One Year Later: A post-mortem of CIA-NEA13

Wow, has it been a year already?  I guess since I have been writing (and in some cases re-writing) the blog posts for the trip since July (and only JUST posted the final post yesterday) I still have very vivid memories of the trip and it’s still very fresh in my mind.  If you haven’t read any of the series of posts, you can start here.

So, after having written 15,848 words on the subject (WordPress tells me how many words are in a post, so no, I didn’t go and count them all), what more could I possibly have to say on the subject?  Honestly, this is to serve more as a cautionary post to help those who are inspired to plan their own epic caching trips.  While I did a lot of things right, there were some nagging things that could have been done differently and now, having spent the past year reliving the entire trip, and having countless conversations with the participants about it, I feel I have a firmer grasp on how to properly plan these outings, where we can properly balance the caching with the sightseeing and not sacrifice one for the sake of the other.  I feel I’m being harder on myself than I should be, and that since this was the first multi-day caching trip I had ever planned from the beginning, I really shouldn’t beat myself up for the blunders and oversights, but I do still need to hold myself accountable so that I don’t repeat these mistakes in the future.  So for this post, I’m going to go over the things I, personally, feel that could have been done better.  I hope that this information, accompanied with this post, will help others in planning a big trip.

Better Time Allottment

I’m going to kick things off by addressing the elephant in the room.  The biggest obstacle I faced while planning the trip was balancing time for caching and sightseeing.  I had the foresight to make the trip a 4 1/2 day affair due to the amount of places we were going, and I felt I allotted an ample amount of time for the minimal amount of caches we were going to try for, but the sights we were going to weren’t singular attractions.  We weren’t staring at landmarks and then moving on.  Each place we intended on stopping in had a plethora of attractions and sights vying for our attention.  Washington D.C. and New York City offered countless opportunities on their own.  And don’t get me started on Philadelphia and Boston.  Both cities are rich in history and culture and were most worthy of stops.

In all honesty, I doomed this trip from the start.  When you have a blank canvas and are tasked with coming up with the best trip possible, you tend to target the bullet points, the dream locations.  I’d never been to NYC or D.C., so they were the first on my list.  Everything else followed.  What I should have done was planned an entire day for each of those cities, and made the trip longer.  We had to cram as much as we could into an 8-hour day in D.C. and a 6-hour day in NYC.  That is folly from the getgo.  We knew we were going to ANC to cache and see the Tomb of the Unknowns, but we didn’t grab a single cache inside.  We were there a solid 2 hours and attempted 2 separate caches, but because of the nature of the caches, we didn’t have the strength, nor the time, to locate all the stages and find the final locations.  One of the finals took us clear to the opposite side of town, so there was no way that would have EVER been found by us with the time we had.  Seriously, what should have happened was we spent one day in ANC, stayed the night in town, then spent a day in D.C. before leaving that evening.  NYC is the same.  We should have started our day early, did the 9/11 Memorial, and then hopped on the subway and visit Times Square, Central Park, and the Empire State Building.  We should have spent at minimum 12 hours in Manhattan alone.

And then the aforementioned Philly and Boston.  It is a huge slap to the face that we stopped for an hour in Philly and did nothing but stuff our faces.  Yes, the sandwich was amazing and I had a blast, but what about seeing Liberty Bell?  What about going to Independence Hall, or seeing the Rocky Balboa statue at the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art?  And then there’s Boston Harbor, the Cheers Bar, Fenway Park, the Old North Church, or walking the Freedom Trail on a guided tour of Boston.

Yes, I totally get that this was a caching trip, first and foremost.  Everything I just mentioned is something you’d do on a family vacation.  But that was also part of this trip’s purpose.  We weren’t just grabbing caches in states we had never been in before, we were seeing things we’d only seen in movies and TV shows or read about in books.  The caches were the catalyst for the trip, but the sights were added bonus.

So the biggest change I would have made for this trip is I would have allotted more time for the major stops of the trip.  ANC/D.C. would have received 2 days and NYC would have received one, and perhaps half-days for Philly and Boston.  That would mean this trip would have needed to be at minimum 6 days long.  That is a tall order in and of itself, but, looking back, this would have improved the trip immensely in my eyes.

Better Time Management

While this might sound like the same thing as I just mentioned, I’m actually referring to something completely different.  As I stated previously, when planning the route and the caches, I allotted time for sightseeing and caches.  Everything on the itinerary was down to the minute and the expectation was that for every cache we’d do, we’d spend up to 5 minutes on it.  None of the caches chosen were particularly hard or time draining, save for ANC’s caches.  I had a schedule for when we should arrive to stops and when we should leave, and I felt that I was being generous in giving each cache (again, save for ANC) 5 minutes.  But, again as I mentioned previously, I was careless in my planning.

I had mapped out the route and knew where we’d need to fill up the tank, but I didn’t bother to put that on the itinerary.  I knew we’d need to stop for food or the restroom or even to stretch our legs, but again, I didn’t allot any time for it.  Our first stop for a meal was outside of Columbus and we spent damn near 80 minutes there.  I hadn’t put that in our plan at all.  Sure, we grabbed a cache at the truck stop (and DNFed another), but we also weren’t hurrying to get back on the road.  There wasn’t any sense of urgency, and that was my fault.  I knew there was nothing of importance that we had to rush off to.  Our goal for the day was to stop at the Pilot truck stop in Maryland to sleep.  And the same could be said for one of the caches we stopped for in downtown Columbus.  I had allotted 5 minutes to satisfy the requirements for the cache (a virtual), but we ended up spending over 20 minutes at the cache, first because we kept misreading what the cache description told us we needed for the answer, but then because we were just enjoying being on the trip.  Again, no sense of urgency because we were only heading towards sleep.  And while I couldn’t impress upon myself at the time the need for sleep, it was certainly on my mind once we entered West Virginia and I realized we were almost 2 hours behind schedule.  We were supposed to stop for sleep at just after midnight, but it ended up being almost 2:30 when we pulled into our parking spot.  That left us with less than 4 hours instead of the 6 we should have had for sleep.

The same thing happened the following day.  We technically were up 30 minutes ahead of schedule and we made it into Arlington with plenty of time to spare, and we also left ANC a full 70 minutes earlier than scheduled, so we should have had plenty of time to do everything we had scheduled.  But reality is a fickle bitch compared to hypotheticals.  I didn’t allot specific time for each cache while in the city.  I gave us from noon to 5 to do as much as we could.  And while yes, I did expect us to grab lunch while in D.C., what I didn’t do was adjust things since we had decided late in the planning phase to add the stop in Philly to eat dinner.  Lunch was going to eat up an hour of our time, so perhaps it would have been more prudent to, instead of eating in a sitdown restaurant, we should have just grabbed a quick bite either at one of the many food trucks lining the streets or perhaps a Subway or something.  Since only one of our group were in shape to walk miles with little discomfort, I shouldn’t have expected our walk through the city to be a breeze.  We had to take several breaks to rest our feet and legs and to also hydrate since it was so hot.  And because of the slow pace and the impending lunch (which was more like breakfast since none of us had really eaten anything yet and it took place closer to dinner time), we had to begin skipping caches/sights just to keep to our time.  It was already after 3 when we sat to eat and by the time we had finished, we knew it was futile to continue, so we abandoned our last sight to see (the Capital building) and the 4 caches nearby and headed back to the van to leave.  We left town on time, but after some unexpected traffic between D.C. and Baltimore, an errant turn of events at Towson University cost us an hour, 20 minutes wasted trying to locate (and failing at finding) a place to purchase an E-Z Pass for the toll roads, and then another 20 minutes for an emergency stop at a Walmart, we were now over 2 hours behind schedule again.  Yes, you can’t plan for emergencies and sometimes bad things happen when looking for a cache and something that should take a couple minutes ends up taking a lot longer, but had I been the leader of the trip I made myself out to be, I should have pulled the trigger the second we pulled up to the school and realized the webcam wasn’t in the area of the listed coordinates and had us move on to Philly.  But my pride wouldn’t allow it.  We had gone almost an hour out of the way to grab the webcam cache and that would have been a total waste had I just said “Nope, we’re not going to do it.”  But for the sake of time, I should have made that call.  The rest of the trip went a bit smoother, save for difficulties with getting to Buttermilk and an extremely slow late-lunch service at an Applebees, but it was those early instances that really bothered me.

So when it comes to better time management, I say that, have everything mapped out to the best of your ability, including fuel stops and meal times, and don’t be afraid to make sacrifices in order to keep on schedule (or as close as you can get).  Putting head to pillow just before midnight is much better than just before 3am.

More In-car Entertainment

Really this is more nit-picking than anything else, but in the scheme of things, conversation and jokes can only take you so far.  While we had a blast telling stories and joking around, there were times where we were all buried in our phones (except the driver, of course), checking Facebook and doing whatever.  And when we weren’t doing that, we were sleeping.  The van we rented had a DVD player in it, and it wasn’t until day 3 that we used it, and that was only because I found a movie at a Redbox in Baltimore that the majority had any desire to watch.  While 2 of us didn’t get to watch the movie since we were driving/navigating, it did provide a couple laughs that kept things light.  Several times I wished someone had brought UNO cards to play, and had there been some more movies, I would have spent more time in the back seats watching that instead of trying to sleep.

So for this, I say, bring some entertainment options.  Be it cards, movies, or even Mad Libs.  Anything to keep things light and conversational so that people don’t start checking out and turning to Facebook or the back of their eyelids for entertainment.

An Extra Body or 2

Simply put, I think this trip could have done with a couple extra people.  I’m not saying we got bored or tired of each other.  With even one extra person, trip costs could have been split further and saved each of us about $60.  On top of that, more people means more drivers to share the load with.

Having said all this, the trip was an absolute blast and I had so much fun with everyone involved.  Hindsight is always 20/20 and even if we had adhered to everything I said up above, I’m sure I would still have found something to complain about.  While things didn’t work out the way I wanted it to this year and a new epic trip will not happen for 2014, that just means I have that much more time to plan for the next trip.  And this time, I’ll make sure I do a better job of it.

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