Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Long Way Around

/Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.
A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their pre-established code name. Larger containers such as plastic storage containers or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value./

That's the Wikipedia definition.  Here's mine:

/Geocaching is an activity that combines the activities of a nature hike and treasure hunt, often resulting in a most excellent adventure./

It is also an activity that can test your resolve and physical limitations, as was the case in my most recent trek to discover an elusive cache located along the Iron Creek Trail in Spearfish Canyon.  At one point during my search I thought I might become one of those missing hikers you read about.  I started to envision searchers finding me after the Spring thaw, sitting up against a tree holding a piece of bark with a message scrawled on it saying "kilt whilst lookin fer the cache  got up  couldn't git down"   But good fortune prevailed and I made it out alive, obviously, since I'm telling this story.  So, here's how the adventure played out ...

I had ridden by the parking area where the trail starts the week before on my motorcycle and remembered  how much I enjoyed it when I hiked there years ago with my wife and son.  I figured it was time to do it again. After checking I discovered that a new cache had been placed somewhere along the trail recently, so I could combine a nice early Autumn hike with a geocache search, and decided to put it on the schedule for my next day off which was a Tuesday.  That explains why I was alone.  Who else is going to be able to go off traipsing in the woods during the middle of the day on a Tuesday?  In this case no one.  But that's ok. I'm armed with my backpack, plenty of water and my trusty GPS unit with the coordinates of the cache programmed into it.  Now, if I would have only brought along some good judgement and common sense I might have had an easier time of it.  About a mile into my quest I checked my GPS and noticed the distance to the cache was all of a sudden increasing.  I paused and checked the directional arrow which indicated the path to my goal required a hard left turn.  This is where I should have just stopped, taken a lesson from tThe Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and thought about what I was doing.  Remember the "think...think...think scene?"
But I didn't.  I proceeded to blindly follow the GPS arrow.  Big mistake.  It led me across the creek and up an incredibly steep hill.  My unit said it was only 465 feet to cache location, but half way up I was crawling on the ground, desperately grasping for any root or rock to hold on to and pull myself up another foot or two.  After a couple of hours (it was actually only a few minutes but it seemed longer) I was able to reach the ridge where the terrain flattened out and I was able to stand upright again.  Thinking I was very close now I checked the coordinates and found that the cache was...still 450 feet away!  What the...?  There must be some mistake.  There was a lot of tree cover so it was possible my GPS was not functioning properly.  Something had to be wrong because the arrow now was pointing right over a cliff on the other side of the ridge.  There was no way I could get down there without doing some kind of a base jump.  But I didn't have a parachute so that was out of the question.  I thought, "whoever placed this cache is one diabolical s.o.b." After a careful consideration of my options I did the only thing I could do.  I gave up.  Win some. Lose some.  Right?  Now all I had to do was get back down off my precarious perch and hike on out of there.  Well, it took some time but I followed the ridge to a point where it was only about a 5 or 6 foot drop to get back on flat ground.  I took a break to have some water and to catch my breath, then started back.  But wait!  I happened to notice that had I continued on the trail instead of detouring up that hill maybe, just maybe, it would have taken me around to the other side of that hill.  So I turned back around again and sure enough, the distance readings began to get smaller!  duh.  It was then I realized that I could have avoided that exhausting climb to nowhere and just kept on the the trail, which led me right to the hidden treasure.  There it was, in a small red container hanging from a branch of a tree only a few feet off the path.
Success!  I opened the container, took out a rolled up piece of paper, signed and dated it, then replaced it.  This container was smaller than most so there wasn't room for any trinkets like you would normally find.  But, looking back, it was still fun in spite of my misadventures leading up to the eventual find. I enjoy geocaching.  You never know what you might discover. Sometimes the caches will have some very strange items, like a severed doll's head that we found in an old ammo box under a bridge just outside of Hill City. No body of the doll. Just the head.  And a rather creepy looking one at that.  Weird.  
But we've also found souvenir coins, postcards, marbles, even a small plastic Star Trek phaser gun.  The idea is to take something and put something back to replace it.  We usually put in a pirate eye patch.  Yes, there is story to that, too.  But I don't have time for it now.  Maybe down the road.