The Joy of Geocaching – Part 1

May 18, 2019

I am a meticulous planner, but willing to abandon those plans if the risk-reward scale outweighs a spontaneous adventure. I traveled to Costa Rica with the intention of finishing my second book that I started too long ago.

I called it my Ernest Hemmingway, writing sabbatical.

I planned on writing for two days consecutively; take a day to play, and repeat this cycle until the book was completed or when my vacation was over. The day to play would be with my Costa Rican friend, Arturo, whom I met while traveling on business year’s prior.

Since this is his home country, I suggested a trip to Arenal Volcano as I was denied it the first time I visited. He was delighted to show me one of his country’s national treasures. My reasoning was two-fold: to see this active volcano and finish up old business, and to show my friend the Joy of Geocaching.

I was supremely confident that he would love it if shown properly. Besides, I had been asking about it  prior to my arrival constantly.

Arenal Volcano

We employed his friend, Jorge, to drive us out to the volcano, as I didn’t know Arturo wasn’t licensed to drive or own a vehicle. I thought, cool enough, as long as we get there.

After the obligatory tour activity of selfies, photos of the landscape, etc., I opened the Geocaching App. I knew that a geocache was hidden nearby that I wanted to find to earn my digital Costa Rican country souvenir.

It was my treat myself day, per se.

Arturo being naturally curious asked if he could accompany me. I replied, of course, that was my intention. We followed the coordinates to the location. I coached him that while I didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, it would be an object that seemed out of place, that just didn’t naturally occur.

With my keen sense of observation, and having found several hundred geocaches at this point, I found it first. with my eyes only. I guided Arturo over to it to let him find it.

It was a Thermos converted to a geocache. We opened it up together, I demonstrated to sign our names to the logbook to prove we actually found it. I displayed the trinkets inside of it, i.e. SWAG, and more.

I placed it all back the way I found it, and anti-climatically remarked, “That’s that.”

He asked, “Now what? What do you do next?”

I laughed, “Now you find another one, and another, and you play until you don’t want to anymore.”

He smiled back, “You, mi amigo, will never stop playing.”

I chortled, “You’re probably right. I’ll play until I can’t move anymore.”

“Amigo, please, let’s find more! This is fun, ” Arturo implored. I knew it. My planned worked: he’s addicted to the Joy of Geocaching.

Coast To Coast

When they dropped me off at my rental, I resumed my writing until our next planned day of adventure. I suggested to Arturo since we visited the East Coast of Costa Rica, perhaps we could visit the West Coast in a couple of days.

I remembered Arturo grew up on a coastal town, and that his home was also out there. I also knew there were several geocaches out there that beckoned to me.

One was published, i.e. hidden, in April 2019 that had yet to be found by anyone.

I live in Washington State, more specifically in the Seattle area. After 5 years of playing, I hadn’t been able to be the first to find because of the saturation of players meant if you didn’t find it within an hour of publishing you most likely wouldn’t be.

It’s been 30-days, and no one has found it.

I plotted our route with the hopes of being the first to find, FTF, this particular geocache. On the day of, Arturo arrived with a different friend. Arturo was so excited; he practically jumped out of the vehicle.

He was amped to show me what he did over the last couple of days. He signed up for the Geocaching Premium Membership, watched all the demonstration videos, gathered up pens, and trinkets to trade, and downloaded the app on his smartphone.

I was stunned. I didn’t realize that the first experience had inspired him so profoundly. He did all of this on his own, and without my knowledge. I had a besmirched smile on my face the entire ride out to the west coast.

Our driver today was not as polished, or as cordial, as Jorge. As I learned from the backseat of this non-air condition car, that he was hung over from the night before. In fact, to this day, I’m sure he was still intoxicated like a drunken sailor that we woke up after a beach, bonfire party to drive us somewhere.

His command of English wasn’t fantastic, and he seemed disinterested in exploring the countryside. I shrugged, MEH, it’s a means to an end.

I digress...

At the geocache’s entrance was rickety, wooden security shack with a guard inside that was about 1,000 years old. Arturo spoke with him, the guard wrote down our license plate number, description, and allowed us to proceed.

Rocky Mountain High

The location for the hiding place was perch with a view of Coconut Beach on Coconut Bay. It was amazing. Once parked, I got to work. We had been on the road for hours, so being cooped up like that had me anxious.

Using the three pieces of information: geocache description page, coordinates, and a cache-owner provided hint, I searched with Arturo.

Again, I found it first, but nudged Arturo in the direction so he could find on his “own”. He sought out the logbook, and found it blank.

He seemed surprised, “Amigo, no signatures.”


My Tico Brother: Arturo Fait Morales

“Correct, amigo,” I agreed. “We are the very first players to find it, meaning we have bragging rights of FTF. First To Find. Congratulations to us both!”

We laughed as we signed the logbook. For an outside observer, such as our driver the scene was anti-climatic. We drove hours to the coast only to find a plastic container and be the first to sign a piece of paper.

From our perspective it was a big deal, and part of the Joy of Geocaching: enjoying your first EVER First To Find! There are some players that never have that experience, and Arturo’s second geocache to find is a monumental!

From my backpack, I fished out two beers. I opened them up, handed one to Arturo with the words, “Victory is ours, let’s celebrate with what I call, Victory Beers. “

After a few sips, Arturo remarks, “I’ve had this beer for many years, but this one tastes better than all the rest.”

I laughed, “That’s because it’s a VICTORY BEER, bro! They always taste better!” My day simply couldn’t be better.

We killed our beers while enjoying the scenery below from our perch above. Little did I know that Arturo would pass away nine days from now which made (makes) this memory bitter sweet for me anytime my mind wanders over to review it.

What I’ll never forget is Arturo’s exciting experience of being the first to find a newly hidden geocache. The Joy of Geocaching doesn’t get any better than that.

The Boomerang – Brigadier Wallace McHoots

In January 2017 I had renewed my interest in the worldwide GPS treasure hunt game called Geocaching.

One of the game pieces are called trackables or travel bugs (TB) Trackables are any objects that have an assigned code from Geocaching HQ. The intentions for trackables are to be picked up by a geocacher from a geocache to be carried over to a different geocache and place in there for the next geocacher. This ‘travel’ is recorded by the player thus making it trackable.

The type of trackables include, but not limited to, dog tags, T-shirts, and Geocoins!

GEOCOINS

Geocoins are my favorite type of trackable. They usually are metal or wooden tokens minted in the similar fashion to a medallion, token, military challenge coins, etc for use in Geocaching.

BRIGADIER WALLACE MCHOOTS

In February 2017, I bought a #Steampunk themed owl geocoin. My girlfriend, Deana, encouraged me to create a persona for it with a backstory.

Brigadier Wallace McHoots

Greetings! I’m Brigadier Wallace McHoots, special owl attachment to Geocaching. As a bird of prey, I’m rather anxious to being freed from this cache-cage. How about some jet-powered excitement by logging my departure, and advancing me to the next available geocache that can accommodate my ample size? Keep calm and carry on, my fellow geocachers!

~ Geocaching dot com

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have done the following. I hid my first geocache, Walk The Line, in the neighborhood with McHoots inside. I had the misplaced faith in the Geocaching Community to be true to the process, and be full of integrity.

For several months, and a thousand or so miles, the player known as sproutter took Brigadier for a tour. Meaning he would metaphorically ‘dip’ McHoots into a geocache for a visit. Then continue to retain him.

I even set up a Facebook Page to track his progress with posts and pictures.

All was well until April …

Geo Saloon & TB Hotel

sproutter dropped McHoots at a travel bug hotel called, Geo Saloon & TB Hotel, (GC2EG3F) a geocache specifically for exchanging trackables. Another geocacher player, ShebblesAtPlay, found the geocache but no trackables whatsoever in July, 3 months after sproutter.

I reached out to her through the messaging system asking if Brigadier Wallace McHoots was in the cache. She replied a month later, stating no, even after two visits.

My heart sunk.

It’s gone missing, presumingly forever. This confirmed that I shouldn’t have done this in the first place. I marked him missing on the website and moved on with my life.

Christmas Miracles

On December 1, 2017 (Tabula Rasa Day in my world) I received this message …

Well, it’s time for a Christmas miracle… after your email, I got thinking about the group of kids that was with us on our stop at the milkshake shop that was also home of a TB Hotel. I asked my friend to ask the parents of the kids who had attended the hike and milkshake party with us, to see if anyone had grabbed a metal owl. Well… 4 months later… it has been located!!!! One of the kids in our group had grabbed it!! My friend was able to connect me with the mom of the boy who’d grabbed it and today I was able to make it to her place of employment and pick it up. I have it now, safe and sound. I will be taking it around for a visit here and there. I will send it on its way soon, but I wanted to let you know it is in good hands now and the owl will be flying around a bit. Merry Christmas!! 🙂

ShebblesAtPlay Dec 1, 2017 6:09 PM

My reply was …

Oh my, Shebbles! This is the most AH-mazing news I’ve received in awhile – THANK YOU FOR IT. 😃 I’ve been telling my GC group that you’re my hero. For my Christmas “wish” I had a request. Once you and Brigadier (TB) had your fun of visits and travel, could you please return him to my house? ******, Lake Stevens WA 98258 – but ONLY WHEN you’re done – if it’s weeks, months, years, so be it but I kindly request this. Did you know I created a Facebook page for him? Search for Brigadier Wallace McHoots – we can post our story. At any rate, again, THANK YOU FOR THE SEARCH AND RESCUE! You’re a saint. Merry Christmas indeed. May you and your family be blessed.

From there I would continue monitor her activity with Brigadier on the Geocaching website, but didn’t directly interact with her.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS LATER

The global pandemic of COVID-19 rages on since December 2019. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has effectively shutdown the state, and it’s citizens. For fear of being forced into quarantine, my plans to find 2 marquee geocaches in California were shelved.

To stay in-state, my sister and I agreed to finish up the Wenatchee area from when we cherry picked a few Jasmer Challenge geocaches last summer.

The Springhill Suites Wenatchee was our hotel. A geocache was hidden in the parking lot by ShebblesAtPlay. Yes, the current guardian of Brigadier Wallace McHoots.

Once we recorded our find, she immediately hit me up via the messaging system asking me if I was in town and for how long. I answered, and she suggested that she return Brigadier Wallace McHoots.

She has had her fun but that it was time to follow through with our agreement thus displaying a ton of integrity. On the day of the meet up, she brought me cookies that were “made of Lysol and love”, and my beloved Geocoin.

In exchange I gifted her 2 unactivated travel bugs for my gratitude. We couldn’t shake hands, but the feeling was mutual to place a username and face.

Now that he has returned … I’ll place him in my Collection, and out of Inventory for safekeeping. Perhaps I’ll create a facsimile of him, and send that out in the world at large.

Why Falconer_Swarlos?

I have attended a few local Geocaching Events, such as Parley Like It’s 1699, Going Ape X, and smaller events, and invariably another player will ask for my player name / online handle. It is nice to match a face, and name to a player #IRL.

My Geocaching username is Falconer_Swarlos. Most players will create a name reflective of their given name. But I’m not like most players …

Falconer Swarlos, Part I

Two parts of my name, so there are two stories to be told. I’m confess that I love a motif to most things. My Geocaching vision is no different.

One game piece of Geocaching are trackables: items that “travel” from cache to cache.

The only way this inanimate object moves is via another geocacher picking it up and physically moving. Groundspeak, dba Geocaching HQ, released a series of Steampunk bird metal die cast Geocoins (trackables) I also love Steampunk, so the combination piqued my interest immediately.

I bought a Steampunk owl, because my girlfriend at the time was obsessed with owls. We named it Brigadier Wallace McHoots! The first of several Steampunk Birds themed Geocoins. I bought a raven, eagle, peacock, etc. Upon further research, a falconer is a trainer and retainer or birds of prey. I thought *bOoM* part one done.

Falconer Swarlos, Part II

Before I was playing the game, I was (still am) an event entertainer. I am a gregarious person therefore an easy target to chide, especially for my close friends. Speaking of friends … my friends and I closely followed the television situational comedy (sitcom) How I Met Your Mother.

The character in the series I best identified with was Barney Stinson played by Neil Patrick Harris. The Season 2, Episode 7 was titled Swarley. The episode was mostly focused on the character Marshall dating a new girl. However, one scene addressed the incorrect name spelled on coffee cups in a cafe. So instead of Barney, they spelled Swarley, which is homage to Starbucks employees scrawling in Sharpie pens the wrong names of customers.

Barney is notably upset about being chided on, picked on with his new nickname. As you can imagine, my friends immediately jumped on this…

My new nickname was [yes, you guessed it] Swarlos.

And no, I didn’t like mine either. But like schoolyard bullies, they would keep using it as long as they see you are upset with it. The moment you embrace it is the moment it stops.

A falconer is a job title, but Falconer Swarlos is a name of a geocacher. That would be yours truly!