Saturday, April 23, 2011

Patience is a Virtue

I can tell you right now, I will not be posting this week.  Last weekend was filled with caching, this weekend is filled with studying for my last final exam as an undergrad.  It is with a little sadness and a lot of exctiement that I will finally complete my Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology.  I must resist temptation and buckle down this one last time (until I start grad school, TBD). 

Here are the many exciting things I have planned:
  • Adding "pages" to this blog.  Blogger now allows me to create a bunch of pages that will always appear under the title (i.e. About me, About geocaching, etc).  You know, like a real website.
  • Other tinkering of this page.  Might go off-profile a bit. No dancing hampsters, I promise.
  • A catch-up article to cover the best caches I haven't had time to write about.
  • Handi-caching (my experiences plus a little research about what others are doing).
  • Geocacher fashion and hair (I've been toying with this for a while, I think it could be fun).
  • Software (there are so many neat things out there to manage our data).
  • Profile of a geocacher (this may involve me conducting my own research, muwahaha).
  • Puzzle/mystery caches (code breaking, puzzle-solving, etc).
Now that I won't have to focus on studying 20+ hours/week, I can actually do these things.  I'm pretty stoked.  The past 18 months have been a whirlwind and I'm going to try really REALLY hard to start posting once a week again.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

If the Piece Fits

Last Sunday (while I was supposed to be writing my last post) I was perusing the Facebook page when I came across a post titled Geocachers Puzzle.  It was a photo album showing about a hundred submissions to a jigsaw puzzle created by Louisiana geocacher, Sequoia_2.  Here's how it works: you email her to request a puzzle piece, she mails you the piece, and then you decorate it and send it back for inclusion in the puzzle.  It's pretty simple, but epic in terms of both creativity and commitment. 

I requested my puzzle piece immediately and emailed FTF Geocacher with what I thought was a hot tip.  Their response:  Why don't youuuuu write about it?  (That is NOT what they said, but it's what I heard in my head when I read the email.)  It's not that I didn't want to write about it, I just wasn't sure I would make time to, which is kinda my style lately. 

A few days later, the 4x4" shiny white puzzle piece arrived.  If you know me well, you know that I'm neurotic and become paralyzed when faced with too many options.  Wal-mart is hell for me...but I digress.  That's basically what happened with the puzzle piece, so I threw some mail on it and forgot about it for a few days.  But in the back of my head, the wheels were turning about what makes me unique as a geocacher that could be expressed in an art form. 

In the mean time, I decided to find out more.  Sequoia_2, whose real name is Brenda, has been geocaching since 2005.  She discovered the Community Puzzle in 2007 while purchasing school supplies.  At the time, she had no idea how this project would evolve.  She decorated one piece with a geocaching theme and showed it to a friend, who (of course) loved it and wanted to decorate her own.  Next, Brenda started passing out additional pieces and assigned a trackable number to the puzzle.  Word spread like a newly-published cache notification and soon she was receiving pieces from all over the world.  Her goal is to give the completed puzzle to Groundspeak when she has 500-1000 pieces.  Brenda doesn't know exactly when that will be, but she thinks it will be before the 20th anniversary of Geocaching in 2020.  Several hundred pieces have been mailed out so far. 

There are no specific goals/requests for pieces, but there are a few things she would like to see. "It would be awesome to have one from every country in the world...[and] it would be great to have pieces made by the reviewers and other Groundspeak personnel," says Brenda.  She goes on to say that although there are a few well known cachers she would be "honored" to have designs from, she would never ask.  I couldn't help but wonder if she has a favorite piece so far.  As you would expect, she loves them all and feels that picking one would be like "picking your favorite child." 

Another thing I wondered about Sequoia_2 was what kind of cacher she is.  PNG'er?  Number fiend?  FTF hound?  Her reply, "My favorite cache would have to be the one that takes you for a nice long walk in the woods.  I do truely love those the best."  Good answer.  I love those, too. 

Last night I unearthed the puzzle piece.  I had only one, so I knew I better have a good plan before even touching it.  I went into my office to look for my sketch book, long since buried by more useful, grown-up things.  But before I found the sketch book, I found my old juggling balls (more like hacky sacks than balls).  Twenty minutes later Brian showed up to investigate the dull thuds reverberating across the house.  Ashamed, I went back to looking for the sketch book. 

A few minutes later, I found it and started doodling.  I decided to focus on the iPhone, because I owe my start in geocaching to this glorious piece of technology. 

The first one is uber simple, because sometimes less is more.  In this case, less is really boring.  The second one is a take on the iPhone's compass app icon.  I actually fell asleep while doing the second one, if that tells you anything.  The idea for the one that became the one hit me last night, but I didn't have the energy to explore it.  It began as a very rough sketch.

Hopefully you recognize where I was going with it (and hopefully I don't get sued for copyright infringement).  A few hours later, I had this final product (click to enlarge).

I'm really happy with it.  The true stroke of genius was spotting a hot pink gift bag in my office that became the perfect backdrop.  The only downside is that it reinforced my tendency to hoard things.  Case in point: sometimes hoarded things make the perfect backdrop for a hobby-centric craft project.  Take that, A&E!  Anyway, the doodle is done with black Sharpie, and the white bits (stroke #2) were made from blank file folder labels.  It's not perfect, but it's way better than I expected.  The final step was carefully gluing the art onto the puzzle piece.

If you want to decorate your own piece, just go to Brenda's geocaching profile to find her email address.  She's very friendly, and very prompt, so you shouldn't have to wait long for a response.  Don't worry about your mad skillz, or lack thereof.  According to Brenda, "You don't have to be artistic, as long as your geocaching name is in the design, it can be anything at all!"

Also, if you are going to request a piece, please do so with good intentions of finishing it.  The postage alone is an enormous cost, especially if she has to send out 2-5 pieces for each one that actually comes back.  When you add-in the cost of the actual puzzle pieces, the envelopes, and Brenda's time, it's just best if we all respect it.  Those are 100% my words.  Brenda seems like she would be the last one to complain.

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.