Geocaching gone bad

A day spent among bears, blood-sucking bugs and bad botanicals

The Cap’n warned me.

I had communicated with the Cap’n – aka Chris Coffman – about the possibility of writing about geocaching, an electronic treasure hunt in which participants use GPS units to track down hidden “caches.” It’s part scavenger hunt, part hiking, and since the return of the outdoors page to the Journal-World, I’ve received more e-mails requesting stories about geocaching than any other outdoors endeavor.

Since the J-W had a story on geocaching just last fall, I was reluctant, but the Cap’n, an avid geocacher, thought it wasn’t too soon for another.

However, he added a caution.

“Physically, doing the sport is harder this time of year,” he said. “There are lots of ticks and poison ivy, and the thicker vegetation makes it more difficult to find the hidden caches. Spring and fall are the perfect times for geocaching.”

But Cap’n be darned, I figured we could brave the elements enough to test the geocaching waters, and, heck, it wasn’t like we were leaving the city. The two closest caches to my house were less than a mile away.

So I and my two children – 5-year-old son Brooks and 8-year-old daughter Carlyn – armed ourselves with a cheap GPS unit and printouts of the two caches’ locations and hopped in the car.

Carlyn dutifully counted down the distance as we neared the first cache. We parked and strolled across a park and followed the GPS arrow pointing toward the woods. According to the GPS, we were within a few feet, but the few feet were smack dab in the middle of a dry creek bed.

I told the kids to stay put as I slid down the bank and started looking for the cache, a partially concealed Tupperware container.

I poked around and prodded, but found no cache as Brooks urged me to return because he was afraid of bears. I looked around a little more, but, finding no cache, decided to cut the search short since we had a date with a movie.

Strike one.

After the movie, however, we decided to give a second cache a try.

This one was said to be just off the trail in a nearby park, so again we parked as close as we could and followed the pointing arrow.

As we ducked into the undergrowth, I took one glance at my kids – bare arms and legs, no insect protection, flip-flops – and thought them woefully unprepared, but I figured it’d be a quick trip in and out of the woods. What could possibly happen?

We honed in on the cache, but it became painfully obvious we had taken the wrong trail: The cache was several feet in the thick of the woods.

So we backtracked to find a closer path, and I was hit with another obvious sign we were in over our heads.

“Daddy,” my daughter said, “there are little spiders crawling all over me.”

I assured her they weren’t spiders, just bugs, and she, uncharacteristically, accepted the explanation.

We found a promising path that ended at a creek, though it continued on on the other side. We balance-beamed a fallen log, skirted an impressive patch or two of poison ivy and hiked on.

Again we got within about 50 feet, but again the 50 feet would have required some serious bushwhacking.

So Carlyn brushed off some more “spiders,” and we decided to call it a day.

Strike two.

As we got the car, I looked down and saw I, too, had picked up a couple of the “spiders.” They were, of course, ticks. I plucked them off my legs and swept them off my socks. I stopped counting at 20 and turned my attention to the kids, who between them had another dozen or so.

So our initial foray into geocaching resulted in zero caches, several encounters with noxious plants and dozens of blood-sucking arachnids.

Curiously, though, the kids seemed to enjoy it.

“That was fun, daddy,” Carlyn said. “Except for the spiders. I’m sorry we couldn’t find the treasure.”

“I’m thirsty, daddy,” Brooks added.

OK, so it wasn’t a universal good time.

Fortunately, the kids downplayed our walk on the wild side to my wife, and all was well until dinner time, when one particularly large tick decided to make an appearance just behind Carlyn’s right ear.

Incidentally, my wife sits on Carlyn’s right side.

So the kids got another thorough bug scan – we found just one more – and I realized our geocaching days were done. For now.

After all, as the Cap’n says, fall is the perfect time for geocaching.