Friday, April 24, 2009

Hide and Go Seek

About a year ago the Tuna household decided to get a GPS as a family present. Part of the reason for the purchase was practical and responsible and grownup: it is very useful in getting us around busy, unfamiliar areas. We've had a great deal of fun with the technology (thus far we've failed at giving it a name we all like), and have gone so far as to have it on when driving around town. We like to make it mad when we purposefully go the wrong way. We swear it says recalculating with increasing disdain the more we mess up. We have experimented with different voices and nationalities: American Jill is a bit bossy and cranky sounding and British Emily has a softer, quieter voice which is a bit too sleepy to make us pay attention. Right now we're on Australian Emily, who seems to possess the right balance of chipper without being too annoying. The technology also has a wide variety of other functions, including MP3 player (never use it), Oxford dictionary (for those writing their term paper in the car), and helpful phrases in a variety of languages. One day TeenTuna was mucking around with the phrases, and as I was about to pull into my driveway, the technology announced "Now arriving at home....Would you like fries with that?" How did she know?
The fun reason we bought the GPS was to have a little fun and go geocaching. Geocaching is a somewhat new (10 years, maybe?) activity that combines the techy-geeky GPS with a bit of old fashioned hide and seek. All you have to do is go to a geocaching website, find out what treasures are in your area (you'd be absolutely amazed at how many there are in your own hometown), input the coordinates into the GPS and off you go!

The first time we tried it out (knowing next to nothing, because who reads directions?) we set out for a walking trail in town. We wandered for awhile, keeping track of the technology as it announced how many hundreds of feet we were away from our target. We quickly learned it's easy to get to the general area, but the last 25 feet are a killer. We stumbled across our very first cache quite by accident. It wasn't the one we were looking for, but it was a cache all the same, and we considered ourselves experts. HA.

We went off in search of the next cache (technically the one we were looking for to begin with) which was supposedly along the same path. The technology claimed we were all around it. So we started to comb through the field. We combed and combed and combed and combed. We searched through bushes and briars and logs and brush piles. Sitting on a fallen tree, we had to admit that we were stumped.

One of the challenges of geocaches is to do it in secret. In other words, you don't want anybody to know or see what you're doing. This can be difficult, depending on the location of the cache. As this was a fairly popular paved trail, people were often walking by. At one point, two women asked TeenTuna if she needed something. Being caught totally off-guard and not having a good story prepared, she said, "I lost my shoe!" When she told me this, I looked at her in disbelief. "And they believed you?" I asked. TeenTuna shrugged and we kept searching, and eventually found it, about an hour later.

Since we first started our treasure hunting, we've learned a lot. Like, bring a compass. And paper and a pencil. Some caches include word or math puzzles to figure out the clue, and believe me when I say patience is the key. We did a multi-stager (go here to find the next clue, now go here, now go here), and everything was ridiculously easy until we hit stage five -- a puzzle clue. We were out in the blazing sun in an open field trying to figure out which sign they were referring to for the puzzle, and then trying to figure out what the puzzle might be. Frustration factors vary from day to day and person to person, and I tend to be the one not willing to give up, no matter how long I have to stand there and stare at something. After about an hour we were hot and tired, so I wrote down the text from the sign word-for-word and line-by-line, and we decided to go get lunch...where I sat and stared at that piece of paper for another 45 minutes. And. Figured. It. Out. Victory was sweet that day, with a side of fries.

While on vacation in Hatteras, NC, we did some more geocaching. At one point we were out of the car near the main road. We knew we were "all around it" (our usual state of so close, no cigar), and I was hesitant to wander in people's yards. Suddenly a pickup truck slowed down. "YOU'RE REALLY CLOSE" he yelled. Busted, we stopped and looked. TeenTuna yelled, "WELL, WHERE IS IT???" That would be the day we were introduced to nano-caches: tiny containers about the size of a bolt, and often magnetic. With their hint, we managed to find it, once TeenTuna climbed on my back to reach it.

Caches can be all different sizes -- as big as ammo boxes or large tupperware containers, down to plastic film cannisters and nanos (do you see the cache in this picture? It's there). The goal really isn't for the treasure inside (although they can be fun), but to just find it, and record your information on the log to let the owners know you were there. Another huge bonus is get get outside, wander aruond and explore. We've found trails and landmarks we never knew existed; sometimes in our own backyard.

This past summer when I spent several weeks in England, I made sure to take a pile of possible geocaching sites with me. It doesn't matter if it is a bustling metropolitan city or a remote hiking path, they're everywhere. During our "off-week" (away from chaperoning duties) we traveled to the Cotswolds and hiked up and down and all around the town.

We found treasures at the "deer jump"

and the four-shire stone

The sheep were baaaaad at giving directions

and sometimes we learned that walls

had secrets of their own.

There were also important pieces of information that we often ignored, and later regretted. Especially that one crucial paragraph that warned about the cow pie-filled bog.

Behold the cow pie.

Behold the bog.

Behold the two idiots who decided after crossing a huge cow pie-filled bog, finding the treasure (it was a great hide) and crossing back again, what we really HAD to do was get the camera and go back in one more time for a photo-op. We may have sacrificed our shoes and socks to the Gods of the Cotswolds, but I have to tell you it was a blast that we'll never forget.

So no matter where you are, even in the farthest reaches of the Upper Peninsula of Northern Michigan (where I was last weekend), there are treasures waiting to be found.

Be on the lookout for signs

Be all the necessary tools. In this case, a Finnish translation guide

And if the clues from the Oldest Resident in the town of Oskar don't stump you,
you just might be lucky enough to find yourself a treasure.

Now you see it....

Now you don't.

Happy hunting.

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