Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Out on then hunt.
Today marks my 4th anniversary as a geocacher. Not that such things are really celebrated, however...

Since I started blogging about my caching adventures only a couple years ago, I figure now may be a good time to retell the story of how I got into this crazy thing called geocaching.

So take a seat, and come back in time with me.  Yes, my friends, it is story time.

Regular readers of this blog (or anyone who has read my profile :) knows that I am Canadian, and I now live in the US.  Armed with this knowledge you may jump to the logical conclusion that I started geocaching somewhere in North America.

You would be, of course, completely and horribly wrong.

I actually started caching in Belgium.  I was halfway through a 4.5 month work trip to Europe, and very fortunate to be able to bring my wife along.  A co-worker  (helixblue, tho I didn't know it at the time) from the US was visiting the same office I was at for a couple weeks.  He asked what we were doing that weekend, and suggested we go geocaching.

I had heard about it previously but never gave it much thought, but it sounded like a great idea so we made plans to head out on the weekend to grab a cache.

Parc du Waux-Hall - site of my very first geocache.
Our first cache together was in a small park in Mons, Belgium.  Helixblue showed us (my wife and I) the ropes, and off we went across the park, following an arrow on a GPS to find this cache thing.  It was a film can hidden in a tree - a pretty basic hide today, but at the time it was fresh and new to us, and it caught our interest, so we decided to go grab another one.

So we loaded up another cache into the GPS and headed off. The cache descriptions were in french (Belgium is half french, half dutch, with a sprinkling of german), so we were going on Google translations of the descriptions, so they were not exactly accurate, so we only had a vague idea of what we were getting into.

The next cache was about 20KMs away, so we stopped for lunch along the route.  While we were eating we pulled out the GPS to see what was around, and that was when we discovered that we were accidentally in France.

France.  Seriously.  A whole other freaking country.  Granted in the EU crossing country lines is really no different than crossing state or provincial lines, but still, this was an entirely different country, and I didn't plan on being there.  I didn't even know about it until a GPS told me. This geocaching thing was getting interesting.

View from the top of an old mine slag pile in France.
When we arrived at the park where the second cache was, we discovered that it was a puzzle cache.  We started wandering around, following that GPS arrow, looking for the first stage.  We walked around this rather large and imposing hill for a bit when we realized that the first stage was on top of the hill.  The hill was a slag pile from an old coal mining operation.  It was probably a good 100ft of very steep, loose rock, to get to the top.  However at this point I wasn't going to let that stop me, so we climbed up.  To that point it was the hardest climb I've ever done (and being uneasy at heights, one of the more nerve-wracking ones).

The reason why we had to be at the top became apparent when we translated the page and discovered we needed to find information to solve the puzzle from dates painted on the top of barn roofs.  So after catching our breath, we scanned the horizon and found the answers we were looking for.

Mining tower in France
So there I was.  In a country I didn't expect to be in, on top of a pile of old, overgrown mine slag, staring out over the french countryside, with an old tower in the foreground.  I was hooked. But we had a cache to find, so we headed down the hill - by a nicely groomed path that snaked down the backside of the hill (my second cache, and already I ran into the cliche of "hard way in, easy way out").

We arrived at the coordinates, and searched... and searched... and searched.  No luck.  Our second cache was a DNF.

It was getting late in the day, so we headed back to the hotel.

The next weekend Helixblue's wife (Sallad) came to visit him, and we ended up grabbing a few caches in Brussels. The most remarkable was a cache in a small park hidden behind a block of houses.  One could walk around that block  for a week and not know that there was this awesome public park hidden behind them (accessible via large swinging gates).

Helixblue headed home the next week, so we were on our own.  We only had a car GPS, and not the awesome trail GPS that Helixblue had, so my interest waned a bit. (caching with a car GPS can be done, but its not really my style).

Yours Truly rubbing the monkey in Mons - supposed to be good luck,
and also a stage of a puzzle cache.
My wife and I ended up only doing one more cache in Belgium before the end of our work trip, and we had to head back to Canada.  The cache was a complex puzzle cache that took us on a 10 stop tour of Mons, Belgium.

Armed with my Nuvi we walked around Mons, checking out the various features of this old, quaint town, and gathering information to solve the puzzle.  It ended up being a really awesome tour.

Finally, with the results of our investigation in hand, we sat in an outdoot cafe in the town square and, over chocolate covered waffles, we set about solving the puzzle.  It turned out that the final was really close to the first stage (convenient!) which was in a garden beside a large cathedral.

Egyptian currency from  the first cache we did on our own.
When we arrived at GZ we started looking around for the cache.  As we did we kept hearing meowing.

We looked around a bit more. Another meow.  We located the cache (a micro) and signed the log.  The cache also had an Egyptian 1 pound note, which was really cool - I've never seen Egyptian currency before.


Put the cache back.


We finally looked way up in a tree (the same tree the cache was in) and saw a small kitten stuck up high in the branches.

The rescued kitty.
We decided we couldn't leave the cat there, and had to help. However it was too high up for me to reach, and it was too scared to get down on its own. So we started trying to gain its trust and coaxing it down to a lower branch so I could grab it.

It took about 15 minutes, but the kitten finally moved down a few branches and soon after I had him in hand.  He was a very friendly cat, and both my wife and I commented that if we were not staying in a hotel, we'd probably keep him.  But we finally set him down and let him go on his way.

So I can honestly say that my geoaching has saved a life... well, one of nine at least.

That was our last cache in Belgium, and I didn't end up doing another one for 252 more days, when we finally got settled in North Carolina, and purchased the same model of GPS that HelixBlue had (Garmin 60CSx).  I have been caching like a fiend ever since.

So that is the story of my first caching experiences.  What were yours like?  Let me know in the comments below.