Travels with Harvey: Awesome Dad and the Great Geocaching Caper

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By STEPHANIE IAQUINTO

One of the greatest pleasures about trips in Harvey, our RV, is that there are few rules.  As every parent knows, rules aren’t just a pain for the kids. Someone has to be the Enforcer. No one likes the Enforcer, so no one wants to be the Enforcer. Without many rules – rules about when to sleep and wake up, about eating chips before meals or eating meals at all, about tying one’s little brother to a bungee cord and plummeting down hills on skateboards – everyone can relax a bit (except, maybe, for the little brother).

That’s not to say I didn’t try, in the spirit of outdoorsmanship, to issue one edict: no technology. No laptops, no MP3 players, no movies, no video games. This rule stood for exactly one-half of our first overnighter, after which my husband, a technophile, insisting that he hadn’t heard my declaration, pulled out his laptop, a tablet computer, and a stack of DVDs, thus transforming – as spectacularly as if he’d emerged from a phone booth in tights and a cape – into Awesome Dad.

The boys spread the contents of their last discovery onto the grass to see what treasures earlier park visitors had left behind.

The boys spread the contents of their last discovery onto the grass to see what treasures earlier park visitors had left behind.

I’ve learned that I cannot compete with Awesome Dad, no matter how many issues of Mad Libs I purchase or how many rounds of Scrabble I play. Awesome Dad rents movies about mutant alien robots. Awesome Dad downloads Angry Birds onto his phone so the boys can play for hours. Foolishly trying to keep up, I once downloaded Words with Friends onto mine.  Awesome Dad considered me with pity and flung another bird at a brick wall.

So I’ve relaxed my technology ban, replacing it with something more enforceable: No technology during daylight hours when the weather is such that one could go outside for fresh air. 

Now it looks like I’ll have to scrap that one, too.

At Chippokes last month, the boys wanted to try the park’s geocaching adventure. A perfect marriage of nature and technology – who could argue? A dollar rented us the necessary GPS.

The Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum is home to Tazwell and Chew-chew, two friendly and surprisingly well-trained pigs.

The Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum is home to Tazwell and Chew-chew, two friendly and surprisingly well-trained pigs.

We’d had prior geocaching experience, though none of it particularly satisfying.  It’s a great concept: participants across the globe hide treasures that can be found with the website’s coordinates and a GPS.  Finders swap out goodies and record their discoveries. Marvelous fun. We’re just no good at it.

Years ago, at a summer camp where I’d inexplicably been appointed leader of a dozen Cub Scouts, a geocaching veteran explained the process. He handed me a GPS and instructed me to lead my den to the hidden box. Contemplating the device alongside sweaty, eager six-year-olds, I couldn’t decide whether its blinking triangle represented me, the treasure, or something else entirely. The numbers it displayed were meaningless. I handed the infuriating thing to a kid and trailed another leader who knew where he was going.

At another campout with geocaching on the agenda, we found the pre-planted treasure easily, but my husband had downloaded the official app and knew that a real cache was nearby. He tramped through the woods for an hour, circling a cluster of trees and declaring that it had to be right there. The Scouts eventually lost interest, leaving my husband to stare at his phone and ponder his missteps.

Unwilling to accept a technology failure, he coaxed us onto bikes to search our neighborhood the next weekend. For the better part of an afternoon, we inspected an electrical box along the highway like it was a crime scene. Again, no cache.

Even so, on this recent Saturday afternoon, the boys were resiliently hopeful. The closest target was just yards away, so we sent them off alone. I soon found them poking the tires of the campground manager’s RV.

“Get away from there!” I fussed.

The size of this micro-cache made Nick’s discovery all the more rewarding.

The size of this micro-cache made Nick’s discovery all the more rewarding.

“But it’s right here – look!” Nick said, thrusting the device in my face. I squinted at it. Nonsensical numbers blinked back.

“I don’t care.  You can’t go slinking around someone’s home.”

Like I said, it’s no fun being the Enforcer. They huffed back to Awesome Dad, who organized us into a bicycle expedition. Twenty minutes later, sure we were zeroing in on a target, we ventured into the woods on foot. After a while, we found a clearing, then a path, then campsites, then people…

Then Harvey, and the campground manager’s site.  We’d come full circle.

Back we peddled up the winding road. The air was crisp and the scenery vibrant blocks of blues, greens and browns. At the Farm and Forestry Museum, pigs grazed on the lawn. The younger boys and I took pictures while Nick and his dad revived their search.  Another wild goose chase, I thought.

Until I heard Nick’s triumphant whoop.

He’d found it, a tiny cylinder in which a strip of paper was tightly rolled, shoved into the frame of a bench. We jubilantly flagged down some picnickers for a pen, and Nick added his name to the list of explorers. The next coordinates led us down a lane to the River House. Our clue told us to look high, and sure enough, a container rested on a ledge above a doorway. Alex fished a toy from his pocket to trade for a small lock.

How we wound up back at Harvey, after a mile-long trek guided by both a GPS and a smartphone, is still a mystery.

How we wound up back at Harvey, after a mile-long trek guided by both a GPS and a smartphone, is still a mystery.

Now we were on a bona-fide mission. Our final clue sent us to the mansion, unrecognizable from our previous visit when it had been the centerpiece of the busy Pork, Peanut & Pine Festival. Now, with us as its only visitors, it was simply a comfortable-looking home, surrounded by patches of blooming flowers.

Jonathan found the last cache in a hollow of a tree trunk.  It was filled with knickknacks: a Pokemon card, a marble, a piece of rope. He eyed a thumb-sized plastic car longingly, but we had nothing to trade. We hadn’t expected to find anything and hadn’t come prepared.

Alex suggested a flower, like the purple one he’d plucked for my hair, but realized it would quickly shrivel. He looked around and found a shiny rock and placed it in the bucket. It wasn’t much of a treasure, but then again, it isn’t really treasure that geocachers come for anyway. It’s adventure, the chance to be a modern-day Indiana Jones.

If I remember correctly, Indiana Jones had an Awesome Dad, too.

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