Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Get out and enjoy! Go Geocaching!! A tutorial.

When explaining geocaching to a “muggle”, someone who doesn’t know about geocaching., a term taken from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books that means a person who doesn’t know magic, a cacher often describes it as a high tech treasure hunt. The high tech part is correct, but the treasure part, not so much. I’m not looking for buried treasure, I’m not looking for anything buried in the dirt at all. If I were to expect treasure while I’m geocaching, then I’m participating in the wrong hobby! What you’ll find is mostly McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, often dirty or broken, garbage and loose odds and ends. Now and then, if you’re the First to Find, or FTF, you might find a worthy prize like a CD, camera or money, but often just an empty log book page where you scrawl your geocaching username and the knowledge that you were the one that found it first. So, if you’re thinking you’re going to find all this cool stuff, you’re wrong. Geocaching is about getting off of your butt, getting outside and going places you didn’t know existed, sometimes even just a few miles from your house!

The first thing you need to get started is have access to a computer with an Internet connection. Using one at the library is fine, just make sure you log out when you’re done. The second is a GPS receiver. Now, it's shocking, I know, but you don’t have to actually own a GPS to geocache. I have chatted with some people who use just  a compass and map.  I love technology too much and although I have a compass in my geogear bag and a map under the seat in my van, I've never used them. Huge kudos to those of you who can find a box hidden in the woods with just a map and a compass, but I love living in the 21st century!

Once you’re sitting at a computer, go to and create a FREE account. You have access to a lot of info at no cost to you. After you participate for a bit, you can decide if you want to become a Premium Member (PM). Being a PM is $30 a year and not only supports the website, but it gives you access to special features like searching for caches along a route or finding hides with certain attributes like, are they kid friendly, allow dogs or have Travel Bugs (TB’s).  I’ll talk more of that later. I use the pocket query feature often as I travel up to Michigan, on vacation or just doing a marathon day trip with a couple geogal pals I’ve become friends with through geocaching. The picture above is what you'll see when you visit the link above.  I've actually logged in under my user name, The Cache Checkers (look me up and send me a friend request! ) so you can see what I see as a member.  The creators of have created a cute and quick video that introduces you to geocaching.  The top right you see my username and the picture I've chosen as my avatar.  I've been a member since 10/05/2008 and joined as a Premium Member 10/05/2009 with a renewal date of 10/05/2010.  So, I was a basic member for a year before I decided to sign up as a PM.  I currently have 309 finds and have hidden 3 of my own.  For more info about the sport, click on the Getting Started link on the left side of the page.  I'm going to take you to the Hide & Seek a Cache link first.  I didn't take a picture of that page, but what you would see is a variety of options to look for a cache in your area.  The first option is by entering your address, so, I typed in my address and this is what came up:

If you remember what my geocaching handle is, you'll see that the first geocache listed is mine.  You can tell because my username is posted after the name of the cache, which is "My Neck of the Woods", or maybe it's that nifty red arrow with the word "mine" underneath that give it away!  LOL  The ones with the red check marks are caches I've already found.  As a PM there are options to keep your own and the ones you found, as well as others, out of your search results so you can just get right to ones that you want to look for.  Starting all the way to the left, you can see the direction and distance that cache is from your search criteria, which was my physical address.  If you have a GPS, you can get your home coordinates from it and enter the numbers under your profile, that way every cache you look at will be calculated automatically and let you know how far it is from your home coords.  Remember, the distances here are by satellite, not by road, so unless you have wings or know it's a straight shot via a known road, add a few miles.  The next column is Icons and this tells you what kind of cache hide it is.  The green one is a traditional cache.  On this page you don't know what size it is yet, but a traditional hide is either a nano, think thumbnail, micro, usually a film canister or a pill bottle, small, sandwich size, regular, usually an ammo box or coffee can and large a bucket.  The next column, the (D/T), are for numbers 1-5 for the Difficulty of the cache and the Terrain rating.  Pay attention to those, especially when you first start out.  You're first attempts should not be micro's with a D/T rating higher than 2. I don't want you frustrated or injured before you have a chance to give geocaching a good try.

The next column is the date the geocache was published into the system.  New geocache hides are reviewed, NOT VISITED, by volunteer fellow geocachers.  There is a criteria you have to follow to get one put on the website.  Sometimes it take a few days and sometimes it's the same day, it all depends on the reviewer.  Also, you might find a log with a lot of names in the cache, but back on the site, not so much.  This annoys me greatly.  If you find it or don't find it, please log it online.  People learn about the hide not only from the cache information page, but also from the logs of other geocachers.  If you get stumped, reading past entries might help and as a cache owner myself, I love to hear how my hide went for another geocacher.  A cache owner (CO) won't know it needs maintenance or that the D/T rating should be changed unless you post a log, so do it! 

The next column is the Description.  It holds the name of the hide, which is what you click on to get more information, the person who hid the cache, the code it is saved under on the website and the state the hide is in.  These are all important for their own reasons.  The name is often times a hint to how to find the cache.  My second hide on the screen shot I took is called "A Nelson Red Spot".  Nelson is part of the name of the park it's hidden in, a Red Spot refers to the trail mark on the tree, which is right above the hiding spot.  As you geocache, you'll recognize other usernames in the game.  You might attend events and be able to put names to faces, but, in an example for me, there is a fellow cacher near me who hides nothing but micro's in the woods.  For that reason, I often just skip over his hides and go on to others. 

Whether you participate in paperless caching or not, it's important to include the GC (geocache) code with the information on the cache.  Let's say you come back from a hunt and want to log your find and comments on the website.  All you remember is the name; Bob's Fishing Hole.  You type that in the Keyword text box on the Hide & Seek a Cache page.  Nothing comes up.  Why?  You know that's what it was called!  You end up going a round about way to find it and when you finally do, you see it's called Bob's Fishin' Hole.  The apostrophe instead of a "g" is all it takes to get zero results!  Jot down the numbers after the GC to make finding that cache on the website easier.  You must include the GC in the search box.

The last worded column is called Last Found.  Those are the dates the most recent cacher found that hide.  If there are two dates, it's the date it was last found and the date YOU found it.  The last two are for GPS units.  If a cache on this page is one you want to find, you check that box and it will be downloaded to your GPSr (receiver).  Right now I believe that option is only available if you have a Garmin GPSr.  I have a Magellan and have to take an extra step to get the info from the website to my handheld, but I'm OK with that.  I've used both types of units and prefer the Magellan.  I'll get into that later.

Also in that screen shot above there are a couple other icons you might be curious about.  The one with two yellow cache icons is the symbol for a multi-cache hide.  The coordinates you get on the cache info page are for the first hidden box and inside that one are the next coordinates or a clue to get to the next one in the series.  I've done a two part multi-cache and I've done a five step one.  Some geocachers don't like multi's because you only get one smiley face, which is the symbol used when you log a find, when you actually made more than one find because it was a multi.  Most multi's have a goal in mind.  For example, I did one that was called 70's One Hit Wonders.  I found micro's in about eight cemeteries and inside these micro's was a lyric of a song that was a single hit for a band in the 1970's.  I had to find what year in the 70's and that number I put into a mystery coordinate.  Once I had all the finds I was led to the final, which was an ammo box cache.  Multi caches are their own category, so if people were to look at your stats, they don't just see how many finds you have, but how many of what kind.  There are also mystery caches identified with a question mark that are usually puzzles that involve some brain power with the cache coords in the solution.

Virtual caches, known for their ghost icon, aren't published anymore.  I don't remember the reason why, but the ones that are out there have been grandfathered in, but no more can be created.  These caches were created by users who had found something man made that they found interesting and wanted to share. I've only been to a few vitual's.  One was an old stone foundation with an Indian head embossed in it.  I had to send an email to the cache owner of what I saw for credit for the find.  Another was a time capsule in a flower garden at a place of business.  I sent the two dates to the CO and one other was a bench placed in remembrance of someone.  That virtual required the name of that person.  The other cache type, which you can see the icon for in the picture I shared, is for earth caches.  These are always interesting.  My fave earth cache is in the same park I hid A Nelson Red Spot in.  It's called the Devil's Ice Box and to get my smiley face I had to take the temperature in the parking lot, find this Ice Box place with my GPS (it was a cave below cliffs) and then take the temperature in there.  I was to send that info in an email.  It was over a ten degree difference! 

One more thing about that picture is in the Placed column there is the word New!.  That means that particular cache was recently published.  As a PM, I get email notifications of when a cache within a certain distance, I chose 20 miles, is published so I can get first dibs.  The next picture I want to show you is a cache information page and I chose the one published for this brand new geocache hide.  It's obvious from the title that this hide is in a cemetery, so right there you know some things you should and shouldn't do when going for it.  You can also see what size this is, a micro, and that might turn you of, but it might not.  Also on this page are the oh so important GPS coordinates.  I've made the mistake a few times of forgetting to put those numbers in!  You can also print from this page, send it to your GPS or phone, but only if they are compatible with  This info page is short and to the point.  Some cache pages will tell a fictional story.  I've look for a cache based on a pirate song or a hidden troll colony.  Some are factual and talk about the specific area and some are memorable and talk about loved ones lost.  This one talks about where to park for safety reasons, tells you to bring your own pen (BYOP) and says there's a small prize for the FTF.  You can see at the bottom of the picture is Additional Hints.  Sometimes there are helpful hints (and not so helpful) and sometimes that area is blank.  They are encrypted in an easy to solve code, think a=z, b=y, so the hunt isn't spoiled by those who don't want hints, but are easy to figure out when you're out in the woods and stumped (some form of stumped is almost always a hint!).  Below the hints are the found and did not find (DNF) logs of past hunters. 

On the top right is the code.  Write it down!  Below that is what you click on to log your visit.  You can choose that you found it, didn't find it, that it needs maintenance or just write a note.  Below that is the date in case you're logging your visit a few days after the fact.  Under that is where you put any comments you have.  Even if you just talk about how hot the day was, share your experience at the cache.  If you want to say something about the hide but don't want to ruin it for those who don't like to read spoilers, there's an option of putting your text into the same code the hints are in.

If you really like the cache and want to watch it, there is an option to do that and any changes to the cache info page are sent to you.  I don't know why you'd want to ignore the cache page, but you can and you can bookmark it as well.  I have quite a few bookmarked that I want to do in the future.  The map below the links brings up the immediate area of the cache so you can get a birds eye view of the hide area before putting it into your GPSr.  Those small black squares underneath the map are the attributes the CO chose to give as much info to potential seekers as possible.  This is a cemetery cache, so you should already know without being told that you can't do it at night without risking a ride in the back of a police car.  The CO also says this hide isn't wheelchair friendly, has poisonous plants, can be found in the snow, there's gas station near by, is less than a 1km hike and takes less than an hour.  Some people are very helpful and post as many attributes as they can, some people don't share anything at all. 

Just below that is the Inventory. This doesn't mean that every toy, souvenir or knick knack currently in the cache is listed. This is for trackable items. These items are TB's, or trackable bugs which are like dog tags attached to an item of some kind.  One of my TB's is dedicated to my mom.  Breast cancer took her back in April of 2003, so I attached a pink ribbon keychain to a TB I purchased at the store.  These are the most common of trackable items.  DO NOT KEEP THESE.  No matter how cute the item is attached to it, if you can't move the item into another cache, then leave it there for someone else who can!  These are meant to travel, so please keep them going!  Most TB's have a goal.  My goal ias to have this TB travel around to places my mom never had a chance to see.  I included a list of destination cities and asked for pictures to be posted.  Not everyone follows along, but some do and those are the ones that count.  There are also trackable coins and these can be just about anything.  The one below I got for Devin and it's goal is to be placed in caches that are near water and of course pictures are wanted (there's a place on the TB info page to upload pictures).  There are commemorative coins and coins that are designed by geocachers and printed at their own expense....  So many to choose from but you can't become too attached to them because they unfortunately tend to disappear.
One last thing to mention regarding the cache info page is that there's another map below the Attributes and the Inventory.  It looks just like the map above it of the cache area, but when you click on this one, it's an entirely new tool!  Let's say you hear about a cache you want to try out.  You don't know anything about other caches in that area and instead of going to the Hide & Seek a cache page, just click on that second map on that cache's info page and what you get is all the caches in the area of that one cache!  If you scroll out you get more coverage area, scroll in you get less.  The names will appear when you mouse over them and are listed on the right.  Click on them for more info and you can plan a day of geocaching around one cache! 

Now before you get off your butt and dust off that GPSr that's been shoved in some corner or has become an expensive paper weight, I'd like to suggest you do one more thing.  Doing this doesn't cost a dime and it's actually very cool.  If you don't have it already, download the free version of Google Earth.  Copy and paste the coordinates from the cache info page into the text box under the words "Fly to", and, literally, you're flying to the cache sight.  From this angle you can not only see the general hiding spot of the cache, but you can see where the road is compared to the spot, where you might park, how long the walk might be.  It can answer a lot of questions for you that you don't have to wonder about as you're driving around the area.  Google Earth also comes with a cool feature called Street View.  If there is a camera icon near the cache site, click on it.  You'll get a 360 degree view of that area and it might come in handy, or, when you're addiced to the sport as I am, you spend your free time doing cache reconnaissance!

Everyone does geocaching differently.  I have met people who have thousands of finds and have been doing this since the sport was created ten years ago.  We all approach it differently in preparation, equipment and attitude.  The following is what I did on a recent cache hunt.

I use a Magellan Triton handheld GPSr.  I can't download the cache info straight from the website, which is called paperless caching.  What I do is copy the info I want in a separate program on my laptop called VantagePoint that came with my GPSr.  From there I sync it with my handheld and I'm ready to go! I have quite a few cache coords in my unit already.  If I have time to kill when I'm out and about, I turn on my handheld which I call Ferdie because the unit is named after Ferdinand Megellan.  Once I have the coords, I enter them into Richard, my TomTom One which is pictured to the right, and I'm on my way!  Tim surprised me with my car GPS about two years ago, right before the boys and I headed off to Southern Ohio to meet my family for a long weekend.  It was while researching my TomTom online that I came across geocaching.  This is the view of Richard, who gets his name from the factory installed voice I prefer to use, inside my van while still in my driveway.  The arrow is the direction he wants me to go and the .50 is the distance.  He's a little confused as I'm in my driveway and not on a road. The 4:02 is my estimated arrival time at my destination, the 4.3 is the miles to my destination.  Hobart Rd. is the name of the road I'm on.  The varying sized squares is the satellite signal strength and the 3:42 is the current time.  The name at the top of the screen is the next road I'll turn on, oh, and the little blue spot above the directional arrow on the left is a compass.

Based on the cache information page and it being only a few miles away from my house, I know the general area so I don't bother looking at the location via Google Earth.  I follow Richard's directions and park.  From past experience, I don't leave the house without doing the following:

  • wear long pants and tennis shoes
  • if I'm unfamiliar with the area, am by myself or plan on being gone for some time, I turn the GPS locator on in my phone and give Tim either a list of coords that I'll be at or the GC numbers 
  • water to drink because a short hike often turns into a very long one!
  • don't forget the GPS.  It's easy to do! LOL
  • a trash bag  Be a sweetie and pick up garbage you see near the cache site.  It also keeps curious eyes off you
  • my dog. Kit is my geodog.  She goes with me almost every time.  Walking her and letting her investigate bushes, trees and under boardwalks with me while I'm holding a garbage can I be suspicious?  
  • a pen
  • tweezers for those tight logs
  • something to trade if you plan on taking anything out
  • don't lock your keys in the car and don't drop them in the woods, either
  • create a Waypoint in your GPS of where you parked your car
If the cache info page has parking coordinates, park there.  If not, make sure you park using common sense.  Once out of your vehicle, before you even look at your GPS, look around.  See how many muggles are nearby, especially teenagers.  If there are too many, especially in the area of the hide, don't risk it.  You were once a teenager.  You remember how curious, and admit it, how disrespectful you were at some point.  If you can't find the cache without somebody wondering what you're up to, then come back another time.  Don't try to be sneaky because that will attract attention.  Use some stealth, some confidence and if you are approached by someone, gage them before admitting what you're doing.  Some people are honestly curious, some aren't.  You can usually tell by talking to them.  If you're ever approached by a police officer, be honest.  If you're not, you could be getting yourself and the sport of geocaching in trouble.

Once I determine the general area of the cache and if it's a go or not, it's off the the hide I go!  Ferdie pictured to the left is much more user friendly, in my opinion, than the Garmin.  I used a friend's Garmin while my Magellan was sent in for some work and although Magellan customer service was next to non existent, their handheld are easier to follow on this screen than watching an arrow spin on the Garmin unit.  The arrow is me and all you need to do is get the point of that arrow heading toward the flag icon, which represents the cache.  I am zoomed out to 300 feet, so the cache is about 250 feet from where I parked my van.  As I get closer I zoom in more and when I have my arrow on top of the icon, I put it in my pocket and use my eyeballs and my geosense.  As you find some and miss some, you'll fine tune your own geosense.  This particular hide was about 100 feet off a trail.  If there is a trail, use it!  Don't go bushwacking to get to the cache.  Stay on the trail, even if it goes around and all over, until you're close to the cache, then step off the trail.  The cache info pages are usually pretty good about saying if there's a trail or not.

Always when in the woods, look out for little critters scurrying around, spider webs you might walk into, and those poisonous plants!  "Leaves of three?  Let them be!"  I don't know all the plants related to poison ivy, so I don't go into the woods anymore without pants and closed toe shoes on.  Glance at your GPSr now and then, but don't stare at it.  I don't want you walking into a tree or falling off a cliff.  Always keep an eye out for muggles and when you make the find, no whooping or hollering.  If there are muggles around, take the container away from it's hiding spot so if you are seen and someone is curious, they won't know exactly where to look.  If it's raining, try your best to keep the contents dry and if you take something out, put something back in!  It's no fun at all to go to a cache with kids who have things to trade and find an empty cache or it's full of movie ticket stubs, rusty screws or a comb.  This is a family friendly game, so please no matches, lighters, knives or anything of that nature.  Also, don't leave behind any food, candy or gum.  Raccoons have good noses and even better hands and they don't put the cache back together after they get the goodies out.

There are some interesting caches out there.  This is the one I found the day I took the picture of Ferdie above.  Geocaching rules say you can't bury a cache, but this one is acceptable and people bend the rules anyway.  The CO partially buried a PVC pipe in the ground and hollowed out a log and made that the top of his geocache.  What you see in the lid there is a notice saying that this is a geocache and inside the tube is a plastic bag that holds the log book, a pen and some tradeable items.  This isn't your typical cache find.  Most hides are just Tupperware or Lock n Lock containers covered in camo paint or spray painted and hidden under downed trees or in stumps.  Not too many are as creative as this and some are just annoying.  One I did while in N.C. on vacation last week was just a red Folger's coffee can.  It's location in a bush at the end of a dead end trail was the only way it wasn't being being mistaken for a piece of garbage.  Some hides are memorable, some not so much, but no matter what the container or the junk you find inside is, always the drive there, the walk to it and often times the location of the cache itself makes it all worth while. 

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  I enjoyed writing it and am already looking forward to my next search for Tupperware in the woods!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's raining, but I had to go!

It's been a very long time since I shared a caching adventure with you all. I have found quite a few since my last post back in June, but I didn't take the time to write them up. Spring is almost here and this weekend, although it poured all day yesterday and is still raining today, I decided to go for a newly published cache in the town I visit most often. Kit is my geodog, so she came along and Hunter, who is supposed to be the Son part of this Mom and Son Geocaching Team, has no interest in the drive, walk or search for the treasure. He just wants the treasure.

Usually, when I tell Kit to got outside and it's rainy, she absolutely refuses until I force her stubby tailed tush out the door. But when she saw me pull out her coat and her walking harness, she couldn't get out the door fast enough. First we traveled to our local Wal-Mart to get new batteries as I hadn't used my handheld Magellan Triton since November. With new batteries inserted and the waterproof back screwed on nice and snug, I entered the parking coordinates that would bring me close to the cache into Richard (my TomTom in case you've forgotten) and off we went.

Just a few short days ago it was sunny and a wonderful 63 degrees, but no more! The temperature was just above 40 as I clipped Kit's leash on her and grabbed my umbrella. Since this cache was listed as a micro and I didn't have a long walk, I left my geogear bag behind. With me I carried my GPS on a lanyard under the front my jacket, my phone in an outside pocket, a pen, a doggie poop bag and Kit's leash. My 11 pound dog didn't care one bit that it was raining. She led the way, pausing for a few sniffs here and there, as we casually walked along the sidewalk.

I hadn't been down that road in some time. The only thing along it is a subdivision of cookie cutter houses with no apparent privacy in between. Before reaching the first drive that lead between the rows of houses, I came to a pavilion at the front of a wide open field. Having scouted out this cache using Google Earth already, I knew the hide would be found inside the treeline at the other end of the field, almost directly across from the pavilion. I released Kit from her lead, but she didn't wander too far ahead and seemed to be thinking that this wet and muddy ground wasn't going to be all that fun. I squished along behind the muddy water she was kicking up, angling myself in line with the arrow on my GPS. Once in the trees Kit forgot about the mud and became all nose and speed, covering one side and then the other by the time I spotted the tree I would have chosen had I been the one to hide this cache.

There were only a few older trees in this strip of woods, all dark and somewhat diseased looking in the rain. The one I had focused on actually split into two trunks about four feet off the ground. My plan was to make my way around the tree where there was less undergrowth and look in the split for a micro sized cache, but as I came around the side of the tree, I spotted a hole in one of the separate trunks and just outside that hole was a grey and black string looped over a piece of bark. I knew I had found it even before I pulled out the camouflaged taped capsule. This one was on the larger size for a micro, about as wide around as the body of a water bottle, but only half as tall. It is considered a micro, however, for the lack of space inside for tradeable items. I screwed off the top, I pulled out the rolled log book in its small plastic bag and signed my find with my username, The Cache Checkers. Then I sealed the bag and screwed the top back on nice and snug. I slid the tube back into the hole and made sure the string was still secured in place. All the while, Kit was running all over, racing to see how many wonderful smells she could find before I called her back over. I had left my umbrella back behind a tree when I first came to the search area. Even though there were no leaves on the branches, I wasn't getting too wet from the rain. I pulled my hood up over my head and walked along a path deeper into the trees while Kit took the lead. She's no scout! If she saw something ahead, she'd start barking like crazy at the same time as she ran back to me!

I noticed when I first started walking across the open field some interesting metal contraptions with bright yellow tops in the distance. Now I was in an area free of trees with Kit and spotted some more. I thought maybe they were the skeletons for seasonal trash containers, but without the bags hanging down. As I got closer though, there were loose, small linked, thin metal chains inside the yellow loop at the top that ran to the bottom where there was a hard, wide spaced matching basket and each had a number. I didn't realize what these were all about until Kit and I made it back across the field and saw a sign outside the pavilion that told us how to play Frisbee Golf.

Once back on the leash and heading toward the van, Kit felt every drop of rain. Of course she was shivering, she's always shivering, but her ears were flat and her head hung low. Every time I stopped or slowed down, she looked back and me, squinting against the drops, with a look that told me she was thinking of her padded bed back on a seat in my van. This spoiled dog also has a blanket there, waiting for her to bury herself underneath.

I thought about going for another cache, but as my partner was looking pretty sad and my fingers were cold, we headed home and I'm already looking forward to getting out again. No more snow!

I didn't take any pictures of this adventure. I'd like to say it was because of the rain, but it's actually because I forgot my camera.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I did something this morning I only get every few weekends - I went out on my own! My husband thought he was sooo funny by telling me I could start at 6:00 AM and be back before our boys woke up. I was out the door by 9:00 and the first place I went to was Home Depot to get salt for our water softner. Then I did Dunkin' Doughnuts drive thru for some much needed wake you up caffeine and a muffin. I parked in a vacant spot and while I inhaled the delicious fresh air that came in one van window and out the other, I looked up the nearest cache in my handheld and turned on Richard.

Just .04 of a mile down the road is a dead end street I pass by every time I come to this particular city. The mall we frequent with the soft indoor park, McDonald's and the big play land and the movie theatre we attend is here. Each of those destinations is past this no thru way, but this morning I waited for the traffic to pass and coasted down the quiet, shady street to the very end.

The cache information page said there was a two track at the end of this street and that I would take it for about a ten minute walk before I went off the trail about twenty feet. I was warned about getting muddy and being attacked by mosquito's and that some bushwacking might be necessary. I had brought Kit with me because you look less suspicious walking a dog and she eagerly took off and followed my gesture to the two track.
It was obvious the two track hadn't been used yet this season. I could see the brown dirt and stones among the weeds. As I followed my eager canine off the road, the trail was gone in just a few feet. From right to left I looked for the trail and saw nothing but weeds and trees. The arrow pointed the same way Kit was investigating, like both she and my GPS knew where to go and I was blind. But look at these pictures. Can YOU see a trail??

(Sorry, made the image smaller than planned and deleted the originals.)

Before I took those pictures, I actually attempted to follow that little arrow into tick city, but it was a steep slope one way and thick with brush another. I was very confused and wondered if I had saved the wrong coordinates. I let Kit run around for a few minutes longer, but I wasn't going another step further without knowing for sure this was where I needed to be. I used Google Earth and saved a screen shot of the area and thought I knew where I was going. It didn't look like there was another road into those woods, but I was looking at it from an astronaut's view!

Kit was the only one that had any real fun, but it was short lived. She showed her unhappiness with our early departure by walking through a mud puddle, which wasn't in her direct path back to the van, and then jumping onto my seat. I'm convinced I even saw her little paw do a slight twist to really grind that mud into my seat!

The other cache I was going to attempt was at a beautiful cemetery. I admit I was a bit concerned about the neighborhood I was driving in. Six miles from where I usually go, this was a part of the city that I try not to venture in. But with two miles left before Richard told me I had reached my destination, the road became less pot-holed and faded and represented a neighborhood I felt more comfortable in. No offense to anyone, just my thoughts. I should have taken more pictures instead of just this one, a distance shot of the tree line of where I was headed. I'm guessing there must be a rule at these grounds that no artificial flowers be used. As I parked my van on the side of the circular drive, I saw blooms of all types of flowers by many of the gravestones. One grave marker was being replaced by the biggest hosta I had ever seen! When I stepped out of the van and turned into the wind, the aroma of all those flowers made me go, Hmmmm.

I still had Kit with me but kept her inside the van. Many people go back and forth with cemetery caches. Some absolutely refuse to do them, saying these places are not for any kind of game. Reading through the Internet log about this cache, there were many log entries about being approached by the police. Apparently, the cache owner made a big mistake when he published his hide. Instead of saying this cache was available dawn to dusk, he typed it as dusk to dawn. That mistake was the cause of people getting in trouble by being in a cemetery after the sun set.

I think I can say I have the caching eye now. My cache count is at 39 since I began in November. I'm proud of that number, although I knew there are many more die hards out there than me. I started to get Hunter out there enjoying Mother Nature and often have my 3 1/2 year old and two year old with me!

So, I'm confident I can spot the hiding place without having to search too long. Before I even approached the tree line, I pocketed my GPS and zeroed in on this tree to the right. Stated in the information for this cache was, Children friendly. As I reviewed this line in my GPS before arriving, I felt bad that I didn't have any of my boys with me. I decided to leave two things in there and take two out and give them to Hunter and Devin later. But then I was standing in front of this tree and saw it surrounded in prickers and, was that poison ivy? Inside the area where the three trunks meet is a hole and down in the hole was the cache container. There was no way a child's arm could reach in there and I got myself a pretty good scratch for my effort. Then, after I avoided possible poison ivy, left traces of my blood on an enemy thorn, the darn thing was empty!

When I got back home and logged my find I was surprised to see that this cache had only been posted in late April. It had only been out there in the word of Geocaching for a month and it was empty. Most likely someone saw it was full of good toys and took everything without leaving anything for the next kid to come along. I posted my experience in my log entry and received an email back from the cache owner a couple hours later. She apologized that there was nothing in there to trade and promised to have it re-stocked within the week. She didn't say anything about the prickers, possible poison ivy and the long reaching retrieval. Since I already claimed the find, I won't be returning.

The next day all of us went to Nelson Ledge's to score an Earth Cache. We found ourselves; Tim, Hunter, Devin, Bryce on his dad's back and I above where we needed to go and were pointed in the right direction to find how to get there, but take a look at this picture.

If you can't tell, waaaay down there, I'm guessing 50 feet at least, is where we needed to be. There are actually people in this picture, walking in a small amount of water, on their way to the Ice Box, as this earth cache is called.

The next time I attempt this find, I won't be bringing children with me! Here are pictures of my husband and the boys there. I'll save the rest to share when I actually find the cache.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring Break 2009 in Michigan!!

Although the snow had gone and the water it left behind has been soaked up and returned to the clouds here in NE Ohio, as my boys and I headed north to my hometown for Hunter's Spring Break Friday, April 10, we knew that the cold white stuff, which Hunter calls the S word, was still clinging to the ground in many places. I hoped Hunter and I would be able to get away and do some geocaching and I was very happy in the end with how many times we were able to do so, with more people than just us and our dog.

The first time we got out was Saturday morning with my mother in law. Linda wrote an article in my hometown's local paper about this high-tech hobby and was looking forward to going with Hunter and I. My sister Tiffany joined us as well. She surprised me with her arrival not long after I stretched my legs from the long drive. To read more about that, please see On Top of Mt. Laundry.
The first one I entered into Richard was at a local park and down a wooded path I didn't even knew existed there. Even though I grew up in this town, participated in 4-H events and played school softball in that same park, I never noticed the unmarked path behind the rectangular building at the back of the parking lot. After having been on this path now, I'm not sure I want it marked! It was an enjoyable walk with beautiful scenery...I don't think I want to share it with the tourists that travel here like lost bears to sweet honey.
Here are three members of the family I love. Tiffany is on the left, Hunter happy in the middle, and Linda on the right. We also brought our dog Kit and Linda's English Setter, Cody.

Behind us is the fenced area for the live stock and horse shows held during the annual Antrim County Fair held in August every year. I haven't attended that in such a long time....
To the left of that fence is the building I mentioned and behind that, the beginning of the walking path that just melts into the woods, barely noticable.

I remember the day was a bit chilly, but the sun warm on our faces. We started down the path with Hunter in charge of the GPS, but he soon handed it off to me, saying he wanted to enjoy the walk (really, he wanted to stim with his comfort toy). That was OK with me, at least he was outside getting some fresh air and vitamin D. I offered my handheld to my MIL, holding it with care like it was a slippery bar of soap even though it was hanging around my neck on a secure lanyard (it it breaks, I'll go nuts!). She turned me down because she wouldn't be able to see the small symbols and icons. My sister had her own handheld, so together we led our small party while the dogs zoomed ahead, behind and all around.

The woods we walked through weren't really all that thick. The sun was often seen above us, but it was still shaded enough along our way to allow the snow to hang on here a little bit longer. I did take pictures of the informational signs that were placed at the edges of the path, but I always take way too many pictures and I don't have enough room to include them here. I suppose I could write more....

I remember one spoke of the different kinds of trees in these woods and another told us of the deer and their struggles to find food in the winter. Hunter read them all out loud to us as we paused for each one.

I don't remember how long it took us to meander our way across the snow. I do remember Hunter was in the lead, way ahead at one point, and walked onto another path that we had to call him back on because the GPS was telling us to go another way.

The walk was a peacful one with the occasional hollar of my MIL to bring her dog around. Kit rarely strays far away from us. The small tinkling of the tags hanging on her collar told us she was close even when we couldn't see her 10 pound mostly white body only inches above the ground. With her short hair and much lighter weight, she seemed fresh from the groomers compared to Cody, who's beautiful long coat was hightlighed in mud and his back was even wet from his rolling fun in the snow.

We eventually arrived at a little creek that curved away from the path with a relaxing splashing and bubbling sound. Positioned perfectly was a weathered bench where Hunter rested his legs and Kit joined him after dipping her tongue in the cold creek.

We knew the cache was here somewhere. Our GPS's were telling us we were very close, but as we looked and wandered, we weren't finding it. I looked up the hint in my unit and, altough I don't recall it completely now, I remember it was about a stump. We looked around and saw many stumps, but the fun thing about geocaching is, that if you do it right, something that is unnatural will stick out like a black sheep among all the white if you know what you're looking for. Sometimes it's a small pile of rocks. Mother Nature doesn't often put a rock directly on top of another. She doesn't usually make a small teepee shape out of broken branches, and she definatley doesn't stick a pine bough into the top of a tree stump!

Hunter has a serious case of tunnel vision. He was right on top of it many times without seeing what was unnatural in the environment. His aunt and I had to play the hot and cold game to get him close. Then he saw it and was all smiles when he pulled from the shallow depths a camoflauged box.

We had missed it the first time because there were a lot of stumps to hide that size of a container. The stump it was in was right on the water line. We walked by it many times and Tiffany said this hide was the first one that her GPS didn't lead her exactly to. My GPS was off by about five feet or so. The margin of error can be up to 30 feet, depending on the weather and tree coverage.

As usual, there wasn't anything inside to get too excited about, except in Hunter's opinion. Any small item he can grab is great for him. Whatever amount we took out, we put back in from our purple velvet bag of geogoodies (we recycled the bag from my hubby's Crown whiskey)! Hunter closed the container and locked it back up. I double checked it to make sure it was water tight and watched Hunter as he tucked it back into the stump.

The return walk was just as enjoyable as the one there. We took our time with even Hunter leading in a more leisurly way. I could hear him laughing at the antics of Kit and Cody as they disappeared and returned in a large circle around us. Eventually though we had to reel them in as we got closer to the parking lot. If there had been other people on the path, our canine friends would have been on a leash. When no one is around though, let them run free. Both dogs know commands and even if my Miss Priss doesn't want to, she will obey. Once back to the vehicle, we entered into Richard the next coordinates, and we were off for one hunt more with Grandma and Aunt Tiffany!

The path we took this time was very well known to me. Pronounced differently by locals and strangers alike, Richardi Park was my hang out of choice while growing up. I would often ride my bike there in a swimming suit to jump into the dirty colored water. (When you're a kid, you don't question why it looks the way it does!) I should have taken a picture of the swimming hole with the old railroad bridge, converted into a paved walking path. in the distance. Even up against the naked trees and dead land between winter and spring, it's a pretty sight. That's not where the cache was, so I didn't take the shot.

The water of the swimming hole runs over to the side and down into the spillway. I fondly remember launching my inner tube among friends from the bank in the picture above. I'm not talking white water rapids here, but it was still a fun ride for laughing and shrieking girls. The river takes a bend and under the downtown bridge before another turn takes you under another bridge and past the marina my parents once owned. We never went that far because it was too long of a way to walk back!

My MIL and sister were talking together when I pause to take this picture. Hunter carried on in his own way. The path is open like this only near the spillway. Just beyond where Hunter walks is the woods, a smaller and not nearly as big area as where we had just come from that is only a good stones throw away from main street. From a bird's eye view, this patch of trees is just a small cirlce outlined by the river, the road and the park.

This path wasn't nearly as long as the other and there was much more zig zagging and bridge crossing going on. I remember crossing over one of these bridges with a girlfriend of mine when I was barely a teen and a boy had hidden underneath to scare us. I remember he was more annoying than scarey.

This cache was named after the small inn that backs up against the river in our small town. I remember Stone Waters Inn used to be a big house where a classmate lived, but many years ago it was remodeled to care for some of the many visitors our area gets in the warmer months. They also probably see their fair share of snowmobilers when it's cold.

Tiffany had actually found this cache during the Christmas holiday with her hubby. The terrain appeared different then and she was walking in front of me when I called a halt and said the cache was to the right. Just a few steps off the path we found a tree with a split down the middle; the perfect spot for a geocache!

Once again, Hunter wasn't paying attention to anything but his toys and whatever game or adventure was currently playing in his head. I called out to him to come check out this tree and he found the cache without delay.

I remember there weren't any TB's or coins in there and whatever else there was wasn't memorable. Hunter handed me the log and I signed our name, not surprised to see the name penned in before mine was tifranta, my sister! Many geocachers don't go out looking for a plastic box in snow that, in some parts, can be as deep as you are tall!

I know Hunter and I had a good time and I think the feeling was the same all around. My MIL was already looking forward to our return and doing this again, hoping that some of the finds we make are ones she puts out for her grandkids herself.


During a shopping trip to Travese City, my boys and I were joined by their Grandma M. If I'm remebering right, this hunt was her first of actually participating. We had tried another during the winter, but she stayed with the sleds and the smaller kids on the path while we had gone into the woods. Maybe if she had come with us, our luck would have been better that day! We'll be trying for that one again this summer. That's next month! Oh, my gosh!!
So, after we got done shopping, we headed to Kids Creek Preserve, which is hidden behind a Kohl's department store. Out of sight behind the store and in-between a service road and a parking lot is a nicely maintained stone path. After seeing this rocky way I decided not to pull out the stroller for Bryce. I no longer use my sling because he's gotten so big and wiggly. :(

The path soon turned from stones to a board walk with one bridge at each end taking us across a small trickling stream, Kids Creek. I wondered how many people even knew this was here? I only know now because I let my GPS lead me to places unknown, another great thing about geocaching! :) No one else was around so I let Kit and Bryce run free, keeping more of an eye on B than the dog! I really liked how the wood path had raised edges. It acted like a short containment wall that kept Bryce within its border, even when the boardwalk was level with the ground.

Devin also ran free, listening to the hollow thumping of his shoes on the wood. He saw me carrying Kit's leash and asked if he could walk her. I let Kit run free a little bit longer and then brought her in and clicked on the leash. Before starting off on the path we could see where the end came back around, so we were guessing it wasn't that long of a walk.

How many of you walk a toddler's pace? Try it some time. It made what would have been a ten minute walk for me one that was three times more enjoyable. Especially since I had my boys with me and got Kathy out there with us, too!

I remember the day being a beautiful one and am remembering now that I'm telling you of this hunt that I'm putting the two I did with Kathy and all three boys before the other ones we did. We traveled to T.C. the day before my boys and I headed back to Ohio. The end of our week long stay was much nicer than the beginning.
I had the GPS around my neck and watched that little arrow head point us along the path. The stone path at the beginning or our walk was the only part that would have been a struggle with the stroller. But Bryce did a great job keeping on the path and he probably would have been demanding to be let out of the stroller the first time we stopped anyway.

As we stepped closer and closer we all seemed to draw together...well, except Bryce! I said that the cache was around this area and Kathy started looking in the obvious place, under the boardwalk. She moved a little bit further down and announced the good news of another find for us, but her first! The boys ran to her and together they opened an ammo box. This box was the first container of its kind that I have found.

After signing the log and making the exchanges, Kath attempted to put it back where she found it, but I stopped her by emphatically whispering, Muggle! Those of us who could, assumed positions we thought looked normal for people just standing still in the middle of a walking path, until the woman on the cell phone passed by. Great work, guys!

On another hunt, here's Kathy, ready with the handheld to attempt one more find! The Grass River Natural Area has this sentence on its' homepage, Take it all in. Take a break, a class, a walk, a moment and visit.... That sums it up perfectly. I was going to go on a whole speel about rivers, streams and creeks, the trails, boardwalks and elavated observation platforms, the wildlife above, below and in front of you, the endangered and beautiful plant life, all together in a five and a half mile stretch of gorgeous earth, most of which is easily accessible for strollers and wheelchairs. Phew! Wonderful place.

Joining us on this jaunt were two of my three boys and Aunt Jennifer. Jennifer went with my sister, my dad and I on a previous hunt I've written about, back when I was up there over the Christmas holiday. She brought her little dog Romeo that day. Neither her dog or mine came along on this trip though. I couldn't remember if dogs were allowed, so we left them back at the house.

This day was also later in the week, so the sun was warm and the sky clear, just a perfect oppurtunity to spend it outdoors! Another reason to start geocaching! :p

The Grass River Natural Area is mostly under trees. It's a great place to be during the summer heat because there are more shaded areas then out in the sun. On the other hand, in the early spring, it's still mostly covered in snow! The parking lot and the beginning boardwalks were snow free, like in this picture, but as we walked deeper into the area, we felt like mountain goats, walking across a ledge on a mountain high above. Some piles of snow were at least as tall as Devn. Jennifer's left leg was gulped up once when she stepped off the path!

I think Grandma was really getting into this geocaching thing. She took charge of that GPS like an old pro! Walking the wooded boardwalk and finding exactly where to be was a bit hard. With the tree cover and the interacting paths, it took awhile for us to decide which path to choose and then where to start looking. We knew it would be under a boardwalk; we didn't want to take any steps off the path, possibly destroying plant life or loosing a shoe in the muck we could see among the trees. Can you see the cache in the picture above? That one was well camoflauged and in a nice container, but tucked underneath a bench in the shade made it hard to see.

The cache Dev is holding with his brother being his wonderful self behind him was one in the best shape I've seen. The box was a nice one that locked on all four sides and the camo tape was applied well. I don't know, but maybe the cache owner visits often to maintain it, but it was in great shape. I do remember this had a nature theme, or was supposed to anyway. There was nothing natural about the contents, but we left a couple of lizards behind.

This one on the left is typical of most caches, just a Tupperware container. Hidden under the boardwalk like the one we found in Kid's Creek, I don't recall anything I'd consider worthy inside, but when you're a kid and you see toys inside, it just makes your day! With their Grandma M. behind them, Hunter and Dev pose with their last find that day.

One last picture of Devin in front of the many creeks we crossed over in search for the elusive geocache. Clutched in his small hand is one of the treasures he traded for, in a box hidden in a nature center, only found thanks to a Global Positioning System!


A visit to my hometown wouldn't be complete without a stop at my sister Amanda's. She might disown me if I didn't bring myself and my boys her way. She stayed at the house with the smaller ones while I took Hunter, Rayne and Randi out. It was a beautiful day for it and I'm glad they were eager to go with us, even though they insisted on my GPS speaking in the Darth Vadar and C3PO voices.

Even though this isn't the first cache we did that day, it's the best picture of the three of them together. At first when we pulled into the roadside park on Lake Michigan, there was a car parked right where my handheld said we needed to be. Not just walking toward that area, but searching in that area.

So instead we put Kit on her leash and walked the other direction. It's not a very big park, a parking lot is more like it. It's not a state roadside park. Those in Northern Michigan are still closed. We had a cache in our sights in one of those parks, but the gates were locked. We walked on to the beach where I took the first picture and then slowly headed in the direction we needed to go. I was happy to see that by the time we came around to where the person or people in the car would see us, it was gone.

The GPS directed us to the shoreline where there was a long outcropping of rocks just off the water. While they searched among the rocks for a crevice to peer into, they played on the rocks and Rayne posed comically for my camera.

Randi was the one to call out the find and both Hunter and Rayne swarmed all over her. We took it away from the hiding place in case anyone saw us from the road. I signed the log and they sorted through the contents and eventually made a trade. Even though I said they didn't have to do it on each find, they insisted on taking something. This was the first cache I've seen hidden inside a tin of some kind. It wasn't rusty yet, but eventually it would become something ugly and hard to open. Keeping a cache maintained is why you should only hide them in your home area. I would love to hide one in my hometown, but I would have to depend on someone else to keep an eye on it for me. Not only do you need to keep it clean and dry, but hidden safely from Muggles who would steal or destroy it.

This next one was a huge disappointment. There were two no no's in this one. The biggest was that when we opened it, there were fruit snacks in there. Animals have great noses and a raccoon is stronger than you might think. I didn't trust those fruit snacks anyway, so they went directly into the trash bag I carry with me (Cache In, Trash Out, but also keeps suspicions off you!) The other no, no was it's location. It was a super easy find. The name of the cache was the name of the lake access point. If this hadn't been early April but in the heat of the summer, there was no way we could have tried for this one because it was five feet off the road, underneath the name of the sign for the public access point.

You can see the cache no problem. Not only because of the bright blue top, but because of the pile of wood that screams artificial. When a hiding spot is out in the open like that, you have to do a better job of camoflauging it.

Hunter did find a $5.00 Little Ceasars gift card inside. I'm not sure what became of it after that day though, so can't tell you if it was valid or not.

The one that gave us the most difficulty was a cache hidden far down a path off the same road as the roadside park we visited. Randi happily took Kit by her leash and Rayne set us on our course. She soon passed the GPS to me, however, as it jumped around a lot in those woods. The girls took my words about picking up garbage we found seriously. We hadn't been searching for ten minutes when my thin white plastic bag was bulging and heavy from many discarded and dirty cans and glass bottles they brought to me.

As I slowed down our pace and let Kit run free, we came to a wood plank set over just a small, short ravine. I thought this was it, but as we searched and searched, we didn't find anything. I switched screens on my GPS and watched the actual coordinates instead of the arrow icon. I was about to call it quites when I saw a pile of dead wood that caught my eye. GPS's aren't always exact, especially in the woods, and where we found the cache was probably 30 feet from where my GPS said it should be. Can you see the white lidded container among the wood in the picture on the left?

The last one I'm going to talk about was actually the first one we tried on that day, but our second attempt overall on this particular cache. We tried finding it back during Christmas break. I tend to repeat myself and I'll say it again, everything looks different buried under snow and this was the girls' first attempt at geocaching. It was also cold and windy off the lake like we were.
What we did find the first time however, was that large pile of bread. Do you remember? I looked in that spot when we first entered the woods this go around, but there wasn't any bread to be seen. We knew in what area to look and spread out. About ten minutes later, I heard Randi call out the find on my left. This cache was a memorial to a young girl who was murdered in the area back in the early 90's. The coordinates were way off, but we still should have found it the first try. This cache wasn't hidden at all, it was an actual memorial to this lost young girl, created with love and care. The plastic tub for the cache was placed behind the wooden cross. The kids turned somber as I read the dedication on the homemade stone; In God's Hands Heather E. Kleiber 12-10-1976 - 8/17/1990. There were handpainted wild flowers as well. When we opened up the cache, I was happy to find a dog themed geocoin. When I logged that I had picked it up, I included a picture of the coin with Kit. By doing so I fullfilled the goal the owner of the coin had stated; to collect pictures of canine geocachers.
Well, that was our Spring Break in Northern Michigan geocaching adventures. No, I'd rather not go to Florida. :P