Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Earth, Wind and Fire Tacks

There has been a bit of a gap since I last posted as I have been quite busy lately. I have still found time for geocaching though whether it be out finding them, planning for days out or simply solving a few mystery caches. Let me apologise now if this is a bit of a long one, I do hope you read to the end though.

Sunday 12th October was International Earthcache Day. For those of you that don't know:
"An EarthCache is a special geological location people can visit to learn about a unique feature of the Earth. EarthCache pages include a set of educational notes along with coordinates. Visitors to EarthCaches can see how our planet has been shaped by geological processes, how we manage its resources and how scientists gather evidence. Typically, to log an EarthCache, you will have to provide answers to questions by observing the geological location. For more information about EarthCaches visit"
Unfortunately for me, this was the same weekend as the final of the British Touring Car Championship. There was no way I was missing that but I also wanted the souvenir for finding an earthcache on that day.

So, I had to come up with a plan for our weekend away at Brands Hatch Racing Circuit that would have an earthcache squeezed in somewhere along the way. There were a few factors to consider given the time of year - namely, the shortening days and the wonderfully capricious British weather! Time was also a factor; it needed to be somewhere along the route to or from Brands and the D/T rating needed to be reasonably low. This was going to be a 'cache and dash' of sorts. I was a little disappointed at this prospect as I would have liked to have taken the time to appreciate the site of the earthcache I would be visiting, but... Touring Cars!

I had been formulating a plan for a few weeks - which, if you have read one of my previous posts, you will know that this is quite an achievement for me - our weekend away had arrived and I had an earthcache in my sights with two backup caches if my plan fell apart.

The cache I had found was just around the corner from the circuit and as an extra bonus it was a Church Micro. After a bit of research in the week (I love how educational these types of caches are) I had answers for the first two questions, the rest would be ascertained on our visit to the site.

Druids Hill Bend
Whilst sitting in the stands at Brands Hatch on Saturday watching the qualifying races, we discussed tactics for the next day. We decided that we would grab the cache early in the morning before heading back to the track as Inaccuweather told us the weather would be fine. This later proved to be the right decision as it was raining hard and getting dark when we left for home after the racing.

We got up early on Sunday morning. the scene that greeted us outside our hotel was amazing, however I am not a morning person - Nige will definitely attest to that - so I failed to get a photo. Our hotel was situated next to the River Medway; the sky was clear, the air was crisp but floating atop the river was a thick, white cloud of fog like someone had placed a wad of cotton wool on the surface water.

Our chosen cache was Church Micro 2372... West Kingsdown- St Edmund. To find out more about the Church Micro Series, by cacher sadexploration, then please click here. There were two locations that we had to go to for this cache; a motorway bridge over the M20 and the church itself. Thankfully the roads were quiet, so we stopped the car on the bridge en route to the church and I took the required elevation reading without getting out of the car.

We arrived at the church shortly after  and was pleased to find the area muggle free. I got to work gathering the information needed to log the cache, I was still very much asleep at this point - I cannot stress this enough, I do not do mornings - so when a lady materialised in front of me from within the church and asked me if I was here for the Sunday Service my only response was to stare at her blankly with a look of sheer horror on my face!

"I see you're taking notes" she indicated towards the paper and pen I was clutching.

Plausible explanations eluded me. I tried sending psychic 'Help Me!' thoughts to Nigel who was somewhere behind me but that didn't work. I think I mumbled a few words that certainly did not make a coherent sentence. For some reason, it felt like I had been caught doing something naughty, this was a holy place after all. The lady disappeared briefly and returned with something in her hand.

"It's a lovely building isn't it? Here, take this." she said as she handed me a postcard. Bidding us a good day she left us to return to her duties within the church.

After that awkward little moment, I gathered what information I could glean from the church and we headed off to watch some TOCA carnage. In between races, I continued researching chalk hills, flints and scarp slopes until I was confident I had all the right answers to log my find and aquire the souvenir for International Earthcache Day.

My Souvenir

The following weekend Nige and I decided to attempt a night cache. We thoroughly enjoyed the first one we did at Linford Wood and wanted to try one that was a little more challenging. There was one that I have had on my radar for a while now and being nearby in the forest of Ashridge, this was the perfect cache to choose.

I first tried to solve the puzzle part of Spirit of the Teine Sith when I started geocaching back in the summer. I was pretty sure I was looking for the coordinatess in the right place but I couldn't get a hit on geochecker. A couple of weeks ago, I was idly looking through my unsolved puzzles and came across this one again. On closer inspection of my numbers, I realised I had made a monumental mistake. Back onto google I went, making the necessary corrections and this time I got BINGO on geochecker!

Nige and I invited a couple of friends, Aravona and Dynadin, on this outing as it's their first night cache. A friend from the BBH Facebook group, mjcross, joined us for this adventure too. I'm so glad he did as this was only our second night cache and he gave us loads of tips that we never would have thought of like waypointing the markers as we went.

We rendezvoused at a small car park near the start of the trail. There were already a couple of cars there and we pondered as to whether they belonged to  geocachers on the same mission as us or if they belonged to a completely different kind of persons who frequent this forest. There was no movement from the cars and the windows were steam free so we deduced it was the former.

Following the trail was relatively simple. After a while though the trail seemed to go dead. We decided to back track and see if we had taken a wrong turn. Whilst contemplating alternative routes we saw some lights in the distance. Were they the Spirits of the Teine Sith come to guide us? No, it was a group of cachers out searching for the Spirits too. This was a first for Nige and I; we have never come across fellow cachers whilst out before. We had a bit of a chin wag and they kindly confirmed that we were going in the right direction.

Even by day Ashridge can be creepy as Hell!
On we went through the darkness and mud, encountering all sorts of wildlife like deer, beetles, centipedes and spiders! I've been to Ashridge many times during the day but night time transforms it into a different world. Conversation inevitably turned towards horror movies, at which point I realised I was bringing up the rear of the single file we had formed, I was a prime target for any Vorhees wannabes lurking in the darkness, like a shot I ran ahead past the others shouting: 

"It's not safe for me back there... I'm not a virgin!"

After much trekking across some interesting terrain we came to a likely spot for GZ. Whilst looking around for further markers I spotted the well hidden, huge cache. It was great to see it well stocked and in good condition. We signed the log and started back for the car with mjcross leading the way. This was an adventure in itself as, like me, mjcross likes to take the 'direct route'. If the GPSr says I can go straight through that wall, then I'm going straight through that wall!

Overall it took us about 2 hours to locate the cache and get back to the cars. This was an amazing experience and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

The next day, Nige and I went out to Leighton Buzzard to complete a trail of caches called LB Sandpit Series. Even though the difficulty and terrain rating for the caches were low, the wind was blowing hard that day which made the 4.6 mile walk a little extra challenging. The scenic area was completely muggle free and we found the first few caches with ease. Our luck soon changed though.

I usually love doing trails of caches but for the first time since I began geocaching, I became a little fed up and disappointed with this series by the end of it. It wasn't because of the weather, the wind was tolerable as the sun was out and it was quite mild for the middle of October. The walk didn't bother me either; the trail we followed was beautiful with some great views despite the lack of discernible public footpaths at some points. 

I think what frustrated me most was that out of fifteen caches most of them were micros, had no hints and we logged five DNFs. Most of the ones we did find had naked logs - film pots are not waterproof - so most of them were damp or too wet to write on. On the bright side, it has taught me a lesson; if I ever set my own trail, I will use a variety of cache containers and not place a hide just for the sake of placing one to make up numbers along the trail.

I would like to end this post on a happy note so here is a picture of a rainbow that I took at Brands Hatch:

I wonder if there is a geocache at the end of that!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Interrogations and Deliberations

I received a Facebook message the other day from fellow blogger and geocacher Paul (aka Washknight). He writes a wonderful blog about his geocaching exploits and I have been following it for a little while now. I urge anyone reading this to pop over to his site and take a look. You can find Paul's blog here.

 I am new to blogging and not all that confident in my writing abilities so I was chuffed to hear that he has been following my blog and actually enjoying it!

Recently he has been doing this "thing" (his words) on his blog whereby he is asking fellow geocaching bloggers a series of questions about their own geocaching experiences. I think it is a fantastic idea and was thrilled to be asked to join in. So please read on to find out how I fared under interrogation.

If you would like to see how other bloggers answered these questions then please click here.

1. When and how did you first get into geocaching?
"Why oh why have I only just decided to Google what Geocaching is? There's loads nearby me too!"
That was a status update from one of my friends on Facebook that appeared on my timeline back in May of this year. She lived near me at the time so I was intrigued to know what there were loads of in our town. A quick search on Google led me to  A cursory glance at the map showed a few caches in my area.

'Huh, this is pretty cool' I thought, and then I zoomed out further and further on the map.

An immense number of caches started popping up on my screen and my initial  bewilderment transformed into a sense of awe and wonderment. How on Earth can a sport that has millions of participators all around the globe not be more widely known about? But then discretion and stealth are the nature of the game.

2. Do you remember your first find?
My first attempt at geocaching was pretty abysmal. I didn't fully read up on the process of finding a cache and in my haste decided it was a bright idea to use the only GPS device I had to hand... A sat nav! Sure, I had a smart phone, a bottom of the range smart phone, but quite clearly it had a higher IQ than I did right then. Needless to say, the sat nav was useless and being told to "perform a u-turn" when standing in the middle of a field was a little frustrating.

Back home I went back to the website and actually took the time learn more about geocaching. I downloaded an app called c:geo onto my phone and headed out again. This time I dragged my youngest brother along with me.  Our target was a small cache called WoodlandWalk situated in woodland at the edge of my town. We found it quite easily and I signed my very first log. I replaced the cache and feeling quite chuffed with myself stood back and trod in a very different kind of log!

3. What device(s) do you use for locating caches?
I started out using an app on my phone called c:geo but it used a lot of battery power and I it can be a little inaccurate at times. After I had been geocaching for a while and decided that this was probably not going to be a fad for me, Nigel and I purchased a Garmin eTrex 30. I now use a combination of my phone and the GPSr as both have their own features that suit different situations. I also find it helpful to use print outs of caches too, especially when I am doing a series of caches or a multi cache.

4. Where do you live and what is your local area like for geocaching? (density / quality / setting etc)
I live in a small town called Houghton Regis in Bedfordshire. It is bordered by the Chiltern Hills so we are a stones throw from some beautiful countryside spots like Dunstable Downs. It is also a short drive or train ride from some big cities like Milton Keynes (is that a city yet?), Cambridge, oh and what is that other big city it is close to? Oh yeah... London.

So with regards to setting, we've pretty much got that covered for both urban and rural caches. There seem to be a large number of active geocachers in the Three Counties too so we are never short of caches to find. When it comes to quality, there are many caches around this area that have gathered quite a few favourite points over time. And let's not forget, we have the Oldest cache in the England in this region too. We are very fortunate to live where we do.

5. What has been your most memorable geocache to date, and why?
For me it has to be the first event cache that I attended, BBH#80 - Bordering on a Giga!. I was already a member of the Facebook group Beds, Bucks and HertsGeocachers and had started to get to know a few of the members there. I wanted to attend the event so I could put some faces to names. However, I am not a sociable person, I just can't do small talk, so I was a little apprehensive about attending the event.  I was glad when Nige said he would come with me as this meant that he would drive and that meant that I could have a pint or three. A little lager loosens the tongue! The event was very well attended that night and at first I felt a like a bit of an outsider, this didn't last long though as the event organiser welcomed us with a huge smile and thanked us for coming. As I talked to people my nerves started to ease and conversations began to flow with ease. In the end, I really enjoyed myself and, best of all, I made some new friends that night.

6. List 3 essential things you take on a geocaching adventure excluding GPS, pen and swaps.
#1 Gardening gloves - I discovered the need for these very soon after finding my first few caches!
#2 Camera - I always have one of these with me whether it be my phone camera or my bridge camera.
#3 A notebook - I have a terrible short term memory so I like to make notes in the field to help me write my logs when I get home.

7. Other than geocaches and their contents, What is the weirdest thing you have discovered whilst out caching?
I saw this on the side of a building as we walked through a village called Wadesmill. It made me giggle.

8. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is I am obsessed by numbers and 10 is I am all about the experience and the quality of each individual cache. Where do you put yourself?
I would like to say 10; I do not go out to find as many caches as possible, I really don't give a monkeys about the numbers. However, when I go out caching, I get caught up in the adventure and I don't want it to end so my initial " will only be about five caches, Nige, I promise..." swiftly becomes six, seven, ten, fifteen....! With that in mind, I would put myself at about a 6... And a half.

9. Describe one incident that best demonstrates the level of your geocaching obsession.
There was the time that I was interviewed on national radio station, TeamRock Radio. I am one of the many "founding fathers/ mothers/ brothers/ sisters" who have been listening to the station since it's inception last year. It now has listeners all over the world.

The producers arranged a series of phone interviews with some of us recently in order to get to know it's listeners better. We were supposed to talk about what we liked and disliked about the shows and the music they play but I somehow managed to turn the subject towards geocaching. That's right, I confessed publicly to the whole world about my obsession with geocaching!

10. Have you picked up any caching injuries along the way?
Sadly I am no Hooper or Quinn (sorry, that's a Jaws reference).

I have only suffered the usual caching injuries so far like nettle rashes, thorn pricks and welly boot blisters!

11. What annoys you most about other geocachers?
Geocachers  that do not play fair annoy me. To me, geocaching is not only about the adventure, but also about the friendships that you build. For example, I have heard stories of cachers pushing fellow cachers out of the way to claim a FTF. That is just downright rude and not in the spirit of the game.

Another thing that annoys me are logs that contain just 'QEF' or 'TFTC'. I have to confess that I used to be one of those geocachers but once I started placing my own caches I began to appreciate the time and effort it takes to do this. From then on I felt it only right to make an effort in return to compose logs with more detail and helpful information. There's nothing worse than being in the field, searching for a cache for what seems like hours and seeing a QEF log on the cache page. It's like it's mocking me.

12. What is the dumbest thing you have done whilst out caching?
It's not what I do, it's what I say! I think I managed to insult a fellow cacher that I met at an event once. I was trying to strike up a conversation with him and noticed that he was wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt. Being a fan myself, I figured that this was a perfect way to get talking. It was going well until I said

"I was going to wear my Maiden top tonight but I thought it might make me look like a geek!"

As soon as my brain caught up with my mouth, the implication of what I had just said struck me. I had inadvertently called him a geek!

13. What do your non caching family and friends think of your hobby?
I have determined that most of my friends are allergic to the great outdoors. That is the only excuse I can think of for not wanting to try geocaching. I have a few friends that keep saying that they would like to come out with me one day, but this hasn't happened yet. It doesn't bother me though, it's their loss.

My family think it's great that I have this new hobby and have helped me out a few times. I took my sister and her two children out for a days caching in the summer holidays and they had tremendous fun. They keep bugging me to take them out "treasure hunting" now.

14. What is your default excuse you give to muggles who ask what you are up to or if you need help?
I have only been ever caught out once when I was looking for an urban cache in Dunstable called Priory Gardens. The app on my phone led me to a tree on the wrong side of the road. I didn't have much time as I was on my lunch break. It was also raining so I had my brolly up. The tree was right next to a main road and I was trying so hard to avoid funny looks from passing cars that I didn't notice an elderly man approach me.

"Are you ok?" he asked, "do you need any help?"

I swung round, startled.

"No, thank I'm ok" I squeaked, "I've, um...lost...erm...a thing?" I wasn't very convincing.

There was an awkward silence before he backed away slowly.

I try to avoid muggle confrontation as much as possible now. Failing that I just fess up and tell the truth.

15. What is your current geocaching goal, if you have one?
My current goal is to find more "extreme" caches. Nige and I heard about these types of caches at a recent BBH event and couldn't resist giving it a go. We have found one so far called Are You Afraid Of TheDark? and we are hoping to add more to the list soon.

I also have a secondary goal; the Alphanumeric Cache Name challenge. I have completed about 60% of this challenge but I am in no rush to find them all.

Ultimately, my goal is to keep having fun, explore new places and learn new skills.

16. Do you have a nemesis cache that despite multiple attempts you have been unable to find?
Not anymore as I finally found it!  Village Signs 128 Houghton Regis* is hidden literally right at the end of my street. Night after night I visited GZ and night after night I could not find it. I went out to our local curry house one evening that week with my parents and my youngest brother. On our walk back, fuelled by vindaloo and Cobra beer, I made them join me in the search for this cache and still couldn't find it. My mum started having dreams about it and she is not even a geocacher! I'm pretty sure my dog, Sadie, had nightmares about it too! I would get home from work  to find my mum and Sadie waiting for me at the door so we could head out to search again, they were becoming as determined as I was about this one. Kudos to my mum though as she was the one to eventually find it even though she had never seen a geocache before.

*This is a premium member only cache so some of you may not be able to follow this link.

17. What 3 words or phrases best sum up what geocaching means to you.
Pushing boundaries

18. What prompted you to start blogging about geocaching?
It was the instigator of this interrogation, Washknight, that prompted me initially to start blogging. I found his blog through the BBH group on Facebook and found it truly inspiring. I have been following with interest ever since.

This blog is basically my diary and my extended logs. Like I said in a previous answer, I have a diabolical short term memory (seriously, I cannot even remember what I did yesterday) so this helps me remember some of the significant and noteworthy adventures I have whilst out caching. There is a limit to how much you can put in a log on a cache page so this blog gives me free rein to waffle on as much as I like.

19. Which of your own blog entries are you most proud of.
At the time of writing this, I have only published four entries so far. Out of those, I am most proud of Ilaugh in the face of spiders (and then run away!). I have never been very good at creative writing so I am proud of this entry because of its story like quality.

20. Which other geocaching blogs do you enjoy reading?
I am a newbie when it comes to blogging so I have only come across two blogs to follow so far, The Official Blog and Washknight's blog. I know that the latter has been interrogating other bloggers with these questions. I haven't visited their blogs yet so as not to be influenced by their own answers and style of writing but I fully intend to see what they had to say after publishing this.

So, there are my answers. I hope you have enjoyed reading this and maybe it will inspire you to start blogging yourself. I wonder what my answers will be in a years time. If I remember and am still blogging, I may have to revisit these questions next year.