I’ve both read and heard a lot of stories about how different people or teams got into geocaching. This is mine. And while I’ve also read about how many people got ‘hooked’ on their first cache, my experience wasn’t quite as cliche. No offense, but If I had a geocoin for every time I read “This is our first cache and we’re already hooked!”, well, I’d have quite a few geocoins. (Pardon me now while I go back to make sure I never used that phrase in any of my early logs, and if so, edit them out.)
In November of 2004, another cacher that I worked with, WYlostinMA, got started caching by borrowing a GPSr from his cousin and was sucked in so completely that he sold the radio he’d built for work to finance the purchase of his first Garmin eTrex. Every day at lunch he’d go on and on and on about this great new hobby he’d discovered, but in truth, I think I paid little attention to it. His other hobby at the time was paintball; a hobby so prohibitively expensive that it had to be funded through the use of grants, or sponsorships, or racketeering. I could only imagine what this geocaching was costing him. It had already cost him his radio. No, it just wasn’t for me. I consoled myself with the same phrase I’ve been telling my wife since we got married: There is nothing in this world that’s too good for you, but many of those things are simply too expensive.
Then one afternoon WY arrived in the cafe at work with his backpack and announced that he was going after a nearby cache and that I was coming with him. I had little say in the matter. My lunch was portable and I hated my job. What other options did I have? After a crash course in geo-tech I got the honor of holding his Garmin eTrex Legend and performing the navigation duties. Sure, I was a little bit full of myself at the time for being given such weighty responsibilities but nowadays I wonder if maybe I was just the live-action dash mount. Hmmm.
At about .3 miles from the cache, the arrow was pointing out my door and across a sprawling field sporting 3 radio towers. “So, do we hike from here?” I asked. There was a pause, then a “Like hell” and his Dodge Ram 4×4 took a hard right into the field where it quickly found and followed a deeply rutted and muddy maintenance road. We couldn’t have parked no more than 50 feet from the cache. (This tactic would get us damned close to many, many more caches over the next few years caching together!) WY made the actual find, going pretty much right to the log that was hiding the ammo can. He pulled it out, opened it and showed me the log and contents. After some rummaging I took a mini beanie baby (the kind that came in McDonald’s happy meals) and I left the only thing I had on me at the time, my work calculator. It wasn’t easily parted with. I still hadn’t decided at this point whether or not I’d ever find another geocache, but if so, I didn’t want to start out my geocaching “career” by showing that I was a lousy trader!
That same day, after we got out of work we went on a hunt for another nearby cache. This was the cache where we both learned two very important geocaching lessons… 1. If you don’t know the area, check it out on a map first (every cache page has links that show the cache mapped on a topo map) and 2. the arrow only points the shortest distance between you and the cache, not the easiest! We got as close as we could by driving up a jeep trail and then started hiking…. UP. The sun was already going down and had finally set by the time we reached a looming wall of rock scree towering loosely between us and the cache. We looked left, we looked right, we looked up. I believe this was the first appearance in either of us of the “gotta get that cache” compulsion. This drive would later spawn the personal joke: “If anything happens to me, just promise one thing… that you’ll make it home to log the cache!”
We weren’t about to go around that obstacle, no matter how much safer it might have been. It was going to take too long. No, we were going up. And so we climbed that wall of crumbling rock, Mag Lite flashlights in our teeth, grabbing for small trees growing at random amongst the rubble, zig-zagging from left to right to find crops of actual solid rock, wincing when the broken rock from which we’d just stepped slid away down the pile as we pushed off of it. I have no idea how long it took us to reach the solid top of that cliff. I know that when I got there, I collapsed on the scrubby grass. My throat was burning and my nose was running. My lungs would only take in half as much oxygen as I wanted. I was spitting every few seconds to rid myself of all the excess saliva. (I was then, as I am now, miserably out of shape.) This is the point where I believe we both discovered another geocaching truth: the view at the top is absolutely worth whatever you suffer to get there. After forcing myself back on my feet we got our bearings and set out to find the cache. and it wasn’t long before I’d found it. Statistically, it could have been either one of us. I was just looking under the right rock. Still, it was my first official find.
Then, we found the actual trail down the mountain. The one we should have taken to get up the mountain. Of course.
Now you can imagine that when I got home that night, much later than normal, completely filthy and recounting a tale of reckless, impulsive adventure… that beanie baby I took from that first cache of the day wasn’t quite enough to convince my wife that this is something I should be allowed to do on a regular basis. Or ever. It would have been so much simpler if I had just said we were out poaching ivory. Even the part about how elephants came to find themselves in the Pioneer Valley would have been easier to comprehend than the lure of this thing called geocaching.
“So what exactly were you doing?”
“It’s called geocaching, Ross started…”
“You have to climb up cliffs to do this? And by the way, were you even thinking when you did that?”
“No no no. Look, there’s caches all over the…”
“Like where? Are they all on cliffs? Oh my GOD you climbed a cliff in the dark!?!”
“What? No! I don’t know where they all are. That’s the part of the game.”
“I’ll bet they’re all on cliffs!”
“And all I need is a global positioning system receiver. Just… $100.”
“It’ll get me out of the house. It’s good exercise. I’ll meet new people.”
“I can do it with the girls.”
“So when’s the next time you’ll all be going?”
And that’s pretty much how it all happened.