For some reason, nobody told me my Uncle Paul and cousin Matt were going to be spending the night at my house last night and hanging out for the day before they headed back home to Texas (they were out here for a bike ride in Tahoe and stopped at our place for just a night). I was really happy when I found out because I never ever get to see these relatives and even when I do, it's usually at some huge gathering where there isn't much opportunity for one-on-one conversation.
How lucky I was to get in a little GGA playdate with Matt, who is a fan of and active member in the community of
Today's New Activity: Geocaching!
If you've never heard of geocaching (and I hadn't until last year when my Mom related the story of Matt's unforgettable geocache (more on that later)), I'll break it down. Basically it's something of a geographical treasure hunt. People hide mini-capsules all over the place (literally, like all over the world), input the treasure's coordinates on one of many websites devoted to this (we used Geocaching.com), and then other people try to find them. If you're out geocaching, you've either uploaded a cache's coordinates into a GPS device, or you've got a mobile phone app that functions as one. We went for the former, though either was a bit of a crapshoot, given the spotty reception in my neck of the woods.
In this case, "my neck of the woods" can be used literally, as we were out on a trail behind the house that is thick with huge trees and animal tracks, not to mention (as my Uncle would later tell us) poison oak.
We were looking for 3 different caches, whose locations as told by the GPS were off the trail, but not by much.
The first was the toughest to find. The heavy rains from a few weeks back made it seem likely the object would have moved from its original spot, and the only clue we had to go on was "not in the hole." We could only assume this meant a hole in the trunk of a tree, but which holed tree trunk we were talking about (not) finding it in was undetermined. But that was part of the fun.
Matt is ridiculously good at this part, by the way. All three times, I knew he'd found the cache because he'd say "oh," and then let me have the chance to see it for myself, but I think I had to ask him to point it out every time. One problem was that I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, but then neither did he. The hidden items ranged in appearance and size:
But he was very good at listening to his instincts and was able to lead us to them every time. "Well, he did a GPS," you say? Yes, but that only gets you in the ballpark...there is still a lot of terrain and plenty of variables involved, so I think it was pretty cool that he was able to find them all.
And I'm actually very impressed that Matt even still does this. Last May he and his friends had about the worst experience you can imagine when they were out geocaching behind the wooded entry sign to a suburban housing tract in his town and discovered (I swear I am not kidding) a dead body. Yes. Body. Dead. He was a junior in high school at the time. The woman had not been there long, as evidenced by the fact that it was 100 degree weather in Texas and the body hadn't decomposed yet. He said they weren't even sure she was dead. It was pretty clearly a staged so-called suicide scene--her body was littered with medication and beer bottles and a man mysteriously drove up while they were out there waiting for the police, offering to "help them find their dog" and responding with a much-too-casual "that's sketchy" when they told him they'd found a freaking DEAD BODY. Creepy stuff. I'm pretty sure that experience would turn me off to the whole thing for good, but I'm glad he didn't because it's a pretty cool thing to do.
Luckily, the only evidence of dead things we found was the hair and skull of a goat. Still a little creepy, but nothing in comparison!
One thing I like about the whole activity is the community aspect of it. You can go looking for caches alone or with other people, so that part does not necessarily always have a community aspect to it, but every person who has found a cache previously signs a log contained within (using handles they've created). So you can see who was there and when, and it's just interesting to think that other people also visited the same remote site for the same purpose.
A motto associated with the movement is "Cache in, trash out." The idea is that you can leave a little souvenir in the cache for another to find later,
but that you should take with you any garbage you find nearby, which is also nice. Since much of these hidden objects are out in nature, it's good to think that the people out there doing this are conscious of their imprint and intent on preserving the surroundings.
The geocaching was a great new experience, and something I am happy to have been clued into. It will be fun to try and find some of these on my own or with Monkey in the future. But the real joy of the day was having the chance to spend some time with a cousin I almost never see and whom I've definitely not had the chance to speak with much. Matt is polite, easy to talk to, fun, intelligent, and sure to do great things as he moves into his college years. I couldn't help but think--as I spent time with him--that I hope I can manage to do whatever good things my Aunt Ginny and Uncle Paul have done over the years, so that my own son will turn out like him :)