A Stupid Hobby

Saturday was a nice, spring day. Sunny, mid-60s, and too early for bugs to be out in force. I wanted some fresh air and a little exercise, so I decided to go after a nearby geocache that had been hidden a week or two ago.

I find a good parking spot and my GPS leads me into a local forest preserve. I cross a bridge over a flowing stream and cut into the underbrush, following the GPS arrow. Closer, closer, then… Hmph. I’m on the wrong side of the stream. This happens to me far more often than random chance would seem to allow for. If I’m hunting a geocache that is anywhere near a stream or river, I can practically guarantee I’ll start my search on the wrong side.

So, I backtrack to the bridge and cross it again, and once again plunge into the underbrush. It’s thicker on this side with, I can’t help but notice, a lot more thorny plants. After a dozen yards or so it’s clear to me that they are not just any common thorny plants. These are carnivorous, bloodthirsty, and evil. Any cacher who has ever bushwhacked in Illinois knows the kind I’m talking about. I’m covered in scratches and bleeding from multiple tiny punctures. But finally, I break through and discover that… I’m on the wrong side of the stream. Again.

We pause now for the slowly dawning horror of realization. Yes, the cache is on a tuft of mud that, if one were generous, one might call an island.

Wisdom would dictate that I leave, and await a day in the heart of a drought to try for this cache. Unfortunately, where geocaching is concerned I have only a passing acquaintance with wisdom. We are not on a first name basis.

“Go for it” says the little voice in my head. Something to know about the little voice in my head… for most people, their little voice helps them decide between right and wrong, or reminds them that they left the iron on. Helpful things like that. The little voice inside my head has been engaged in a lifelong effort to trick me into doing something fatally stupid. There have been a few close calls, but I’m still breathing.

Anyhow. “Go for it”, says the murderous little voice. I start thinking of the various ways that things could go horribly wrong. I could slip in and suffer hypothermia. “It’s not cold out, you big sissy!” Ok, how about maybe getting caught in some tangled tree limbs and breaking a leg? “You’d look good in a cast – think of the sympathy you’d get from women!” Hmmm, ok, that’s a good point. But wait, I could actually drown attempting this! “You gotta try new things.” What?!? Why would I… oh, never mind. We both know I’m going to try for it, so hush already.

I start examining my options. There is a fallen tree that could be used to cross the stream, but it’s kind of high above the water, treacherously small in diameter, and the central feature of the leg-breaking tangle that I’d already considered. No good. I spy what appears to be a submerged rock on the other side that would probably make a good leaping point, so once again I brave the underbrush, cross the bridge, and make my way back to where I had been in the first place. And the rock that I had pinned my plans on turns out to be – a sunken plastic bag. Swell.

Desperation sets in. I need a plan, and the only option I see is a muddy, half rotten log at the edge of the stream. The little voice inside my head giggles in gleeful expectation. I heave the log up on one end – it’s far heavier and muddier than it looks. For a heart-stopping moment it teeters the wrong way and I quickly adjust to catch it, leaning one end on my chest while wildly maneuvering to keep from losing my balance in the very slippery mud. The little voice is barely able to contain its joy at my imminent demise. Finally, with a mighty splash, the log falls where I want it to. More or less. Approximately. Close enough. But only halfway to the island. Mustering up all the foolishness at my disposal, I creep out onto the slippery, rotting, half-floating log, and leap (soaring through the air with all the grace of a cinder block!), just barely reaching the island. Safe! Filthy, sweating, scratched, bleeding, and panting like an asthmatic dog, but safe! The little voice gnashes its teeth in frustration.

Finding the cache at this point was child’s play. Easy breezy. Piece of cake. Thank goodness. Whew.

And here I caught a piece of luck. This little hummock of an island offers just enough room that I manage a one-step run. I leap out to the waiting log, and inertia carries me along it to a jarring landing in the soft mud. Success! Looking like The Swamp Thing, I staggered out of the woods to my car, and headed home to a hot shower, clean clothes, and an assortment of ointments, bandages and pain killers.

I can’t wait for the next one!

A Handful of Hornets

A week ago I decided to leave work an hour early and get in some geocaching on my way to a meeting. I hop on my big scooter, and head to a random cache.

I park nearby, and walk over to ‘ground zero’ to begin my search. The notation on the GPS indicated it was an easy hide – no problem, I figured. I start looking at possible hiding spots. There’s a wooden walkway, with a solidly built bench attached to it. The bench is my first guess (a GPS will get you within maybe 10 feet, but it’s amazing how many places there may be to hide something in that radius) so I start giving it the once over. I hunker down and look under it, but I can only see a limited portion of the underside.

So, I reach up and start feeling around. I encounter something, not sure what, but I figure it’s probably the cache, so I pull it out.

In my hand are roughly two dozen yellow jackets, with more spilling down from under the bench. They’re just a bit sluggish, but they’re waking up fast. And angry. And vengeful. There’s probably some wrath in there, too.

Luckily, I’m lazy and hadn’t bothered to take off my riding gear. My glove is made of nice, protective leather.

I haven’t been stung – yet. But I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Low earth orbit, for example. Or the Seychelles Islands, wherever they are. Heck, even back at the office would be fine. Just ‘away’. Now. So I start to move, as rapidly as conditions allow.

I make it about ten feet before things start to go bad. Er, worse. I’d started from a crouch, so my upper body had something of a head start over my legs. The resulting imbalance became untenable quickly, and before I knew it, I was tumbling head-over-heels across the turf. I came to an abrupt stop with enraged, heavily armed flying insects swarming the whole area.

I still wanted very much to be somewhere else, so I started crab-crawling as fast as I could, putting some more distance between me and the expanding enemy position.

Somehow, I managed to escape without a single sting – probably thanks to my helmet and armored riding jacket. The jacket had a nice swath of grass stain from the fall, as did both knees of my pants (yet another pair of ‘good’ pants trashed while caching – my wife will not be amused). Injuries sustained – strained muscles in both legs, a fast rising lump on the left knee (still sore a week later), and my dignity shredded beyond repair. Again. Injury and ignominy seem to happen to me a lot when I’m geocaching. And I go through an inordinate amount of pants.

Motorcycle safety gear – it’s not just for riding anymore!

Whimsy On The Road

Mug Tree

One of my hobbies is geocaching. It takes me to places I wouldn’t otherwise ever go, and lets me see some unusual things. This past weekend my wife somehow convinced me to get up at 8 am and head out on a day-long caching trip. I wasn’t opposed to the caching, or the day-long part, but the 8 am, on a Saturday of all things, was tough. I’m glad she convinced me, though, as it proved to be an excellent day.

We first drove to Urbana, Illinois, to pick up her brother who is also an avid geocacher. He and I are both working on some geocaching challenges, one involving finding a cache in every county in the state, and another to find a cache on each page of the Illinois DeLorme atlas. While he’s got the advantage of being more centrally located in the state, the real reason he’s kicking my butt on these challenges is that the dude can optimize a route like nobody’s business. Where I might ride around all day and find a few caches in a handful of counties, with him in the navigator’s seat we traveled 250 miles, picking up eighteen new caches in ten different counties and covering six atlas pages. My best. day. caching. ever.

Along the way we saw a lot of cornfields (this is Illinois, after all), some really nice and unexpected forest areas and a big honking lake. But the one thing that really stood out was the tree pictured above. We came for a geocache called Mug Tree, not knowing that there was a real-by-god-literal-mug-tree awaiting us in the middle of nowhere. The cache description calls it a “spontaneous gesture of amusing goodwill designed to bring a smile to the faces of passing strangers”, which pretty much seems to sum it up. Nice to see whimsy is alive and well in the countryside.