Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Linford Witch Project

As the nights are drawing in and Autumn is snapping at the heels of Summer, a whole new world of Geocaching is being opened up to me. Night caches!

Halloween is fast approaching and with it an event that I am very much looking forward to. The Halloween Mega 2014 will be the first Mega Event Nige and I have attended. I think Nigel is more excited at the prospect of dressing up though than the actual caching! More on this in a future blog post though.

Last week I treated myself to a new torch in preparation for caching in the dark. What better way to test it out than by going out to find my first night cache. Hunting around on threw up a few likely candidates. There is one in Ashridge that I have had my eye on for a while, but I still haven't solved the puzzle yet. There are a couple in Ampthill that look interesting and a few more further afield that sound quite challenging but I am saving those for another day.

The cache I decided upon as my first night cache is called TheWitching Hour !! - Night Cache. It is set in
Linford Wood in Milton Keynes and has a short puzzle to solve to locate the starting point of the trail. I had solved the puzzle part back in the summer and was waiting for the right time to venture out to find the cache.  My new torch provided the perfect excuse.

Another reason I chose this cache is because I have always had an interest in the paranormal. Whilst I have not had any supernatural experiences of my own, I am very fortunate that Dunstable and Houghton Regis has a rich history and an abundance of ghostly tales.

It wasn't quite the witching hour when we headed out to Linford Wood on Saturday evening, it was closer to eight o'clock. We parked up and "look[ed] for the Hunter of the Fox where the day begins" to find the start of the trail. The sky was an eerie red but it was still dark enough that when we shone our torches into the woods we found the shining markers that would lead the way. As we walked along we had a debate over whose torch was the brightest, Nige had a tiny little thing compared to mine so I was winning until he pulled a Maglite out of his bag. At that point I shone my torch in his eyes, completely by accident... Honest!

The walk along the path was easy enough; I kept a look out ahead for the markers, whilst Nige had our back looking out for zombies. After a while the marker trail seemed to go dead. We knew the trail was going to lead us off the path eventually so it was just a matter of shining our torches through the trees until we found the next marker. Nige was the first to spot it and disappeared into the tree line. I hastily followed as I knew we were getting closer to ground zero. Trying to find a way through this part was tricky and I nearly tripped up a couple of times in my haste. Nigel was ahead of me and found the three markers to indicate our goal.

We were expecting a regular sized cache, but on retrieval were pleasantly surprised to find a large container filled with an array of goodies. As I was fishing the log out, Nige decided it would be funny to point out all of the spiders that were crawling around me with his torch. I was not amused! I quickly signed the log and replaced the cache. It was time to find the car.

Not quite the Blair Witch!
 One of the features I love on my GPSr is the 'track' feature; as I walk the GPSr shows the path I have taken with a blue line. As I have a poor sense of direction, this means that if I get lost I can easily find my way back to where I started. With this in mind, we decided to follow a different path round the woods to get back to the car. It was such a mild night that we were in no rush to leave.

When we usually go out caching, Nige always asks me how many hides I have planned for us to find. I always say "just a few caches" to which he always replies "it's never just a few caches with you Kel!". He was quite astonished this time to find that it really was just the one cache this evening. What I didn't tell him though was that there were more caches in the area but the cache files had disappeared from my GPSr!

The downside of visiting Linford Wood when it is dark is that we missed out on the things to see and do around the woods. There is a series of sculptures hidden in the undergrowth according to this website and it is home to an assortment of wildlife. However, now that I know this place exists I shall definitely head back there some day.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

I laugh in the face of spiders (and then run away!)

I don't like walking without a purpose, I get bored of that quickly. That's one of the reasons I love geocaching. I could quite happily walk for miles to find a geocache. Everyone has their own reasons for getting outside and finding hides; it might be to find as many as possible, to complete the Alphanumeric Challenge, to claim the coveted title of FTF or one of many other personal goals. For me it is all about the adventure.

The majority of caches out there are relatively easy to find and are run of the mill. Don't get me wrong though, I appreciate every single one of those hides and fully understand the time and effort that goes into them. My own two caches are of the 'run of the mill' type. Each one has its own merits and each one is special in some way.

There are cache owners out there however that go completely above and beyond, some would say insanely so, but they do it in spectacular fashion.

Our mission last weekend was to find one of these "extreme" caches. These types of caches have cropped up in conversation many times when we talk to fellow cachers at events so our 'to do' list is steadily growing. Are You Afraid Of The Dark? is the cache that we had heard most about, so this is the one we decided to undertake. Seeing as it would be quite a drive to get there, we spent the night before looking for caches in the same area.

Sunday came round and we set off for Hoddesdon where today's adventure would start. We began with a small circuit of caches set in the woods consisting of eight traditionals and a multi bonus called HPW. Then we went into Hoddesdon itself to pick up a few in that area. The were all easy finds and served as a warm up for the more difficult ones later on.

So far so good. We had found eleven traditionals, a multi, a Travel Bug and a Geocoin. We were on a roll.

"So what's the next one?" asked Nige as we got to the car.

"A small series called 'Off Yer Trolley'. Seems simple enough, the first is a cache and dash in a supermarket car park. How hard can that be?" I replied.

As we arrived at GZ, we realised that this would be challenging to say the least, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway. Nige parked up, I jumped out of the car and headed to where my GPSr said the cache was just as a car parked up in the space next to it. I looked back at Nige, he just sat in the car laughing at me. I tried my best to have a look around but my attempt at being stealthy just made it look like I was checking cars out to boost! So before security was called on my suspicious behaviour, I ran back to the car. This was our first DNF of the day. We decided against the other two caches in that series, figuring we would encounter the same problem. Not to worry though as, we still had a church micro, a traditional and the main event to go for.

The traditional and the church micro were found without a fuss so we headed for our final cache of the day. Before continuing, I should tell you a little about the things that scare me. The list is quite short as I am not phased by an awful lot. My biggest fears are planes, dentists and spiders. So on with the cache, Are you afraid of the Dark.

We found a parking spot across the road from where we were told to start this cache. Crossing the road we found a gap in the bushes and ducked through. We had high expectations of this cache and as we climbed down to the tunnel entrance we were not disappointed. I shone my torch inside and the beam was swallowed by the darkness. As I stood in front of this pitch black tunnel, it suddenly occurred to me that this is exactly the sort of place that spiders like to call 'Home, Sweet Home'. I was here now so I just had to suck it up.

In we went. I led the way. We had heard from others that the tunnel has water running through it sometimes, but not today, it was just very slippery. Being a shorty, I had the advantage over Nigel and could walk through without stooping. On the downside, I was practically doing the splits trying to straddle the uneven brickwork on the ground. I shone my torch above me and that's when I saw Them. So many different types of spiders. On the walls, in the pipes, potentially on me! From that point on, I concentrated the beam of the torch at my feet. With logic that only makes sense to me, I figured that if I couldn't see Them then they weren't really there.

Sunlight had disappeared behind us and there was no sign of it ahead. I had no concept of how far we had travelled through the tunnel, it seemed never ending though. We stopped for a brief second and turned the torches off. The darkness was absolute. I don't have a problem with the dark and for a moment I forgot what was living in this tunnel.

We continued making steady progress and it wasn't long before we saw the end of the tunnel ahead. We emerged into the sunshine and I gave myself a mental high five for not freaking out about the spiders.

'I used to be a kickboxer. One of you hairy little suckers touches me and I'll slam you into next week!' I thought as I headed back into the tunnel. I lead the way again but this time I actually had to look for the cache which meant shining my torch on the walls and ceiling. This seemed to highlight every single spider in the tunnel. Every nook and cranny I looked in seemed to house a spider and they seemed to be getting bigger and uglier the further we went in. After a few sweeps of the torch, something caught my eye.

"It's here!" I shouted trying to contain the urge to jump up and down, thus cracking my head on the ceiling "you can retrieve it though cos I ain't touching it!".

I took a few steps back in case removing the cache from it's home unleashed an arachnid avalanche on my head. We signed the log and took the time to replace the container exactly as we had found it. It was time to head back up the tunnel. Nigel turned to me and asked

"What would you do if a velociraptor came up the tunnel right now?"

Yes, we have some strange conversations sometimes, but it's wise to have a plan for all types of eventualities. Before I could answer, however, we heard the cry of an animal. Now, I'm pretty sure it was a horse, but I wasn't leaving anything to chance and started back up the tunnel post haste... With Nigel behind me of course!

We finally emerged from the tunnel, triumphant and elated. We had done it! This cache took us to a new level of geocaching that we had yet to experience and straight away we started discussing the next one to go after.

A big thank you has to go to the cache owners, Noztradamus and JackNano, for taking the time and effort to hide this amazing cache. This is certainly one that we will not be forgetting any time soon and will definitely be recommending it to everyone.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Becoming a Social Butterfly

6 Degrees - Mystery Cache
Don't put the Cart before the Horses - Traditional Cache
BBH #81 - Event

When I discovered Geocaching a few months ago, I would never have considered going to an event. I wouldn't know anybody and that was quite scary for me. Being a member of the BBH Facebook group has been a huge help in taking that first step to getting out there and meeting new people. So thank you guys and girls; you're an awesome bunch!

The morning of the BBH event, I had a look online for some nearby caches to grab whilst I was there. I didn't want to spend too much time caching so I picked out two of the nearest; a traditional and a mystery. I went into work early and sat on the laptop puzzling over 6 Degrees before I had to start work.

I managed to figure out all but one of the films so I tried a different tactic; working out the actors from the 'outside in' and using the names to find the common title and actors for the one in the middle. I soon had some coordinates and put them into only to find that they were incorrect. I rechecked the numbers and remembered that I don't do mornings and that I really should use my fingers to count! I now had the correct coordinates and I'd heard through the Facebook grapevine that this was a particularly fine cache so I was looking forward to this.

Fast forward to the evening. It was getting dark as we got near to the pub, and that's when the satnav failed us and took us to somebody's driveway. We spotted a few people walking along the road and wondered if they were cachers heading to the event. Nigel pulled up alongside them and wound the window down.

"Are you by any chance geocachers?" asked Nige. I face-palmed knowing what the likely answer to that question would be and I was right:

"We might be..." one guy said with an uncontainable smile and furtive glances towards his colleagues.

(For the benefit of any non-geocaching readers, or muggles as we like to call you, stealth is of the utmost importance when caching which results in some rather cryptic conversations when you meet a stranger in the field. Odd behaviour is also a common occurrence!)

After some help we found the pub. The car park was rammed but we managed to find a spot near the entrance. I turned my GPSr on only to find we had parked pretty much on top of this cache! There were already a couple of guys there signing the log so we thought we'd leave this one for now and head off for the mystery cache. The only problem was, I had forgotten to note down the final coordinates.

"Don't worry," I insisted, "I made a personal note on the cache page."

Now, Nigel likes everything to be methodically planned out with no room for error, whereas my days are by and large ad-libbed. So there are times when he can get a little frustrated with me and my lackadaisical approach to forward planning. This was one of those times. After five minutes of doing the Funky Gibbon to try and get a phone signal, I suddenly realised that I had actually saved the coordinates as a waypoint on my GPSr earlier in the day. That's when Nigel gave me that stare that says 'You're walking home tonight my love.'

Finally, we set off to locate the cache. We found the footpath without any fuss and made our way through the darkness towards GZ. I have never been out caching after the sun has set before so I was becoming increasingly excited as we got nearer.

The terrain was a doddle even in the dark and it wasn't long before I heard the Garmin beep on our arrival at the cache site. Armed with our torches we began our search and using the hint on the cache page found a possible hiding spot. Something wasn't right though. How could a small container be hidden there? I got in close and had a good look with my torch and that's when I spotted that which shouldn't be there.

"Nige... Come quick and look... This is amazing!" I said as I paused to appreciate what I was seeing. After signing the log and carefully replacing the cache we headed back to the car park to find the first cache.

On our return, GZ was clear of cachers so we got to work. As we knew that most of the people coming to the pub were here from the same reason, we were not concerned about being stealthy. We could see where the cache should be but it didn't appear to be there. Thinking it may have fallen somewhere else we scoured the ground with our torches. We weren't confident in that assumption though as we knew it had recently been found. We were soon joined by another couple; surely with four torches we could find a D1/T1.5 cache! (Note to muggle readers: D/T means the difficulty and terrain rating. So this cache should be easier than a two piece jigsaw puzzle!) We eventually found the cache, right where it should have been. After signing the cache we headed into the pub for a well deserved drink.

To any geocachers that have never been to an event before because nerves get the better of them, please take that first step because you are missing out on such a fun part of the world of geocaching. This is only my second event and both times I was nervous about going. I am not very good in social situations and mostly try to avoid them. I am glad I did go though as everyone there was so friendly and welcoming. I had such a great evening meeting new people and conversation flowed easily for me for a change (that may have been down to the beer though!) My only regret is that I didn't get to talk to more people.

In case you're wondering, Nigel decided that I didn't have to walk home, which was a good thing because I forgot to go to the toilet before we left the pub.