Random talking

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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The Rigors of Planning an Epic Cache Run

As I’ve mentioned time and again, there is a ton of work involved in planning an epic cache run.  There’s a lot more to it than just looking at a destination, running a pocket query for geocaches in the area, and then heading out.  Logistics play a huge part in making a successful cache run, and it’s those logistics I’m going to focus on in this post.  Now I will say here and now that epic cache runs, whether you’re planning one or just tagging along, are not for everyone.  Regardless of whether its a 150+ cache power trail run or a multi-state, multi-day trip, the caching experience is a lot different than a more traditional run.  If you’re someone who gets frustrated doing the same thing over and over or lose patience spending more time in a car then out seeking a cache, these types of runs are definitely not in your wheelhouse.  Having said that, I think that everyone who feels they could handle it should partake in at least one epic cache run.  It’s definitely an experience that can produce memories that last a lifetime.  And for those that have participated and/or want to plan their own epic run, then this information will serve you well.  I’m not going to claim that my way is the best for planning, but it has worked successfully so far and I feel it can work for others.

Decide on a destination

Obviously before you can do anything, you’ll need to know where you’re going.  This step is pretty easy if you’re planning to do all the heavy lifting and then ask others to join you, but if it’s a group effort from the get-go, you’ll want to make sure everyone is on the same page, destination-wise.  You don’t want anyone settling for your plan and then harboring some resentment towards the rest of you for not going with their idea.  If you’re planning a run at a power trail, the work is pretty much done for you and you can move on, but in the case of a trip to a destination cache/location, you’ll want to make sure that everyone who is involved in the planning is on board.  In the case of our Mingo trip, the initial foundation was laid by the two masterminds of the trip, but once the core group of tag-alongs joined in the planning, we came up with additional stops on the trip.  And with our upcoming New England trek, we made sure to decide on the major stops first, and have been adding additional stops along the way since.

Set expectations and goals

Now that a destination has been decided on, it’s time to set the goals and expectations.  While power trails are pretty much the easiest in this regard, you’ll want to make sure that these details are decided on early in the planning stages.  The cache run itself might be about having fun with friends, but you need to make sure that all bases are covered.  Do you have someone in the group getting close to a milestone?  Is there a site at one of the stops that someone wants to see?  Will you be passing within 2 hours of the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth?  Just so happen to be passing by the location of one of the oldest benchmarks in America?  While spontaneity is never lost on me, I also like to have a defined set of goals to plan all my trips by, be it a cache run or a family road trip.  If you set your expectations early, then anything extra that comes up will go above and beyond and make the trip that much better.

For our trip, the hard goals are destination-based instead of cache-based this time.  We wanted to make sure we got to D.C., the 9/11 Memorial in NYC, see the ruins of the ghost town Centralia in PA, and grab a cache (ANY cache) in every state in New England.  With those goals set, we’ve since tweaked it to include Arlington National Cemetery, a stop in Philadelphia to eat a legit, original Philly Cheesesteak, a stop at Metlife Stadium to see where the NY Giants play, rerouting our NYC trip to allow us to ride the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan and see New York from a very different view, and a stop in Scranton for my brother and I to pay homage to NBC’s The Office.

There will always be casualties in this stage of planning.  Someone will have an idea that sounds pretty good, but for one reason or another it just won’t work out.  For our trip, this involved a trip to Niagara Falls.  We had intended on going across the Canadian border to not only see the falls from the best vantage point, but to also say we’ve cached in a new country.  This involved a lot of extra planning, including obtaining a passport.  In the end, we decided against this part of the trip as it was just too time consuming and there could have been complications involving the border crossing.  Don’t get discouraged when something like this happens.  It’s best to just roll with the punches and move on.

Figure out the logistics of traveling

At this point you’ve either already set your party or have a pretty good idea of how many people will be coming with you.  The next step will be figuring out how to get everyone there.  Do you take one large vehicle or several smaller ones?  Do you rent a 15-passenger van or two minivans?  This is really going to be all about preferences and costs.  Taking your own car may be preferable as the cost of rentals can be rather exorbitant, especially if you have to rent multiple vehicles, but keep in mind that if something should go wrong during the trip and maintenance or repairs are needed, it is completely on you and could be a costly endeavor, both on money as well as time.

If you’re planning on taking just a small group of people or even family members, it may be more advantageous to take your own vehicle, especially if it’s just a powertrail run you’re doing.  However, I fully endorse renting a vehicle for any trips that take you more than 300 miles from home.  Besides not putting excess wear-and-tear on your vehicle while driving (or racking up precious miles against your lease allowance), if something were to happen with the vehicle, be it a burst tire or a mechanical failure, the rental company is responsible for repairs (unless you were negligent) and if it’s something very serious, they will put you in a replacement vehicle.  Some would say it is overkill, but I like the peace of mind to know that my group isn’t going to be stranded 800 miles from home due to an issue for longer than a couple hours.

Choose a route

Now that you know where you’re going, who’s going with you, and how you’ll be conveyed there, it’s time to figure out a route.  In many situations, the route should be nothing more than a relatively straight line from Point A to Point B and back.  But the truly legendary runs aren’t so easily defined.  With our Mingo trip, we started in Indianapolis and made a massive loop that never had us driving back on the same road.  And with our upcoming trip, only the last 450 miles or so will we be on familiar road.  Obviously a trip with multiple stops that ISN’T a power trail will not be as cut and dry.  The best way to choose a route is to first look at how much time you have for the trip.  Mingo had a time table of 56 hours.  The route had already been set when I jumped on, and the total travel time was stated as being around 41 hours. For our New England trip, we decided that we’d need to nearly double that amount of time.  So this time around we have around 98 hours, beginning around 4pm on Friday 6/14 and ending around 6pm on Tuesday 6/18.

Knowing how much time I had to work with, I began plotting rough route ideas using Google Maps.  Unfortunately due to limitations with the site, you can only plot out a maximum of 24 points along the route, so this doesn’t include the routing of geocaches.  I began by listing the cities I knew we would be stopping in for the basic outline of the route.  Luckily Google Maps has a handy method for changing routes by being able to grab the route and moving it to different points on the map.  After I got the initial circuitous loop completed, I was then able to manipulate the route to include a stop just north of the Maine border.

With the cache runs we did for the Big Blue Smiley Geo Art series (56 caches) in Louisville and the Back Home Again in Indiana Geo Art series (125 caches) in western central Indiana, the solved coordinates had us going all over the place.  Because of the number of stops we’d have to make, Google Maps was no longer the ideal option for route creation due to it’s limitation.  I had originally intended to use Google Earth, as you can place a large number of pinpoints on a map, and I had in fact already uploaded the GPX for all the caches for each run to look at their relative locations on the map (since GC.com was showing only the original coords, not the corrected ones).  However, the routing functionality of Google Earth leaves a lot to be desired, so this wasn’t ideal for me.  I then decided to purchase a copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips 2013.  Not only does it allow for multiple-stop routing, but it allows for the importing of GPX files (GSAK even has the capability of making S&T-compatible waypoint files if that’s more your thing).  Using this software, I was able to import the GPX of all the caches’ corrected coordinates, and then went to work optimizing the route to minimize backtracking and wasted time.  The BBS trip was a little trickier as I had to negotiate one-way streets, neighborhoods, and areas where the caches weren’t actually along a road and required a little footwork.  With the BHA series, however, the software exceeded my expectations.  We were able to complete the entire series in just under 5 hours, which really isn’t bad considering the number of caches and the unfamiliarity of the area.

I’m not going to say that the MS software is what you’ll need, as I’m sure any other offline software solution will work.  I can only speak for what I’ve used.  Streets and Trips allows you to set driving times, set speed adjustments (for those who tend to drive faster than posted speed limits or slower), assign specific time to spend at each stop, and even figure out estimated fuel costs based on criteria you set (tank size, estimated price per gallon, and MPG).  I remember the defunct Rand McNally TripMaker (this was pre-Mapquest/Google Maps days) had similar features so I am sure any other software on the market can offer you something like this.

Fill that route with caches (if you haven’t already)

Now we’re getting to the meat and potatoes of the trip.  You’ve got your route figured out, you know where you’re going to be, now it’s time to add caches to that route.  This was actually the most time-consuming part of the process.  There really isn’t an easy way to do this.  Initially I thought I’d do a search for highest-favorited caches in the states we were going to be in and then whittle that down to a reasonable number, but the problem with that approach is that you’ll find most of the caches end up being NOWHERE NEAR your route.  So abandoning that method, I limited my search for the quality caches to the major stops, knowing that I’d have a far greater chance of finding quality caches in a limited area.  This produced the results I needed and I was able to plot some amazing gems for our outing.

The next step was to find caches along the route.  We’ll be passing through several states along the way and if we don’t stop for a cache, we don’t get those states lit up on our Statistics Maps.  For this I used the “Caches along route” tool on GC.com.  You set a start and end point as well as the radius for which to search and it will give you a page where you can name the route and make it public, if desired.  From there you can make a PQ for the route, based on the normal PQ criteria, and it will then return results along the route.  Unfortunately a route cannot be longer than 500 miles so on some stretches I had to do more than one of these routes.  Ultimately this turned up over 2,000 caches available.  I imported all the PQs into a GSAK database and began the arduous process of eliminating caches that were either too difficult to get in a 5-minute period of time, run-of-the-mill P&Gs with no value outside of the numbers, and caches that have high numbers of DNFs.  While I’d love to do 10 caches in every state (as well as the caches slotted for each major stop), with the uncertainty of road conditions and other things that could cause delays, I just don’t want to chance delaying something or causing problems time-wise for caches that aren’t quite worthy of the “Destination” or “Must-do” title…especially if a P&G costs us a 100+ favorite point-awarded cache down the road.

Tweak and Optimize

After you’ve come up with the route and decided on the caches to go for, it’s time to tweak and optimize your trip.  Whether you’re using something like Streets and Trips or breaking a sweat and doing it via atlas and pen-and-paper, you’re going to want to make sure you’re taking the most direct, efficient approach.  This is the point where you get the most clear-cut estimation of how long this trip will take.  S&T gives you the time it expects you at your destination.  If you have a loose window for arrival, tweaking will obviously be less involved.  For our trip, however, we have some stops where we have a strict amount of time to be there and if anything put us in danger of missing that window, we had to drop caches or find a better route to get there.  Naturally we cannot plan for all circumstances or eventualities so while there is organization, chaos can strike at any time and we’ll just have to roll with the punches.  Power trails and Geo Art series runs will never really have this issue as they are a different beast altogether, but it’s good to have a plan, a contingency plan, a backup to the contingency plan, and then a Plan Z when all the rest fails.

Divvy up responsibilities

Now that all the hard work is out of the way, you should now be ready to start dropping information on all the participants.  The first thing anyone is going to want to know is how much money do they need to bring.  If you’ve done everything the way I’ve lined it out, you should have no issues with giving them a good figure.  If you’re renting a vehicle (or two), you’ll simply need to take the amount the rental(s) are for and divide it by the number of attendees.  Fuel becomes a much more finicky number to nail down.  Unless you’re completely oblivious to the volatile nature of gas prices, you’ll know that there can be massive swings in fuel prices from one day to the next…not to mention geographical differences.  There will never be a way to accurately gauge the costs for fuel, but there are ways to help get the best estimate possible.

Gas Buddy is one of the most up-to-date price indexing web sites available.  It’s so popular it has it’s own iOS and Android apps.  Just by looking at their Heat map, I can see that gas prices in several of the states we’ll be going to are averaging between $.50-$.60/gallon LESS than what we pay locally.  Knowing that estimated MPG for your vehicle is always helpful in figuring out how much gas you’ll think you’ll use.  If you’re expecting to travel 2500 and your car gets ~25 MPG and has a 20-gallon tank, basic math will tell you that you’ll get about 500 miles to the tank, which in turn would mean you need 5 fill ups.  Using this knowledge, you can then go to your map and get an idea of where you’d need to fill up and then go into Gas Buddy and look at the area gas prices using the Heat Map.  OR, you could go to their nifty Trip Cost Calculator, enter up to 12 stops (it won’t be “dead-on-balls” accurate but it works), answer some questions regarding fuel efficiency or enter the make/model info, and presto, it not only does the work for you in telling you where to stop for gas, but also tells you how much it thinks you’ll pay, based on the cheapest gas station in the area it’s determined you should fill up.  Using that number (or the number from the first method) you can then tweak it to what you feel would be a good estimate and provide that to the group, splitting evenly amongst everyone.

Going even deeper, make sure everyone who can contribute to the planning is involved.  If someone is really good with organization, have them create lists for each attendee of all the caches, their requirements, etc.  While the vast majority of those playing this game have smartphones, tablets, and laptops, sometimes it’s easier to unplug a bit and go analog when it comes to getting their notes and logs together for caches on these runs.  If someone is creative, have them come up with things to entertain while between caches, especially if you’re on a long trip with vast distances between stops.  And while snack food like chips are always an easy go-to, if someone has a knack for cooking, by all means, ask them to make something special, be it Puppy Chow or even homemade Chex Mix.  These treats will serve the group well and keep spirits high.  While these details may seem trivial or unnecessary, if you’re going to be confined to a vehicle for a lengthy period of time, any little deviation from the status quo will make things that much more enjoyable.

I’m not going to preach that this is the only way to plan.  This is technically only my 3rd go with this sort of thing and I’m still learning and finding ways to tweak my method.  There might be some of you out there reading this that know of a better way to do this.  If so, I invite you to leave a comment explaining what you do when it comes to planning.  I don’t think there is a wrong way to do this, but perhaps there’s a more streamlined method or less over-thinking involved.

Don’t forget, I’ll be posting daily recaps of our upcoming trip while on the road, so if you’re looking forward to seeing what a trip of this magnitude is like, you won’t want to miss it.

Categories: Random talking | 2 Comments

Here we go again!

In my last post I eluded to another epic cache run being in the works.  I’ve held back on making this information broadly known until the specifics were nailed down.  I didn’t want to say too much before everything was locked into place because I feel that can jinx things or grow tiresome to those who would have to hear about it over and over.  But now I feel is the appropriate time to spill the beans.  In exactly one month, a group of us will be headed east to cache the New England states as well as Washington D.C.  and Arlington National Cemetery.

Born out of a desire to replicate our epic cache run out west, discussions began with a simple question:

How can we top the Mingo trip?

Obviously this isn’t a competition, but I wanted to do something that would rival last year’s trip in terms of distance, states traveled through, and sites seen.  Last year’s trip was pretty spontaneous, as we really only had about a month to plan for it, so by giving us more time, that would allow for more feedback and more planning.  I don’t know about the others, but that trip awoke inside me a long-dormant sense of exploration and adventure.  When I was a kid I loved the idea of taking road trips.  Many hours were spent staring out windows at fast-moving landscapes during trips to my extended family’s reunion in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee and Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg.  There was something wondrous and exciting about getting in a car (or van, RV, etc) and heading on a long trip to a foreign (to me) location.  The different radio stations, the regional stores, even the unfamiliar gas station names, just the thought of these give me goosebumps.  As I grew older and started my family, that desire to hit the road never really disappeared, it was just hidden by the shorter trips to neighboring cities and theme parks.  But after our trip out west, I’ve had a longing desire to do it again.  At one point I even contemplated just redoing the route from last year with all new caches to try for, but this time giving us 4 full days to complete the trip instead of the 2 and a half from last year.  The point is, I wanted to go somewhere!

The initial planning for this upcoming trip began way back in February.  My brother (Team Duckman) and I were at a family function and had been talking back and forth about a trip up to Mackinac Island in Michigan that I had wanted to get the CIA group to do.  There’s almost 70 caches on this island and would be perfect for a group outing.  But as discussions continued, things started to divert.  Suddenly we were talking about heading into Canada to be able to cache in another country.  This then brought up ideas of taking a trip across the southern portion of Ontario, grabbing caches along the way, and then caching the Niagara Falls area and heading back home across northern Pennsylvania and Ohio.  For awhile this actually looked like it would be our trip…that is until I started crunching the numbers and determined that not only would this trip come way under the 4-day requirement, but it was almost half the length of the previous trip as well.  The final death nail in this route was the fact that rental vehicles (because who wants their own car to breakdown hundreds of miles from home) aren’t allowed to cross into Canada.  So we put the kibosh on that plan, but it’s not totally dead…we plan on going into Canada soon as a family day trip, just to say we did.

Maybe next time

Maybe next time

So once we went back to the drawing board, we decided to call in some reinforcements on this to try to get a solid plan going.  Team Adorkable and DynamicDs answered the call and, after some back and forth and brainstorming, we decided that a trip to New England would fit the bill in both longevity and epic-ness.  With the large number of densely-packed states in the area, not to mention the sights, this will definitely rival our previous trip.  Just look at the stops:

  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Washington D.C.
  • Philadelphia
  • 9/11 Memorial in New York City
  • Boston, MA
  • Centralia, PA

These are the major stops we”ll be making.  I say major because these are the stops where we will be spending at least an hour at.  The route, however, will take us through these state:

  • Indiana
  • Ohio
  • West Virginia
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Maine
  • Vermont

Of that list, I only have finds in the first 2 states.  That’s 13 new states I’m going to light up on our Geocaching map.  With this trip, we will have cached in over half the country (29 states).  So you can see why I’m so excited.  Here, why don’t you just stare at the route in all it’s beauty and magnificence…I’ll wait.

Seriously I'm giggling like a school girl over here it's so awesome!

Seriously I’m giggling like a school girl over here it’s so awesome!

While I won’t get into the deep specifics of what went into planning this trip (that will be a post later on the subject of planning an epic cache trip), I will say that it has been a rather exhausting task to get everything planned.  When I assisted with the Mingo trip, the route(s) and caches had already been decided on and I merely made calculations of costs and time.  This time around, it was my baby from the very beginning.  I made a rough idea for our route, then started tweaking the major stops and looking for caches along the route to make sure we get credit for finds in the states we’ll travel through.  Arlington National Cemetery was the first major stop I decided on and researched the caches as well as parking situation for the site. Initially the plan was to then walk across the bridge over the Potomac after we had finished at ANC, do a couple virtuals at the National Mall (Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, etc) and then head back to the vehicle and continue onward, but there is such a large number of highly-favorited caches around D.C. that we really would be doing ourselves an injustice to not spend more time here.  So we’re actually going to dedicate about 4-5 hours of some serious walking/subway-riding to snag some virtual finds at not only the aforementioned locations, but also near the White House, Capitol Building, Ford Theater/Petersen House, and up in Chinatown.  Not bad for a whirlwind tour of our nation’s Capitol, huh?

Our next stop will take us into Philadelphia.  Due to timing, we won’t be able to do any of the museums or historical sites, so what else is there to do in Philadelphia?  How about eat a Philly Cheesesteak at the location of the original sandwich, Pat’s King of Steaks.  There so happens to be a cache just outside of this location so we’ll be able to stuff our faces and then get a smiley to go with our smileys.  I know it’s a weird choice to divert a trip just to grab a sandwich, but considering I’ve had faux-cheesesteaks all my life, I might as well get the real deal.

One of the goals of this trip for Team Adorkable is to see the Statue of Liberty.  Initially we were going to take the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan and then find somewhere to park and hoof it to the 9/11 Memorial entrance, which meant that unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to get a good look at the SIL unless we found a spot on the New Jersey side.  Luckily, Liberty State Park has excellent views of the statue and it just so happens to have a few caches there as well.  But after talking with some non-caching friends who happen to live in the city, it was strongly advised to NOT park in the city if at all possible.  Aside from the vastness of the city and confusion us non-Gothamites will surely endure on the city streets/subway, the price to park in the city on a weekend is absolutely ridiculous.  I get mad when I have to pay $10 to park for several hours downtown when a Pacers/Colts game is happening.  Imagine my shock when I found out that NON-EVENT parking miles away from our destination would cost $36 for 6 hours, and then we’d have to pay for mass transit to get us within walking distance of the memorial.  And don’t even get me started on the cost of crossing into Manhattan, be it tunnel or bridge.  So the plans to drive into the city were suddenly in jeopardy.  Faced with uncertainty, I consulted with a co-worker who happens to be a native of Staten Island, who told me that the only way we should be getting into the city is by taking the Staten Island Ferry.  Not only is it free, and the parking fee is reasonable at $6, but the ferry happens to take us right near the Statue of Liberty.  So not only would we get a free ride into Manhattan, but we’d also get a full-on frontal view of the Statue of Liberty from the water.  You can’t beat that.

Our next stop in Boston is bittersweet.  Depending on how long we spend at the memorial and the travel time, we most likely won’t get into Boston until almost nightfall, and with this happening on a Sunday, the chance to do anything is pretty much nil.  We’re going to spend the night here and then leave Monday morning, grabbing some area caches in the process.  I would have loved to spend some time checking out the historical sites, but this trip is simply not geared for that sort of thing.  So that will have to wait for perhaps a family trip out east to really take everything in.

As I said before, between Boston and our next stop, Centralia, we’ll roll through New Hampshire, Maine, New Hampshire again, Vermont, upstate New York, and back into Pennsylvania.  We’re going to detour a little to visit the oldest Triangulation Station in the country, Buttermilk (this is a benchmarking thing), as well as make a pit stop in Scranton to see the famous “Welcome to Scranton” sign from the opening credits of The Office, which coincidentally is ending it’s 9-year run this very evening.  The sign is no longer located along the road as it appears in the credits and is now located in the Steamtown Mall near downtown.  So we’ll stop there, take some pics, maybe grab an Orange Julius or whatever they serve in malls these days, and head to our final major stop of the trip, the infamous Centralia, PA.

So there you have it.  I tried to keep this as brief as I could, but the word count is still over 1900 so…oops!  I think this time around I’m going to do something differently regarding this blog.  Now that I have things sorted out, I’ve decided I’m going to do a journal during the trip.  Each evening of the trip I am going to post that day’s experiences.  With my Nexus 7 I can jot notes down of what happened and use the mobile app to piece it all together.  This way I know everything I want to say will get said and I won’t fall into the trap of waiting too long to post so much and forget details.  I have to try to post more frequently.  Anyway, I hope you will follow along on our next adventure.  The fun starts June 14th.

Categories: Random talking | 1 Comment

I’m not dead

Yes, I’m sure no one was thinking I was dead, but I know it has been relatively quiet in here since my declaration of more-frequent posting.  Well, this time I have a very good reason for being quiet.  I have been extremely busy.  Not just in life, but also geocaching-wise.  I am in the process of posting a most epic of posts and it’s going to make last year’s GeoBash post look like a picture book.  Not to mention that GeoBash is in 3 short days and I have to make sure we’re all prepared for that.  While my goal is to have my epic post up before we leave Thursday morning, I cannot promise it as there is still much to do before we leave.  But with most of it already written and just needing to button up a few things and upload a few more pictures, it won’t be long after the Bash before the post is up.
Patience, my geo-friends.  I promise to have many tales for you to read soon enough.

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A brief conversation about Geocaching Etiquette

I have been working on this post for several months now but could never quite get it completed.  In a previous post I mentioned that I had several “sort of” run-ins with security at a couple GZs.  I had mentioned this also in a Facebook geocaching group and the feedback was shocking.  Almost everyone that I had spoken with had something negative to say about my adventures.  What I had thought was a rather comical, innocent moment had actually been deemed as damaging for the game as a whole and bad form.  I was quite shocked, to say the least, and was actually a little offended by the outrage I felt was misguided.  Nothing I did was what could be considered illegal or dangerous.  But I heard them out and had a couple conversations and realized what they were saying made a lot of sense.  So, as a testament to my willingness to learn, I present before you a rough guide to etiquette.  This is by no means complete, so if you have any other suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

1. Obey all laws and policies

I can’t stress this enough.  DO NOT BREAK THE LAW TO FIND A CACHE.  I know there are FTF hounds out there that make it their mission to get every FTF possible, but if the speed limit is 25, don’t do 50.  If the cache is in a city park or a cemetery and there are posted times when you cannot be there, do not ignore them.  The cache will be there tomorrow.  If cachers break the rules and are caught, and it is found out that it’s the cache itself that was the cause for this, chances are the property owners will decide they don’t want the temptation of a cache to have people sneak in when they shouldn’t and ask for it to be removed.  This hurts the game for everyone.

2. Do not run when approached by law enforcement/private security/property owner/management of property

This is the issue that got me into hot water with my fellow cachers.  While I feel what I did wasn’t really running away as I was never approached, it is no less suspicious.  If you’re approached by a LEO or security guard asking what you’re doing, jumping into your car and taking off will obviously draw attention to yourself that you’re possibly doing something illegal.  If the cache owners are doing their jobs properly, they have already sought out permission to have their cache there so you wouldn’t get into any trouble.  If it turns out the cache really shouldn’t be there or the officer asks you to remove the cache, you should comply with their direction and notify the cache owner immediately on the cache page as to what happened.  A lot of times it’s a simple misunderstanding where the officer had not been made aware of the cache placement and it’ll get worked out.  Other times, however, it’ll turn out that the cache was not properly placed and it’s archival is necessary.  At the same time, this also applies to either the owner of the property or, in the case of a business or public space, management of the property.  If they see you and question why you are there, don’t run or become combative.  This will only result in a call to the police and a whole lot more trouble for yourself.  And, once again, you’ve given geocaching a black eye that could have lasting repercussions if the particular owner/manager has a lot of properties that could be prime caching spots.

3. Practice CITO

It should already be a given that a cache in/trash out mentality should exist whenever we are at a GZ and there is a lot of trash around, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve happened upon a trashed GZ and there is proof of recent finds.  I’m not suggesting always carrying around a pair of latex gloves and trash bag whenever you do an impromptu cache run, but even if you grab 1 thing while you’re there, you’re making a difference.  PLUS, local property owners/managers may take kindly to your diligence to clean up the mess and reward us with more areas of caching becoming available.  There have been some CITO events setup here recently to cleanup various parks and green spaces, and the owners/managers have made it known that they appreciate the efforts made by us to keep the public spaces clean and safe, which only makes caching look that much more appealing.  So if you’re on the hunt and you see some trash, don’t just ignore it…pick it up!

4. Notify cache owners of any issues immediately

Cache owners rely on us to inform them of when a cache has gone missing or is destroyed/faulty.  Not every container can be 100% waterproof when it comes into contact with so many people.  All it takes is one time for someone to not properly secure a lid to cause damage to the contents of the cache.  I came across a container this past February that hadn’t been found since before the winter months and it had apparently not been properly sealed as the log and the swag had become encased in a block of ice.  Luckily the log was in a zip-lock bag and was spared the worst, but the various business cards and cardboard nicknacks had become a slurry of mush that had to be disposed of.  It turns out at some point one of the locks on the lock-n-lock had been damaged and would no longer properly close.  This meant that water was bound to enter this container once again, especially as our notoriously wet Spring was approaching. I notified the owners and they have since replaced the container.  Allowing it to be the next finder’s problem is poor form and, in my opinion, rather rude.  It takes but a moment to either post a note or a “Needs Maintenance” log on GC.com.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you can always email the CO on the site itself and tell them of your discovery.  They’ll thank you for the courtesy and the container will be replaced, resulting in future quality finds for all the subsequent cachers after you.

**BONUS – Be social**

This is a bit of a tough subject for me, seeing as I am fairly introverted, but it does go without saying that geocaching can be a very social game.  During the Midwest GeoBash we ran into a lot of cachers at various GZs and, if not for my wife, I most likely would have just sat in my car and waited from them to leave before scoring the find.  But by going out and socializing, we got to meet some very interesting people and actually managed to make a couple friends in the process.  While the game can be played solo, the social aspect can actually improve the experience.  In our area there are several notoriously difficult shelter hides.  I’m talking less finds than the number of years they have been hidden on some of them.  There are some cachers who have literally spent hours searching for the caches to no avail.  But, in recent weeks, several groups of cachers have joined up to tackle the hides and, usually within 90 minutes, are scoring the elusive finds. I’ll touch on this subject in another post as there are more examples of socializing helping your game as well as other rewards and ways to get connected with other cachers.

There are probably 20 more items that could be listed for caching etiquette, but what I’ve outlined is what I feel are the basics that everyone, from veteran to newbie, needs to know.  If you have a suggestion, feel free to post it in the comments.

Categories: Random talking | 2 Comments

I’ve been a very busy geocacher

As if this blog wasn’t enough of a testament to my addiction, I have made some very crucial moves to solidify my existence in this game for the long term.  Some can be seen as necessities, but most should be viewed as a firm decision to continue playing and becoming more visible to our peers in the geocaching community.

The first step towards this was to purchase a real GPSr.  While the iPhones have been a great asset in our first 400+ finds, the nervousness of them getting destroyed has kept us from venturing off the beaten path (or should I say concrete path), not to mention its abysmal performance under any sort of canopy, be it trees or overcast skies.  While there are still a ton of caches in and around Indianapolis that are phone-friendly, it’s those caches hidden in the forests and marshlands outside of town and other states that has me excited and the phone just won’t cut it for these, if not for the fear of destruction, then definitely for the lack of data service, as was evidenced during the Geo Bash last year.  So after some feature comparisons, consulting several geocachers for opinions on the competing receivers, and some price shopping, I settled on the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60

DeLorme Earthmate PN-60

Ain't she a beaut?

This device, while smaller than most receivers on the market, is feature-packed and very accurate.  I have used it on several runs, a couple that have actually taken me into some wooded areas I have previous avoided, and I must say that it has performed admirably.  The learning curve on this one is pretty steep, even for the tech-savvy, and I am still trying to get my bearings on the mapping software, but so far I have managed to download maps and satellite imagery to it as well as load about 4,000 caches into it for the surrounding states.  Why?  Well, why not?  I still have a lot to learn and I’m sure it’ll be months before I feel confident enough to completely cut the iPhone umbilical cord, but I am absolutely enjoying this game a whole lot more now.

With the confidence of my new GPSr, I am now actively pursuing harder terrain caches.  And as a result, I have signed up to go on my first group cache outing.  We’re heading to eastern Kentucky to attempt a day of nothing but Earthcaches.  For those who don’t know, these are caches where the object is to go to the GZ while learning about the geology/history/scientific nature of the area and answer a set of questions where the answers are obtained through a mixture of the cache description and the area surrounding the GZ itself.  Most of the Earthcaches also require photographic evidence of you being there, especially those where the answers are easily obtained through the cache description or a quick Google search.  As you can imagine, a lot of Earthcaches are going to take you to locations that are considerably more difficult in terrain than your standard traditional hide.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to test out the ruggedness and accuracy of my new toy so I jumped on it.  The outing is on 3/17 and it looks like I might be joined by my brother as well as several other members of the Indy Area Geocachers Facebook group.  So this will be my opportunity to prove my dedication and worth to the group.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited.

Remember that post I made where I suggested items to have for geocaching?  Yeah, I have a confession to make…I didn’t have most of any of that.  While everything I said holds true, the fact is that, of all the things listed, I only had 6, and even then those were just laying around in the Minion Mobile and not easy to get to.  With the idea of going on cache runs that would take us further from the van than ever before, we definitely needed to make sure we had our supplies with us at all times.  To that end, I purchased a canvas messenger bag to carry the vast assortment of items needed for our cache runs and am now happy to report that every single item I listed in the post is now in my possession.  I need to take a picture of the bag fully packed and update that post…better get on that.

The next thing I’ve been up to is prepping our first event as hosts.  While I am still failing at getting our first hide, I’ve decided to give back to the geocachers of Indianapolis by hosting a “Meet-n-Eat” event at a local restaurant.  Hoosiers, by their very nature, are a very friendly people, and the geocachers are doubly so.  I have never met a finer group of people in my life, and I wanted to try to do something to show my appreciation for them.  So I decided to host an event on the one day that a lot of them have yet to log a find on….Leap Day.  In the history of Geocaching, there has only been 2 Leap Days that have been available for cachers to log a find on.  For a growing portion of cachers, this is the last day they have to log to complete their caching calendar.  Groundspeak is marking the day by giving a virtual souvenir to anyone who logs a find/attended on any cache/event that day.  Since Leap Day falls on a Wednesday this time around, a lot of the working cachers will be hard pressed to go out and grab a find for the day, so I figured I would give the gift of an easy Smiley to anyone who needs it.  Leapin’ Lizards!!! It’s Leap Day is our event and I am totally excited to host this.  It should be an evening filled with good food, good stories, and good friends.  If you’re reading this, in the Indianapolis area, and haven’t committed to finding a cache, you should seriously stop by, if for nothing else than getting the Smiley and saying hello.

And lastly, Cyndi and I have been going back and forth for a while about a signature item.  Early in our adventures we used to have some Girl Scout SWAPS the wife and kids made to drop in caches, but those ran out very quickly and they didn’t really have anything to distinguish us or tell anyone who we were.  I had been looking at wooden nickels for some time and while we may still go that route, we decided we wanted to do a Pathtag.  A piece of rounded metal no larger than a nickel, a Pathtag is a customized signature item that can be left in caches or traded at events with other Pathtaggers.  Starter kits begin at $110 plus shipping for 50 tags and a 3-year mold that can be used to make more tags at roughly $1/tag afterwards.  All you do is create your desired artwork using the template they provide, upload it to their site and pay for the work, customizing what you want on the tag’s back, the material it is plated with, and so on, and they create a blueprint for you to sign-off on and then produce the tags.  The total process takes about 6 weeks but the end results are awesome.  We have a small collection of tags we’ve received from various caches and a couple events and felt it was high time we had some of our own.  So after several months of working and re-working a design that fit both our personalities as well as our team name, we ended up with what you see below.

Out first tag

So there you have it.  It’s been a pretty busy winter for our little troop.  While the actual caching hasn’t been as steady as I would like, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes type stuff being worked on to help us further along.  And this is just scratching the surface.  We are planning on making a return trip to the Midwest Geo Bash this summer, as well as attending GeoWoodstock X in southern Indiana this May.  There’s also the Indiana Spring Picnic the week before GWX that we are attending and will be camping for that.  I could continue for hours on this, but I’ve already made you sit through 1,400 words on this, no need to punish you more.  Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on the trails.

Categories: Random talking | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Only the essentials (while Geocaching)

So here’s a topic that I’ve been thinking on for a while now…what should I bring with me when I Geocache?  I’ve posed this with several veteran cachers and they all have told me pretty much the same thing…the essentials.  Now, this is subjective.  What would you classify as essential to Geocaching?  Being a bit of a novice still, I could argue that the essentials are a pen and a GPS.  And I would be correct, if you wanna make something of it.  If all I was wanting to do was play the game with the least amount of requirements, I would be all set with these 2 things.  But what fun is that?  This isn’t merely a game of hide and seek.  There is a massive community behind this game and for it to remain a successful game, it requires a lot more than just “the bare essentials”.

So I am amassing a Geocaching kit to take with us on our future runs.  After speaking with many cachers and consulting online guides, I have come up with the following list of items that I believe are essential to playing this game properly:

  • Bag – This can range in size from a fanny pack all the way up to a shoulder-slung satchel if you like.  We most likely will be using a backpack as it distributes the weight evenly on both shoulders, but I have fancied using a canvas messenger bag or even one of these.
  • GPSr – While I strictly use an iPhone 4 for my Geocaching purposes, I do want to purchase a real GPSr at some point as I am getting rather nervous caching with my $200 “Jesus Phone”.  After seeing the damage a teaspoon of water can inflict on this thing, I don’t want to chance dropping it in a puddle or stream/creek/river/lake.
  • Cell phone – At the bare minimum you should carry one of the feature phones you can get for free with a new contract from the carriers.  You never know what kind of emergency you may end up in and NOT having a phone handy could be a life or death proposition.  If you have a smartphone it could also be used for paperless caching (logging finds, dropping trackables, and solving puzzles) using one of the multitude of apps for Geocaching.
  • Digital Camera – This can be fulfilled by the inclusion of the cell phone.  All though virtuals and other caches regarding ALRs (alternate logging requirements) have been banned and a precious few virtuals still exist, there are some Earthcaches and the grandfathered virtuals that require a photo of you with your GPSr to prove you were there.  Also, with the inclusion of the new Challenges, more and more will require a camera to capture something.  Plus, you’ll come across some rare finds and breathtaking views on some caches and you’d be remiss not to capture it.
  • Pens AND Pencils – I strongly emphasize bringing both.  Sometimes you’ll come across of damp log that a pen just will not write well on.  I would suggest bringing at least 5 of each as they have a knack for getting lost.  It also goes without saying that you’ll want to have a pencil sharpener, too. Not just for your pencils, but also for those that might be in the cache that are dull or broken.  Just because you’re not using it doesn’t mean someone else won’t.  Along that same line of thought, bring some small golf pencils for caches you find that don’t have an included writing utensil.  These two things will definitely help with your caching karma.
  • Magnetic Pick Up tool – This is usually used by auto mechanics to retrieve metal tools and parts that have dropped into places in a car that are out of reach.  They are usually retractable and come in various strengths.  Here is the one we use.  It’s definitely handy for some of the trickier hides.
  • Claw Pick Up tool – Another mechanics tool that has been co-opted by Geocachers as a tool of the trade.  These tools have a button you press on the handle end that will cause a claw at the head of the tool to open, allowing you to grab an item that is out of reach.  They come in various sizes and some, like this one, have a flexible shaft so it can bend for easier reach.  You may need to use in conjunction with the magnetic pick up tool to avoid dropping the cache if it is in something like a bison tube that could slip out of the claw.
  • Retractable mirror tool – It’s almost like these tools were made for caching.  There will come a time when you will need to look somewhere that height or angle-of-view limitations will prevent you from seeing the cache.  In cases such as these, you’ll need one of these.  Say there is a hole in a tree about a foot higher than your head.  You can extend this mirror out and stick it into the hole, allowing you to see inside and determine if the cache is there or not without blindly shoving a hand into what could turn out to be a hornet nest and ruining the rest of your day.
  • Tweezers – You will come across a cache from time to time (typically a micro or nano cache) where the log will barely fit into the container and become quite the chore to remove.  Tweezers will be your best bet in removing these logs with minimal damage to the log.  They also double as a tool to pull the inevitable splinters out of your fingers during your cache run.
  • Flashlight – Not only for night caching, but also for looking into dark spaces that a cache could very well be hiding in.  I can think of 3 caches in particular that I marked as DNF because I couldn’t find it, only to find it later in the place I looked by using a flashlight.
  • Bug spray/sunscreen/anti-itch ointment – For obvious application reasons…you’re going to be out in the sun, there will be bugs, and there may be Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac.
  • Band aids/antibiotic ointment/hand sanitizer or wipes/pain reliever – Because scrapes, cuts, bumps, and nicks happen.  I could keep going on with things like butterfly sutures, tourniquets, gauze, and other items but that would be a bit ridiculous to carry.

These next inclusions are all optional.  If you want to help contribute to the quality of the game and grab some extra caching karma for yourself, you’d be well-served to include these in your pack:

  • Extra log sheets – This is obviously an optional inclusion, but I can’t tell you how many times we’ve come across a cache where either the log was completely full or was destroyed by the elements.  Nothing will deflate you more than finding a 4+/4+ cache and having absolutely no way to log your find because the log is either full or destroyed and you have nothing to improvise a log with.  You can find log sheets of any size all over the Internet.  Here is a site that has a bunch.  Of course, make sure you note on the cache page that you’ve replaced the log.  You want to make sure that the CO is aware of your replacement as they could potentially invalidate your (and everyone who signed after you) log  if they were not aware of it the next time they perform maintenance.  It seems nitpicky, but there are some owners out there who are very particular about these things and have no qualms about removing logs if they feel threatened.
  • Zip-lock baggies – It helps to have a few sandwich-size zip-lock bags to protect the log books that are in the larger caches.  Also, a handful of mini zip-lock bags is good for the smaller log sheets found in the small/micro caches.  Again, we’re thinking about improving your caching karma.
  • Desiccant packets – These little packets of silica gel beads are used to absorb moisture in a variety of products you buy from the store, so naturally it should also work in a cache.  If you find a log that is a little damp from the elements, drop the log into a baggie as well as one of these and it’ll not only dry out the log, but it’ll prevent future issues with humidity.
  • Swag – These little trinkets help make the game fun.  While I wouldn’t recommend anything of value over dollar store or Happy Meal toys, there are also signature items that people find fun to collect, such as business cards, wooden nickels with your caching name, or even custom-designed Pathtags.  The sky really is the limit on what you choose as your signature item.  Cyndi had a handful of swaps she had made for her Girl Scout troops that were just collecting dust so we used those as swag.
  • Rolls of camo-tape – Sometimes the elements will ravage a camouflaged container to the point that it is no longer quite so camouflaged.  While this is optional, I think everyone should do this.  The guidelines of Geocaching state that you should rehide the cache in the same or better manner than before.  So if it’s a previously camouflaged Pringles can that is now just a can sticking out like a sore thumb amongst its surroundings, it would be much better if you helped restore it to its former condition.

This is by no means the definitive list of what to take with you when Geocaching.  This is merely a springboard for you to base your own bag contents on.  If there are any veterans lurking about who feel I’ve missed something or should have included something instead of what I have, please feel free to post your ideas in the comments.  Happy hunting, everyone!

Categories: Random talking | 2 Comments

What’s in a name?

Way back in March, in my first topical blog post, I mentioned that while at the GZ of our first find we became stumped on what to call ourselves and quickly named our team Howard_Family.  I can’t tell you enough how much it irked me that we didn’t think up some awesome name for our team PRIOR to our first find.  Not that I’m upset or embarrassed by our team name, it has served us very well these past 13 months and 421 finds.  But during the GeoBash, every time we introduced ourselves, I felt a pang of regret in our name.  Here I am, meeting people with names like Pink Pearl The Eraser, Flash_Burn, StepNFetchIt, and countless others, Howard_Family just wasn’t cutting it.  It lacks pizazz, creativity, and wittiness.  It’s Go-Bots compared to Transformers.  Toasted Rice compared to Rice Crispies.  Deep Impact compared to Armageddon.

Cyndi must have been feeling it, too.  During a cache run, she mentioned to me that we should think about changing our name.  I guess for a while the girls have been complaining about not really feeling like a part of the team because their last names are different than ours (I’m their stepfather for those who don’t follow).  I’ve never wanted to have them feel excluded, so this obviously broke my heart.  So the brainstorming sessions began.

One of the “traditions” that we have established since geocaching is a little phrase we mutter when we find a cache.  Since shouting “Found it!!” would arouse suspicion from nearby muggles, we’ve co-opted the celebratory “gotcha” phrase “Bazinga!”, uttered by Dr. Sheldon Cooper on ‘The Big Bang Theory’, our favorite show.  In some of the pictures you’ll find on our site you’ll see me in a Bazinga! shirt in the style of The Flash.  So our initial idea was to name our team with some sort of reference to Bazinga.  Unfortunately, we’re not the only ones who have thought of this as there are currently over 30 names with some sort of Bazinga amalgamation.  One of my main requirements for our new name was to keep it as short as possible.  Howard_Family is already a stretch and on some logs becomes rather burdensome to write on some of the nano logs, so I wanted our name to be easier to write in either of our shorthands.  None of the team names using Bazinga that wasn’t already taken did much for me.  Bazinga Cachers runs into the territory of being too long.  GeoBazinga just sounds silly and would more likely require an explanation to those unfamiliar with the show.

So after some back and forth, and several weeks to stew on it, the topic of changing the name came back up on our way to meet Cyndi’s mother and boyfriend (hoosier hooligan) for lunch.  We had the girls with us this time so we were able to get their input.  During this brainstorming session we all started settling on the theme of the Minions from Despicable Me.  I am a huge fan of this movie.  I didn’t expect it to be very good but it has a lot of funny parts and is quite quotable.  The Minions make the movie in my opinion as they add a cute slapstick element to it.  Plus, you can’t go wrong with alien creatures who speak in gibberish.  The girls really liked this so we started tossing out ideas on this.  Naturally our avatar would be a picture of Minions and we could possibly have some fun with it, taking pictures of Minion figures at the GZs and posting them with our ‘Found It’ logs.  Then it came to the name.  While Minions are a more-common-than-we-thought theme, we were able to secure a name.  Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce our new team name:

Geo Minions

I’ll admit it’s not the flashiest of team names, but it is unique and it gives us a lot more room to do more fun things with it.  Plus, the girls now feel they are a part of the team and since they came up with the Minions theme, they have a real personalized mark on the team.  And already we have several things coming up to celebrate the new name.  First, as I mentioned before, we’re working on acquiring some Minion figures that we can then customize to include in the logs of our finds.  They will also become our mascots that will travel with us to the different events we’ll be attending in the future.  There is a cacher in our area that is known as CECIL-EGCM that caches with a stuffed monkey who’s sole mission in life is to conquer the world, one Geocache at a time.  So why can’t we do something similar and have some fun and make a name for ourselves in this game?  The next thing I plan on doing is sending out a TB with a Minion attached to make the world aware of our name change (not really but whatever…just need an excuse to launch a trackable, really).  And the final plan is to hide a cache in memory of our old team name.  I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to our former name than to hide our first cache as a memorial to it.

Categories: Random talking | 2 Comments

Getting pumped for the GeoBash (and an update on the hunt for our 400th find)

Yeah yeah, I know I know.  I have been slacking off once again.  Not updating in almost a month.  So sorry about that.  I have been rather preoccupied with things and every time I get a chance that could be used to send out an update, I use it for other things.  Hey, I’m only human!

So as the title suggests, I am getting myself pumped up for the Midwest GeoBash that takes place on the 28th of this month.  Granted we’re technically not going to arrive until the 29th, but that’s not the point.  This will be our first Mega Event and I have heard wonderful things about it since our first event back on 10/10/10 when we were told stories of 100+ and midnight cache runs, tons of swag swapping, prizes, and a bunch of drunken silliness in a place they call Area 51.  I had been interested since that day and when they opened registration for it back in March I had to get us registered.  So, let me give you a brief rundown of this thing:

The GeoBash in and of itself is a free event held over 4 days during the summer.  It used to be a traveling event that would move to different locations in the midwest but it appears they have found a permanent home at the Fulton County Fairgrounds in Wauseon, OH.  It is located just north of the Ohio Turnpike (I-80/90) about 30 miles west of Toledo, OH.  They offer camping on-site for both tents and RVs.  Obviously there’s showers and restrooms provided.  There’s several motels/hotels within a short distance from the location that people can also stay at if they’re not fans of camping (but if you’re a Geocacher, how can you NOT like camping??) and they also offer the option of day tripping for those who just want to come for a day and leave.  The camping costs $35 for the entire event and with that price you receive a coupon for a free bundle of wood for a campfire.  More is $3.50/bundle so you got yourself at least one night’s worth of s’mores right there.  During the course of the event, you are free to leave and explore the surrounding area and attempt any one of the over 400 caches that have been hidden within a 15-mile radius of the fairgrounds.  According to chatter on the forums at the Bash’s web site, a bunch of caches are usually activated just before and sometimes during the event to ensure some FTFs.  A lot of the businesses around the area have become quite Geocacher-friendly from what I understand so it’s exciting to know we can walk into a restaurant covered in dirt/dust with a GPSr hanging from our neck and be greeted warmly instead of regarded as trouble.  They also have a number of different events during the Bash to keep you there, ranging from a Texas Hold ‘Em tournament, several seminars, a treasure hunt with GPSr’s as some of the top prizes, a campsite decorating contest, and travel bug/pathtag/geocoin trading.  And that Area 51 I mentioned?  While most is kept kinda hush hush, from what I can gather it is an adult-focused area where alcohol is welcome and children really aren’t.  They have some weird traditions they talk about, such as Thursday Night is Tinfoil Hat Night.  Interesting….very interesting.

Needless to say, the GeoBash sounds like it will be some serious fun and I’ll make sure to get a ton of pictures and post them on here.

Now, for what I’m sure 3 of you reading this actually cares about…did we hit our goal of 400 caches by our 1-year anniversary of caching?


I was pretty torn up about it, too.  In the end, we just didn’t get out enough this summer to make a fair go at it.  Sure we had a few runs here and there that would net us a decent number for a couple hours worth of caching, but we were facing an uphill battle, needing to find 62 caches in 20 days.  I THOUGHT I had a good, solid planning for achieving that, going so far as to map out cache runs during our family trip to Holiday World, locating 64 caches that I felt were attainable within the 3 days we’d be gone.  Well, let’s see how well that went:

6/17 – 10 finds
6/18 – 1 find
6/19 – 9 finds

Now, 20 finds in 3 days isn’t bad.  That is actually a fairly good outing.  But considering I had mapped everything out and mapped the caches out in the direction we were traveling and planned it to take us 4 hours go get there, it ended up taking us about 6 hours with the pitiful amount we did grab.  Part of that was because we stopped for lunch and made several other stops along the way that weren’t scheduled because someone either forgot something or they really needed to go to the restroom.  When we ended up doing some, it took us forever with the Friday rush hour traffic beginning to build.  I didn’t expect us to do any caching the following day as we were supposed to be at the park all day, but I ended up not feeling good with the lack of sleep I got the night before due to some seriously wicked storms rolling through and the cool, rainy weather we endured for a good portion of our day.  After we left I needed to get out of the RV for a while so Hoosier Hooligan and I went and tried to find a couple caches.  One of them was missing, but the other one, after throwing us for a bit of a loop because of the lack of a strong data connection resulting in no satellite mapping, was finally found to grab HH a find in the county.  The following day we made a quick detour to Kentucky to grab a Mystery Cache and an EarthCache (our first) and to claim a find in another state, and then we had a Father’s Day lunch at Outback in Jeffersonville before grabbing a few more caches in the area.  All in all it wasn’t a bad day, but with the rain storms we kept hitting on our way home, there was just NO WAY we could get any more caching done.  And that is how it continued to happen as the days drew closer.

We ended up not caching at all until July 3rd.  We were up in Ft. Wayne visiting Cyndi’s family and Hoosier Hooligan and I ended up going out on a cache run.  Together we found 12 (he had found several of them previously) and had a run-in with the police that wasn’t nearly as fun as the last time.  Basically we were told we were on private property and told to leave.  A second police officer was pulling in as we left.  Something tells me they were expecting us to be doing something unsavory to one another.  Anyway, I was hoping to have grabbed more than 12 so after our barbecue dinner, I went on a solo run to try to boost our numbers.  I ended up grabbing 7 by myself in the 90 minutes I was out before it got too dark.  On the 4th, the actual day of our anniversary, we went out and found 6 more, to bring our total to 383 finds for the year.  We’ve since added 5 more to that number.  We’ve decided we shouldn’t focus so much on the number of finds within a year and instead just keep trying our best to find all that we attempt.  I guess I can live with that…..not having our anniversary cache hidden….now that I am upset about.  But that isn’t entirely our fault.  I am having quite the difficult time with finding a good place to hide a cache that I can get permission to hide it at.  There is one in particular that I want to use but I have no idea who owns the land, can’t find it on any of the land deeds for the area, and my searches have so all hit brick walls.  But diligence is the key and I WILL find this out.


Categories: A tale from the GZ, Random talking | Leave a comment

Struggling to stay active

Those are words I never thought I’d utter.  After a relatively active Winter, I thought for sure that this would easily eclipse that and we’d be well onto 500 or even 600 Smileys by now.  But alas, we’ve hit a bit of a brick wall.  Since I started this blog, we’ve logged a total of 60 finds, a respectable feat for a family that includes a couple tweens.  However, looking at that number and comparing it to this past winter, where we logged 113 finds (with 80 of those coming from December alone), I’m rather saddened and a little discouraged by it.  Surely we can do better than this.

How did this happen?

I’m not going to lie or make an excuse….we’ve been lazy.  Yes, there have been times where we had a lot going on, be it family functions or Girl Scout events, and these have taken a lot of time away from Geocaching.  But more often than not, I just can’t motivate myself to do it.  It’s not the obscene amount of planning I do that demotivates me because I actually get off on that.  It’s not the hatred of DNFs because those just drive my resolve.  I can’t pinpoint what it is other than I sometimes just don’t WANT to do anything.  Hell, I’ve even been struggling to keep up with this blog, which is nothing more than me spewing words into the ether, hoping that the 9 or 10 people who casually read it will find something interesting.  I’ll think about it, get a topic to discuss, even roughly outline what I want to say in my head, and then…..zzzzzz.  I downloaded the WordPress app onto my iPhone just so that I could update the blog from pretty much anywhere.  On the road or on the toilet, there should be no excuses.  And yet, here I am, writing to you several WEEKS after my last post, and this time it’s more of a rant about my wanton laziness than the joy of Geocaching.  What the hell?!?!

What am I going to do about it?

The first step in a 12-step program is to admit you have a problem.  This is my first step.  I can’t be lazy anymore.  I have to man up and do this right.  I know this isn’t supposed to be a contest to see who can get the most finds in a year.  It’s not even supposed to be about the numbers, but instead a game of high-tech hide and seek.  I set lofty goals and now I’m struggling to make the one that I’ve modified twice since I started….the anniversary goal.  I wanted 1000 finds when we started.  By December I was dropping that to 500.  After that productive month, I thought that would be a piece of cake.  Once April hit and it became painfully obvious that 500 was just too far away at that point, so I revised it to 400.  If you look to the right sidebar you’ll see that we’re currently at 338 finds.  So as it stands we currently have 20 days to find 62 caches.  And while 3 caches a day doesn’t sound that bad, you need to take into account the fact that we have exhausted pretty much all the quick and easy caches in a 6-mile radius of our neighborhood and the ones that are left are ones hidden in wooded areas and on one of the local reservoirs in our area.  So while I’m sure we’ll snag a few of these, it’s not going to be a walk-in-the-park like we’re used to.

Having said that, this weekend we are heading to Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari in Santa Claus, IN.  As such, we have the opportunity to grab caches in areas we aren’t normally in, so this affords us the opportunity to get as close to, if not surpass, our goal.  And in typical OCD-fashion, I have already made a few PQs to show us what we’re working with.  Between our home and Santa Claus, there are 111 active caches that are within a mile of the interstate that have a maximum difficulty of 2 (to minimize the amount of time to search for each) AND have either been found or updated in the past week.  Broadening that search, there is almost 600 to choose from.  I have handpicked 64 that are near exits along our route so we won’t have to do any backwoods trekking to find them.  And if we still cannot hit 400, we still have 4th of July weekend.  I feel good about hitting the goal…I just wish it was the original 1000 we planned on 11 months ago.

Categories: Random talking | Leave a comment

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