Last Thursday I began watching something called The Magellan GPS Treasure Hunt. It’s a scavenger hunt sponsored by Thales Navigation Inc., maker of the Magellan line of GPS receivers. They are running a whole bunch of them in different parts of the country. They give three hints and then the coordinates. Normally the first hint gives the state, the second gives the city, and the third gives the park/neighborhood. Then on a given day, normally Saturday (based on previous hunts), the exact coordinates to the cache are posted. These hints are spread out over about a week. First person to the cache gets a Magellan SportTrak Color GPS unit.
By reading the forums at geocaching.com I came across information that said our good friend Dave from The Leprechauns had hidden this particular cache for Thales. When the third clue rolled in, it indicated that the cache was in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. There are two parks in Squirrel Hill that support caches: Schenley Park and Frick Park. Dan and I had run into Lep when we went searching for Stone Stash. We met him at the Irish Center in Squirrel Hill where his daughter (Little Lep) takes dance lessons. It was at that time that he told us about a multicache that he was planning based on the Harry Potter books. Luckily, he told us that he had planned this cache for Frick Park.
I stayed up most of the night on Friday in anticipation of the coordinates being posted. Going to this cache at night would not have been my first time caching in the dark. I was confident that with my ‘night sun’ flashlight I would have no problems being first finder. Traveling light was my biggest concern. Being there first was the most important thing. So all my geocaching gear was unnecessary. I scaled down my pack, determined how much water I would need, and gathered all the necessary emergency items. I was going to put in my contact lenses but decided not to since the rain would surely beat into my eyes while riding and I didn’t want to chance getting something in there while I was searching the deep woods. I had lightened my pack to two ponchos, 3 sets of batteries for the GPS and a wrench in case something happened to my bike that needed a fast fix.
I got very tired around 2am so I got all my stuff ready and set it by the door. I set my alarm to wake me up ever 55 minutes so I could check the site. I did this sleep/wake routine until about 7am. It was at that time that I called Dan. We planned a tandem. I was placing all bets on Frick Park. I took 2 cell-phones, water, and my bike to the park a little bit after 7am. Dan would monitor the website and call me the second the coordinates were posted.
Saturday morning had a total rainfall of 2 inches. It was raining hard and consistently. The trails were extremely muddy. I rode my bike, wearing a poncho over my backpack, to the Ravine Falls Trail pavilion. This was the center of the park as far as trails were concerned. I was there around 7:30am after sitting in the car gathering the courage to go out in the rain. I sat under the pavilion until about 8:45. It was at that point that I decided to ride the major trails with my GPS turned on. Doing this allowed me to have the trails in my GPS map. The second Dan called I could pull up the coordinates and see which trail was my closest or fastest access point.
After riding the trails I returned to the pavilion around 9:20am. Still no call from Dan. I talked to many dog walkers and joggers during my time at the pavilion. They were all very interested in what was going on since you don’t see many bike riders in torrential downpours. I though the same thing about dog walkers and joggers.
It was fast approaching 10am and the rain had lightened. I arranged my bike so I could jump on it and pedal in one swift motion. My bag was packed up with the outside pouch open to toss the cell phones into when I got the call. I was so incredibly ready. I watched my cellphone clock go to 9:58… 9:59… 10:00. No call. My stomach dropped. The phone rang the second that the time changed to 10:01am.
“Do you have them??”
“Give me the numbers! *beepbeep* Oh God! My cell is dying!”
“I’ll call the other cell!”
“No, give them to me!”
Dan gave me the coordinates and I punched them in. The distance to the location blinked onto the screen:
0.28 miles West
I was on my bike immediately moving from first to seventh and to fourteenth gear within about 30 yards. I knew exactly where I was going. It was the first trail that I had ridden earlier on my mapping ride. The one nearest the Irish Center where Lep waited for his daughter. I knew it.
Climbing the hill on my bike was a blur. When the GPS read 200 feet to location, I jumped off the bike and plunged into the woods. I realized dragging my bike was slowing me down. I dumped the bike and marked it as a waypoint so I could find it later. This turned out to be a good thing since I had trouble locating it later.
I began my search at 30 feet from the cache. The thorns were mercilessly thick. At points I pulled my backpack up over my neck and put my head down and charged through the very thick spots. Thankfully keeping my helmet on turned out to be a good thing. The only bad part about wearing my helmet was it wasn’t allowing any of the heat to escape from my head, causing my glasses to fog up. I tried to wipe them off several times but I was soaked from the rain.
I continued my search for about three minutes, inspecting a suspicious fallen tree, before I heard footsteps. Through the thicket came Tim of Team Willow, another prominent cacher in the area. I welcomed him and he began searching as well. In about 45 seconds he found it. In a spot that I had checked. Twice.
I was devastated at the time. All that planning and speed amounted to no more than second to find. It turned out that the cache had been put in a black plastic bag and stuffed into the tree that I had checked. Due to the amount of fog on my glasses I hadn’t seen it. I had passed over it without even sticking my hand into the crevice.
It turns out that experience beat out speed and stealth this time. Big congrats go out to Tim of Team Willow for making the find that I couldn’t. Next year I’ll be a contender. You just wait.