Until last week I was gazunderless. But now, thanks to geocaching, I am the proud, if temporary, owner of a thunder pot that once adorned the wall of a 40-room hotel in Germany.
I know, you`re thinking that I may be one antler short of a rack, but I assure you that Susan, the owner of the Burgschänke Hotel in Kaiserslautern-Hohenecken, south west of Frankfurt and slightly northwest of Freiburg where I once spent a summer, has sent me her bedpan.
Susan, you see, is a woman with a dream. She wants her Bettpfanne to travel the world. Susan lives vicariously through her thunder pot. As she sits overlooking the ruins of an 800-year-old castle, she tracks her bedpan`s progress via geocaching.com
You see this bedpan is no ordinary gazunder. This bedpan is a travel bug. For those of you into geocaching, you know a travel bug has a tiny dog tag with a tracking number that gets carried from one hidden geocache to another by geocachers. Have I lost you yet?
Remember two weeks ago when I wrote about the Grebe’s Nest on Bell Island I hinted about pirate treasure hidden in the tunnel? Well, up in the rafters of the ceiling, an ammo box filled with costume jewellery and coins waits to be discovered by anyone with a yearning for adventure. It also helps to have a handheld global positioning system (GPS).
If you’re into geocaching, you’ve probably already found NaGeira’s Treasure. That’s the name of the cache hidden at the Grebe’s Nest back in 2002 by aviex. If you’re not into geocaching, it’s never too late to join in the most super-duper game of hide and seek that you’ll ever play. It’s a cross between orienteering and treasure hunting. For more than ten years I have been dragging my family out in the woods to hunt for hidden buckets of treasure. Rain or shine. Winter or summer. It not only gets us outside, regardless of weather, and provides us with exercise and family bonding; it also teaches us skills that may one day save our lives. And all geocaching requires besides a computer, a GPS and a spare set of batteries; is a love of the outdoors and a sense of adventure.
Here’s an example of the clues you will find on line to lead you to a cache. Remember the story can be fictitious or historical.
“NaGeira’s treasure was wrested from the dastardly pirate Peter Easton by the people of Conception Bay and hidden underground on the Treasure Island. A recently discovered parchment, unearthed at Guy’s site at Cupids appears to give directions to the hiding place. It reads:
Proceed ye to N47 37.592 / W52 51.436 where for a few pieces of silver ye can obtain sea-going passage. Set a course westward over the Ocean to the Treasure Island where ye make landfall between the black cliffs. Follow the routes of smugglers and blackguards to the Descent Point at N47 38.492 / W52 58.702. Here ye can safely descend the smuggler’s path to the salt water. Behold the tunnel in the southern cliffs. Those with courage, who fear not noisome things, may enter the tunnel and journey to its southern end. The treasure is located above your head, 10 paces in from the southern entrance.
The treasure is jewels, trinkets and pieces of eight from foreign lands. Those of you who are young may take a keepsake, but elders amongst ye must make a donation. Obey ye this rule or suffer the curse of NaGeira…
Some early treasure seekers offer valuable advice. The treasure coordinates are not accurate, as the early astrolabes would not work underground.”
Geocaching was invented in May 2000 when then president of the United Sates, Bill Clinton, lifted a signal degradation called Select Availability which scrambles satellite signals allowing lay people (ie non-military) to pinpoint the exact location of an object using a GPS. Before then, this privilege was limited to US military personnel.
Geocaching is now played all over the world. Newfoundland and Labrador alone has thousands of caches. Chances are if you go on the geocaching.com site and input your postal code, you will locate several caches within a kilometre of your home. Most geocaches offer seekers a spectacular view or an introduction to a new trail. Or an urban cache might take you to a little-known historical plaque or location forgotten by the history books.
You never know where geocaching might lead you. Last week, for example, I was contacted out of the blue by four residents of Ontario who were coming to Newfoundland for a geocaching extravaganza. These people are serious players of the game and have found more than 5,000 caches all over the world. St.Pierre was on their bucket list.
Now I just happen to be the owner of the first ever cache on St. Pierre. It sits in a grove of trees near Cutty Sark house, the small dwelling constructed of whiskey crates from prohibition years when Al Capone was known to frequent the islands. It is about 2.5 km from the town centre. Every step uphill. A good stretch before dinner.
This cache is not without controversy. When I first hid it in 2004 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of French presence both in Newfoundland and Labrador and in St. Pierre et Miquelon, hardy cachers came from all over to bag it. Some people who had not sized up their maps were a bit miffed when they drove down to Fortune only to discover a cold body of water lay between them and the hidden bucket. They were so incensed they contacted geocaching.com to send out an official Groundspeak reviewer who recommended a new geographical description was necessary. That is how St. Pierre Miquelon came to have its own designation on geocaching.com
Only 58 groups have attempted to find the St. Pierre 2004 cache, but they include honeymooners, families with children and hard-core rack-up-the-number-of-finds cachers. One family went to spend the day on St. Pierre and ended up staying three. Another couple walked to Cutty Sark house from the Hotel De France one evening. “When we signed the log we noticed that another group had logged their visit earlier the same day. A couple hours later we were eating dinner in the Hotel's restaurant and overheard the group at the next table discussing their visit to the cache. We talked for a while and learned that they were at the cache only a few minutes before us but somehow we missed them.”
When I met the four geocachers from Ontario at the top of Patrick Street where I also have a prickly hide called Up, Up and Away to commemorate the 1919 flight of Alcock and Brown, they said they had something for me. That’s when they returned to their vehicle and pulled a bedpan out of the trunk. They gave me strict orders to pass it on to another cacher, but it has to be during a geocaching event. That could be a friendly gathering of cachers in a restaurant to swap stories or exchange travel bugs or it could be a geocaching flash mob when a hundred cachers descend upon a public place and at a given time, suddenly flock to a cache and disperse as quickly as they came, leaving the muggles scratching their headsSo if anyone knows of an event taking place soon and would like to be the temporary owner of a German Bettpfanne, by all means email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
But remember to read the German translation written in the bottom of the pot: “Please don’t use it in its original meaning.”
In other words don’t piss in the geocaching pot.
Susan welcomes your favourite geocaching story.