I've been idle lately. Not just 'technologically' but physically. Three years ago, when I changed departments at my employer, I went from climbing ladders and crawling under buildings to sitting at a desk all day. I also went from 175lbs to 220lbs. It took just a few months to get to the new weight, but it took over a year to get back (o'kay so I'm 180 now; close enough). I changed my eating habits to match my new less active job and made a point to get out now and then. That had been going pretty well until a few months ago, at which point I just kind of stopped. No real reason; just did. I also noticed that I wasn't doing much of anything else. It had all kind of run together. Sure, my various hobbies and such were still fun, but they were also old hat. I needed something new. I also needed to get moving or risk regaining the weight. If you've never been there, you can't really know, but it's a lot harder to keep the weight off once you've gained and lost it than it is to just not gain it.
I've been playing around with various GPS related applications on my phone lately. Mostly the 'check in' at a location variety. I have Brightkite, and Loopt; picked up Gowalla recently. They're all fun in their own little way, but I really enjoy the Geohash app. It's based off an XKCD comic, and though I usually don't go to the locations that it generates, I like looking at the info every day. I've yet to meet anyone else at a generated location, but I hold out hope that it'll happen.
Ever since I got an iPhone 3G (I have a 3GS now) I've played with the idea of getting a dedicated GPS device too. The iPhone serves me well for getting from point A to point B, but it's not all that accurate. A few years ago I read about a thing called Geocaching. The idea being that using just a set of coordinates and a few clues you would set out looking for a can, box, or other containers that someone else hid with the hope that others would find it. Sometimes there might be odds and ends to trade or clues to the location of yet another hidden treasure. Maybe an object that wants to travel to a faraway place, and if you can help it get closer by moving it to another hidden place then it's just accepted that you will.
Last night, on a whim, I decided that I was going to stop thinking about it, and actually give it a try. I signed into geocaching.com from work, set up an account, and searched for a few caches nearby. After work, I set out looking and using Google Maps and my phone's built-in compass I made an attempt to find two different places that seemed as though they would be pretty easy. I failed. A lot. All the while I was cursing the highly inaccurate GPS on my phone. Sure it was great for plotting a route to follow in my car, but when trying to find something that may be smaller than my hand and hidden from view, it just didn't seem to be good enough. Most handheld GPS devices I've looked at have a clear sky accuracy from 10 to 30 feet. My iPhone didn't seem to want to do better than about 40 to 60 feet. So combining the probable inaccuracy of the device that tagged the location and the error in location from my phone and I realized it was possible I could be almost 100 feet away from my target at any time and think I was right on top of it.
I tried one more, that was closer to home, later last night after an HR Geeks (Hampton Roads, not Human Resources) meeting that sprung up because some people couldn't make it to the scheduled meeting last week. It was quite dark by that time, and after a few minutes, I realized that it was a lost cause. This morning I was woken up far earlier than I had planned to get up and was forced to leave the house. After taking care of what I needed to, I decided to give it another go. I picked a different cache, as it was on my way back home. This time after just a few minutes I found a hidden glass jar with a few tiny seashells, an equally small toy car, and a rolled up piece of paper in a plastic bag. I unrolled the paper, left the date and my name, packed it all back up and hid it away again. There was another less than a quarter mile away, so I went for it. I also downloaded the iPhone application that Groundspeak (the group that operates geocaching.com) offers which gives access to the cache database, and an easy way to update entries. Sure it cost $10, but sometimes the free route isn't the best route.
So pulling up to the second attempt of the day I can already tell where it's hidden. Mostly because it was hidden in the same way the first one was, but on some level, it was like I could just feel it. This time it took longer to sign the log and put it back than it took to actually find it. Feeling good about myself I decided I want to try to find the last one I looked for last night. On the way, I'd be passing two others. First one is on the road I live on. Spent a few minutes looking, and started to think that perhaps it wasn't there anymore, despite only being put into place a short time ago. It's a pretty high traffic area and on the edge of private property. Just as I was about to walk away I see it, in plain sight. How I missed it until then I have no idea. Then off to the next one. At this point, I was feeling pumped. Silly I guess, but on some level, I felt like those shady characters in spy movies in their long black coats deftly snatching little-hidden objects off the back of park benches in plain view of everyone.
A few minutes down the road and I find myself along a line of shrubs. Trying not to collect too much of the bush inside of my coat, I start poking around the ground just under the leaves. As I do I start thinking back to my days as a cable tech, looking for pedestals which had been grown over. Falling into this mindset I spot it. My gaze hadn't moved and yet something that was totally invisible to me just moments ago was there as plain as the nose on my face. That's when I realized that yesterday I had been looking at things all wrong. My inability to find the caches I was looking for yesterday wasn't because my GPS devices wasn't accurate enough, it was because I wasn't looking. I was trusting my equipment to show me where to look. The point of the GPS is to get me there, it was still my job to actually search. Resealing the large film canister and feeling in the zone I roll out to what I'd decided would be my last attempt of the day. Off the side of the road, in view of the interstate, I start poking around wondering if anyone zipping by at 60+MPH even notices me and if I'm about to wake up a sleeping snake I creep farther into the trees. No geocache, but did find the remains of a beer cache. Looked like it had been abandoned some time ago. A slightly broken foam cooler, and mostly empty beer cans covered by black plastic and pine needles. Again, just as I was ready to leave, out of the corner of my eye I catch something that doesn't look right. A magnetic key box tucked away from view. Another signature log and a small rubber lizard that might have been trying to be the Loch Ness Monster. Left my mark, and having very much enjoyed the morning, headed home.
I don't see myself regularly checking off five a day, even on my days off. I do see myself venturing off course every now and then, to spend a few minutes searching out a little slip of paper to scribble my name on. I may never meet any of the people whose names mine is sharing space with, but still I feel that in a way they all were there with me when I found the cache. We all saw the same thing, in the same place, just not all at the same time. I really think I'm going to enjoy this.