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Hidden treasure - the funcrunch files


Aug. 25th, 2003 04:07 pm Hidden treasure

Found my first geocache today! I'd been meaning to try out geocaching ever since buying a GPS a few weeks ago. I delayed because putting in coordinates using just up-and-down buttons promised to be a royal pain in the ass, and so I intended to order a computer interface. I never got around to placing that order in time for my vacation, so I figured I'd just deal with the manual entry as I would have plenty of time to kill on my trip anyway.

The night before my trip, I located and printed out five caches near my Mom's house. The closest was in Frick Park, a wooded area within walking distance. The cache description said it was right off the trail, so when my Dad agreed to go with me after we met for lunch, I figured it would be simple even though we weren't really dressed appropriately for hiking. (My parents live apart so he couldn't just pop into my Mom's house to change.)

I started the GPS navigation system and we headed to the park and down the closest trail. The arrow on the digital compass and the distance display indicated that we were heading in the right direction. Soon we were within 50 feet. At this close of a range the accuracy of the average consumer-grade GPS unit leaves something to be desired. The Department of Defense would prefer that we civilians not be able to get within 100 meters, but with software interpolation or whatever my unit could theoretically get within 3 meters.

So when the GPS said that we were about 9 feet away I figured we should be right on top of the cache, if both the posted coordinates and my GPS were accurate. We combed the area right off the trail but failed to find anything. Dad was ready to quit, figuring someone had removed the cache. I wasn't willing to give up so easily. I decrypted the hint that the cache-hider posted, which was encoded with a simple ROT-13, decryption key included. The hint showed that we probably shouldn't have turned off of the trail that we started on, so we backtracked.

Getting back onto the original trail, we again appeared to be heading the right direction, with the distance to the find decreasing, but I started losing signal in the trees. I have a lower-end unit (thought not the cheapest), so this was a known problem. When we again got to within 50 feet I scanned the area more closely. The hint indicated that the cache was located under a rock shelf, uphill from the trail. Their definition of "right off the trail" was a bit different from mine, I decided, as I scrambled uphill in my non-hiking-appropriate clothes to a rock outcropping that I was sure contained the cache. Sure enough, I was right, even though my GPS coordinates indicated that we were a good 48 feet away still.

I pulled out the Tupperware container triumphantly and had my Dad take a photo (which I'll post later). I opened the cache, found the logbook, and started to record our find when Dad warned me that people were approaching. The idea of doing a geocache is to be stealthy, so I hurried through the entry, re-sealed and re-hid the cache without paying much attention to the contents. Normally you take an item and leave an item, but I hadn't brought anything to leave, and just signing the logbook is always appropriate. I think there were some Lord of the Rings trading cards in there, and nothing else really attracted my interest.

I really enjoyed our little adventure, and Dad had to admit that it was fun despite the heat, mosquito bites, and his willingness to give up too early. I look forward to taking more geocaching treks in the near future.

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