Saturday, October 4, 2008

Geocaching

I love geocaching.

What the hell is geocaching, you ask? The geocachers' joking (but half serious) explanation is that geocaching is "using billions of dollars worth of satellites to find boxes in the woods." It is an activity/game/sport/hobby that some find ridiculous and others find intriguing. Often that interest turns to addiction, as it sadly has in my case.

A cacher hides a geocache, which is a container with a logbook, and perhaps more stuff (trinkets, outdoor supplies, extra GPS batteries, etc.), inside. He/she uses a handheld GPS receiver to determine the latitude and longitude as closely as can be determined. He or she than publishes the coordinates, along with a description of the cache, on geocaching.com. Then other idiots like me take our handheld GPS receivers, find the box, sign the log, and possibly swap swag - you can take an item if you leave an item.

To many people, this sounds mildly fun. Hard-core cachers tend to become obsessed with it, though. Why? My friend Sam's explanation is simple: "It's a sickness." My sister, who introduced me to this madness, says that we have become pod people. More seriously, there is a rush involved with finding a hidden "treasure" that the populace at large isn't aware of. And better than that, caching gets you out hiking and puts you in some pretty amazing places. Just last weekend I visited the so-called "Deep Cut" railroad pass near Lake Allatoona to find a cache. It was a beautiful area, full of rather sobering Civil War history. From there I climbed Vineyard Mountain, which, while not far from Atlanta, required as strenuous a hike as any I have done in the far north Georgia mountains.

The following list involves only places I had never visited before I started caching. Caching has taken me to:

Rock Town in the northwest corner of Georgia. This is an amazing area of huge rock formations towering over the top of Pigeon Mountain. It's like an otherworldly city.

The ancient and mysterious rock wall on Fort Mountain, Georgia. And amazing spots all over north Georgia - waterfalls, trails, mountains - I won't list any more separately.

All three(!) of Robert Johnson's graves in Mississippi.

The beautiful town of St. Marys, Georgia, which is about as far as I can go from my house and still be in the state.

A spot (which I never would have found myself) which overlooks the entire town of Bellingham, Washington and its bay.

The Devil's Courthouse, in North Carolina, which has some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.

I could go on for awhile, but I'll just relate my most amazing caching experience. It was on a cache which I DNFed (Did Not Find), but that doesn't matter. When I visited Kyoto, Japan a couple of years ago, there were only seven caches in the city or the surrounding mountains, and a couple of them didn't appear to actually be there any longer. I went after one called "Kyoto Temples and Shrines," near the Philosopher's Path at the western edge of Kyoto. I got lost trying to find my way there, and found a trail behind a temple which led up the mountain. I could tell that I was headed in the wrong direction, but I thought that at some point I might find an easier trail down the mountain in the direction of the cache. The woods were a deep green, and the light filtered through the trees in an amazing way - neither the trees or the light resembled those in Georgia. About half way up the mountain, I came upon an old Buddhist cemetery. The grave markers were strange and rather mysterious to my Western eyes. I took some pictures, then sat for quite a while in the odd light, with faint music and the smell of incense wafting up from the temples in the city below. It's hard to describe what this moment meant to me, but it was unforgettable.

Hunting the cache was unimportant and anticlimactic at that point. I eventually found my way to "ground zero," as cachers call the spot your GPS receiver points to, and searched for the cache for awhile. I only had tennis shoes, not hiking boots, and I kept slipping and sliding down the hill on the wet leaves. I eventually gave up and walked back to my hotel. Whenever someone saw me coming down the street - a large, wet, dirty foreigner - they discreetly crossed to the other side of the street.



I've never regretted my DNF on that cache.

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