Last night just before midnight, as I neared the end of a two-year-long journey, I found myself racing down a residential street in frustration, heading towards yet another park. Three simple questions arise from that statement: What journey? What the heck was I doing out there around midnight? Why the frustration?
Just over two years ago, I discovered geocaching, a high-tech scavenger-hunt-type game that uses computers and satellites to pinpoint the approximate location of geocaches, hidden containers that generally hold worthless trinkets and a log book in which to sign your name. These geocaches (also known simply as caches) range in size anywhere from 35mm film canisters (or smaller) to large 10-gallon buckets, and are secreted away in playgrounds, parking lots, forests, malls, almost anywhere. You think it sounds too easy thanks to technology? Keep in mind that the GPS gets you only within 20 or 30 feet of the hidden location, and it’s up to you to do the rest. Caches are located in almost every country of the world. While some countries or locales are home to no more than a dozen geocaches, if you live in the Bay Area, as I do, the region is so over-populated with them that it is very likely that you pass within a few hundred feet of one every day!
To me, that’s part of the appeal of geocaching. Finding something hidden within feet of where ordinary people walk, drive, or work everyday seems so cool, and slightly clandestine. I’ve found geocaches on, near, or under fire hydrants, electrical meters, telephone poles, light poles, bridges, park benches, picnic tables, playground slides, phone booths, fences, just about everywhere you can imagine. And 99.9% of the passers-by are oblivious and clueless, known in the geocaching world in Harry Potter style as “geomuggles” — although I sometimes hear “Did you lose something?” or even the rare “Hey, are you doing that GPS thing?” There’s also the element of getting out into nature, the base aspect of geocaching’s origins. I call geocaching my visit to the gym; on multiple occasions, I’ve walked as much as 13 miles roundtrip in wooded trails to find a single cache high on the top of the mountain. The views are often spectacular, and the joy of and incentive in spending time outdoors adds to the value of the sport. In some locations, such as Washington DC, physical containers cannot be left. The caches located there are “virtual” in nature; you must visit the site and describe some esoteric visual characteristic that the creator wants you to locate before you can claim the find, i.e. a date inscribed on a fountain, or a name engraved on a tombstone.
After I serendipitously watched an episode of World’s Best on the Travel Channel while on a leisurely vacation that listed geocaching as the 7th best lost treasure, I was intrigued. After I got back home, I bought a $100 Garmin GPS receiver on Amazon, and found my first geocache on August 10, 2002 with my son. I was hooked. It was then that I gave myself the goal of eventually finding 1,000 geocaches.
Which brings me back to last night at 11:52, and me driving frantically around my neighborhood from park to park.
Last year on August 9, the day before my first anniversary, I found my 500th geocache. I then set the goal to find my 1000th cache by my second anniversary. Yesterday. By the end of the day the day before, August 9, 2004, I had accumulated a total of 970 caches. Now while there are megacachers out there who can find 100+ in a day, the best daily total I’ve ever had was 39 — and that was an entire day of geocaching from dawn to well after nightfall. Finding 30 in a day was a daunting task, albeit a self-imposed daunting task.
Thanks to work duties rightly coming first, it wasn’t until the afternoon that I truly had the opportunity to begin the long trek. Annoyingly typical, the first few searches came up blank — I found nothing and gave up after quite a bit of thorough searching at each location, wasting precious time and daylight. Then I managed to get on a roll and found several in a row. Hour after hour of successes and failures, working my way back towards home, led me to the point of reaching #997 at around 10:45 p.m., the goal just outside my grasp. Taunting me. It was then that I hit the worst snag: I was very near home and I’d already found most of the caches in the area, making the distance between ones left to find them much greater. It didn’t help that many of the ones nearest home are “micros”, containers made from 35mm film canisters or even smaller. Much harder to find!
At 11:52, I had just left a park where I could not find (according to the published instructions for this particular geocache) a one-inch-long breath strips container that was camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings. I spied one more cache in my GPS not far from home in a park I knew reasonably well. I raced towards it, with neither time nor the night on my side, knowing I had only eight minutes left before the stroke of midnight. At 11:54, I arrived, got out of my car, located the general area with the GPS, and began searching every nook and cranny of the three trees to which I was led. Three minutes later, I spied the matte black finish of a painted (once again!) one-inch-long breath strips container poking out of a small gap in a piece of bark, and nabbed the cache.
With three minutes to spare, I’d found my 1000th cache on my second anniversary! Done!
You want to know the worst part? After doing a preliminary audit when I returned home to make sure that I’d found all 30 caches, it turned out that I’d miscounted during the day and that I’d actually found 34 geocaches instead! So, all that racing around at midnight wasn’t even necessary; I’d found the 1000th about two hours earlier!
Well, at least I accomplished my goal.
Oh, and for future, no more %#@&$ geocaching goals!