Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Our First Geocaching Find!

Was a big deal.  I didn't realize exactly how cool it was going to be until that THERE IT IS!!  moment. 

I thought the geocache was just another detail to add interest to a walk in the park, kind of like bringing a sandwich and cookie along would have.  Nope.  Whole different level of cool. 

This was a true adventure, a whole Hero's Journey, with the Call to Arms, the Helper, being Lost (if not in a cave) and finally Finding the Treasure! 

I don't have a GPS device, but my HP ipaq rx5915 "travel companion" has GPS built in.  It came with a program called TomTom which I've used sometimes.  I've never thought much of GPS since I like maps and prefer to find my own way.  But going to look for something hidden at a certain location sounded cool. 

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geocaching.com had a listing of several caches only a few miles from us.  One was in a large park we were somewhat familiar with, and said it was a standard size cache (an ammo can) and swapping trinkets sounded like fun. 

I fired up TomTom and figured out that you CAN enter coordinate points into it!  The point appeared on the map along with a way to get there!  Okay, great!  Let's go find this box! 

I actually got miffed at husband because one fine Saturday he "wasn't in the mood" to go looking for a box in the woods right now, and refused to detour to the park even though we were all but going right by it.  I had to put my teeth together.  No point dragging him unwillingly. 

I had to wait pAtIeNtLy until he wasn't around.  Delays like that only serve to increase the want level by a whole lot!  Then the rest of us headed off with heads high and hope in our hearts (at least mine, the kids just went along for a walkie) to find this box.  Lucky thing Ed wasn't with us to observe and comment on the fiasco that followed... let's just say we ran back and forth like idiots and didn't find the box. 

TomTom does not work for geocaching.  It's designed for directing cars along roads.  It was obsessed with trying to get me back in the car and turned around.  At least the little needle was still pointing at a spot--  and I followed it, until it lost signal. 

I don't know what's wrong with the pocket pc.  It takes forever to find the GPS signal.  I have to start TomTom and get it looking for a signal at least ten minutes before I really need it.  It'll work for a while and then lose signal and not refresh for a looooong time.  

Occasionally it would refresh, and it was sending us to a point, all right-- the wrong point.  I cannot explain to you how that happened.  We were in the right park but the wrong end of it.  (I had some trouble at first with swapping decimal degrees and degrees, minutes, seconds.  Yet you would think if that was what I did wrong, I would have been even further wrong...)

 

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We were looking for a boulder.  The boys thought they could find it by searching, but none of the large rocks they came across had anything hidden (except the usual things you find around and under rocks). 

Came home and went to the internet for help.  It wasn't as easy as I thought it would be, but now I really want it.  I tried downloading different software for the pocket pc.  There was piles of free software that looked eligible, but some required the premium membership to geocaching.com (No!) some I couldn't figure out, some didn't work. 

Pocket Drake emerged as the winner.  I'm not sure if you're supposed to use a Waypoint to enter the bare coordinates from geocaching.com, but that's what ended up working for me, and "whatever works", right? 

I went to Google maps and got GPS coordinates for the various points around my yard so I could test this at home.  It worked!!  -- at first.  It found the spot (in the back yard), told me direction and range and then walked me halfway out there before stalling.  I stood in the back yard waiting to the extent of my patience, and it still didn't reacquire GPS signal.  Why's it doing this?  Don't know. 

Should I post on a PPC tech support forum and see if anybody knows what's wrong?  Or spend some money and buy a real GPS unit?  Or a geocaching premium membership so I can download the cache files and try a different application?  I don't like spending money to solve problems.  I want to make this work with free resources and equipment that I already have. 

I used Google maps to look up the geocache-- I'll find this thing one way or other!  Looked down from above with satellite view, and recognized the area where it was-- oh yeah, I can find that!  So, next time we went by there, we stopped in.  I thought it would be pretty easy to walk right to it now that we knew where it was, and I'd also give the GPS another try.  I hoped maybe when I was on the move instead of standing in one place, Pocket Drake would somehow motivate the unit's GPS to refresh more often. 

As usual, the GPS worked at first, showed a range and direction that looked right and counted down meters as we got nearer.  Then it lost signal, the needle disappeared, and that was it. 

We were still quite far away but I figured I could find it.  At the base of these trees is where I was just SURE the cache would be, based on my three-second, overconfident glimpse of the image.   But all the trails we tried led beyond those trees without getting near them. 

When the GPS briefly reacquired signal, the needle was pointing the other way and saying the cache was behind us.  That couldn't be right, because we weren't at the base of the trees yet!  And it had stopped refreshing and wouldn't show a change no matter how far we went.  So very frustrating!  

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The boys explored every random direction while I fiddled with my gizmo. 

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This is the Trapped in the Abyss part of the Mythical Journey. 

But it was at this point (of course) that light dawned! 

The GPS is trying to get signals from nine different satellites.  The reason TomTom always took sooooo long must've been because it was waiting for them.  One nice thing about Pocket Drake is that it doesn't wait for all of them, but starts giving results after only acquiring three or four.  But then, of course, it would eventually lose them again and not refresh. 

Well, in Pocket Drake, if I got back out of Waypoints, went to the GPS screen, turned GPS off and back on again, then back to the Waypoints screen and hit Compass again, VOILA, it woke up and gave a fresh reading.  Requires a few extra taps, and it's probably not the RIGHT way to do it, but hey, "If it's stupid but works, it's not stupid!" 

The GPS turned out to be right, the cache was behind us.  We had gone past it during one of the long outages and then lost faith in the device.  By refreshing as necessary, we were able to follow it straight back without any problems. 

Per instructions, I got within 10 meters and then started looking around. 

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There's the rock, and there's the cache.  Can't miss it if you're looking for it!!  

I had thought the toys would be the least interesting part of the find, but the boys were just THRILLED with all the trinkets they found in there. 

Mike took a prism kaleidoscope thing and Dave got a gold coin plus somebody's pocket change.  We left a kitty ornament and a toy car, put the whole thing back together and re-hid it.  

Went home HAPPY and can't wait to do this again! 

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