Crazy Scheme #187: Looking for Buried Treasure

Chaos in Print

As with most members of the human race, I often find myself looking for ways to leave a lasting impression. I strive to do things that are unique that will make people say, “Wow. Mark.” This website grew out of one of those things. And now, as I’m marching towards an uncertain future in another country, I find myself again longing to set up something. I want to establish something in my hometown to leave an impression. Since it’s growing rather late in the year to try and get the county council to build some sort of monument to me, I guess I have to do something on my own. What I am considering is something I read about on the Internet a little over a year ago, and I became enamored with the concept. It felt like the perfect way to honor both myself and the rich natural world that surrounds my hometown. I am, of course, talking about establishing a geocache.

“Geocaching” was invented by geeks who love their high-tech toys, love the outdoors, and have way too much time on their hands. You only need two things to find one: Internet access and a GPS. Littered all over this world are little treasure chests, put out there by great outdoors-geeks. These chests are filled with all kinds of little trinkets, treasures, stuff, and a logbook. When you find one, you are supposed to take something out for yourself, and leave something behind for someone else to find. In the logbook, you write down your name, where you’re from, what you took and what you left. But, how o how do you find these little treasure chests? That’s where your GPS and Internet access comes in. Using their GPS systems, the geeks who establish these know the exact geographic coordinates of the cache. These geeks then go and post these coordinates on the Internet, along with an optimal start position and maybe a landmark or two to help you find your way. You get the coordinates off of the Internet, plug them into your GPS, and head out to the start position! You are now set for an afternoon of wandering through the wilderness looking for buried treasure.

I first stumbled onto this sport when “geocaching.com” was the link of the day at User Friendly. It gained greater prominence in the summer of 2001 when the movie studio 20th Century Fox established a few Planet of the Apes geocaches to plug the same-named movie. As I explored geocaching.com, though, I was saddened to discover that there are very few in the Edmonton/Entwistle area. (Very few in Alberta, as a matter of fact.) Here I was, with my Dad’s GPS, ready for an afternoon of treasure hunting, only to be cut off at the knees. So, since there are none in this area, I figure that it’s up to me to do something about this. I have a website. I have my Dad’s GPS. Let’s do this!

Firstly, though, I figure I should select a location to plant my geocache. True, there are vast woods surrounding my town, but I’m not just going to find some random spot in the woods to plop down my treasure chest. No, we need to find a perfect spot. From my knowledge of the great Entwistle forest, I have narrowed it down to one of two possible locations.

Somewhere in the woods behind my old elementary/junior high school are the ruins of an old log cabin. All that remains of that cabin are three walls, extending up to about waist height. What better place for buried treasure than old ruins? There’s just one problem with this location, though. I don’t know where it is. When I was in elementary school, nature walks through those woods were a frequent event, and my classmates would often point to an overgrown path and say, “That’s the one that goes to the cabin.” I visited it once in grade 8, when my outdoor education class was orienteering in the woods. My team stumbled upon it only to discover two of my classmates who had snuck off to it for a make-out session. Ahh, junior high. But anyway, in some of my free afternoons, I have tried looking for the cabin. Trees grow a lot in 10 years, and the familiar paths and landmarks are now completely overgrown and unrecognizable. I would love this location, but to find it would mean a few days wandering around lost in the woods looking for it.

My second proposed location has the benefit of being one that I know how to get to quite readily, but the flaw of being in a provincial park, meaning I’d probably have to get government permission. Down in the Pembina River Provincial Park, there’s this trail that starts at the end of E loop. It’s not traveled very often and isn’t maintained that much. As you walk down it, the path eventually runs out until it no longer resembles a path. When this beaten path ends, you continue forward for a few more meters and turn right. You climb about halfway up the riverbank, and there, half-submerged in the dirt is an old car. I don’t know my cars, but I want to say it’s a Ford Model-T, or at least a car of that era. Surely a treasure chest could be stashed in the trunk.

So, I’ve got two proposed locations. Now, I need something to put the stuff in. I need my treasure chest. This is the dawn of the 21st Century, so it’s as easy as going to any office supply store and getting a weatherproof strongbox. This would be an optimal choice if I were ever worried about a forest fire wiping out my treasure. Of course, if I want to go for a more traditional (and cheaper) route, I could build one. There’s lots of scrap plywood out in the garage, and a few gallons of Thompson’s water seal and silicon caulking in the seams should provide enough weather protection. I’m probably looking at an afternoon’s construction time, maybe a weekend.

I have a location and I have treasure chest. It’s time to fill the chest! Firstly, I need a logbook. A coil-bound notebook from any stationary store should do. And I’ll need a writing instrument. You know, when the early astronauts discovered that pens don’t work in weightlessness, the American and the Russians took different solutions. The Americans spent several million dollars developing a pen that would work in weightlessness. The Russians just used pencils. I think I’ll follow the Russian’s lead. I’ve got a logbook, a pencil, and a treasure chest. What o what will I put in the chest? Some ideas I have for my buried treasure are:

– a fishhook or two. I did a lot of fishing in the Pembina when I was a kid, so why not?

– McDonald’s gift certificates. Who doesn’t like a Big Mac every now and again, except for vegans? Well, they can have fries. I could also include the geographic coordinates of the nearest McDonald’s, which would be the one in Drayton Valley.

– A DVD. Right now at work, we’ve got a couple of bargain basement DVDs for $5.99.

– A whole variety of dollar store goodies.

– A travel bug. I just found out about these things. These are objects which travel from geocache to geocache, and it’s a sport in itself to track their movements.

That, in a nutshell, is my plan. Scarecrow’s geocache. I can see it now. People will come from all over the world to find the fabled geocache of the Scarecrow. When they go traipsing through the woods, they will learn things about their surroundings and themselves. Then, when they get to the end of their strange, wonderful journey, they will find a treasure, and they will say, “Wow. Mark.” Well, a guy can dream, can’t he? If nothing else, I’ll give people a way to kill an afternoon.

[Some final thoughts: After writing this, I checked out geocaching.com for the first time in months. There are now over 150 geocaches registered in Alberta. Sadly, though, all they list are coordinates, and I don’t have my Dad’s GPS handy enough to find out how many of them are close to home. It also says that I don’t have to be so extravagant, as most of these treasure chests are just Tupperware containers and old coffee cans. Setting one up will be easier than I thought.]

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