September 29, 2004

Saturday - Caches and Apples

Last weekend was another active one, and it seems they just get busier and busier. As the “outdoor” weather now has a time limit on it, we get outdoors more and more.

What follows is the story of Saturday: apples and our attempt at 2 geocaches. The whole story is one of puzzlement and danger, but CHuck is going to have to give his side of the story before all can be told. WIthin this post I also describe my approach to a difficult cache and my biggest geocaching pet peeve.

Apples on Saturday

We drove north to go with Chuck and Patty to Lanni Orchards in Lunenburg. This is an orchard we’d been to before, about 3 years ago. Very accessible and great fun to wander around picking apples. Around where I live there is only one choice for PYO (pick your own) apples,1 but an hour north of here PYO farms are much more common.

The kids seemed to have fun picking the apples, searching for the biggest ones and discovering tree after tree full of them. It doesn’t take long before the bags become too heavy.

The plan for the rest of the day was to go geocaching. I’ll summarize. Our plan was to hike out to the area of a couple of caches in Fitchburg. Scott’s Reserve and Teacher’s Treasures. We’d hit Scott’s Reserve first, and then pick up TT right afterwards.

The parking area described on the Teacher’s Treasures cache page was far to the south. For future reference, in my limited geocaching experience, to make it more fun for kids you have to try to minimize the hike whenever possible. It’s not that kids don’t like to walk, it’s that the walk back is often tough with tired kids. We were a little low on time because Maggie and I had gotten to Fitchburg late, so we didn’t take the time to scout for a better parking place. As you can see on this map, there are some fairly close roads, but we followed the recommendation and parked south near Mechanic Street.

Scott’s Reserves

Thus began our (now legendary) attempt at Scott’s Reserve. We found a mini trail off the main one in the direction of the cache, and we knew we were doing well at that point. We zeroed right in on the location when Chuck exclaimed, “This is where it has to be!” He’d found a really neat old cellar hole which I failed to photograph. We began to search the hole and surrounding area.

I have a pretty efficient (if I do say so) search approach. First, I get in the general area of the cache. Once there I spot outstanding features (as Chuck did) and make a quick search around without looking at the GPS for the most obvious hiding spots. This only takes seconds. In that initial search we found the cellar hole, a tree with some bricks piled next to it and a nearby stone wall. Quick searches of all three came up negative.

Next I make multiple tries at finding the exact location of the coordinates using a compass and the GPSr bearing. I turn the unit on and off to try to eliminate “GPS drift.” And then I put the unit down and let it average the readings a bit without movement. This results in some triangulations that raise my confidence in the whether I am at the coordinates or not. If it’s not obvious then, I may check the cache owner’s clue.

The GPS put us in a leaf-covered area to the north of the cellar hole where there was a thin, very crooked tree. There was no where in the immediate vicinity of the coordinates to hide a cache. But we knew 3 things:

  1. The cache had been found just 2 days before by an experienced geocacher (McDyver) who said he covered the cache up better than he’d found it.
  2. The clue for the cache was “Cellar Hole”
  3. Previous gc’ers had described looking for the cache in the cellar hole while someone else in their party found the cache somewhere else. One person said they found the cache before they actually encountered the cellar hole, which would imply that they had bushwhacked off the trail and that they ran into the obvious cache before hitting the obvious cellar hole.

Maggie searched the actual cellar hole thoroughly and came up empty. It was clearly not there. We searched for a long time and were frustrated. Did the previous cacher do something “clever” with the cache to hide it? If previous geocachers could have stumbled on it without even seeing that cellar hole first, the thing must have been obvious before. But it wasn’t now. I was fixated on the stone wall and crawled the length of it on my knees. Chuck, Patty and Maggie searched another wall to the south, even further from the coordinates. No joy. Then they searched to the northwest as an equestrian passed on the south part of the trail. As the bugs got more aggressive, we decided to cut our losses and go after Teachers Treasures before it got dark.

The Trouble With DNF

We couldn’t imagine how 7 people could miss that cache which so many other people had found. The website allows people to log a “DNF” (did not find) when you go to a location and come away empty-handed. It helps other geocachers and the cache owner immensely to know if other people are attempting the cache and not finding it. First off, if it’s missing you will see a lot of people not finding the cache. Secondly, it will give you an idea of how hard the cache is if every third person who goes out there leaves empty-handed.

Unfortunately, even in something so simple as this, you see people giving in to an either vain or selfish urge that I just don’t understand. They don’t log their DNFs. They’ll got to the cache location, not find the thing, and then not bother to tell anyone.

You might wonder how I know this, considering that there is no evidence if there is no log. Amazingly, there is evidence. I’ll give you two examples I have recently seen. In one case, I have seen more than one cacher log something like the following:

Found it! What a good hide! This was our third attempt at this cache, so it was really great to finally get where it was. Thanks for the cache.

Hey, you found it. That’s splendid. Of course, the first think James does at this point is search the entire log for that cache and check to see when this person visited on the other two occasions. Hmmm. No DNFs logged. On this same cache I saw yet another person say “this was my second attempt” with no previous DNF logged. So, embarrassed to log a DNF, but not afraid to admit it afterwards? Useless.

In another case, I had a heck of a time on one cache, only to find that cache had actually gone missing. Later, after the cache owner confirmed that the cache was gone, (he checked because of my DNF log) someone actually left a log (and I paraphrase here, because I can’t see the site at the moment):

Oh I couldn’t find that one either. I guess it’s because it wasn’t there.

Thanks for nothing, other cacher. I spent all that time looking for a cache that wasn’t there because you were too lazy, inconsiderate, or embarrassed to admit you couldn’t find it. If you’d logged the DNF, I wouldn’t have been so confident that it was there. Thanks for nothing.

So, I have a new hobby and a new pet peeve.

Teacher’s Treasures

Teacher’s Treasures was a cinch. We found the brook we were supposed to cross and the cache was up a small hill. We let the kids go ahead and find it because it was mostly out in the open. We made some small trades and then hit the log walk back ot the cars, kids in tow.

Fun and Games

Back at the Chateau Seggelin, we played Zendo and Wise and Otherwise to round out a full day.

Scott’s Resolved?

The resolution of the Scott’s Reserve mystery is this: Even though the cache had been found just 2 days before, it was indeed missing. It had been under the pile of bricks which we spotted seconds after finding the cellar hole, without the clue and without re-consulting the GPS. If it had been there we would have spent just a few minutes at that cache and maybe a few more exploring the cellar hole for fun.

But we didn’t know that on Saturday night

I knew Scott’s Reserve was eating at Chuck’s mind. I knew he would go back there.

He did, but that’s mostly his story. And it happened on Sunday.

1 Peters Family Orchard & Cider Mill at 537 N.Main St., Acushnet is the only place I know of in the “Southcoast” area for pick-your-own apples. My friend Sara went there last week, but I don’t think she has a blog post about it. She thought it was a decent place, but a little pricey. No competition. See the MassGrown page for PYO apple orchards elsewhere in Massachusetts.

Posted by James at September 29, 2004 10:28 AM
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As James suggests there's more to the Scott's Reserve story, but I've got to get to work. I'll post something on Unbecoming Levity tonite about it, with pictures.

Just to whet your appetites, let me say that on my second visit to the area I found something that really creeped me out, which led to me speaking with the North County Land Trust, the Massachusetts Environmental Police, the Fitchburg Police Department, and finally the Massachusetts Audubon Society. And it required one more trip up there with a member of the Audubon Society.

I'll tell you all about it later... ;)

Posted by: Chuck S. at September 29, 2004 10:44 AM

Sheesh. You better. That sounds like a great tale!

So, do you guys bring an actual compass with you? Lynnea's GPS has a compass, but it seemed to keep changing its mind about North. As a result, we had a DNF that I didn't log. :) I didn't log it because we were still 0.2 miles from the waypoint when we had to give up. So, I don't think that constitutes a real attempt.

Posted by: briwei at September 29, 2004 4:08 PM

The electronic compasses in GPSrs have to be calibrated. And every once in a while, they need to be recalibrated. (I have an electronic compas on my watch which works the same way). That annoys the hell out of me. You can get a basic, reliable compass starting at $3. A good map compass can be had for less than $20.

However, after talking to you via AOLIM, it appears what you were looking at was the GPSr's compass screen, but your model of GPS doesn't actually have an electronic compass. What you were seeing was the GPSr trying to calculate north based on your movement (i.e. as you walk it compares 2 readings and computes north relative to your direction of movement.)

In other words, it tells you where north is as long st you are travelling more than 2 MPH *and* you continue to hold the GPSr so that the top is pointing in your direction of travel. Even though I am aware of this fact, it still can confuse me out in the field. So I use the GPSr in conjunction with a cheap compass I hang around my neck.

If you're looking for a compass specifically for geocaching look for: Cheap, Points North, Settles Down Quickly. Similar criteria you'd be looking for in a speed orienteering compass.

You're right about your DNF. It doesn't constitute a real DNF (in my opinion) if you didn't get to the location (i.e. within 100 feet or so). I have no argument with you.

Someone who did get to the location and was a "newbie" to the sport might feel like he shouldn't log a DNF because he's not familiar with common hiding places and such. But, on the contrary, I would log the DNF in that case because the owner (or another geocacher) might be watching the cache page and might send you a hint. That's happened to me on 2 DNFs.

The point is to have fun, so cachers will often offer help to other cachers.

That's also part of why DNFs are such a peeve of mine. One of the ways a relatively new cacher (like myself) can help others is to log those DNFs. It's useful feedback! And so far I have had little to contribute to the local geocaching community other than that and some forum posts.

Since you're gettign active in the sport, I guess I'd better hurry up and get a travel bug ready to send to you! If i wait too long, winter will be upon us and my bug might sit in a snowed-in cache somewhere in upstate New York for god-knows how long. :)

Posted by: James at September 29, 2004 4:47 PM

Well, I won't release my Travel Bug until you are ready to do so. If it has to wait until spring, so be it. We want the race to be fair, after all. :)

I will definitely bring a compass next time. The GPSr compass seems like way too much of a hassle.

I agree with you about DNFs incidentally. I think it is very important to log the fact that you could not find the cache for all the reasons you posted. It basically comes down to the fact that information is vital to the GC community.

Posted by: briwei at September 30, 2004 12:22 AM

I guess I wasn't seeing it quite as a race in the competitive sense. If you already have a travel bug ready, I will hasten my preparation of yours and I will let you know when it is ready. I'll likely post about it here, of course.

I've had a couple of ideas regarding what might be a neat TB, but haven't settled on one yet.

Posted by: James at September 30, 2004 11:18 AM

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