Friday, July 25, 2008

Recruiting new members to our disturbing little cult

C and I met up with our friend TJ from Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Tuesday night, and at the end of the evening, TJ asked me, "Would you like to go geocaching in the morning?" Of course!

The last time TJ was in the Twin Cities, I had been a geocacher for about a week, and her sole exposure to geocaching, thanks to me, was walking down to the Summit Avenue Stroll caches, looking around for about a half-hour in the dark, and finally giving up. Not the most exciting introduction to geocaching.

Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to reintroduce her to geocaching, and along the way I learned about all the things that I take for granted as a year-old geocacher. I don't consider myself a veteran geocacher by any means, but it was great fun to view the hunt through the eyes of a complete newbie.

When I took TJ out last year, I had a Garmin Vista. Now I have a 60CSx and the Vista, and I loaded up both with geocaches in the neighborhood of Minnetonka where she was staying. 80% of the time we were geocaching, the Vista was Locating Satellites. I don't know how I found a single geocache with that thing in the first two months of my career!

On the hunt for our first geocache of the morning, the Vista was working, and it was interesting to see how "arrow-bound" TJ was. She quickly learned, as the morning went on, that once she was within 20 feet or so of ground zero, it was time to put away the Vista and start looking for geo-beacons. (The second step was becoming geo-beacon-bound!)

Our first cache of the morning was a magnetic camo'ed pill bottle behind a metal traffic sign. After we signed the log, TJ said, "Should we go look for another geocache?" Uh, yeah! She was appalled that I recently found 27 caches in one day (and I'm sure most of you have found many more than that in one day). Finding one geocache is a bit like eating one potato chip for a snack.

We ultimately found 11 caches that morning, including the first puzzle that I've ever completely brute-forced. I knew there was a puzzle in the area, so I just felt around some typical places, and TJ was completely amazed when I pulled a cache, coordinate-free, out of its hiding spot.

For the last couple caches, TJ turned off the Vista and made me give her the 60CSx so that she could be in charge. By the end of the morning, TJ was ready to break out on her own. When we said our goodbyes, I gave her one of the 40%-off coupons from Best Buy. I think we may have a new Michigan geocacher.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Would that be the plastic anniversary?

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary of geocaching, and I celebrated by doing... absolutely nothing relating to geocaching. I created my account on July 17, 2007, found 19 caches in the first month, then disappeared for a month while I got acquainted with my new job at the University of Minnesota. Then, somehow, between then and now I ran my total of cache finds up to today's number of 783.

Seven hundred eighty three. That number, while not as large as some others I've seen in a shorter time period, still represents a lot of solitary, obsessive caching and several Sunday trips out with the guys. Now, a year in, I'm thinking about how to make geocaching a part of a more balanced life. In particular, how can I incorporate geocaching into family trips in a way that satisfies my insatiable need to fondle my unit (Garmin GPSMap 60CSx!) and also does not bore my wife and children to death?

Last weekend gave a good template. Saturday I took W&H, mini-double-bass, to Centris' Hello Minnesota! event, and they were happy to meet lots of other kids of cachers. Afterward, sir_zman and fingon and their families met us at Fort Snelling State Park to find the history challenge cache there. We also met the Ramsey63 pair there and met another family that is new to geocaching at the cache site. A total of 17 people at the cache when we found it.

On Sunday, knowschad, shoestorm, meralgia, Millah, and Simursmack headed down to Cannon Falls for kayaking and geocaching, but C and I decided that it wasn't the best time for a day away with my buddies. For one thing, C was giving a talk at the Star Tribune the next day and wanted to spend some time Sunday preparing. So instead, I took W&H down to Minnesota Valley State Recreation Area to find the history challenge cache there. After that find, I now have two metro area caches left -- Lake Maria and Wild River -- before going for the final metro challenge cache at Afton. Getting that MN Valley cache took some work, though.

For one thing, W&H didn't want to go. I fixed that by offering to do Something That I Never Thought I'd Do. I strapped dual DVD screens to the back of the headrests in our 1999 Honda Accord and allowed them to watch The Aristocats and Cars on the way down and the way back. And, yes, the DVD player is a Disney brand DVD player. I am such a tool.

The Other Thing I Thought I'd Never Do, but happens more often than I care to admit: I asked them where they'd like to stop for lunch, and of course W requested Chicken McNuggets.

Oh, that reminds me. In John Hodgson's book Areas of My Expertise, he lists something like 500 Top Names of Hoboes, and one of them is Chicken Nugget Will. There, now you know my son's name. Don't steal his identity or anything like that. Also, apologies to anyone who is offended by the use of the word "hobo". Jon Stewart says it more often than I do, so go get on his case.

Anyway, we went through the drive-thru, and the employee asked me to pull over to wait for the McNuggets. So we waited, and waited, and waited. After about 15 minutes of wondering how long it takes to make a chicken nugget, I went inside looking like I was going to open fire, and the manager gave me our McNuggets, refunded my money, and reprimanded the drive-thru employees all at the same time. I did not get any satisfaction from that. It was the McDonald's at US 169 and Bloomington Road, in case you were wondering. I doubt that four geocachers, my entire readership, boycotting one McDonald's restaurant will make much difference, though.

Refreshed with fast food and convenient entertainment, we arrived at the SRA, and W&H did not want to get out of the car. I convinced them that it would be a short walk, but it wasn't, because I chose the wrong path around the lake -- the one with the mud and the horse excrement. We saw ponies, though!

Finally, we made it to the cache, and thankfully this multi-cache was not a multi. The cache was at the posted coordinates. I took three travel bugs out of the cache, none of which were logged into the cache, and the six travel bugs that were logged into the cache were not there. My policy is to take every traveler I find out of the state park caches and not put any in, except for the state park travel bugs. These state park caches seem to be travel bug black holes. I can understand; I wasn't very clear on the mechanics of travelers at the beginning.

Funny, before this trip started, I thought we might continue up to Lake Maria, but this trip southwest provided enough excitement for one day. C gets her alone time, I make incremental progress toward a random geocaching goal, and the kids get outside for a walk in Beautiful Minnesota, even if they're complaining about it every step of the way.

On to another year of geocaching. I predict that this year my number of cache finds will be greater than 0 and less than 783.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

60CSx, I'm losing patience with you. No, 1B, I'm losing patience with YOU.

Maybe it's because I have this 40%-off coupon in my handy waist pack that my 60CSx is having performance anxiety issues. No, I now realize that it was user error causing my problems. Big surprise there.

Earlier in the week, my 60CSx stopped acquiring satellites, and it took a software update to correct the problem.

On Friday, Independence Day, during my family's trip to O'Brien and Interstate State Parks, I changed my batteries and suddenly my 60CSx could not find my City Navigator maps or my custom points of interest. At the same time, while I could "find" a geocache, the unit would not tell me my distance to the destination or show me a comforting red arrow. I assumed that both problems were related to the software update earlier in the week.

In a humiliating moment for the 60CSx, a moment it won't soon forget, I motioned to the bullpen and brought in the Garmin Vista, no H, no C, no S, no x, and found the Interstate History cache with that unit.

Then, on Saturday, I was free to get out with Millah for some caches, but I was in a panic. Once you have maps, you can't go back to having no maps, and my entire quality of life seems to hinge on whether my 60CSx is operating properly.

Cue the frantic, random attempts to fix things. Once, I heard Bus&Betty, or Bus&NotBetty, or NotBus&Betty, describing how sometimes their microSD card is not situated properly in the card holder of their 60CSx. I removed and replaced the card, and -- voilĂ ! -- life is worth living again.

Which raises questions: the voices inside my head might say I deserve a Colorado, but could it be that, actually, the 60CSx deserves a better cacher? Has my relationship with my 60CSx become co-dependent? Well, not if the 60CSx doesn't need me. I can see it now... one day I wake up, press that familiar, black, nubby button on the 60CSx's forehead and say "Good morning, sunshine, how are you? Show me those multicolor satellites!" There's an uncomfortable pause, and then those words I've feared but never thought I'd see:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hobby deathmatch: geocaching v. golf

A sure sign of delusions of grandeur is quoting oneself. Another is referring to oneself in the third person. Back when sir_zman interviewed firstbass for the Twin Cities Geocaching Podcast, and Silent Bob recorded the whole thing on video, firstbass said, in paraphrase:

My life is a graveyard of hobbies. Geocaching is the first thing that has held my attention this long. I'm waiting for the day when I will wake up and say I never want to do this again.

That day has come and gone, another hobby rose briefly from the dead, and I have lived to cache another day. Here is my story.

Back around the turn of the century, I played golf avidly. Before my wife and I had kids, I held about a 14 handicap -- simply having a handicap indicates a certain seriousness -- which means that I pretty reliably scored in the mid- to high-80s for 18 holes. Better than bogey golf. I was not a natural player, though. My childhood training in golf consisted of Beating The Living S*** out of the ball, and so I could maintain that adequate level of proficiency only through constant practice and vigilance against those childhood tendencies. If I came home with an 85, I was happy. If I came home with a 90, I was miserable. Non-stop torment for a perfectionist.

Once the twins came along, I accepted the fact that I would have to set golf aside. It was not difficult to give up, because it's expensive and because it's so time-consuming. But here's the thing that keeps me coming back to golf, aside from the fact that it's an activity that my dad and I can do together: a well-struck golf shot, translating effortless and free-flowing motion into a curling parabola, is pure pleasure. It doesn't happen often enough, but when it does, it's easy to get hooked.

A work colleague invited me along for a round of golf, and I enjoy spending time with him, so I agreed, and a visit to the driving range felt promising. I was already doing the depressing calculation in my head...

I must play golf, so I must play golf well, so I must spend lots of time on it, so I must give up geocaching, because I also have a family and don't have time for two consuming hobbies.

Add to that the fact that some things about the "local politics of geocaching" were bothering me (Oh, goodness, imagine if I blogged on the "local politics of geocaching"! Would my readership increase?), and that all added up to waking up a week ago Thursday with no desire to think about geocaching. And the next day, and the next day, and the next day. Uh oh. Is it over?

No. What got me back into geocaching?

1. My golf game has got a long way to go, that's putting it politely, and it's just too expensive and time-consuming to pursue. Plus, I think I hurt my hand.

2. Last week I worked with sir_zman on a geocaching presentation for a math camp at the University of St. Thomas, and it was fun getting some teenage girls interested in geocaching.

3. Over the weekend, knowschad, shoestorm, LucidOndine and I headed down through Red Wing to Lake City and hit some nice caches. I got home way late, and once C was done being upset with me, she said, "Do you realize how different your moods are when you come home from geocaching and when you come home from golf?"

4. The family and I visited Boomsite and then, the next weekend, Afton State Park, and C seems keen on the idea of visiting some other state parks with the kids. Sounds good to me! Metro challenge!

I am fully aware that it is hard to have any sympathy for a person who is saying, basically, "Boo hoo, it's so hard for me to decide how to spend my ample leisure time." But, come on, this is a blog. A blog about a hobby. A certain amount of navel-gazing must be tolerated. But golf? Now that's something, I bet, that no geocaching reader of this blog would tolerate!