Diary of a geocacher

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Wednesday, May 23
10:37 a.m.

I’m ready to set off on my first geocaching experience. I’m looking forward to it, although I have some reservations about a game where you have to follow directions – I can barely find my way to work on a good day.
But I’m pretty sure I can do this. I mean, the GPS tells you right where to go. How hard can it be?

Flock of Vs
1:02 p.m.

After an hour and half of pushing buttons and flipping through the owner’s manual, I finally figure out how to operate my GPS unit.
I’m afraid it’s going to lead me astray, but I figure the worst that can happen is I accidentally end up in some old lady’s kitchen. So, I start my adventure with an optimistic (although slightly skeptical) heart.
Amazingly, the GPS guides me directly to my first destination – Salem’s Waterworth Memorial Park. So far, so good.
I’m looking for a cache called Flock of Vs. It’s rated as an easy find, so even a rookie like me should be able to track it down, right?
It’s actually a multi-cache puzzle. I have coordinates for the first location and once I find it, there will be a clue leading me to the second location. When I get there, another clue will take me to the third location and the cache.
I get out of the car and wander in the direction my GPS says I should go. It takes me several minutes, but eventually I find the clue I need. I am pretty proud of myself and I feel like I’m really on to something. So I confidently set off for clue No. 2.
Half a mile later, I decide something is wrong. I seem to be in a residential area (nowhere near the park) and people are staring at me.
I look hard at my GPS. Then I look at the clue from location No. 1. Then I realize I entered the wrong coordinates. Great.
I try to correct the problem, but I’m thoroughly confused. So I make my way back to the park, slightly disheartened, but hopeful the next cache will be better.

Teegarden Cache
2:39 p.m.

The drive to my next cache – the Teegarden Cache – has renewed my spirit. It’s rated even easier than the last one and I’m positive I’ve got this find in the bag.
I park near the Teegarden Centennial Covered Bridge and hop out of the car, GPS in tow. It leads me to a nearby woods, where it says I’m only 30 feet from the cache. I think my skin is tingling with excitement, but all I feel is sweat dripping down my back.
I dutifully follow the directions on the GPS, certain it won’t let me down. But after a few minutes, I realize that no matter which way I turn, the arrow guiding my path turns to point the opposite direction. What is going on?
After 15 minutes of being kept 30-60 feet at bay, I abandon the GPS and scour the forest floor for signs of a cache. As I move plants, turn rocks and kick leaves around, I realize I have absolutely no clue what I’m looking for. What does a cache look like? A box? A bottle? A tube? A shoe?
Maybe I should’ve consulted some more experienced geocachers before doing this on my own.
I spend another 15 minutes roaming around in circles before I give up. Now I’m mad and I’m thinking about chucking the stupid GPS into the closest stream. Why can’t I find anything?
Discouraged and deflated, I get back in my car, hoping the third time will be a charm.

The Phantom Cache
3:59 p.m.

It takes me awhile to figure out where to park for this one, but after two trips around Leetonia and Franklin Square, I pull into a parking spot along the Greenway Bike Trail. My GPS says I’m a mile from the coordinates of The Phantom Cache.
A mile?
Well, I do have gym shorts and running shoes in my car, so I decide it can’t hurt to try. Besides, I’m still holding out the tiniest bit of hope that I’ll actually find something. According to the rating system, this is supposed to be another easy find.
I run down the bike trail until I’m 90 feet from the coordinates of the cache. I stand on the trail staring at my GPS as it insists I should go 90 feet south.
Now, I’m not a prissy kind of girl, but 90 feet to the south is a thicket of grass and briars and trees and probably some other things I can’t see from where I’m standing. Even if the cache is over there, I’m not going after it.
I walk up and down the trail for a while, trying to make sure I’m not missing something obvious. But I don’t see anything that looks like a cache and the GPS keeps pointing firmly into the thicket.
Eventually I give up and run back to my car, wondering what on earth I did wrong.

Looking back
5:02 p.m.

Driving home, I’m completely annoyed at the outcome of my first geocaching experience. Could I really be the worst geocacher in the world? How can anyone find this game fun?
As I mulled over my afternoon, it hit me. Geocaching isn’t necessarily about finding a tangible prize (although that’s certainly an added bonus).
I failed to find the caches, but I got something even better. I spent four hours outdoors enjoying a sunny spring day. I visited two places I’d never been before and I got some exercise while I was doing it.
If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.
Besides, I think there was something wrong with the GPS. I know it couldn’t have been the operator.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar has no idea which way is west. She welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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