Joined: April 2004
||Posted: April 24 2004,1:15 pm
Until recently my geocaching had been limited to urban parks and microcaches. That experience changed with my first field trip to discover caches along the Northern California coast. I learned there were 16 such placements within my county alone. I decided to do a coastal marathon and see how many of them I could track down in a single day.
In preparation I downloaded all the cache descriptions and logs to my laptop. I had things set up so the pages were neatly tiled. All I had to do was check them out one by one. Or so I thought... Before I was halfway there I discovered that I had left my laptop at home and all I had to work with was the data stored in my eTrex Legend, maps and a route that included all the downloaded waypoints. Nevermind, I said. That's all a true geocacher needs - waypoints and native hunting skills. I was partly right and partly wrong.
The first site (GCGY6Q) was adjacent to a golf course bordered by a natural ravine and fence. On the drive through the coastal mountains I had begun to rely heavily on my eTrex's navigational screen. Having a convertible really helped. I never lost signal and full sunshine made it easy to hold close and read the names of the upcoming roads. I did have to switch scanning mode from battery saver to normal for faster updates. But the distance estimates were accurate and the navigational arrow 'bent' at the right times to indicate the turns. What I didn't realize at first was that the route included its own waypoints created by Mapsource's autorouting program. These waypoints usually corresponded to individual turns, but not always. Sometimes a waypoint was created for an intersection where I should have proceeded straight ahead. When I saw the arrow do a reversal, however, I assumed it meant to turn, which I did in the only available direction. This put me inside a mobile home park with many side roads. At first I thought I was still on course. Then I found I could get no closer than a quarter mile of the actual cache site. OK, I thought, here's where I have to proceed on foot. After an hour of hiking back and forth along a path bordered by a solid fence and wooded area, it dawned on me that I should have driven further past the golf course and proceeded from that direction. For some reason, my GPSr assumed I had already reached my goal and wanted me to continue on the route to the next stop. Not knowing how to override it at that point, I gave in and headed back to the highway. Scratch the first cache and on to the next.
The next leg took me to a beach parking lot and the cache appeared to be very close by. As soon as I stopped the car, the GPS switched to the next segment and told me to head back to the Pacific Coast Highway. Then I learned how to use the go to waypoint function to temporarily ignore the route I was on. I discovered this 1/1-rated site (GCG5HJ), without much difficulty.
I had to go a little further up the coast for the next pair (GCH7Z1 and GC9AF4). It was obvious that the first hide was located somewhere on a massive breakwater made of huge stacked boulders. Because it was low tide I was able to navigate along the beach most of the way. When the directional arrow indicated I was in the vicinity, I started looking. But where? There were thousands of crevices and openings in the boulders just big enough to crawl through - and become trapped in! - and without any directions I was at a loss where to begin. Finally, by scrambling to the top of the pile I noticed a large, flat rock with the number 14 painted in black on a white square. Oh, great, I thought. This must be a multicache with the numbers being part of the new coordinates. It turns out I was wrong. It's a normal cache hidden inside the rocks. This 4/4-rated site is to be saved for another day - at low tide.
The last set of coordinates led me along a beautiful cliffside path to a densely wooded enclave. No hope of using the GPSr there. I did a brief search, but decided that it, too, would have to wait until I finally had the description at hand. By this time it was getting to be late afternoon and I decided I had better head home before I got caught in the weekend and commute traffic.
I had such high expectations starting out, but now I have a more realistic view of how much time is required to sort out the details. While navigating by waypoint alone is fun, doing it without the descriptions is too big a challenge for beginners like me.
no signal loss here