Jill Kimball, along with two Flux cohorts, hoped to embark on an adventure that would make her hiker parents proud. But soon after she saw the three inches of mud caked around her once-cute rain boots, she realized four years in the Northwest doth not an outdoor enthusiast make.
The mud made sickening squelching sounds under our feet as we made our way around branches and over logs, heading down what we hoped was a real pathway. I held a Global Positioning System in one hand and brushed bushes to the side with my other to clear the way, hearing occasional small yelps behind me as my Flux cohorts Ashlyn Gehrett and Melanie Johnson sank down into the quicksand-like earth.
“Do they make snowshoes for mud?” I asked. I only got more yelps in response.
We—Gehrett, Johnson and I—weren’t exactly a crack team. We liked city life, cable television and shopping. We couldn’t remember how to identify poison ivy. (Is it three leaves or three branches?) None of us owned a pair of hiking boots—in fact, I, ever the sartorialist, was wearing flower-patterned rain boots. And worst of all, none of us seemed to be able to make much sense of this elusive GPS, the only tool that would help us find what we were looking for.
It was our first foray into the world of geocaching along the Oregon coast, and it had gotten off to a rocky start. Sure, we’d found our first hidden treasure on a coastal cliff just off Route 101 within just a few minutes. But on our second try, we weren’t so lucky. After a steep downhill walk, we found ourselves at a vacant parking lot, staring at a forest and an old bridge and wondering where to go next.
“It says ‘old road,’” Gehrett told us, looking at the GPS and reading off the clues that would help us find the hidden cache. We saw car tracks underneath the bridge and followed them to the banks of a river, our excitement building as we drew closer to the cache’s GPS coordinates; we were nearly 200 feet away when Gehrett stopped dead and stared at the GPS screen in disbelief.
“It’s pointing over there,” Gehrett said, pointing clear across the wide, shallow river, where a steep cliff rose up.
Johnson suggested I wade through the water in my rain boots. I contemplated telling her to go to hell. Before I got my chance, though, Gehrett suggested we try walking across an old bridge on the other side of the vacant parking lot.
That’s when we encountered the squelching mud, and that’s when we almost gave up. The GPS told us we were still 200 feet away when we reached a muddy clearing with no visible pathways in the direction we were instructed to go. The only sign of life was an old, abandoned camping tent caked in mud. I wondered briefly what crazy person would try to camp on the Oregon coast in February, then I thought how we may have been equally crazy to think wandering down a clearly unused road would lead us to the site of a hidden geocache.
Then, somewhere behind me, I heard Gehrett’s voice yell, “I think I’m on to something!”
I spun around and saw her walking down a narrow, steep path I hadn’t seen before. She fought through a thick of ferns until she was just on the cliff’s edge by the riverbank, then called out, “I found it!”
Johnson and I slipped down the path and through the ferns in excitement, and there we found the cache: a narrow, plastic camouflaged tube hanging on the branch of an unsuspecting tree. Inside it we found several colorful erasers, a note from the cache owner and a traveling plastic keychain in the shape of an Adirondack chair, which we vowed to transfer to another geocache location as per the instructions.
Minutes later, geocache back in place and deck chair memento in hand, we headed back up the steep hill and the good humor faded.
“Why did I agree to do this again?” Gehrett asked as we all breathed heavily.
It took a trip down the rabbit hole—literally and without hallucinogens—to remember why.
The last geocache we found that day took us to a seemingly uninteresting turnout on Route 101, where we hopped over the highway divider and scrambled down a narrow, steep hole, clinging to branches for dear life. Where was the shrinking potion labeled “drink me” when we needed it?
At the end of the tunnel we found a less absurd, but no less beautiful, version of Wonderland. Before us was a deserted beach, where waves broke against huge rocks and where the soft sand formed smooth dunes. And there on the beach, underneath some brush and a strategically-placed bunch of rocks, we found our last cache.
For another take on geocaching, Saul Hubbard has also written a piece about it: Geocaching Ten Years On.