayed by rumbling stomachs. We descended on a nearby IHOP with an appetite for pancakes, mostly. This turned out to be a fantastic opportunity to get to know the people we'd all been stumbling around with in the woods. Facebook friend requests abounded, sort of. We swapped swamp tales, puzzled over mystery caches, and even spread a little gossip.

A week later we met up for another purpose - to say goodbye to a local geocacher who has since moved away. The venue wasn't stellar. We were at first crammed into a tiny room for a group half our size.

Cozy? Yes. Fire hazard? Most definitely, but we made it work until they were able to give us more space. A new cache was posted just for the occasion, which became apparent as cachers slipped out in ones and twos. A few minutes later someone came back with a small bird house, symbolic of impending travel and the home he will always have here in Central Florida. We all signed the log and the cache was presented as a farewell gift.

My experiences with my geocaching community have been nothing but good. I have found my fellow cachers to be accepting, supportive, decent people with a great sense of humor. Each of us is a unique blend of techie, adventure-seeker, problem-solver, and ninja (I said blend...I didn't specify the balance).

That is not to say we are drama-free. We have our share of scandal. We have squabbles between real-live adults who refer to themselves with screen names and have arguments laced with enough geo-specific lingo to make a D&D dungeon master clutch his bag of polyhedral dice and scoff, "nerds."

The bottom line is that cachers come and go, but the unifying urge to search for that-which-we-cannot-keep remains for those of us that will keep looking.

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