Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Day in the Life of a Geocacher

I first wrote this story for a Backroads group I belong to as a way of explaining what geocaching is all about. The story has appeared in Icenrye's geocaching videozine episode 13. You can catch all of Icenrye's videozines at, on YouTube and on PodcastAlley.

For Christmas my loving wife gave me one of my "toys" that was on my long wish list: a Magellan Gold GPS. I wanted it mostly for back roading and off-roading, as here in B.C. the Forest Service Roads are poorly marked.

After a bunch of twists and turns, with several forks in the road, and darkness descending, all of the FSRs begin to look the same. A GPS ensures that you get home safe.

While I was getting familiar with my GPS, I remembered talking to some other group members on the Mineral Lake tour in Washington. At Mineral lake these folks took out there GPS and searched for a geo-cache. This is a stash of treasure; usually trinkets, that people have hidden in their home areas, and then post the co-ordinates to one of the "community" sites like

I logged on to the web site, created an account for myself, (TJGUY98), and then searched for some caches near my house. With 215,524 caches in 218 countries, it wasn't hard to find several within a couple of miles of my house. With GPS in hand I raced down to find the cache, and failed. Not because the cache wasn't there, but more from my lack of knowledge on how to use the GPS.

Well, a couple of months later, and some experience under my belt, I've become much more adept at using the GPS; I've explored it's various navigation screens and menu options, as well as discovered how to create waypoints and use the GO TO features employed in tracking your way to a known set of coordinates.

Keeping all this in mind, you'll understand my story a little better.

On this day my brother Ken and I decided to go geocaching for the whole day. We picked an area where we could find roughly a dozen caches, knowing that we would only make it to some of them. With the driving between sites and the leisurely walks to the cache site itself, you'd be surprised how much time gets eaten up in a day.

Today we headed for two areas: our first destination was the Mission area of the Fraser Valley about 50 miles east of Vancouver BC. The second area was right across on the Fraser River on the Fraser’s south shore, this second area is the northern section of Abbotsford.

Once we began our journey, one of the first things we observed near Mission was a Cormorant on a local pond juggling a fish in its mouth; the bird flipped the fish several times in its mouth as it manoeuvred the fish to swallow it. Now that was neat to see!

Our first stop was at a cache called Complex Mission Sports,(for those cachers in the group it's waypoint name is GCHD99). This one was located in a small forest area on the edge of a large outdoor sports complex. At the complex are several baseball diamonds, as well as several soccer fields. Two of the soccer fields were in use by young girls teams playing hard in the sunny, but cool morning air.

While we were searching for the cache, Ken's dog decided to roll in some unknown substance on the forest floor: that's never a good sign! We found the cache with minimum fuss and had a look through the odds and ends in the cache; I took two "home made" music CD's created by one of the local family caching teams. These folks have made over 50 music CD's, complete with an announcer between songs sending "hellos" out to other local cachers...sounds a lot like Underground radio.

It must take a lot of time and effort to simulate a radio station, and it shows a lot of dedication to their fellow members, good on them! I left a Maytag Olfa knife, and Chirpy the Travel Bug. Travel Bugs are serialized dog tags that people buy and then attach some cute item, like a dinosaur, or toy soldier, or in this case, a largish plush toy spider. These travel bugs are logged on a separate area within, and you can follow them as they make their way around the country, or around the world. It all depends on where their owner wants them to go.

I had picked up Chirpy the weekend before in Port Moody at another cache, and the instructions for Chirpy stated that she wanted to go to the mountains for the summer. So I took her for a 50 mile drive and dropped her off at this cache for the next person to pick up and carry her on her journey.

We signed the small logbook in the cache, and moved on to the next cache. Our next stop was only a few miles away on the hillside above the town of Mission; this one was called College Cache, (CJV2B). It was called this as it is only a few blocks away from the local college. The actual cache was located along a neat little linear park that was sandwiched between subdivisions. You walk along an elevated boardwalk as you gain elevation to go from one subdivision to the next. The park contains a small creek that flows down the hillside, mostly under the boardwalk.
Neat place!
At this cache I took an air freshener for my little truck, which I've been told could use one! We signed the logbook, made a "thank you" note to the hider, and moved on.

Our last one in Mission was called Mission Hillside Pilgrimage, so called as it is in the park where the original mission of the Oblate priests stood, (GCCDFE).
The park is high on the hillside over lookingthe Fraser River, with grand views west towards Vancouver, and east up the Fraser Valley towards Agassiz. On a perfect day like today, Mount Baker looms large to the south.

The park consists of many acres, both where the mission buildings originally stood, and acres of forest on the hillside above the mission site. The GPS waypoint for the cache led us off into the woods along a good gravel path.

At first the path skirted a deep ravine, and then the ravine gave way to a forest glen where the creek in the ravine originates. A small pond area was the start of the creek, and several Mallard ducks took advantage of the solitude of the area. The cache was hidden in the woods right above the pond.
The cache was the usual Lock and Lock container, similar to Tupperware, but the lid locks much more solidly.

In the cache we found a disposable camera that the cache owner had left for the finders use to take a picture of them selves, and then put the camera back into the cache. (Developed pictures are later loaded on the cache page on the web site).

We took a picture of Ken's dog with her nose in the cache rooting around for a new ball to have as a toy. At this cache I took nothing and left nothing, signed the logbook, then we sauntered back to the car for a trip over the Fraser River for our next cache in Abbotsford.

The next one both Ken and I looked forward to as it was at a small village called Clayburn. At the turn of the century Clayburn was a company town created by the Clayburn Brick Factory. Clayburn Bricks were used all over B.C. and even in Washington state for making every thing from factory smoke stacks and smelters, to brick office buildings in growing downtown areas; even brick houses as can be found in Clayburn Village.

You could easily identify which bricks came from here as they were uniquely stamped with the Clayburn name right on the brick. The cache itself is called A Brick From the Past, (GCKT68), and Ken and I took pleasure in further exploring the old brick factory foundations as we searched for the cache.

Along side the old foundations we found three smallish cement foundations, which we recognized from the cache write up as being 3 of the original kilns where they made some of the bricks. After letting the GPSr average down we found the cache easily. The area was being reclaimed by the land, and tall trees had been throwing off the GPSr's ability to get a lock.

I took nothing; left nothing, signed the logbook, and then poked around in the open area. Under all of the years of leaf clutter we found small areas of broken and discarded bricks. These piles were obviously where they dumped the damaged or poor quality bricks. But I was after better things.

Going deeper into the forest area, and further away from the cache, I found what I wanted; 3 Clayburn bricks with the Clayburn name stamped on them, and all in relatively good shape. An added bonus was one of the bricks had been stamped " Clayburn Made In Canada". I have seen a lot of their bricks in various places in BC, and seen them in history books on the local areas. But neither Ken nor I had ever seen one stamped "Made In Canada".
To me that was a real find, a brick design that had not been seen in the history books!

Back into the car and onto Through The Woods to Grandma's House,(GCHR1E). This one was another one of those hidden gems in suburbia, another small stream that meandered down the hill side from one sub division to the next. The highlights of this one were another elevated boardwalk over a marshy area, and strong wooden bridges over the little rivulets that ran through the forest.

The walk was 3-4 blocks long, and as we enjoyed the forest shade, birds serenaded us as we searched for the cache. Upon finding it, I took a quarter (I put it towards lunch) and I left a holder for sunglasses that clips on to a car's sun visor. We signed the logbook, and headed to another one just a few blocks away.

Those That Came Before (GCJX1Z) is named by a local prominent cacher in honour of all of the past cachers that contributed to the local growth of the sport. This cache was located along the same waterway but 1/2 a mile upstream. Here the water way was not a shallow bed like further downstream; instead a very deep ravine cut through the heart of the local housing areas.

Another few blocks walk along the hidden pathway led us to the cache. This one was a small cache owing to the hiding place, so I took nothing but left a 2-dollar coin, signed the log book and then we walked leisurely back to the car. Along the path both Ken and I commented on what a great job the cachers had done to show case their local areas by showing their fellow cachers these hidden community parks.

And that's the real treasure in this sport...getting one's butt off the couch and out into the cities and surrounding country side to explore the local areas; and if you're lucky, learn some of the local history of our home towns.

This was the last find of the day, as I had to head to work shortly.
Both Ken and I thoroughly enjoyed our day’s outing and wished we didn’t have to stop.
Oh well, there’s always next weekend!

At the heart of the sport of geo-caching is the same explorer urge that drives many of us to become back road drivers to explore the country side.

Ed Pedersen in Maple Ridge BC
(who found that same darn cache tonight that I couldn't find at the start of the story!)

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