In fifth grade my class took a field trip to a nearby state park where we learned many useful survival strategies that I promptly forgot. If I get dropped in the forest somewhere, my strategy is to search for Pumbaa and Timon. They are my only hope.
I distinctly remember attempting to learn three “survival” skills:
- How to measure an acre using your foot steps.
This doesn’t work when you have an unusually short stride. I’m surprised a cheap realtor in Wyoming hasn’t approached me to be his chief measuring officer. My acres were always about 20 percent too small.
- How to measure a tree with a pencil
I have no recollection for how this even works. Even if I did know the secret of this equation, I doubt I’d have an old school #2 pencil lying around … or an emergency need to measure a tree.
- How to use a compass to find treasure
My team took about three times longer than the other teams to locate the treasure (aka a box of oatmeal cream pies). By the time we got there Goober (the token fat bully) had eaten all our treats. Traumatizing!
My orienteering skills have only gotten worse. If you’re giving me directions somewhere you have to say “right” or “left” because east and west are not useful navigational directions to me.
When my good friend Susan invited me to her house to try Geocaching, I was skeptical but totally game. Geocaching is a fun new phenomenon that challenges participants to use their GPS device (like a Garmin or in some cases a cell phone) to find hidden treasures. It is all run by geocaching enthusiasts and it is free. The “treasures” are hidden by other geocachers. They hide a package of trinkets in a public area and then upload the coordinates into the website Geocaching.com.
The idea of hunting for hidden treasure is intriguing, however based on my history I was convinced we’d end up in Canada or Coon Rapids… I’m not sure which would be worse.
Ironically, I got lost on my way to Susan’s house. When I finally arrived we packed into her SUV and trotted off to our destination. We had a full house of dogs, dames and a driver. I got to ride in back with the cool kids, aka: Chili dog, Avery and Cooper. After much butt smelling the three labs were fast friends.
We arrived at Lockness Park in Lino Lakes about 90 minutes before sundown. Susan’s husband Brent is a mastercacher. (I just made up that title, but there should be a boyscout badge for that!) He and his sons often go Geocaching on camping trips. He gave me a quick tutorial on how to use the GPS, and before I knew it, we were off and searching. I asked Brent to navigate the first hunt. Only about 50 yards from the car Susan spotted the geocache in the hole of a dead tree. I pulled it out and found a scratch pad to add your name, and some small trinkets. The rule of the road is: if you take a trinket, you must leave a trinket. Susan had loaded us up with some small toys so I signed my name and placed a small holiday ornament thing in the baggie.
Not five minutes in and we had found our first treasure! This was easy! Brent handed off the GPS to me to find our next treasure. I picked “Nessy’s lookout” and meticulously followed the GPS’ detailed readings on which way to go. We arrived at a steep hill that needed to be navigated. The dogs darted right up the hill, the humans lagged a bit. When we reached the top we found a semi-hidden bench. We looked around for several minutes only to determine that the GPS listing was likely just for the bench and not an actual geocache. Bummer!
Our next target was less than half a mile away. Our giant mixed-species pack walked and chatted. The dogs ran and smelled and marked and tried to eat poop (okay that was only my dog), and the humans leisurely walked towards our next stop. Chili dog oversaw the operation.
We went over a small bridge and back into the brush. Once the GPS told us we were within feet of the treasure we starting looking high and low. After a few minutes of bush whacking, I spotted it! It was a narrow canister masterfully decorated with camouflage tape. I cracked open the canister and quickly wrote down our names, then perused the goods. I swapped a matchbox car for a mini fishing bobber. Score!
We followed a trail along a small lake, and found another geocache entry along the way. It brought us to another bridge. Brent, Susan and I spent about 10 minutes looking for it, but threw in the towel when the dogs got bored and started messing with us. At one point both Susan and I were tangled in the mess of dog leashes. I guess we know who the pack leaders are!
Our last geocache brought us to a section of pine trees. Brent spotted this one, but played dumb until I was able to spot in on my own. I pulled a dinosaur out of this container.
I know this is nerdy, and I know I’ll never be Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild, but DUDE – It was fun! Instead of taking a boring walk with the dogs, it felt like we were on an adventure. It gave us a purpose to be outdoors freezing our manicures off and gave us all a little bonus exercise. When we got back to Susan’s house, I asked Brent to look up where there
were geocaches registered near my house. There were hundreds! The park where I often walk Chili had 10 listings! I’ve walked past those dozens of times and never noticed the treasures hiding in plain site! I can use my iPhone to geocache, so I’m looking forward to trying this in the spring and summer. It’s definitely going to liven up my dog walking routine, and give me another way to enjoy the outdoors. Given that there are more than 1,000 parks in the Twin Cities, and the fact that I have eyesight similar to Mr. Magoo, this will keep me and Chili busy for many years to come.
I never would have tried Geocaching if it wasn’t for the offer from Susan and Brent, but now I have a fun new hobby. Now if I get lost in the woods, I can at least find a canister full of knickknacks! That is SO much more useful than the tree/pencil trick.