Geocaching (Almost) Guest Post by Ty Denison
This Christmas, I was in the market for new hiking shoes. I had toyed with the idea of going minimalist for quite some time. When it came down to purchasing them, I made the leap with Merrell Tough Gloves. They are stylish enough to wear to work, but “tough” enough for the trail. At least that is what the name wants you to believe. Not wanting to find out that this is simple marketing while on a long trip, and wanting to make sure my feet could handle backpacking in minimalist shoes, I decided to make a day trip first chance I could.
Once I settled on a weekend I wanted to go, my wife suggested I take our 2 ½ year old, Liam. That seemed like a marvelous idea. I love spending time with my boys, and I could carry him in our Kelty Kid Carrier to give my feet a test with some weight on my back. The only question now was where to go. I looked for some close places to hike and ended up at geocaching.com, which gave me information on the trails around Lake Sequoyah.
This was turning out to be the best idea ever. Not only would I be hiking with one of my favorite people, testing out my new shoes, but we would be going on a TREASURE HUNT too!!!! In my mind, this would be the greatest day of my oldest son’s life. He would grow up and write stories based on the sheer awesomeness of this day. To top it off, there was a free iPhone app for geocaching.com. What’s that?… I get to incorporate technology into my already amazing plans? Now the only thing that could improve this situation would be geocaches of steak, pirate gold, iPads…you get the idea.
I loaded my son, dog, and kid carrier into my S.U.V. and we were off. A short ten-minute drive brought us to the trailhead. I let Liam run free for a few minutes while I unloaded, then fired up the geocache app. What luck, there was one in the parking area. “Liam, come help me look for treasure,” I called to him. He came running over and joined me. After about a minute of un-productive looking, he became bored. “The treasure’s over here Dad!” he called out as he bolted to another area. “No son, it’s over here. See look at my phone…” I quickly realized that trying to convince my 2 ½ year old to trust my phone to find “treasure” was completely futile.
I decided it was time to hit the trail, and maybe find a cache or two on the way. We took off heading west from the trailhead, at Liam’s request. The caches where the other direction, but I figured we would make our way around the lake and get them on the way in. Liam quickly wanted down to run ahead with Rainer, our dog. He really seemed to like being out on the trail, especially crossing the small bridges along the way. This did my heart good, as the thing he requests the most while we are at home is to watch TV. My fears of raising a couch potato were quickly dissipating.
When we had hiked along for about a mile, we came to an open field covered in birds. As we walked into it, Rainer took off running and the birds went into the air. Liam looked up at me with a face requesting my approval. “Go ahead,” I told him, and he immediately took off after the dog. They ran around a bit, but neither was successful at getting birds. I stood and watched, enjoying the scenery and the dog-boy based entertainment, before gathering everyone’s attention and heading across the field. I took a moment to try and teach Liam how to look for blaze on the trees, but he didn’t seem too interested.
Little did I know that the field would be the last of our clear hiking. As we made our way into the woods again, it became very muddy very quickly. I decided it was time to put Liam in the carrier, to keep him from turning into Pig Pen. As we continued down the trail, I noticed that the blaze had disappeared. I began to suspect that we had lost the main trail, but decided that we should press on. As we were heading around a lake, I felt pretty certain that the trails were running parallel and we would find a way back.
Navigating the swampy trail became more and more difficult. I was hopping around a good bit, and pushing brush out of the way. We were officially bushwhacking. While I am perfectly comfortable with this, and have done it on many other backpacking trips, I have never done it having a “backpack with eyes”. I became very conscious of all the low branches that could do damage to my cargo, and it made the situation much more stressful. Liam was a real trooper, and would occasionally reward my hops to dryer land with a “Great job Dad.”
We finally made it out of the swampy bit and saw some blaze. We had indeed lost the trail for a bit, but it would not be a mistake we would repeat. Just after rejoining the trail, we came upon a longer wooden bridge that led to another field and a picnic table. I had packed lunches for both of us, and we made our way to eat. As we sat at the table and refueled, I felt like the king of the world. Everything was going as I had hoped, and the table made it even better. To put the perfect end to lunch, when Liam finished eating he walked over to the carrier and said, “Dad, I want to go in there again.” You bet buddy.
With our bellies full and our spirits up, we were on the trail again. As we walked into the woods, a large hill was in front of us. As we started up, Liam declared, “ We’re climbing a mountain.” Assuming we were half way around the lake, I checked my phone to see where we were. As it turns out, we were nowhere close to half way, as the lake seemed to have many little fingers that the trail was taking us around. In a moment of clarity, I realized to press on would be a bad idea. It’s always hard for me to turn around on a trail that I know is a loop, but better judgment ruled the moment, and we turned around.
Making sure to stay on the trail this time, we made our way toward the trailhead. The air began to cool quickly, and Liam started mentioning his face was cold. Thankfully, the carrier has a hood, which provides some wind protection when used. As we neared the trailhead, I began talking about finding treasure again, because the closest cache on the trail itself was less than a half a mile away. Treasure, however, was no longer something Liam found appealing. I tried several times to talk him into it, but he simply would not have it. In a last ditch effort to get at least one cache on this trip, I snuck us pass the trailhead and continued eastbound toward a cache. After all, I had skin in this too. I wanted to get my first cache.
As we moved along on what seemed to be the trail, we suddenly found ourselves back in the parking area for the trailhead. This, I took as a sign that to pursue the cache at this point would not end well, so I acquiesced to the fact that our “treasure hunt” was over. We had come to the end of a great morning on the trail, and though I did not get my first cache, I did give my new shoes a go (definitely sticking with the minimalist shoes, though I’m getting the Trail Gloves for the future). More importantly, Liam and I went on what I hope will be the first of many packing trips together. Next time, he gets a pack too.