In the latest Geocache Talk blog post, Andy Wright, a.k.a. Tentmantent, talks about the 5 people he has met thanks to geocaching.
We all play this game in different ways. Some hunt numbers, others seek thrills, some enjoy stunning locations and still others just enjoy an excuse for a good walk. I love all these things and more. I mostly tend to cache alone but also enjoy the company of fellow cachers. Most of my friends these days are geocachers, some of whom I met at events, others while out on the trail. Others I became friends with in quite unusual ways. Here is an account of five individuals who I came across while playing our special game.
I had a GPSr before I was a geocacher. This is how it happened: I had sold my extensive Dr Who memorabilia on eBay, finally coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to play with my 200-strong army of Cybermen again. It was when I sold a mint condition 1964 colouring book for £250 that I realised that this new source of income could buy me something that I actually wanted to use. Over the next few weeks I bought a tent, a decent sleeping bag, couple more guitars and, eventually, a Garmin Geko 301 GPS unit for £300. I’d been intrigued by the technology and wanted to combine it with my interest in walking, navigating and outdoor life in general.
I road tested it on a walk near Barnetby in north Lincolnshire one day and it was as I studied the data that it had collected on my train home that I drew the attention of the man sitting opposite me. Nodding at my Garmin, he asked if I’d been ‘Geocaching’. I told him that I didn’t know what he meant and so he explained. What he described was a game which seemed to have been designed to appeal directly to my interests. It was as if he was a prophet, predicting a part of my future! The next day I found my first geocache and my life would never be the same again.
The First Cacher I Met
I’ve been caching for over eleven years now. When I first started, caches were far fewer and events even more so. I’d been caching for over two years before I went to an event, 7 years before I went to a Mega, and I only attended about one a year in my first 6 years in the game. There were no regular meet ups in my area and I wouldn’t recognise another cacher if they walked up and yelled coordinates in my face.
But then one day all that changed. I was out in some nearby woods looking for a newly placed cache (I didn’t even know that FTF was a thing back then). I was ferreting around in the undergrowth when I became aware of someone wandering down the footpath in my direction. He seemed to be ambling, rather than walking purposefully and he was wandering to almost exactly the point where I was standing. I tried to look as if I was doing something else, like making a phone call, but why would I be doing that just here would have been a mystery to anyone! As he got closer it was clear that he was carrying something. It seemed to be the SatNav from his car, which looked odd. It had never occurred to me that I might ever bump into anyone else doing that same as I was- everyone else was surely a muggle! But here we were, two complete strangers randomly bumping into each other in the middle of the woods, all cold-war like!
That was Ade, aka the Imp. After a brief awkwardness, we both admitted what we were doing and had a good chat about our experiences. Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a weird thing to be doing. Here was someone else who also thought this was a fun way to spend time. Within a couple of weeks I had attended my first Imp event and my life would never be the same again.
The Random Stranger
I had by now come to terms with the fact that I was not ‘The Only Geocacher in the Village’! I was in London for a meeting but, having a couple of free hours before my train home to Lincoln, I pulled out my GPSr, a Garmin Geko 301, the best I could afford at the time costing me a whopping £300. Smart phone apps were a thing of the future at that point and so all cachers used a GPS unit. They were instantly recognisable to other geocachers, but to muggles they just looked like old fashioned mobile phones.
I chose the nearest cache indicated on the list on my tiny screen and cross-referenced the GC code indicated with the print-outs of nearby caches that I had identified before leaving home. It was a micro and the hint said ‘Don’t push the button’. As the distance to GZ went below 20 feet I looked up to see if there was anything obvious, and there was. I was at a pelican crossing and there, right beside the box with the button, was a man holding what was clearly a GPSr. I crossed over and lurked nearby, waiting for him to move on so that I could find it myself. But it was clear that he had not yet found it either. He looked up and saw me staring at him, and grinned. I walked over and asked if he’d found it yet. He said no, but why didn’t we look at the cache description again and see what clues there might be. Instinctively I open my bag and started leafing through my sheaf of print-outs again. He however, raised his GPSr and brushed his fingers across the careen, changing the image to what looked like a miniature copy of the cache page. My jaw slackened as if I had just seen water turned to wine in front of my eyes! He explained that this was his new unit and that it meant he could now do what he called ‘paperless caching’. He had the hint, the description and the last 5 logs all on his screen – no more printing endless cache pages, everything was in that magical gadget. This was The Future, and life would never be quite the same again.
The Virtual Friend
I attended my first mega event in the summer of 2013, near Warwick, in England’s midlands. My interest in the wider world of caching had grown enormously that year, as I took advantage of the otherwise unwelcome ‘free time’ that had come my way through unemployment and the end of my marriage. I camped, I walked, I went to events, I cycled, camped some more and went on road trips. I also started to get into the world of online forums, Facebook groups, podcasts and also Twitter. Through Twitter I had come into contact with a number of cachers around the world who loved the game just as I did, but in a different context.
One such cacher was Amanda465, from Alice Springs in Australia, who was trying to encourage the developing world of caching in her corner of the world. One night at the Mega in Warwickshire I sat up late at night in my tent and disturbed my neighbouring campers by Skyping Amanda and her friends at their event in Alice. This simple yet exciting experience made me feel a part of an international movement of like-minded people, and led to my making other ’virtual friends’ around the world, some of whom I’ve since met, and eventually to caching and meeting other cachers in Africa, China and Hong Kong. On both my visits to Hong Kong I held an event at the Hard Rock Café. I remember sitting there nervously, fearing that, as with my events in China, no one would turn up. But they did – locals, mainlanders, Portuguese and Germans alike. I was delighted and my caching would never really feel the same again!
Like most other cachers, I have still allowed myself to maintain a number of muggle relationships. I know that the game won’t appeal to everyone, just as Love Island doesn’t appeal to me (unless there’s a cache there of course!). Sometimes my muggle friends ask me about geocaching, or comment on my online posts, often with bemusement. But there are also times when they cross over from the Dark Side and become cachers themselves. I can think of a number of them who have dabbled in the game as a result of my introduction, and one or two who have got into it in a serious way, which makes me so proud! The best example of this was my friend Kelly. Originally from Lincolnshire, she and I met in Livingstone, Zambia when we were both involved with the same charity project.
We often meet up when she is back in The Shire and sometimes this involves a walk and some geocaches (she’d been quizzing me about it after I’d pleaded with her to let me visit Victoria Falls to complete a fabulous virtual and a number of Earthcaches there.) However, when another of her friends went to stay with her, Kelly suggested that they go geocaching together and so they did so under the name BecKel. However, the first cache that they decided to go for ended up in a bit of an adventure. The cache in question was a large jar hidden in the hollow of a baobab tree. I had suggested this one to them as I thought that a large cache would be easier for them to find on their first solo expedition. Then messaged me as they set off and was excited to hear back from them once they had found and logged the cache., I didn’t hear for several hours however, and begin to wonder if all was well. As they had been signing the log they were approached by two armed rangers from the National Park Authority. They had both struggled to explain what they were doing and had then been frogmarched back to the ranger station at gunpoint whereupon the cache had been confiscated, complete with a resident travelbug! When they messaged me later, their panic had died down slightly, but they didn’t know what to do about the cache. I messaged the CO myself and told them what had happened and sadly the cache was archived. I also contacted the TB’s owner and apologised for its disappearance. Both were extremely understanding.
I’m delighted to say that this incident didn’t put them off and that they still cache together. This week alone they have visited both Zimbabwe and Botswana and cached there. There aren’t so many caches in central Africa but I am extremely jealous of their nicely coloured-in map!
I find it amazing that what is essentially a solo activity has brought me into contact with so many amazing people, both here in the UK and around the world; I love every aspect of geocaching, but it has to be the friendships that I have made that I treasure the most. Since I took up this crazy pastime, my life has certainly not been the same since!
You can follow Andy’s geocaching adventures on his Twitter page, @tentmantent.