A geocacher's guide to the galaxy

Fate was not on our side that Thursday afternoon that Caitlin Nolan (your trusty managing editor) and I decided that it was a perfect day for a geocache. For you "muggles" -- in this usage, defined as a "non-geocacher" -- geocaching in an outdoor activity in which trinkets tacked with coordinates are hidden all around the world with the goal of being discovered by a fellow cacher. With a handheld GPS and directions from caching forums, the adventurers hunt for containers stuffed with logbooks and small tchotchkes.

Armed with nary a clue, Caitlin and I tromped through the wooded undergrowth of Quiet Cove in search of one of the over 1.2 million caches planted worldwide. We may have had a flashlight, but the battery was going. We may have had a camera, but apparently no memory card. We may have had the latest in geocaching iPhone apps, but we didn't have a whole lot of service in the woods. But what we did have (to our credit) was a cumulative sense of humor and gusto to put our fear of brown bears aside for the sake of bringing Circle readers a tale of adventure and triumph.

Sadly, this isn't that tale. No treasure was found. Thankfully, no ticks were either. As a token of hindsight, we bring some sage advice to you Indiana Jones wannabes for your next adventure -- as well as ours.

Dress warmly.
Much to everyone's dismay, the Fall 2010 edition of the New York winter has arrived. With no cafeteria trays to sled on (though I hear those twin x-long mattresses work quite nicely), this can be your alternate extra-extra-curricular activity. But, be sure to dress for it. Hats, preferably with a furry trim, are all the geocaching rage; so are old Christmas sweaters from Goodwill. If you plan on spending lots of time in the cold, forgo layering up with cotton -- it'll only trap moisture and make you chillier at the end of the day. Go for a wicking fabric -- UnderArmor makes a mean spandex -- and a pair of toe socks. We're bringing 'em back.

Carb up.
Personally, if I'm not fed every 27 minutes I get ornery (and ornery dread-heads are the worst kind). Being out in the frost can increase your metabolism by at least 20 percent, leading to hunger pangs and questions of why this was a good idea in the first place. Well, fear not. Your very own Hudson Valley is home to a plethora of good eats that'll keep you on the prowl for hours. Rock da Pasta in New Paltz specializes in wheat and gluten free pasta with all the fixin's, while the smoldering mounds of mac 'n cheese from the Eveready Diner are famous the Food Network over. The Apple Pie Bakery Café down the road at the Culinary Institute of America offers generous loaves of bread so freshly baked, you'll never lay eyes on that loaf of Wonder Bread again.

Bring the proper tools.
You may not yet feel like a proper geocacher yet, but you can at least haphazardly pretend to be one. While many varieties of handheld GPS's can be found at Best Buy and the sorts, the iPhone and Droid offer a variety of applications ranging from free to a few more dollars-and-change. But, remember, you tend to get what you pay for. And, naturally, bring a light source if you plan on starting your expedition any time after noon. A headlamp works phenomenally and will only add to your geocaching street cred. It's also necessary that you bring a trinket to leave behind in the cache. Go crazy! If you choose a themed mission, leave something accordingly. If my memory serves me correct, Cait and I were hunting for a box containing silver bullets. We brought a rubber smiley face bendy-man. Don't do that.

It's all about respect.
Before you go off on your merry adventure, be aware of your surroundings. Bring a map of the state park, or at the very least, know your way around Fern Tor. We here at the Circle are law-abiding citizens and in no way advocate trespassing. But -- and there's always a but -- if you find yourself caught in the arm of the law, stay calm. Present ID. Nod head. Be respectful. Same with the land that you find yourself on. The Geocacher's Creed, available online, provides ethical search guidelines. Don't go putting yourself in harm's way; minimize your impact on nature; respect private property; and avoid public alarm. Geocaching can also prove to be a way of harnessing and honing your stealth skills. Additional street cred, check.

There is no better way to explore your surroundings than with your own two feet. Get out there -- GPS, ugly Christmas sweater and headlamp in hand -- and explore what our humble Valley has to offer. If you don't have means of transportation, there are even rumors of caches hidden on our very own campus!

[November 18, 2010]