One of my old college housemates now lives in Zushi, Japan. There’s a U.S. Navy base out there, and combined with her husband’s occupation that makes my friend Katie a Navy Wife. She’s adventurous enough, an amateur photographer with a taste for travel, weird foods and new friends. But even so, being a stranger in a strange land it was a bit daunting for her to head off-base. There was a great big foreign country out there; one full of non-English speakers and strange road signs and soy sauce, and going out into it required an act of courage. If you’ve ever seen Lost in Translation you’ll know what I’m talking about. My friend Katie was playing the home game.
Meanwhile I’m sitting at my new job in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’d moved in fresh out of college, an East Coast guy with a typical East Coast attitude—What’s there to do out here? Geeze…. I found myself in my own foreign land, one filled with sagebrush and pickup trucks and cowboy boots, and looking back now I realize how intimidated I really was.
So Katie and I commiserated. Phone calls are a bit pricey across the Pacific, but that’s what social media is for. Our Facebook posts looked something like this:
Katie is bored on-base.
Colin is bored in Cheyenne.
Katie might see a movie later.
Colin Yeah, movie. Sounds fun. >:[
This might have gone on for any length of time, both of us declaring our boredom at one another and doing our best impersonation of the buzzards from Disney’s The Jungle Book. Thankfully though, Katie is quite a lot smarter than me. With her husband at sea for weeks and months at a time, she needed some sort of pastime.
And she found it.
Suddenly I was receiving incredible correspondence. Photography of shrines and parades came pouring in, along with stories of hidden gardens and temples and giant robots (yes, giant robots. It is Japan after all). And when I asked Katie what finally got her outside the base, her answer was a single word: Geocaching.
If you haven’t heard of this incredible game, the concept is simple. It’s a giant scavenger hunt, a high-tech game of hide and seek with hundreds of thousands of players worldwide. Players hide “caches” at points of interest—an ammo box in a hollowed log; a Tupperware container beneath a bridge; a film canister magnetized to a railroad sign—and then post the GPS coordinates online. All you need to play is a GPS device of your own, an internet connection, and a pair of hiking boots. And since I already had the latter two, it was just a quick search through amazon.com to get the former.
So 5-7 business days later my new eTrex Venture HC arrived and I was off. It turns out there are over 600 geocaches within a 50 mile radius of Cheyenne, and with quick coordinate download from http://www.geocaching.com/ and a few friends in tow, I set out on my first geocaching expedition.
The “Go To” arrow on the device works just like a compass. You simply walk where it points and try to pay attention to your surroundings. So our first coordinates took us to the Cheyenne Botanic Garden. We sniffed around a bit, but even with coordinates telling us exactly where to look, we came up empty. As it turns out, even the best GPS unit is only accurate to within ten feet or so. And if you compound that inaccuracy with the cache hider’s margin of error, you suddenly find yourself looking in an area 40 feet square. For something as small as a pill bottle or matchbox, that’s a lot of room to hide. Of course, it wasn’t a total loss. Even in winter the gardens are pretty, and the greenhouse is still plenty green. Not to mention that we found a bit of swag on the ground. Since it was MLK Day to boot, we’d also found our team name—Team Equality.
Lane Frost. The statue stands outside the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, with the CFD stadium rising in the background. With that setting it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to picture Lane Frost in action, the huge bull bucking and twisting beneath him, the roar of a rodeo crowd on a hot July day…
But there was no time for rodeo or history. The light was already beginning to fade, and there was geocaching to be done!
And this one was a bit of a hike. We parked near the Cheyenne Country Club and began to hoof it. Being January there weren’t many golfers out, even for a strangely spring-like day. There were however a few ice fishermen out on Lake Absaroka, and these waved gamely at us as we tromped on our way.
As we neared our destination, the GPS counted down for us: 00.21 miles…00.14 miles… 495 feet…now approaching destination. The cache was called “behind the scenes,” and while I don’t want to give it away, I will say that that clue is what found it for us.
In any case, since the sun was setting, the temperature was dropping, and we were overdue for some food, we headed back to the car. Some celebration was in order, and the world’s best breakfast burritos and green chili were calling my name.
So it was with a full belly and a big silly grin on my face that my first day of geocaching came to a close. I’d successfully busted out of my there’s nothing to do funk and got out on the town. Cheyenne has quite a lot to offer, and you’d better believe I’ll be back out there next weekend. So until next time, get yourself a GPS and get out there!
And to my onetime housemate: thanks for getting me up off my butt Katie. It’s been good times.