We have been geocaching for a little over six months now and alongside the enjoyment of the physical part of the hobby, we have made a number of friends through online communities such as the Beds, Bucks and Herts Geocaching Facebook group. In conjunction with this and also through them being First to Find on five out of our six caches we have struck up somewhat of a rapport with Geoff and Melissa and their cute pug dog Smokey. Collectively they are known as Smokeypugs and today was the day we were finally going to meet up in person. Actually Sharlene had already met Geoff and Smokey down a dark alley one night as they were trying toFTF our second cache. They had been unable to find it and Sharlene popped out in the car as it is only close by, to see if it was still there. Unfortunately it had gone missing and so they couldn’t add it to their growing total ofFTFs, but after we replaced the container the next day they returned and found it even though it was absolutely tipping it down with rain.
Fast forward a few weeks to last weekend when Geoff managed to claim our bonus cache, SNS006 Bonus (GC4TNMQ), as yet another FTF and during discussions afterwards he suggested we should all get together sometime and do some caching as a group. We were well and truly up for this but had no idea what to expect. We had only ever geocached on our own or with my mother so didn’t quite know how our style and pace of caching would fit with others. Geoff, Melissa and Smokey have been caching for the best part of two years and have amassed over 1900 finds so they have a lot more experience than us, although with 6 months and over 350 finds to our name we are starting to feel a little less like complete newbies.
A couple of weeks previously I had been able to give Geoff some help with a puzzle cache that I had already solved but not yet collected. It involved a tree climbing exercise to actually get to the log and I was very keen to give it a go if Sharlene could stand the stress of seeing me do it. Geoff suggested that perhaps we should meet up and go find the cache together and so a plan was hatched. The idea was to head over to Little Chalfont which was not too far away for either of us as we live to the south east of it in Watford and they live in Hemel to the north east. Geoff put together some suggestions of trails that we could walk and we selected one and some odd caches to make up a day’s geocaching.
We met in a very handy car park which is at the published cords for rfc1149 (GC3VCCA), the puzzle cache that we wanted to collect. We had been here once before when doing the Chalfont Stroll back in the summer. After our initial greetings and exchanging pleasantries it was nice to note that we fell into easy and relaxed conversation. They are both very friendly people and we found them to be extremely good company. And then there was the whirlwind that is little Smokey. His full name is Smokey Rolo Garibaldi Biscuits Mr Wiggle Bums Satsuma Head Aspie Septemus Pug and He may only be a little pug dog but he has a huge, friendly and excitable personality. Sam took to him immediately.
We set off towards the GZ for RFC1149 which was about a kilometre walk away and on route we managed to snag an interesting cache that was hidden in a fake severed finger. I don’t know why I felt I needed to say fake in that sentence. Like you would think it was a real finger if I left out the word fake? Sam plucked it from its hiding spot and we were off the mark. Smokeypugs had already found this cache previously as indeed they had a couple of the others we did today. It was very nice of them to patiently wait whilst we found ones they had already logged.
Further on down the road we had to step over a dead squirrel and I wondered whether this little fellow had come a cropper whilst trying to navigate the tree we were about to climb. If a professional tree dweller like this had problems then what chance would we stand? On balance the squirrel was probably hit by a car on the road that it was lying next to but my initial image was helping to build the suspense of the impending challenge.
On to the main event of the morning. I was excited and a little nervous about this puzzle. The cache has a difficulty rating of 4.5 out of 5 and a terrain rating of 4.5 out of 5 as well. The difficulty is mainly to do with the puzzle you need to solve to get the cords in the first place. The terrain rating is due to the fact that it is placed up a tree. As soon as I had solved the puzzle and noted from the logs that it was a challenging tree ascent I was determined that I wanted to get up there and claim it. Or at least I wanted to give it a go. Or at the very least I wanted to stand at the foot of the tree and hold the bags whilst someone else did the hard work.
When we arrived at GZ it was only a matter of seconds before we determined which tree it was and eagle eye Geoff spotted the cache container hanging from the branches. There was much standing around and staring upwards whilst people formed plans. We couldn’t reach the container with a pole or my stick, it was too high, and even if we could there was no way to get the container down to sign and then back up. Then Geoff, who is 6 foot 2 or there around lifted Sam onto his shoulders but still that was not high enough. Enough with trying to cheat, it was time to climb the tree. Geoff had a go first but was unable to gain any purchase on the trunk with his boots. This was it, now or never, time to step up. Once I had found the tree with minimal waving of hands and edging forward I spent a little time feeling the trunk and lower branches to see where I could gain purchase to start the ascent. It was a sloping lower trunk with not many handholds low down and as the crowd held their breath I wedged my foot against a small nub on the trunk the best I could and launched myself up. The first bit was the hardest, but after that it was just a matter of testing all the available hand and foot holds for strength and then moving up a step. After a few more stages I was in position, in fact I had almost climbed past the point I needed to be at and had to come down slightly to be in the right position to reach the cache. With directions from Geoff on the ground I finally laid my hand on the cache and extracted the small tube containing the log. And then I realised I couldn’t sign it. I had perfectly and safely climbed the tree and found the log and now had no way of signing it. Team work came to the rescue again and I dropped the cache down to those below to sign the log and then they fixed it to a walking pole and sent it back up to me to replace. Whilst waiting I mused at what a lovely view it would be from the top of the tree if only I wasn’t blind. I took some pictures anyway of a field and the very large house that was next to us, that we suspect may well be that of the cache owner, the infamous drsolly, but we could not be sure.
Coming down was actually a little harder but with guidance from the ground crew I was soon within 3 foot or so from the ground and after getting clearance jumped to the right to land firmly back on terra firma to the applause of the rest of the team.
This was soon followed by more applause and congratulations for Sam, a.k.a. miniKnight as this was officially his 100th find.
Sharlene later said that she was probably less worried for my safety than Geoff and Melissa seemed to be, but that it was good that there were other people there as she would have most likely been shouting at me a lot to be careful and generally panicking.
With smiles and happy chatter amongst the group we made our way back to the car picking up another cache on the way that was just next to the road and a second one that was within 30 metres of the car as well. After a quick comfort break for those that needed it we jumped back into the cars and headed a short distance to the village of Latimer to tackle the next part of our plan.
Phase II was to attempt a short multi called Hornet’s Hide 16 – Chess Valley Trail (Bucks) (GCHTB3), which had us gathering the information needed for the cords from various signs and war memorials around the small village. A little bit of up hills and down hills and up hills again was done before finally dialing in the numbers and heading up the hill once again where a joint effort resulted in the find. The log was very damp and almost impossible to write on but we did our best and then decided that it was most definitely time for some lunch. We headed back to the village green and chatted and swapped caching stories whilst munching on our sandwiches.
Smokey, the dog, was so much fun to cache with. He loved getting off the lead whenever he could and was a very social dog to say the least. He made doggy friends easily and sometimes owners had trouble getting control back of their own dogs after Smokey had lured them away. For a small dog he sure could travel at a pace when he put his mind to it. After lagging behind on occasions to sniff a patch of leaves or mark another part of the landscape, which he seemed to do about every 10 metres, he would eventually come hurtling back towards us at the behest of Geoff or Mellissa. He was like a little rocket as he whipped between us to get back to the front of the group.
Whilst Melissa and Smokey took it easy on the bench after lunch, Geoff took us to a disused phone box where there was a cache called Latimer Phone box (GC1PEEK) and stood back while all three of us failed miserably to find it. The cache, another drsolly hide, was described as being smaller than even a nano, and if such a thing existed this would be called a pico. After about 25 minutes we admitted defeat and Geoff who had found it previously gave a couple of hints until finally I was able to locate it. I was astonished at how small it really was and marvelled at how anyone ever found it without the help of a previous finder. It took Shar about 3 attempts to roll the tiny log tight enough to be able to get it back in its miniscule container and as I was putting it back I was terrified of dropping it for fear that we would never find it again.
Now that everyone was rested and fed and revived, we packed up and set off to do a small series of 8 caches in a line along the Chess valley that started just a few hundred metres away. Smokey was glad to get back off the road so he could run free again and I think we all were too. It was extremely pleasant walking along chatting as we went in between caches. The conversation got the better of us at times and on more than one occasion we walked right past a cache before someone glanced at a GPS or phone and announced that we had gone too far. The views were stunning along the ridge that we walked and it was great to be out walking on what was thankfully a very mild day.
As the series was linear we made the decision to do every other cache on the way there so we could do the ones we missed on the way back thus avoiding a long return journey to the car without any caching to do. These being caches placed by Captain Jack, they were spaced nice and close together and when they were there , proved to be relatively straight forward finds. We did have to DNF one that was just obviously not there. The clue was very specific and everyone was getting good readings from their devices as to the GZ but there was no cache. Eventually we admitted that it must have gone walkies and moved on.
We all got the chance to log some finds that day which was great, I think it always makes people feel so much more part of the group and the experience when everyone makes a find. Having not cached with other people before we didn’t know whether there would be any sort of rule about evenly sharing the chances to find or whether it was just a free for all. I am delighted to say that it was not an issue as everyone seemed to understand and on occasions some stood back letting others have a chance whilst at times everyone got stuck in when a quick find was not immediately made.
With only one more geocache to find before reaching the turnaround point we started to descend very sharply into a valley. The going was very tough under foot with lots of roots and gullies lining the path. As we dropped further down over a two hundred metre horizontal distance we all remarked at how we would have to go back up this hill on the return trip. There were groans and sighs but everyone seemed to take it lightly and were further emboldened by the promise of more caches to do once we had got back up the hill and even better, there was cake waiting at the car.
The last one at the end of the line was a little stubborn to retrieve and I managed to rip my jacket on the barbed wire that was protecting it but wasn’t too bothered as thankfully it had been a bargain at £10 at a charity shop and would be easily repairable with an iron on patch. We almost had to DNF another one on the way back but just as people were starting to give up, Sharlene found the little bleeder lying on the floor where it had fallen from its metal home. This set us in good spirits for, “the hill”
With a couple of stops to rest and let others going down go past we made it to the top with a fair bit of puffing. Even little Smokey was starting to slow down a bit now. Upon cresting the hill we were presented with the beginnings of a glorious sunset.
The last walk took in two more caches along the path whilst the sun serenaded us with its fading rays on its way beyond the horizon. At the final cache and with the last glimmer of sun casting its weak heat upon us we paused for group photos.
Back at the car we presented Sam with a certificate and a pin badge for his 100th find which went down very well as we stood on the green with the light just about gone. Then Melissa broke out the cake. As Geoff handed me a piece I thought he had handed me the whole cake, it was enormous. I tucked in to the coffee cake with gusto and delicious it was too, the sponge light and delicate and the inch thick icing sweet enough to make your teeth tingle. I will take the blame for not advising Melissa that Sharlene didn’t care for Coffee… it was my fault entirely and I apologise… but on the plus side, there was more for me and Sam.
As we laughed and joked and said our goodbyes, vowing to “do this again soon” I felt such a happiness and satisfaction at how the day had gone. Not only did I get to climb a tree to tick off a tricky 4.5 4.5 D/T combination cache, not only did we get to find some great caches in some spectacular countryside, but we got to share the whole experience with some very lovely people and just the cutest pug dog ever. Happy Days indeed!