Last week my wife invited some guests over to our house, and introduced me to her friend’s husband. “Mike, here, is into geocaching,” she bubbled. Latte seems to take great joy in widening my social horizons.
“That’s great,” I nodded approvingly. “International finance is a challenging field, but I’ll bet it pays for itself, eh?” I chuckled into my Diet Coke. Mike looked blankly nervous, and I mentally revised my impression of him downward. Some of these financial-type guys don’t have very good social skills.
Mike and I pose for an obligatory ‘husbands’ shot
Later, for no apparent reason, Mike led me around the yard, with some kind of compass that looked like a walkie-talkie. “I’ve hidden items at coordinates around your property; now you try to find them,” he confided, raising his eyebrows conspiratorially.
“Really?” I was somewhat surprised. I didn’t know Mike very well â€“ heck, I hadn’t yet worked up to asking him for a loan, let alone a gift. “I guess our wives ARE pretty good friends,” I mused. “What kind of items, Krugeraands or precious gems?”
Mike tried to conceal his embarrassment beneath a veneer of bafflement. “Look, just try to find the cache, will you?”
“Better and better,” I thought. Cash is so much easier to handle — I wouldn’t know how to sell the Krugeraands, anyway.
We stopped to take a group-family-picture. We and another family graciously loaned Mike and De’Etta some of our children, since they have such a small family.
I wandered aimlessly around the back yard, peering under likely bushes, until Mike was overcome by impatience. “Look,” he growled, tapping his finger peremptorily on the screen of the walkie-talkie device he had given me. “You head toward wherever the compass arrow points, and you stop and search when it says you’re within 20 feet.”
I was offended. “You act as though I’ve never done this before,” I scolded. “Now, remind me: why, exactly, does this long line come together with these other two angled shorter lines? And what does ‘N’ stand for, anyway?” I indicated the small screen on the walkie-talkie, filled with incomprehensible numbers and symbols.
I wasn’t the only one who had trouble reading the GPS device.
By dint of elimination of all possible concealment, I eventually found the first ‘hidden item’, a plastic dinosaur tucked under the deck of my hot tub. I shook it hopefully, but no gems spilled out of its toothy mouth. “Heh, heh. One of the kids must’ve left this here,” I said, hopefully.
“No, that’s it — now on to the next one!” enthused Mike. He pushed a few buttons on the yellow device and handed it back to me. “Try to find the second one — I had a lot of fun hiding it. Har, har, har.”
Not our actual back yard.
As the sun went behind the trees, I sadly concluded that Mike was a raving lunatic. How else could a grown man take such delight in â€˜findingâ€™ so-called â€˜treasures’ he had hidden himself only a few hours before, with the help of a mechanical device of dubious utility?
I tried to tactfully extricate myself, well aware that any remark, seeming to challenge his delusion, might cause him to turn violent. “You know,” I wheedled, “we could save quite a bit of time if you would just tell me where the last one is hidden, heh, heh.” I grinned nervously, while frantically signaling to my wife behind my back.
Latte was maliciously oblivious to my plight. “Would you like to stay for dinner?” she asked Mike’s family, sweetly. Mike seemed to be doing something frantic with his hands, behind his back, but I was too polite to notice.
Thistle opens a cache …
Coincidentally, Mike and his family were not able to stay for dinner, but were seized with an urgent need to decamp. We were left standing on the front lawn with the squeal of their 15-passenger van tires ringing in our ears. That evening I spent some research time on the internet, mainly to determine whether mental conditions (like those exhibited by Mike) were in any way contagious.
As I later deduced, Mike was trying to introduce me to a new outdoor â€˜sportâ€™ combining the least enjoyable parts of hiking and orienteering with treasure-hunting, only without the treasure (or the pirates). Using devices attuned to Global Positioning satellites, it is apparently possible to arrive within 15 or 20 feet of a predefined hide-site, or ‘cache’, given a set of coordinates and one of those fancy-schmancy GPS ‘navigator’ devices.
Rhubarb hones his mystical eastern martial art skillz, to assist in locating a cache.
“Humph,” I humphed. “I’ll bet that GPS thingy he tried to pass off on me was defective. I’d better buy my own.” Furtively, I ordered the cheapest one I could find that looked cooler than Mike’s. “Mine has a high-resolution color screen,” I gloated, quickly closing the Amazon order-confirmation page in my browser before Latte could catch me in the act.
“What did you just order?” she intoned, suspiciously. Latte is always jumping to conclusions; one of these days she’ll jump to the wrong one, and then I’ll show no mercy.
“Just a little GPS thingy,” I told her airily, as an adept of deep mysteries addresses a novice. “I’ve decided to take up geostashing. The brochure says it will promote health and family bonding and what-not.” I showed her the glowing picture of a stalwart, muscular father, boldly leading a passel of clear-eyed, smiling children up a precipitous mountain ridge, GPS thingy in-hand. “I’ll bet I can geobash better than any old international finance guy,” I told her, confidently.
My actual GPS thingy
“You could definitely use the exercise,” Latte chortled, slapping my belly off-handedly, producing a sound like a carpet-cleaner beating out a rug with one of those big wooden paddles. “But where can you rent kids like that?”
Although we rarely agree in such matters, Latte had a point. I mentally compared my own children with those in the brochure. My three boys (Faramir, Weasel and Rhubarb), though physically impressive enough, were better-known for being squint-eyed and surly, at least whenever their fingers were pried away from their computer game controllers. My girls (Foxglove and Thistle) are outwardly attractive enough, but both take after their mother in sniggering and snide remarks. I could just imagine how harried the Dad in the brochure picture would look, if he was constantly badgered the way that I am:
“Say, Dad,” one of them would sneer,” since when does the sun set in the East?”
I turned my attention back to Latte. “Maybe I could train ‘em, you know, build some character into the little rascals, like you’re always saying I should.” Latte looked doubtful, but I crushed my misgivings. After all, I’d already ordered the GPS thingy, so there was no going back.
Eventually, my Garmin eTrex Venture HC GPS Navigator ™ came in the mail, and it was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped. I tried to distract my wife from the price tag. “Notice how mine has a high-resolution color screen, and is substantially nicer than Mike’s?”
Latte squinted hopefully. “Does it have the locations of all 16,120 Starbucks stores world-wide, pre-programmed?”
Once we established that the device did not, in fact, have any coffee bistros pre-loaded (not even a Forza), my wife concealed her breathless excitement by carelessly tossing it over her shoulder onto the couch. “Whatever,” she fleered.
The following Saturday dawned bright and clear, and I gathered the kids to form a geognashing party. “Now, look,” I told them sternly, hitching up my shorts. “We’re doing this as a family, and I expect everyone to be kind, take turns, share the GPS thingy, and not rush to be first all the time. It will probably involve a good bit of walking around in the woods, so bring some water and wear solid shoes and long pants.” I adjusted my flip-flops self-consciously.
The mighty hunters boldly set forth …
We drove around for quite a while, trying to get near the coordinates I had painstakingly entered into the GPS thingy. People having rudely built their houses in our way, we were forced to circle the neighborhood, seeking an access path. As always, the kids admired my driving and navigational skills.
“Say, Dad, that’s the fourth time we’ve turned down this street. Maybe you could try a left at this next road, before we stop for lunch?”
We eventually found a path into the park, and descended into a green, leafy ravine; an unsuspected natural haven lurking behind rows of suburban houses.
You would think that a treasure hunt with a technological twist would be fun for the whole family, but we were plagued with such incessant whining and unbridled selfishness, that it threatened to spoil the entire outing for everyone. One person, in particular, was a veritable fountain of complaints.
â€œIâ€™m hot, Iâ€™m thirsty, I got a scratch from some blackberries, and my feet are tired.”
“I think it is my turn to hold the GPS thingy, and Iâ€™m tired of carrying this plastic toy!â€
â€œHow much farther does it say it is?â€
â€œOnly 482 feet, Dad,â€ Foxglove tried to reassure me. â€œWeâ€™ve come so far, more than 100 feet from the car already, isnâ€™t that encouraging?â€
See, I did let others hold the GPS at least some of the time.
I decided to keep a stiff upper lip, as a good example to the children. Calling for them to assemble around me, I gave a stirring and inspirational lecture on the merits of bearing hardship with patience and stoic courage.
â€œThanks, Dad — that was very stirring and inspirational.â€ Weasel soothed. â€œHow â€˜bout you keep a stiff upper lip in the car, while we hike over to the cache?â€
Eventually we located and opened four such caches in succession; in a spurt of generosity, I even let the kids find one of them. We swapped the worthless plastic trinkets we had brought in our pockets for worthless plastic trinkets left by other geocache enthusiasts. I began to suspect that the entire â€˜sportâ€™ had originated as a clever ploy to dispose of unwanted Happy Meal ™ toys.
One cache was reptile themed, so we brought tiny plastic dinosaurs to leave for the next ‘lucky’ group.
As I sat at home that evening, pouring hydrogen peroxide on my bramble-wounds, I realized that I had actually enjoyed myself, and burned a few calories to boot. The children proudly showed off their â€˜prizesâ€™ to Latte, and I spent some time online, bragging about the caches we had found. No longer did our user name on the geocaching.com website have that shameful â€œ(0 found)â€ label beside it â€“ we had begun to be â€˜playersâ€™ in the international community of geohashing.
Some of the caches (like this one that Weasel tracked down) were very small and consisted only of a rolled-up log …
I went over to my friend’s house and hammered on the front door. It opened, warily. â€œHey, Dave, guess what? Iâ€™ve become a geotrasher!â€ I brandished my GPS thingy.
Dave tried to slam the door in my face, but I deftly blocked it with my foot, causing it to rebound painfully into his chest. Dave always enjoys my visits, but sometimes his clowning is a bit tiresome. Pressing the GPS device into his hand, I pushed past him and settled comfortably into his recliner, grabbing the remote. â€œI’ve hidden items at coordinates around your property, now you try to find them!”
Special thanks to Pat McManus, whose memorable style inspired this story.