Rubber Chicken Scratchings: The fun-filled adventures of a reluctant geocacherHave you heard about geocaching? It’s a worldwide phenomenon where people hide stuff all over the place, and you use a GPS unit and try to find it.
By: Brian Matuszak, Budgeteer News
So we thought we had done everything there was to do at Jay Cooke State Park last summer. We campfire-cooked. We tracked down butterflies. We spring flower-walked while Larry Weber told us about cool wolf spiders. We learned the difference between frogs and toads (turns out it doesn’t have anything to do with kissing them — boy, did I steer that fat kid from Edina the wrong way). We even picked up and thoroughly examined bat, owl, and Bigfoot scat!
The only fun things left to do, we thought, were to get the Swinging Bridge a-swingin’ with a Justin Bieber tune and scare the overnight campers by sneaking into their campsites at 2 a.m. … scratching on their tents and pretending to be Justin Bieber.
But then we found out about geocaching.
Have you heard of this? It’s a worldwide phenomenon where people hide stuff all over the place, and you use a GPS unit and try to find it. The stuff they hide is called a cache, and it can be any size: from a microscopic magnet to a large ammo canister. And the big ones usually have “swag” in them for trading. There are stickers and plastic frogs and golf tees and lots of neat stuff.
[Pause while I gather my breath and you questioningly stare at me.]
I know, I know … it sounds lame — but, believe me, it’s not. Geocaching is the most fun you can have in the woods that doesn’t involve Crisco and a spork.
Granted, I did have my doubts that first night at Jay Cooke when park naturalist Kristine, the organizer of the event, tried to corral the 50 other kids and their families into a cohesive after-hours geocaching unit. (And even though Kristine organized the event, the event was not “organized.” In fact, this particular geocaching event was to organization what Barbara Reyelts is to investigative reporting: distantly familiar.)
But it wasn’t Kristine’s fault. This was a group of rowdy, clueless kids (and one 47-year-old bald man) who wanted to run loose in the woods and find stuff while using a cool new technological gadget. I’m sure the thought crossed Kristine’s mind that, since many of these pleasant children (and one 47-year-old bald man) weren’t listening to her, the chances of them smacking into the business end of a mountain lion while tromping through the Carlton County woods were greatly increased. But, to her credit, she didn’t smile at that thought — at least not in front of us.
Next thing you know, she turned us loose and off we went. There was a jangled parade of glowsticks bobbing up and down in the inky black forest while wheezing parents tried to keep up and prevent their kids from stepping in bear poop (or becoming bear poop).
The caches were easy to find and not too spread out — it was a blast. The next day, the Matuszak family immediately purchased our own personal GPS unit, and we’ve been geocaching on our own ever since.
I have to say, it is such an enjoyable family pursuit, and I didn’t think it would be. Geocaching contains all the elements I hate in an outdoors activity: bugs, mud and a high level of frustration. (That’s why I don’t like Bayfront Blues Festival, for example.) But, once you track down and find that little cache, cleverly hidden by some geocacher before you, there’s an undeniable thrill that runs down your spine. It’s sort of like when the Packers commit their 10th penalty of the first quarter; you get jazzed because you know more are coming!
Since Sue, Kaylee and I started geocaching last July, we’ve found 70 caches hidden all over the area: Superior, Ashland, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Duluth … heck, we even found one in Bena!
Some have been easy (hanging on a tree branch near the West Duluth Menards), some have been challenging — no lie, someone crafted a completely believable fake birch tree and plopped it in the woods in Bemidji to hide their cache … how awesome is that? — and some we still haven’t found (we’re hot on your trail, St. Louis County Bridge to Nowhere cache!), but they have all been entertaining, challenging and well worth the effort.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to head back to Jay Cooke Park. I think I dropped my Justin Bieber CD in the woods.
Brian Matuszak has been difficult and demanding since February of 2008. He is the co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre and founder of Rubber Chicken Theater and doesn’t need a GPS unit to find the Halloween fun this year. It’s “Evil Dead: The Musical,” weekends in October at The Venue at Mohaupt. See RubberChickenTheater.com.