For those who know me, it is no secret I often engage in a rapidly evolving high-tech game called geocaching.
For those who don’t know, or are unfamiliar with the game, geocaching translates as the recreational activity of hunting for and finding a hidden container with a log book by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website.
In other words, a geocacher hides a container somewhere and submits the coordinates to geocaching.com and if it satisfies all the requirements, the geocache, or simply put, the cache publishes and to those of us who are premium members, sends out an email or text to let us know a new geocache is available.
This often sets off a competition to be the first to find (FTF) and sign the logbook inside the cache, thus proving the hunter actually was there.
The game is addicting in the extreme.
As of today, I am ranked 45th in the southeast Texas region, which encompasses a number of million people, with 3,782 geocaches found and logged. In addition, I have hidden and maintain 219 geocaches for other geocache hunters to find. This second number boosts me very high nationally, as most seasoned geocachers do no hide or maintain nearly this many.
To put this game in perspective, there are currently 2,232,627 active geocaches and more than 6 million geocachers worldwide. You may have a geocache hidden within a block or two of where you live.
The game is played with an app on a smartphone, especially by “newbies,” but most serious “cachers” use a dedicated Global Positioning Satellite receiver, or GPSr to find and hide their caches. Non-players are affectionately known as “muggles,” a term borrowed from the Harry Potter series.
Although not nerd and geek inclusive, the game tends to attract people involved in academics, technical crafts, and computer vocations. It is family safe and many seniors engage in finding geocaches for their hobby of choice and to get exercise.
Many geocache containers are hidden in city parks, along bike trails, inside cemeteries, and other urban settings – but many are hidden in the woods and places no sane person would venture and thus the title of today’s column.
Most of us perpetually have thorn and briar scratches on our arms and legs.
Texas, particularly our part of Texas has a wide variety of plants that grab and puncture every part of your body. If you haven’t experienced this painful incident, imagine wading through six feet of rose bushes for fifty yards.
Along the way, you may, or may not encounter one or more venomous snakes, banana spiders crawling across your arm and back, clouds of hungry salt grass mosquitoes (mossies), chiggers, and the dreaded Lonestar tick. I’ve had six ticks on me this year alone and after a single outing north of Beaumont; I had more than 50 chiggers on my ankles. One chigger or redbug bite equates to seven to 14 days of intense itching.
Now all of these potential scary critters are not what I fear and I will walk through the snakiest looking terrain we have and often do, while wearing shorts. What I fear is what geocachers encounter in urban settings – the black widow spider. I’ve came across seven this year alone and on two occasions the spider was sitting on top of the geocache container in a parking lot location. I do not suffer them to live, unlike the venomous snakes I encounter - I simply walk away from them.
Have you ever heard a banana spider bark? I didn’t know it was possible until about two months ago and when I breeched the subject to the Baytown Nature Center’s naturalist Crissy Butcher and biologist Sarah Graham, both were skeptical and declared they would have to hear it to believe it.
This particular incident occurred a bit south of Baytown in an abandoned “garage” in some very over-grown woods. I walked up on a huge Golden silk orb-weaver spider in a web about 5 feet off the ground, but was so caught up in looking for the geocache that I didn’t see it until I all but bumped it with my elbow. It “barked” at me and shook its web. I stepped back not believing my ears, so I moved my naked elbow closer to it and once again, it made the noise and shook the web. For the third time, I moved my elbow in close and yes, once more it jerked and emitted what I can only describe as a tiny barking noise.
Most of us never encounter the variety of critters I mention in this column, even though they exist all around us, but if you become a geocacher, you can pretty much expect to see them often.
On Nov. 2, I will be hosting a free geocaching 101 event booth and workshop at the Baytown Nature Center’s Nurture Nature Festival. I’ll be at the raised pavilion in back and the class starts at 0800 sharp.