Saturday, March 29, 2008

My First Geocaching Event

Today I attended my first event geocache. It was the "It's been a year since our last event, event" The event was held at Bob's Murrieta Pizza and was a meet and greet type event. (You may have already guessed that Bob's is in Murrieta, California)

We got there about 10 minutes after it started so there weren't too many people there yet. The cachers that were there gave us a nice welcome and we ordered some food. You know how we goecachers are always talking about how geocaching takes us to cool places that we never knew existed? The Event was no exception. I had no clue this pizza place was here. It turns out the food is excellent. We will definitely be back to this little joint. I have to come back anyway because there are a few caches nearby that I didn't have time to grab.

The first person I spent any real time talking to was Pogz76. I knew him from reading logs and it was nice to get to talk and swap stories. It was kind of funny because he reads my blog so when I would tell a geocaching story, he had already read about it. We laughed about that and he let me discover some of his personal geocoins. He has a milestone geocoin for 500 finds.(Or you could call it a Geo-Achievement geocoin) It was really nice and is kept in a nice little jewelry box. He had some other custom geocoins that were very nice as well. You may remember from a previous post that Pogz76 was the goecacher that made his own cache out of one of the film containers I had in my cache.

As the night continued, I got to meet more geocachers and swap more stories. I would guess that there were about 20 geocachers there. There was no shortage of trash talking amongst old friends. There were Temecula valley legends and there were newbies like me along with everything in between. Snake, of Snake & Rooster was able to get my brain going the right direction and I think I may be able to solve another of their fun puzzles. (The people in the photos are; yours truly, Pogz76, Team Geo-Rangers, Troviamo, Snake and Czechboy)

I also got to log a bunch of Jeep Travel Bugs. Team Geo-Rangers has a handful that are being gathered for a top secret mission. I was able to discover 7 Jeep Travel Bugs, including my first White Jeep and my first Red Jeep. I gave him the Green Jeep Travel Bug I was holding on to so it could join the mission. I discovered 16 trackables all together.

I ended up chatting with a bunch of fun people. We were there for about two and a half hours. I didn't get to meet everyone so I hope it's not a year until the next one. The Wife was cool enough to chase after The Kids (aka The Boy and The Girl) so that I could hang out. We had some good pizza, saw some nice custom geocoins and finally put some faces with the names I see in the logs all the time. I will definitely do an event geocache again.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Solo Geocaching

The Boy was in no mood for geocaching today. I tried everything to convince him it would be a good time. Who wouldn't want to hang out with me, right? Ok, well maybe I don't blame him. I knew that dragging around a 6 year old that didn't want to be there wouldn't be that much fun so I did some solo caching.

I had the Fozzie bear travel bug that I wanted to drop off so I started my trip at a regular sized cache. This was a 50 cal ammo can right next to a business. By right next to, I mean RIGHT NEXT TO. Right at the large glass windows near the front of the business. The cache owner got permission from the owners to put it there. Some logs mention employees coming out to give hints as to the location of the cache. I dropped off Fozzie and picked up Doug. So it was me, Doug and a list of nearby caches. Ready for action!

I picked up a bunch of caches today. A few were skirt lifters. There were some that were "hide a keys" stuck to various street signs. I even got 2 out of storm drains. One cache was a piece of trash. I'm not sure how I feel about a geocache hidden inside a rusty old soup can and thrown in a field. I guess an ammo can could be considered junk too. It was somewhat of a tough find. It's amazing how you can completely overlook a piece of trash.

There were plenty of caches that had something interesting to check out. A couple were at some nice fountains. One of them was at this odd rocket sculpture. Those are the urban caches I like. I know where Lowe's is thank you very much. I did not know where this rocket thing was and I was glad to have found it. I even got a picture of Doug at one of the fountains. Since Doug is just a useless plastic head that tours the world, (kind of like Joan Rivers) he couldn't get any pictures of me.

One cache was a micro, hidden in a huge oak tree. As I'm walking up to this giant tree I'm thinking, "Great, there's a micro hidden in there." After a couple of minutes, I spotted the match container hanging in the branches. It was wrapped on with wire and you could only remove the lid and retrieve the log. I quickly found that this tree was infested with ants. Lots of ants. As I'm signing the log I could hear large dogs barking and they sounded like they were getting close. So here I am, trying to get this log back in the container. The branches are trying to poke my eyes out, the ants have claimed me as their territory, the dogs are going to eat me and I have convinced myself that the soft ground cover is filled with rattle snakes. Basically, I'm freaking out. I got the log back in and was a big man again once I was safely back in my car. The only problem was that the ants came with me. I picked them off and was on my way.

Today was my biggest day geocaching as far as numbers are concerned. I've had bigger days as far as bonding with my son is concerned. I had 19 finds, one DNF and one did not attempt. It was nice to be by myself for a while. Even though today's geocaches were urban, they were all in industrial areas and no one was around. Just me and Doug. Thanks, Doug.

We decorated some eggs tonight and I'll share a picture of that too.

The ant infested oak

Another fountain

My new swath of smileys.

I took this picture to try and look natural as muggles passed. It turned out kind of nice.

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

GeoCode Your Geocaching Photos

I was over at I've Been Thunderstruck blog. It's a tech blog done by a geocacher. It's a nice blog and you should check it out. Their latest post was about a piece of software called GPicSync. GPicSync stands for G:GPS Pic:Pictures Sync:Synchronization and is a Free and Open Source tool. Basically, it adds a GPS location to your photo image file. You can then put the photos in a Google Map. This allows you to see your route and click on the camera icon at the exact spot the photo was taken. Your photo pops up in the map.

The really awesome thing about this is how great a story telling tool this is. Check out this example of a bike ride. It shows the route taken in Google Maps and has the photos in the exact spot they were taken. What a great way to descriptively show your hike and geocaching trip!

GPicSync also has an EXIF viewer. I had been looking for some software that would allow me to read the EXIF files of images. You may recall that I have been attempting to solve various Mystery Geocaches. Well, hiding information in the EXIF files is one method of driving us all crazy trying to figure these things out. There is also a GPSBabel tool. GPSBabel converts waypoints, tracks, and routes between popular GPS receivers and mapping programs. It also has powerful manipulation tools for such data.

Did I mention it's free?

Here are the features:

  • automatically geocode your photos (in the EXIF header)
  • use a GPS tracklog in the GPX format or NMEA format (multiple selection possible)
  • Support elevation data if present in the tracklog
  • create a Google Earth KML file to directly visualize the geocoded photos and track in Google Earth
  • create a Google Maps file to publish your pictures and track on the web (more)
  • Automatically associate audio or video files in Google Earth and Google Maps
  • create a Google Earth KMZ file (containing your geolocalized pictures and tracklog).
  • add additional geonames and 'geotagged' metadata (for automatic tagging in Flickr for example) and create an automatic IPTC caption (more)
  • manually write latitude/longitude in a picture EXIF or a selection of photos
  • handy tools integrated (Time correction tool, EXIF reader, GPX inspector, rename pictures with date/location,)
  • supports Jpeg pictures and main RAW files format (more)
  • software available in English, French, German, Italian, traditional and simplified Chinese, Catalan, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and Czech (see translations)
Thanks to I've Been Thunderstruck for posting about this great software. Go see their blog. There's plenty of articles on GPS, software and much more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Find My Secret Geocache

"Find My Secret" is my latest geocaching hide. You may remember my camouflaged ammo can. Well, The Boy and I want and hid it yesterday. After our geocaching adventure, we climbed a local hill and found the perfect spot. The camo did a nice job of blending the can into the surroundings.

There were a couple of old exercise bikes on the top of the hill. I have no idea how or why someone would drag these up here but they were way too big for me to CITO. The wild flowers were beautiful and there were a few nice sized cactus bushes up there.

"Find My Secret" is not a normal cache. It's a mystery cache. The idea is that there is a travel bug of mine floating around out there called "My Secret". The travel bug is a container that has the actual coordinates of the cache inside. The rules are that once you get the coordinates out of the bug, you have to move it to a new cache. That makes it a little bit of a challenge to track it down.

I put one of those electronic 20 questions in there as the FTF prize. Have you seen those things? You think of something, the toy asks you questions that you answer yes or no. Then it guesses what you were thinking of. It is very fun to play with. I find myself going how did it know that with those odd questions it asks?

The cache was published late last night. Our local reviewer works very quickly to get caches published and seems to always do it at night. I held onto the travel bug until the cache was published. I didn't want someone stumbling on it early. Today, I started receiving notes from local cachers looking forward to its release.

I had my hiking boots and GPSr in the car and had a cache in mind to make the drop. When I got near it, I changed into the boots and headed into a small wooded area. I quickly discovered that I needed to approach from a different angle. When I got back on the road, I noticed that there was a large group of people eating lunch in a field about 50 feet from ground zero. They were probably wondering what this guy in a dress shirt, Dockers and hiking boots was doing tromping around in the trees. I couldn't leave the bug there so I headed off to another cache that I thought might be large enough to hold the container. I found the cache, added a smiley to my list of finds and dropped off the bug.

When I got home to log the bug drop, I found that the cache I put the bug in was a Snake & Rooster cache. Snake was one of the ones that had sent me a note saying they were looking forward to the bug drop. I guess they get a bit of an advantage but that cache has been around since September 2005.

This should be a fun cache to watch. hopefully as the summer geocaching picks up, the bug will really start moving. I wish I could say that the idea for the cache was all mine. Tonka_Boy actually told me about a cache like this in the Minneapolis area. Today, Snake told me that there was a similar cache in San Diego, but this is the first of its type in Temecula. So far the feedback is very positive.

Edit: 3/17/08 Congrats to Eric and Hill on the FTF on this cache! Enjoy the 20 questions game!

Pictures from placing the cache are below.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Weekend Geocaching

It was supposed to rain Saturday afternoon and Sunday. I had quite the honeydo list and didn't think I'd get out geocaching this weekend. I got done with the chores and the rain was still north of LA so The Boy and I headed out.

To reach the first cache we just listened to the GPSr and went down the dirt roads. The road soon became steep and was washed out. We were in the race Escort this time and I think I was at the limit of it's off road capabilities.

We were soon on a normal road and signing our first log. The wind from the approaching storm was strong and cold. I decided against going after the caches requiring hikes in the hills. Instead, we just grabbed a few that were close to parking.

We didn't find any real spectacular caches but it was nice to sign a few logs. I made some finds on difficult micro geocaches that made me feel pretty good. These are the type that I would have missed a few short months ago.

On the way home I snapped the above picture. You can see our shadows were long and the clouds were getting dark. I like this road because I don't know where it goes. I found myself singing John Denver, "Country road, take me home......" We found 5 out of 5 geocaches and made it home safely. A little while later, I was watching the lightning flash across the sky and the rain finally hit us.

When I woke up this morning, I was surprised to see the sky peeking through the clouds. I needed to go back out. It seems like it just rains travel bugs out in PJ's neck of the woods. They have spotted 15 trackables since March 1st (two weeks) and I've only found 4 since December. I ran a pocket query of caches with trackables in them that were close to me. I found one that had a Green Jeep TB. I had still not spotted a Jeep TB and decided I needed to go after this cache.

The Boy and I hiked out and found the first of three caches hidden along a mile long bit of trail. It was beautiful out here today. The wildflowers were brilliant yellow, purple and white. In our second find was the Jeep TB and a Fozzie Bear TB. I audibly said "Yes!" when I opened the cache container. Fozzie is owned by 2Bugs. I've actually been to their website before and this was my first 2Bugs find. These folks LOVE trackables. They have spotted 1470 (yes that's one THOUSAND) and they own 1089 trackables. Check out their site. It's pretty nice.

After our hike we grabbed three more in Hemet. One of which was one of those nanos that is only abut 1/4 inch long. On the way home we stopped and hid my latest camouflaged ammo can. I'll explain that one in a separate post.

It turned into a beautiful day. The wildflowers were simply amazing. Over the whole weekend, we made 11 of 11 finds. The race Escort also made it through the weekend and is resting comfortably in the garage.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Solving Puzzle Geocaches

Unknown geocache, mystery geocache and puzzle geocache. To me they're all the same and for this post, I'll refer to them as puzzle caches. When I first started geocaching, I had no idea how to even begin solving a puzzle cache. Many geocacher's technique for dealing with these caches is to simply ignore the little blue question mark icon on their maps. While I was browsing the forums, I came across a link to a series of caches called Puzzle Solving 101.

This is a series of 10 geocaches put together by ePeterso2 (EP) out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The caches each deal with a different aspect of solving puzzle caches. The categories are; strategy, tactics, trivia, wordplay, mathematics, logic, cryptography, steganography and lateral thinking. The 10th cache is the final exam. In the final exam, you must use all of your newfound skills and prove that you solved all 9 of the prior caches in the series. At the final, a diploma is waiting for you.

Each cache description page talks about the specific skill being taught. EP gives links to on-line tools to help with each type of puzzle and then provides an actual puzzle to be solved. There is a geochecker link so that you can verify that you got the right answer.

This series has become somewhat popular and EP recognized that people had begun remote solving. In other words, geocachers were solving the puzzles but were not in Florida and could not physically find the geocaches. EP was cool enough to create a virtual travel bug so that remote solvers, like me, could record their accomplishment.

Puzzle solving 101 has been great fun for me. It has helped demystify the world of puzzle caches. I have solved all of the puzzles with the exception of Lesson 5: Mathematics and the Final Exam. I actually had to ask for a hint on Lesson 5, dang math! My favorite puzzles were Lesson 7 Cryptography and Lesson 9 Lateral Thinking. All of the puzzles were enjoyable and I am glad I took the time to figure them out. A big Thanks goes out to ePeterso2 for putting this one together.

I've added a link on my sidebar to the bookmark list of these caches.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Camouflage Ammo Can For Geocaching

I'm not feeling too hot today so no geocaching for me. That doesn't mean I can't do a little work on my next geocache. I've had this ammo can for a couple weeks. I got it at the surplus store for 4 bucks.

I started off by grabbing some ultra flat camouflage spray paint a Wal Mart. I got black, brown and olive. I put a coat of olive over the whole ammo can to cover up the yellow stenciling. Then I cut a leaf off of a fake plant from inside the house. (Don't tell anyone.) I laid the leaf on the can and hit it with some of the brown and black spray paint.

I think it turned out pretty good. The whole idea is to break up the shape of the ammo can. The real test will be once it's outside in the natural light. I've seen some that were solid black and are actually pretty hard to see.

Now I just need to find some cool swag to fill it with. I know the perfect hilltop that is in need of a cache. Tell me what you think of this new ammo can.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mid Week Geocaching

This week is week two of my 6 Sigma Black Belt training. One again, I get to spend the week at Marina Village in the Mission Bay area of San Diego. I was much less organized in my geocaching this time. On Monday I wasn't prepared and did not have my GPSr loaded with geocaches. On Tuesday I tried to load some caches in the morning before I left and that took just enough time to land me in rush hour traffic. I ended up not having enough time to go geocaching. On Wednesday I was ready, both physically and mentally.

I learned my lesson the hard way last time and brought my hiking boots to change into. I got there around 6:30 in the morning. The sun was up and the breeze made it a bit chilly. I parked and followed the GPS for about 400 feet and quickly made my first find. There were a few people fishing from the jetty and a few more out in their boats drifting in the bay. They were far enough away for me to take my time and sit on the rocks while reading the log book and poke through the swag.

The next geocache was about a quarter mile away. I started walking along the large rocks lining the bay. There is something abut the ocean that calls to me. Walking there in the morning, all by myself with the sweet smell of saltwater in the air triggers something inside me. I must have been a pirate in a previous life. I love it down there. I ended up on an asphalt walkway on top of the jetty at Hospitality Point. The warnings of possible danger due to high seas were of no concern today. I could see however, outside the breakwater, the ocean was a bit rough.

I was searching for a cache called Our Love Endureth forever. For some reason, the GPSr pointed me to the left at the end of the jetty. The piles of huge rocks use to build the jetty provide a limitless number of places to hide a geocache. I looked in a few obvious places and got back on the walkway to recalibrate my GPS. It was now pointing to the other side, right at a rock that had the words "Our Love Endureth Forever" Painted on it. I sat down and quickly found the heart shaped cache container. I don't know if the cache owner painted the rock or it was just the inspiration for the cache name.

I signed the log and traded for what I thought was a regular geocoin. It turns out it is a non trackable geocoin. It's from the Utah Association Of Geocachers dated 2007. It has a sunset picture and it says "Breathtaking Vistas." It's a very nice coin. I'm not sure if I'll keep it or trade it. A shadow box display of geocoins would make a nice decoration of collectibles.

I made two finds. I could have done more but I was enjoying myself and taking in the scenery rather than rushing from cache to cache. Unfortunately I came down with the funk that has been going around. I'm home sick today. Hopefully I get over it quick and am able to go for a hike this weekend. We'll see.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Another Fine Day Geocaching

There are a few hills near my house that have a geocache on top. Two of those hills have my geocaches on top. The Boy and I went out this morning to clear a few of them. We started about two miles from the hose, parked at the bottom and headed up the path to the top. It is starting to warm up and it's almost time to start freaking out about rattle snakes. The hills are green with new grass from the recent rains. I snapped a picture of what looked to me like snake skin, however when I got home and looked at the picture I'm not so sure. We found the cache and walked around the hilltop for a bit. Since reaching 100 geocaching finds, I feel like I can hang out and enjoy the experience a little more. I am trying to make some fake rocks to hide geocaches in so I was seeking out some specimens for a mold.

We left that hill and headed to another one about 2 miles South. the GPSr took us into a residential neighborhood at the edge of the hill. we parked near the end of a street and headed up a very steep path. If you are in or have ever been to California, you may have noticed that most hills have trails on them big enough for a truck. What is odd is once the neighborhood is right up to the hill, the trail starts out of nowhere. Today it started on the other side of an embankment complete with shrubs and flowers. No possible way to get a vehicle to the vehicle trail. So at the top of this one we could watch the airplanes taking off and landing at nearby French Valley Airport. This is a very small airport but someone told me the runway is actually long enough for a passenger jet to take off and land. That's all I need is Southwest flying over my house 50 times a day. Picking up visitors would be a breeze though. The Boy is fascinated with firemen and he found a fireman badge sticker to trade for. Thanks to Miragee for showing me how to put the elevation profile in my blog! You can see the two hills we climbed and a closer view of the second higher hill.

I still have all of the caches withing 10 miles that I haven't found loaded in my GPSr. Thanks to, oh yeah, Miragee and her GSAK tutorials. We just headed to the next nearest cache. I was happy to see it was a cache by DodEtrexer. He really takes the time to put out some cool caches. This one was in a fake rock. It was funny because I have been experimenting with my own fake rock recipe to make some geocaches. I mentioned this in the log and he contacted me with a great method of doing this. I'll try it out and write about it soon.

We kept following the GPSr and ended up on a trail with a white fence and beautiful trees. It was near a very busy Rancho California Road and if it was not for the noise of the traffic, I would have thought we were walking along a secluded trail somewhere in Alabama. We found the two caches here and headed over to Lowe's to get more geocache making material.

The boy has helped make a geocache and we will be hiding it soon. It's an M&M tube with fake leaves on it. I'm going to put it in a tree by my gym. I'll find some clever way to say "The difficulty and terrain levels can be much higher if you decide to approach this cache form the establishment across the street." I'll call if Buff cache or something. I actually came up with the idea of putting one here because of a blog post at my Dad's site. I had sent some before and after pictures of myself to my Dad and Brothers. Imagine my surprise when I saw myself on his his site. I thought it was pretty funny and good cause for a geocache. We picked up 6 and logged one DNF. here is a picture of the Boy's new geocache and, as usual, a few more pics from today.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Geocaching Karma

Recently, The Boy and I went to Michaels to score some geocaching cammo. We were looking for things to help disguise some new caching I've been thinking about. I found several types of fake vegetation that may do quite nicely.

As usual, I had the GPSr loaded with geocaches in the area. We nabbed a couple on the way. There was one called Another Parking Lot Micro just outside the store. I know, I know, even the name goes against my recent needs for the wolderness, but I'll never reach a bizillion finds if I don't grab these.

We walked over to ground zero in the outer corner of the parking lot. I had not read about this geocache, it was just in the GPS. I did have the hint. "Not magnetic" There was a large tree right there which was nice because it helped conceal our search. I looked on the ground and saw a sprinkler head next to the tree. There was a corner of plastic back sticking out of the top. A gentle tug removed the sprinkler from the ground and revealed the log. How nice to find a descent hide in a parking lot! there were a couple of tiny trade item which we left for the next geocacher.

When I got home to log my finds I read the logs on this one. The owner had posted a maintenance log stating that contrary to popular belief this was not a sprinkler geocache. He said he had checked out the area, was able to locate said sprinkler and the real geocache was just fine. WHAT? My geocaching ethics would not allow me to claim the find. I told my story in my did not find log. The owner of the geocache contacted me and said I did not have to log a DNF as he had not deleted the logs of the other sprinkler finders.

I chose to leave the DNF until I could get back over there and find the real cache. The owner did say he would swing by and pick up the decoy geocache. I think my decision to leave it is going to pay off in dividends. I'm sure the geocaching gods are smiling on me for my behavior. I shall be rewarded with some easy finds on some difficult geocaches.

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