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Featured Cacher For August 2009 - Raven

Raven of Jersey Village, TX.
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What got you interested in caching?
Raven: About 3 years ago, my wife heard about a hobby called ‘geocaching’ via one of our out-of-town friends; the way the couple described it sounded like something that could be right up my alley! It seemed to complement my love of nature hikes and exploring new places, it incorporated the use of maps and navigational guides (and as my wife can attest, I can spend hours on end gleaning over maps or satellite images!), plus it involved putzing around with electronic gadgets as well as internet surfing (yes, another few of my addicting traits). Last but not least, it offered the ability to test one’s wit with crafty puzzles once in a while. All these dimensions played a role in ‘claiming’ an ultimate prize, some elusive object hidden from view to anyone passing by in the area.
While it sounded fascinating, I didn’t give it much thought until those same friends came over for a one-day visit several months later and casually mentioned the hobby once again. I created a sock puppet account on GC.com later that same evening and was surprised to discover several so-called “caches” hidden right in our own neighborhood; one was even within walking distance! So I looked up that particular waypoint in Google Earth, tried to figure out where this “treasure” could possibly be hidden, and gave it a shot together with the family during an afternoon stroll the very next day. While we came up empty-handed (as it turned out, the cache had recently been muggled), we all had a lot of fun just attempting to find this hidden little container.
A few months later, we purchased a GPSr to help us quickly locate any nearby amenities or POI’s during family road trip excursions... The possibility of using it for geocaching was not a priority at that time, it was just going to be another tool available to facilitate these family outings. That said, I did manually plug in a handful of neighborhood caches in the anticipation that we’d try out this particular “sleuthing game” again one of these days.
While returning from dinner one evening we stopped by Jersey Village’s central park and decided to go on a little scavenger hunt once again, this time armed with our GPSr. The cache was called Fox Hole and we were finally successful. More importantly, we were in total awe of the camo’ed contraption (hey, it was our FIRST find, anything camo’ed would’ve looked ingenious to us!) and read its soggy ripped-up log thoroughly from top to bottom, amazed at the front page’s standard “Congratulations – You Found It” cover page. What a neat concept!!! I was instantly hooked.
In short, geocaching combines many of my favorite activities – all in one fell swoop. It is also flexible enough to allow for both individual and family-based activities, i.e. something the entire flock of Ravens can fully appreciate!

How did you decide on your caching name?
Raven: While I’d love to claim that our caching name was chosen after Edgar Allen Poe’s poem or the nickname of one of our local historical celebrities, or – as some have suggested – the bird’s many symbolisms in Native American folklore, its selection was actually quite accidental and non-eventful... But looking back, I don’t think we couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate moniker!
Upon finding our very first cache after dinner that evening, we had to come up with a name on the spot in order to record the find. Our daughter suggested “The Ravens” after part of our last name, so that’s what we used on the log sheet… and on the next 20-25 finds in the ensuing weeks. Shortly afterwards though, my family recovered from their newfound caching addiction and I realized that using the singular “Raven” moniker would probably be more appropriate in the future: I was still hooked and needed to cache much more frequently then they were willing to indulge me. As luck would have it, changing it on GC.com wasn’t too much of a problem: I got quite lucky as “Raven” was already used but very much dormant and GC’s Help Desk was kind enough to re-assign it (which is, I understand, not their common practice).
BTW, the remaining “flock of Ravens” still do come along on caching runs once in a while -- and when they do, our kids still sign in as “The Ravens”. Why not? For those precious times, it’s a family affair and I’ll gladly have them sign the log whichever way they want!

When you cache, what equipment do you use? (PDA, Garmin, Magellan, software)
Raven: I own a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx and wouldn’t trade it for anything: it has performed wonderfully for the past 2+ years, it’s small enough to carry along everywhere, and its battery life is extremely good. Yes, eTrex’s infamous “flaky rubber band” issue is definitely a design flaw but I just live with it. I also use CacheBerry along with several sets of pocket queries of geographically-dispersed Metro Houston areas on hand just in case we’re in the neighborhood and the opportunity arises, as well as rely extensively on Mapsource and Google Earth when perusing GC.com from home. By the way, GE’s satellite details are truly heaven sent: I can’t believe how many times it has saved me from attempting to approach a certain cache from the “wrong” side!
Embarrassingly enough, I have not attempted to use GSAK as yet… but believe that may soon change as I’ve noticed how time-consuming my current cache organization methods have become. Anyone willing to give me a brief tutorial?

What are your all-time favorite cache(s)?
Raven: Ouch, that is a tough question. I have a strong bias for any adventure that takes me on long scenic hikes involving significant changes in elevation through unspoiled and sometimes impassable terrain, the ones that ultimately reward you with beautiful panoramic vistas of Mother Nature… something that’s a bit hard to find around here (now how’s THAT for the understatement of the year?). Scenic caches that can meet such requirements do exist -- if you’re willing to drive several hours (or days!) away from the Gulf, that is. We just haven’t gotten around to revisiting our most favorite regional gems with a GPSr in hand as yet. So truth be told, my all-time favorite cache to date is not located in our general vicinity nor in the US for that matter. It is Rolling Stones in Curacao, Netherlands Antilles -- our home away from home. It gets seldom visited and requires you to deal with 100+ degree heat for 2-3 hours on end as well as cacti that will easily pierce right through your hiking boots (and some not-so-friendly poisonous critters to boot)… but the views are simply spectacular!
More in our general vicinity, I would say that the Four Cache Loop has probably been the most enjoyable to date. Gabbytabby and an out-of-town friend of mine did it around Thanksgiving last year, and the trek was simply fantastic. There are several other similar hiking caches in the area that I have yet to try out, and I’m pretty sure that these strolls through nature will be just as stunning as the 4CL. Now it’s all about finding the time to do them as well.
As for truly local caches, any “ammo can in the woods” that requires a little bit of hiking and bushwhacking tops my list any day. Naming them all would take way too long but hopefully you get the gist. Also, urban hides can be quite fun as well if cleverly implemented… OSC’s “H.I.P.S” series comes to mind as some that I particularly enjoyed; likewise, Traveling Gnome’s “Nature Series” presented a fresh and very innovative alternative to the plethora of micros hidden in parking lots, and the rest of the family did not mind coming along for these as well: a double-bonus! Last but definitely not least (and yes, I’m obviously extremely biased here) my own two 1K tribute caches -- Quoth the Raven, ""1,000 More!"" and Raven flies to 1000 caches!!! -- hold a very dear and special place in my heart.

Do you have any special caching adventures you want to tell us about?
Raven: Just about any time I get a chance to spend a good part of the day caching -- whether with friends or solo -- is an adventure for me! That said, there was this one time when I had the pleasure of going along with the founder of “Geocaching Curacao” (oops, there I go again: yes, it’s outside of Houston or the US for that matter) and an avid volunteer for that island’s Nature Conservancy into the “outback” on a dual mission: to search for an elusive cache that had been reported missing, and to repair a trail through a natural preserve as it had been reclaimed by Mother nature. It is impossible to stop lost souls and wild donkeys from trying to blaze new trails in this type of terrain but the hope is that by providing at least one “clear” path, the rest of its natural beauty can be spared from man’s ravages. So with the blessing of the island’s local government, we went out with machetes and cutters in hand to restore one of the ‘official’ paths through the area. The cache Rock Garden was indeed gone, but helping out pruning “pikas” (read: bushes with BIG thorns) and clearing a new path for a good part of the day while climbing up and down volcanic rock with an unforgiving shoreline just 300’ down and ½ mile away made up for that DNF in spades!

Have any "Most embarrassing Geo-moment" you would like to share? Details please!
Raven: There are several embarrassing moments… we all have them, and that’s all part of the fun. Some involve having to explain your activities to local authorities or nearby owners when caught “red handed” doing something which – on the surface – seems highly suspicious (in my case, it was with a cache called Grandma & Grandpa's Barn-TB Bed & Breakfast where the neighbor across the street was about to call the police for potential drug-related activities). Others involve having to perform deeds that just don’t come natural to everyone (try out Dreadlocks Beware! and you’ll see what I mean). For me, probably DNF’ing several times on a particular cache called Katy’s Easiest was my most embarrassing geo-moment. As its name implies, it’s [supposed to be] an easy one: its ratings are 1.5/1.5 stars… yet even after a decent number of finds under my belt, it still took quite a few extended searches PLUS sounding the “it’s MIA” false alarm AND getting a very strong nudge -- if not a detailed description of its exact location! -- from a fellow cacher before I could finally log that smiley. DNF’ing is part of the adventure, but not when it is Katy’s EASIEST cache for miles around!

What is your favorite type of cache (traditional, multi, puzzle) and why?
Raven: Those who know me well enough would’ve probably guessed puzzle caches. After all, they’re my favorite kind of hides I like to place myself... For me, it’s part of the overall geocaching “mystique” and adds an added level of dimension and/or challenge to the ultimate sleuthing expedition. In reality, however, any type of well executed cache (being the container itself, its overall location, the challenges surrounding it or its theme and/or related swag, a multi that moves you all over the place) is a wonder to behold. For my part, geocaching is not just about signing a name on a piece of paper rarely anyone gets to read: it’s the journey that goes along with it -- either on solo expeditions or when sharing with fellow cachers and/or family members.
Also, while I am particularly fond of hiking and bushwhacking, I have found that “simpler” virtuals and earth caches can provide as much education and entertainment value as the most complex multiple-star rated hides. They may not be considered “caches” in the traditional sense, but do bring you to places which you may have easily overlooked if it weren’t for the hobby – especially when being out of town! Mrs. Raven is particularly fond of well-thought out virtuals, so I try to make a point of exploring these with her whenever we can.

Summer or Winter caching? Why?
Raven: Summer, definitely summer. I’ll gladly deal with 100 degree heat and 95% humidity over cold and dreary days. It’s probably the result of having lived in such climates for most of my life; heck, Houston feels way TOO COLD for me during its winter months -- I can’t wait until the heat comes back again. Looking at my stats, however, it seems I do cache year-round regardless: gotta keep feeding that addiction, you know?

When a new cache is listed, are you tempted to go for FTF?
Raven: Tempted? You bet! Feeling that adrenaline pumping as you rush to GZ can be quite exhilarating. Do I go for them? Rarely, if ever… Caching is already quite addicting as it is, and since most new listings come out at night I prefer to spend that particular time with my family. Also, you just don’t get the full visual “experience” when looking for bushwhacking caches at night. Yes, some hides are meant to be searched in the dark (and in that case, I’ll gladly play along) but IMHO the caches most worthy of being explored are truly better admired during the daytime. I have a high respect for all those nighttime ninjas out there, but it’s just not for me (save for a few easy “pick me ups”, obviously).

Tell us about your cache mobile.
Raven: I’ve been driving a Camry Hybrid ever since it came out... To me, driving is just a mode of transportation to get me close to GZ; I like to hoof it the rest of the way in. Also, any car will do when dealing with most urban lampskirts and the like. BTW, a Hybrid does wonders on gas consumption which can be quite handy with this hobby!

What other hobbies do you have?
Raven: Oh, you mean there’s life beyond caching? <grin> Besides hiking when time and circumstances allow, I enjoy scuba diving (which luckily both Mrs. Raven and I enjoy, but we rarely get to do it these days), landscape photography, and -- yes -- spending hours on end behind the PC which is not a hobby per-se but can become quite addicting in its own right. Save for PC-related activities, many of these other hobbies do get pushed to the backburner nowadays; life has become much more hectic ever since we started raising a family… but I wouldn’t trade them for the world, obviously!

Do you currently have any caching goals that you are working towards?
Raven: Not surprisingly, goals constantly change as you progress in the game. I used to try and expand my “death circle” (read: nearest caches) as much as possible and have now gotten it down to the nearest one being 8.8mi away (and just 20 caches within a 10mi radius). But as you can imagine, it’s hard to maintain AND it rather ruins the opportunity to “go for a quick one” when you only have a short time to spare -- so I have moved on to other number-related goals such as filling out the “difficulty/terrain” matrix and extending the percentage of puzzles vs. traditionals. I’m also starting to get an interest in the EarthCache Masters program (sounds like fun!) and had always wanted to post one of my own anyway so I would be killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. In reality, however, I only have one single goal: to ensure that my passion for caching does not fade over time, or -- conversely -- that it doesn’t come at the cost of everything else. It all started as a fun activity, and that’s how I would like to maintain it. Interim “goals” are just a way to add some spice to the mix, in the end is it all about the good times one experiences along the journeys.

Is it all about the numbers?
Raven: I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit numbers play a role (if not, then why even bother to track them? And why go for lampskirts when one’s true passion is bushwhacking?), but it’s most definitely not my #1 priority. There are obviously some times when it almost feels like it’s all about the numbers, especially when getting close to centennial milestones... but most of the time I don’t pay too close attention. Everyone caches for their own personal reasons, and for me geocaching is all about quality vs. quantity -- as well as both the ‘adventures’ and friendships one forms along the way.

Thanks for this interview. Is there anything you would like to add?
Raven: I know it’s been said by others many times before, but it’s hard not to agree 100% and even harder to state it in different terms so that it sounds “new and refreshing”: I truly want to thank all who have taken the time to place and maintain caches for others to find. Without this participation, there wouldn’t be any so-called “Geocaching” to speak of. We all have different hiding styles and location preferences, but in the end our goals are relatively the same: to have fun while “hunting down hides”. Likewise, I would like to thank all HGCS forum members for their never-ending exchanges of very useful information (and funny barbs once in a while!), as well as the individuals who take the time to host events and social gatherings. I am by nature a very private person and do not like to stand out in crowds -- much less chat in public on-line forums… Over time, however, I have come to fully appreciate this set of community-minded individuals who share a common interest and who make the effort in making this an eventful -- and truly dynamic people-oriented -- life experience, and I’m proud to be a part of it.