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Our Greatest Father/Son Conquest

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After the smoke cleared from my divorce in 2002, I lived about 1/2 mile down the road from my former spouse and two kids, who were then 9 (Ben) and 13 (Karen).  Despite the fact that The Ex and I didn’t agree on a whole lot, we buried the hatchet when it came to the kids.   I spent a lot of time with them.  Every summer from 2003 to 2010, Ben and I went on a road trip somewhere for a couple of weeks.  In 2005, we discovered geocaching and we were hooked.

In June of 2006, we headed off to Yellowstone. We did it right, staying at the Old Faithful Lodge.  Afterwards we went up to Bozeman, Montana to do some back country geocaching.  It was all day trips.  We both love to go out and get dirty and nasty – as long as we can clean up in our air conditioned hotel room when we’re done.  After 20 years in the Marines, I’ll never spend another night in the field.  But anyway, on with the story…

Old Faithful

Ben at Old Faithful. We did Yellowstone right.

In one of our searches, we came up with a geocache called the Trolls Cache.  It was halfway between Bozeman and Livingston way back in the Gallatin National Forest.  On the day we went after it, it hadn’t been found in two years.

We headed for it in early afternoon.  It seemed like we drove forever on a series of dirt roads that got progressively worse and worse.  Our Magellan SporTrak Map GPS finally got us to a point that had ground zero about 300 yards to our right  – across a stream and up a steep mountain. Off we went.  We walked and walked and walked. Most of it was uphill.  The area had been lumbered out years before, so there was thick new growth and lots of ankle-breaking flotsam and jetsam on the ground.  It was hot, slow going.  Like idiots, we didn’t take any water because we figured it would be a short jaunt.  We also found out later that this is prime grizzly habitat and we had nothing for bear defense.

At some point I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see the car anymore and the sun was below the ridgeline.  Shadows were getting deep and dark fast.  We were about 50 yards away from Ground Zero when I told him we had to back off.  It wasn’t safe.  So we made our way back down the mountain thinking now we know why no one has found it in two years.  We drove out of the forest after dark.

Making the Find

I was still surveying the top of the hill on our second attempt when Ben made a beeline for this geo-beacon. The camera just happened to be at the right place at the right time to record the find.

Back at the hotel, we were bummed out.  We decided to take another shot at it.  We fired up Google Earth and got out the Delorme Montana Gazetteer.  We found what looked like an old road, maybe a lumber trail, that led up to the cache.  It would be a walk along the ridgeline instead of going up the mountain.  The next day, we were off in early morning with a map, GatorAde, lunch and bear spray.

GZ at Trolls Cache

Ben opens the prize at Ground Zero.

The rental car company would have had a cow if they had seen the roads, rocks and stream crossings we negotiated with their AWD Murano.  But we found the trail and parked about 1/2 mile from the cache.  Twenty minutes later, we were on top of the mountain and Ben made the find in short order.  It was an ammo box in great condition.

After high fives and some trash talking, we celebrated by sitting on a stump, drinking GatorAde, eating lunch and soaking up the gorgeous and rugged panorama that was present at Ground Zero.

View from GZ

The view from Ground Zero. We took it in while eating lunch. The haze in the background is smoke from a distant forest fire.

This was the toughest geocache he and I have ever gotten. We learned some hard lessons on this one.  For me, the biggest one was I’m not a Marine anymore.  I don’t have to get hurt or killed to find a cache.  Ben, who was 13 at the time, was tough and had his game face on the whole time.  I asked him how many of his buddies had found an ammo box in the Montana wilderness lately.  He got a confidence builder and a crash course in real world decision making which he never forgot. 

Six years later, the kid is grown up and off to college,  but we still laugh and shake our heads over the Trolls Cache.

Cheers …. Boris and Ben (Natasha wasn’t around yet)

Intro to Geocaching – Software

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Natasha is off course.

Natasha is always pushing the envelope. Important safety tip: Don’t geocache where deadly force is authorized.

Hi again,

This is the fifth of five installments on Intro to Geocaching.

Here are the other four.

GPS 101

Geocaching 101

Geocaching with Smart Phones

Geocaching with Handheld GPS

If you use a smart phone for your geocaching, then most of what follows doesn’t apply.  With Internet connectivity and a geocaching app, you’re all set.

However, if you start to use a handheld GPS device for geocaching, you will need a software package on the computer which will find, sort , organize and download geocaches from geocaching (dot) com to your GPS device.  That’s the subject of this page.

Geocache files have a file extension of  (dot) GPX and are usually referred to as “GPX files”.  They are text files which contain all the information about a geocache.  They are quite small – only a couple of kilobytes each.  If you are dealing with a few single geocaches, you can work with them individually.  But if you are looking at a couple of dozen or more, that can get to be overwhelming.  Enter the software. These programs can take any number of GPX files, combine them into one big GPX file which can then be downloaded on to your GPS device, which is connected to the computer by a USB cable.

The software also has various sorting tools and other menu items to combine multiple GPX files into a big  GPX file according to difficulty, location, cache size and other parameters.

Remember, these programs are loaded on your computer – not the GPS device.  Your GPS device will be connected to the computer with its own USB cable and will show up in My Computer (or whatever it’s called) as a removable disk.  Once you have your geocaching files sorted, filtered and downloaded, you simply drag and drop them on to the appropriate folder according to the directions that come with your device.  When everything is loaded on the device, you safely disconnect it (Right Click > Eject in Windows) and you’re ready.  If the last couple of  paragraphs make absolutely no sense to you, it’s time to discover your inner geek.  That’s part of the game.

IMHO, there are only two Windows geocaching programs worth considering – ExpertGPS and GSAK (Geocaching Swiss Army Knife) – and yes, that’s its real name.  Both run on Windows platforms only – no Mac or Linux, although you can run it on a Mac if you’re running Boot Camp or Parallels.  You could also run it in Linux on a virtual windows machine.

For Macs, the favorite is probably MacCaching.  For Linux, check out Open Cache Manager.

All these programs will very capably store, filter and manipulate your geocaching data.  For what it’s worth, I use ExpertGPS.  I think the interface is more informative and user friendly.  That said, GSAK has been around a long time and has a very strong following. It has all kinds of macros you can run which enable it to do things that ExpertGPS will not – but after eight years and 3,000 caches, I haven’t found the need for them yet.  If you’re just starting out, I think you’ll be happier with ExpertGPS.  The only way to know is to try them out.  You’ll want to decide on one or the other because they both cost money after the trial period.  During the trial period, you’ll get nag screens and believe me, they are well named.

Yours truly in the Black Hills.

Our favorite geocaching place. Yours truly in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

The other geeky thing you’ll have to master are pocket queries on geocaching (dot) com.  To use these, you have to be a premium member.  A pocket query allows you to go into an area and create a custom search for geocaches that fit a specific set of parameters.  For instance, if Natasha and I are going to power cache, we’ll select an area to go to, then build a search for traditional caches with a two star max difficulty and no micros.  That way, we minimize our time on the hunt and maximize our finds.  (When power caching, we usually set a five minute time limit.  If we don’t find it, we move on.)

Pocket queries can also be done along a route. The limit is 500 miles or 500 geocaches per route query.  You select the start and end point, how far off the road you want to go, size, difficulty and other parameters, then create the query.

Completed pocket queries are downloaded to the computer in ZIP file format and have to be “unzipped” to get the files.  In Windows, simply right click on the ZIP file and select “extract all” from the menu. Your Super GPX file will show up. Then drag and drop it on to your connected device. The GPS device will take that single file and break it up into individual caches, which will show up in your cache listings and searches.

Here’s a link that explains in detail how to create a pocket query.  You can also just Google it and lots of help will show up, which is why I’m not covering it here in any detail.   However, I can offer some tips to make your searches and queries more effective.

When you start your query, uncheck the block to run it.  Then go through the settings and start tweaking your parameters.  When you’re done, click on the SUBMIT button.  The query will come back as a sample which you can view on a map or in a list but it hasn’t actually run yet.  That’s important because the web site only allows  five queries a day.  However, these practice ones don’t count.  Check out the results.  Need more?  Less? Closer?  Farther?  Go in and adjust accordingly.  All you have to do is check or uncheck boxes or type in a couple of numbers.  When you have it just the way you want it, then go to the top, check the run box and you’re in business.

Another possible hiccup is the name of the file that is downloaded.  By default, the search engine gives it a random alpha-numeric filename.  You can check a block to add the query name to it and you should always do that.  Remember to give your query a name that you’ll recognize, like BlackHills2013.

Alien geocachers

Geocaching is a great way to meet other like-minded people from different places, as Natasha demonstrates here.

Of course, you don’t have to create a pocket query.  You can also go into geocaching (dot) com, open a map of your target area and start looking.  Just mouse over the cache symbols for information. If you like the looks of it, download it.  Once you’ve got enough on the computer, you can compact them with your program or send them directly to your connected GPS device.  As you get into the game, you’ll find there are lots of options and ways to do things.

There are lots of other software programs out there that will allow you to manipulate your caches, data and finds in more ways than you can imagine.  There’s one in particular called CacheStats.  If you’re one of those geofanatics that revels in the numbers, this will give you what you want.

There are also lots of online sites that can enhance your searches and provide all kinds of help and ideas.  Just start Googling it and you’ll see what I mean.  I really like Google Earth.  There is geocaching KML file that runs on Google Earth and shows you the geocaches in the current view.  It’s not super-accurate but if you’re just scouting out an area, it’s a great tool. If you see something you like, you can connect to geocaching (dot) com directly from Earth.  You can even run a split screen if you want.   Download the KML here.

As I said earlier, if you are geocaching with a smart phone and an app, you don’t need to do deal with software or do pocket queries – as long as you have Internet connectivity.  For instance, when we roll into an Interstate rest area or a gas station or restaurant, we get out the Droids, fire up CacheSense and see if there’s any caches about that we can pick up real quick.  The Interstate corridors have all got Internet/cell phone connectivity and we haven’t found a rest area yet that doesn’t have at least one geocache. It’s a great way to stretch the legs.

On the other hand, we use pocket queries  for areas that we’re traveling to that don’t have Internet capability.  The Black Hills of South Dakota are a great example.  We try to get to the Black Hills once a year for geocaching.  IMHO, it’s got the best geocaching in the country.  It’s also a dead zone for cell phones and wireless – handheld GPS territory all the way.  So we have ours loaded up and ready to go before we leave.  Yellowstone is the same way.

So that’s it.  Hope you learned something and that you’ll get out there and try it.  Feel free to post any questions or feedback, including suggestions for future pages.

Cheers …. Boris and Natasha

 

Top 10 Geocaches – #6

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Map of the Trolls Cache

A Google Earth shot of the area around the Trolls Cache, which is at the green arrow. You can also see the town of Livingston.

Hi again,

We continue to count down our Top 10. 

So far, we’ve shown you the following:

#10 – Easy to Overlook Cache, Tucson, AZ

#9 –  Nuke on a Mountain Cache, Sundance, WY

#8 – The Caves of the Door Bluff Headlands Cache,  Door County, WI

#7 – Spooky Tunnel Cache,  Kuhntown, PA

This one is from my pre-Natasha days – my single Spartan divorced middle-aged male phase.  From June of 2006, the Trolls Cache.

In June of 2006, my son Ben and I headed out for our annual summer road trip.  He was 13 at the time and we had just discovered geocaching the previous year.  We were both hooked. This would be the first of many big geocaching expeditions. After Yellowstone and white water rafting on the Gallatin River, we headed to Bozeman, Montana for some back country geocaching.

In those days, smart phone apps and geocaching on-the-fly weren’t around yet.  There was a lot more planning involved and a lot less flexibility.

The GPS we had were Magellan SporTrak Map models.  They were first generation hand helds but they got the job done.  We sometimes had to stick them out the window to get good GPS fixes.

Navigation was done by laptop using Delorme Street Atlas.  So we had to do a search in an area, pick out the caches we wanted to do, print off the cache sheet then enter it as a destination in Street Atlas.  It was primitive by today’s standards but pretty much state-of-the-art then. 

We didn’t have Internet in the car, so we did our searching and prep at the hotel, then loaded up the laptop, Street Atlas and the Magellans with everything we’d need. The laptop had external USB GPS and a power converter for the car, so we could run it whenever we needed.  We even had a small USB Canon printer that we could run in the back of the car if needed. Ben became quite adept at doing all that and navigating in the car with a laptop.

In one of our searches, we came up with a geocache called the Trolls Cache.  It was halfway between Bozeman and Livingston way back in the Gallatin National Forest.  It hadn’t been found in almost two years.  We decided to take a crack at it.

We headed for it in early afternoon.  It seemed like we drove forever on a series of dirt roads that got progressively worse and worse.  Our navigation  finally got us to a point that had ground zero about 1/4 of a mile to our right  – across a stream and up a steep mountain. Off we went.  We walked and walked and walked. Most of it was uphill.  The area had been lumbered out years before, so there was thick new growth and lots of ankle-breaking flotsam and jetsam on the ground.  It was hot, slow going.  Like idiots, we didn’t take any water because we figured it would be a short jaunt.  We also found out later that this is prime grizzly habitat and we had nothing for bear defense.

At some point I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see the car anymore and the sun was below the ridgeline.  Shadows were getting deep and dark fast.  We were about 50 yards away from Ground Zero when I told him we had to back off.  It wasn’t safe.  We made our way back down the mountain thinking now we know why no one has found it in two years.  The car was barely visible when we came out of the forest and it was pitch black when we drove out.

Making the Find

I was still surveying the top of the hill on our second attempt when Ben made a beeline for this geo-beacon. The camera just happened to be at the right place at the right time to record the find.

Back at the hotel, we were bummed out.  We decided to take another shot at it.  We fired up Google Earth and got out the Delorme Montana Gazetteer.  We found what looked like an old road, maybe a lumber trail, that might lead up to the cache.  It would be a walk along the ridgeline instead of going up the mountain.  The next day, we were off in early morning with a map, GatorAde, lunch and bear spray.

GZ at Trolls Cache

Ben opens the prize at Ground Zero.

The rental car company would have had a cow if they had seen the roads, rocks and stream crossings we negotiated with their AWD Murano.  But we found the trail and parked about 1/2 mile from the cache.  Twenty minutes later, we were on top of the mountain and Ben made the find in short order.  It was an ammo box in great condition.

After high fives and some trash talking, we celebrated by sitting on a stump, drinking GatorAde, eating lunch and soaking up the gorgeous and rugged panorama that was present at Ground Zero.

View from GZ

The view from Ground Zero. We took it in while eating lunch. The haze in the background is smoke from a distant forest fire.

We learned some hard lessons on this one.  For me, the biggest one was I’m not a Marine anymore.  I don’t have to get hurt or killed to find a cache.  Ben, who was 13 at the time, was tough and had his game face on the whole time.  I asked him how many of his buddies had found an ammo box in the Montana wilderness lately.  He got a confidence builder and a crash course in real world decision making which he never forgot. Over six years later, the kid is grown up and off to college,  but we still laugh and shake our heads over the Trolls Cache.

Cheers …. Boris

Geocaching Experiences – Our Greatest Father/Son Conquest

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In celebration of Father’s Day, I bring you this story out of the geocaching archives of June 2006.

After the smoke cleared from my divorce in 2002, I lived about 1/2 mile down the road from my former spouse and two kids, who were then 9 (Ben) and 13 (Kari).  Despite the fact that The Ex and I didn’t agree on a whole lot, we buried the hatchet when it came to the kids.   I spent a lot of time with them.  Every summer from 2003 to 2010, Ben and I went on a road trip somewhere for a couple of weeks.  Then in 2005, we discovered geocaching and we were hooked.

In June of 2006, we headed off to Yellowstone. We did it right, staying at the Old Faithful Lodge.  Afterwards we went up to Bozeman, Montana to do some back country geocaching.  It was all day trips.  We both love to go out and get dirty and nasty – as long as we can clean up in our air conditioned hotel room when we’re done.  After 20 years in the Marines, I’ll never spend another night in the field.  But anyway, on with the story…

Old Faithful

Ben at Old Faithful. We did Yellowstone right.

In one of our searches, we came up with a geocache called the Trolls Cache.  It was halfway between Bozeman and Livingston way back in the Gallatin National Forest.  On the day we went after it, it hadn’t been found in two years.

We headed for it in early afternoon.  It seemed like we drove forever on a series of dirt roads that got progressively worse and worse.  Our Magellan SporTrak Map GPS finally got us to a point that had ground zero about 300 yards to our right  – across a stream and up a steep mountain. Off we went.  We walked and walked and walked. Most of it was uphill.  The area had been lumbered out years before, so there was thick new growth and lots of ankle-breaking flotsam and jetsam on the ground.  It was hot, slow going.  Like idiots, we didn’t take any water because we figured it would be a short jaunt.  We also found out later that this is prime grizzly habitat and we had nothing for bear defense.

At some point I turned around and realized that I couldn’t see the car anymore and the sun was below the ridgeline.  Shadows were getting deep and dark fast.  We were about 50 yards away from Ground Zero when I told him we had to back off.  It wasn’t safe.  So we made our way back down the mountain thinking now we know why no one has found it in two years.  We drove out of the forest after dark.

Making the Find

I was still surveying the top of the hill on our second attempt when Ben made a beeline for this geo-beacon. The camera just happened to be at the right place at the right time to record the find.

Back at the hotel, we were bummed out.  We decided to take another shot at it.  We fired up Google Earth and got out the Delorme Montana Gazetteer.  We found what looked like an old road, maybe a lumber trail, that led up to the cache.  It would be a walk along the ridgeline instead of going up the mountain.  The next day, we were off in early morning with a map, GatorAde, lunch and bear spray.

GZ at Trolls Cache

Ben opens the prize at Ground Zero.

The rental car company would have had a cow if they had seen the roads, rocks and stream crossings we negotiated with their AWD Murano.  But we found the trail and parked about 1/2 mile from the cache.  Twenty minutes later, we were on top of the mountain and Ben made the find in short order.  It was an ammo box in great condition.

After high fives and some trash talking, we celebrated by sitting on a stump, drinking GatorAde, eating lunch and soaking up the gorgeous and rugged panorama that was present at Ground Zero.

View from GZ

The view from Ground Zero. We took it in while eating lunch. The haze in the background is smoke from a distant forest fire.

This was the toughest geocache he and I have ever gotten. We learned some hard lessons on this one.  For me, the biggest one was I’m not a Marine anymore.  I don’t have to get hurt or killed to find a cache.  Ben, who was 13 at the time, was tough and had his game face on the whole time.  I asked him how many of his buddies had found an ammo box in the Montana wilderness lately.  He got a confidence builder and a crash course in real world decision making which he never forgot.  Six years later, the kid is grown up and off to college,  but we still laugh and shake our heads over the Trolls Cache.

Happy Father’s Day

Cheers …. Dan

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