Saturday, January 13, 2007

Our First Owned Trackable Item

Three months ago one of our cousins in Alabama sent me a geocoin as a Christmas gift, so we sent him a handful of trackable California Wooden Nickels in return. The coin was so nice, we stashed it in a keepsake drawer for safe keeping. Today I opened that drawer, saw the coin and realized that geocoins don't belong in drawers – they belong in the wild traveling from cache to cache!

So we sat down this afternoon, thought long and hard about a mission for the coin, and logged it into the website. The name we chose was Remembering Decatur Alabama Geocoin in remembrance of Mark and Mary Harris – my grandparents on my mother's side – who both passed away in the past 4 years. We spent many a holiday in Decatur, AL visiting the other half of our family over the past 30 years and it's hard to think that they won't be around anymore to spend time with. Our goal is for this coin to visit all fifty (50) states in the USA before being “retired.” If we have any luck, it might happen sometime in the next 10 years!

We've handled a few travel bugs and wooden nickels, but this is our first official trackable item, so we are rather proud! Here's a picture of what the coin looked like before it went to mint:

First Event Geocache - Farewell BLIG

Wow, what a night. All week we were planning to visit the Farewell BLIG event in Newbury Park to say farewell to one of the most meticulous puzzle-placing cachers in the Conejo Valley. When Friday came, the wifey was feeling ill so I spent the day home looking after her and the little one. Unfortunately, she was still feeling too ill to go but insisted that I visit and say goodbye to BLIG. I begrudgingly yielded and drove off to Magoo's in Newbury Park to visit and drink a few beers.

I arrived at 6:30pm PST sharp (just as the event cache said it would start) only to find the entire rear of the restaurant JAMMED to the hilt. Surely it had to be the event, but I was shocked to see everyone already settled and enjoying the evening at the moment the event was set to kickoff! We slid into a booth, introduced ourselves to a few nearby cachers and ordered a beer.

An hour later I'd found myself completely immersed in the local group (known locally as the Conejo Cachers) telling tall tales and giving me tips on defeating some of the harder puzzle caches in the area. Mom and the little cacher were stuck home, so come 8:45pm I finally decided it was time to leave and said my goodbyes. We dropped a travel bug (our first ever) into the collective trading bin with 7 California trackable wooden nickels. All in all, it was a terrific event that introduced us to some of the most active local cachers. If there's an event cache in our area again, we'll certainly be doing our best to be there again! Farewell BLIG. See you in Texas!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Geocaching Blog Gets a New Look!

Frustrated with the outdated feel and function of our blog, we ventured into the newsgroups looking for answers as to how to essentially upgrade this blog. We didn't have to look very far..

Apparently Google has made some very important and worthy upgrades to the Blogger service, chief amongst them being the point-click intuitive style of re-designing the blog's layout. We decided to take the plunge, and a mere 30 minutes later our blog is back and alive with much more function than before. We think it looks cooler too. :-)

You can now view our old blog posts via the toolbar on the right, without having to sift through them all to find the posts you might be looking for. Now we can directly link to posts that have been since-archived but are still useful points of reference. thanks Google Blogger! Trace Amigos is very pleased, indeed.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Cache Adoptions – Clearing the Area

Out of pure morbid curiosity, we ran a Pocket Query on “temporarily disabled” caches in the 20 mi. radius around Thousand Oaks this weekend just to see how many caches were disabled in the area. Wow, were we shocked. There were at least 100. This area is certainly very cache-heavy thanks to the popularity of caching and the abundance of hiking trails around here. It's expected to have a bunch of caches disabled, but as we inspected further many had 3-4 DNF's while others hadn't seen any activity for over 2 years!

We kicked out a few emails to the notable cache owners offering to perform a cache adoption to renew the area, and found that a few members had moved out of town and were in disparate need of some adoption pals. 24 hours later, and we were shocked to find ourselves the owners of four (4) caches – two (2) that needed serious maintenance, and one that had been muggled.

Here's the links to these four (4) caches: GCT1PD, GCT2TV, GCRCWJ, & GCKEZV.

The first two caches are part of a series, and the other two are the disabled caches. All four were owned by two different people, each had moved out of town and could no longer manage the upkeep. Now we've only got 46 finds at the time of this posting so we are a bit cache-placement-heavy for our own liking. Adopting caches is something that shouldn't be taken lightly. Unfortunately, few members who leave the area take the time to mention that a cache needs adoption and as a result the cache deteriorates in quality. True, while it may still exist, cachers don't traditionally enjoy opening a cache full of rust only to find a ton of junk.

A perfect example of this was one of the first caches I'd ever found called “Tattoo You at Sunset and E (since archived). It was a crappy AOL tin case full of moisture and covered in soot. Yes, the black stuff from your chimney. Cachers don't usually mind getting dirty, but this thing was placed in a garbage location and it was a park and grab cache. Turned out the owner hadn't been to this cache in over a year.. it showed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Saturday Spent Out

Well, the wife and the little geocacher spent the afternoon and evening with a few little friends and gave me the option to stay home. I couldn't rightly pass up a chance to snag a few more, so with our latest GPX file of the easier caches in town I hit the road.

With flip-flops and a pair of jeans, I decided to stick to the terrain 1 caches, and visited 5. 1 DNF, four finds. The DNF was in a residential neighborhood and guarded by a pretty large bumble bee, but to my credit I spent some considerable time looking anyway. No luck, moved on to the others.

One of the caches was atop a small hill in town, sporting a spectacular view of the departing sun. I had the evening to myself, so I only fit 5 cache visits into the afternoon before I hit the road. All in all, a great day caching. Cache count as of this evening is 46 found, 5 hidden.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Signature Item -- Old Mexican Pesos

Last year when we were pretty strong in our caching, I thought it would be a good idea to explore some potential "signature items" to make our own. Due to size and durability, I really wanted something like a coin, but coins are costly and can't usually be obtained in super-large numbers.. that is, until I stumbled across a coin shop in Thousand Oaks with a bag full of Mexican Pesos.

The old Mexican Peso had been dumped in favor of a new denomination, and the old Peso remained at the value of .001 of a U.S. dollar. That's a pretty poor exchange rate, so (if you could find a batch) they remained extremely cheap. The story goes that the Peso's exchange rate had dropped to a point so low that Americans were actually purchasing Mexican coin Pesos and melting them down for their metals.. the last thing you want as a government is a currency worth more in raw materials than its stated value!

At any rate, we purchased a ton of these from a local coin collector. They worked out perfectly because our geocaching name is a nod to California's rich Spanish heritage, so it only makes sense that our signature item would be of Spanish/Mexican theme.

Here's a rather poor-quality photo of a few:
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So if you see an old Mexican Peso in your SoCal caching, check the log. It's very likely that Team Trace Amigos has visited your cache!

2 Found + 2 DNFs

Ok, so I played par for the course today. In golf that might be considered quite good, but in geocaching it's not that great.

Today we found GCX5EN & GCNQDJ. The two DNF's were GCNHJD & GCT2TV

I left the office a bit early, and despite just getting over a stomach flu I just had to find a few caches. When the bug bites you, there's just no stopping it! Anyways, the first was pretty simple. The cache was hidden amongst the very loose bark on a tree, and in typical fashion, I was looking for the hardest places first despite the cache being a 1 on difficulty. Revitalized, I sped to the next location and parked my car across the street. The cache was placed at a 3-way stop, a very busy 3-way stop, thus making it a difficult cache to spot without looking suspicious. Not one to be swayed by the occasional muggle, I spent my time at this spot -- at least 6 minutes or so -- but came up empty. The hint was silly.. it was a riddle of sorts. In cases like this, I believe difficulty should be set at 1.5 or 2.0 but that's just me.

There were 4-5 caches within 1/4 mile of each other so I hopped back in the car and drove to the next closest spot. It was at a Taco Bell across the street from a company I used to work for. Unfortunately the coordinates weren't exactly spot-on, so I was forced to guess what side of the building the coordinates were supposed to take me. Not wanting to be spotted by former colleagues casing a Taco Bell joint of all places, I spent only a few minutes on this one and moved on.

Lastly, I snuck up on a cache that eluded me last year. With a clear head and simple logic, I snagged it in no time flat. The owner had tucked it into one of those natural "tree holes" and covered it with a few pieces of bark. The previous year, I remember using the coordinates to get "close" but some caches are actually placed spot on to the GPS coordinates posted. I followed the GPS bug and snagged this one in no time flat.

For a brief 45 minutes spent caching urban, this wasn't a bad day! Constructively I'd love to see cache owners using their GPS units more effectively and using GPS averaging when coords are obscured by obstacles. I'd also like to see cache owners use the hint feature for what it's supposed to be.. a HINT!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tagged them Both!

Yep, got my first two caches in almost a year today. I was somewhat embarrassed by GCNGFD as it was a no-brainer find. The cache must have fallen down from it's lamppost mount when I visited it last year.

The other was a neat find for me, being my first "second to find" (STF) in geocaching. Second to find isn't such a big deal, but it's better than third! In reality it was pretty simple. While I love geocaching and I have placed a cache similar to this one before, the location was a veritable fishbowl location for muggles. I felt myself being watched, but that never bothers me. I just find the cache, try not to look suspicious and confidently go about my business.

Proud to be back geocaching!!

GC102EK & GCNGFD: Re-Starting the Hunt

It's been some time since I've cached alone and with the team or other company, so I'm really eager to break the barrier and get one in today. On the way home there's a new cache right off the main road called GC102EK - it's brand new as of 2 days ago and has one FTF. It'd be nice to get a STF (second to find) on my records..

GCNGFD eluded discovery last year when I went by, but the recent level of positive finds has me hoping for treasure. Here's hoping!

Maybe tomorrow I'll have a new cache ready to repair "Forest in Town," but with the wet weather coming I don't expect much luck in that department.

Skype: PDA Functionality

I've got to say, Skype truly is an amazing piece of software. True, nobody's been able to take a peek under the hood thanks to it being a closed-source program but it's freeware and has some of the best functionality and cross-platform availability of any chat/voice program to date. Additionally, it's a P2P (peer-to-peer) so it relies on servers for profile and connection data only. Bandwidth is shared amongst the network, and so far I've seen next to zero "shared bandwidth" on my machines (using NetLimiter to monitor bandwidth usage).

Sample screenshot of Skype on a PDA

Loading the PDA back up with software again to make it a one-package geocaching device is a little bit of work, but it's the same software I used before. I just need to reload it again. Thanks to the largest free wireless provider in the USA linksys (joke) I can use my PDA as a cellphone too (thanks to Skype). So if I'm out caching and the phone dies or whatnot, all I need is access to a wireless network somewhere and I can call friends and family to report my successes (or lack thereof).

A Long Time Away

We havn't geocached in almost a full year now. About this time last year I blew out my knee thanks to some loosey-goosey joints I was born with (thanks mom). Not to mention the little one was only just learning to walk and far less interested in geocaching than the rest of the family. That said, the joints are in better shape and the body is looking forward to some much-needed excercise. Enter geocaching again! Hopefully the little geocacher has more interest at the ripe old age of 2 (which she is intent on telling me about every 10 seconds) which will mean more caching for me again.

First on the agenda is fixing up one of our few placed caches in the southestern part of the town. A notice posted last week indicated that the cache had gotten wet and was dangerously close to a creepy crawly. Time for a re-placement and refreshment of that cache and we'd better do it soon.. it's supposed to get wet and grey tommorrow!

Last week saw the first order for wooden nickels again in over a year. I thought we'd sold them all (save about 30 or so) but we had at least 100 left over. Another geocacher was able to cache away at a convention thanks to his order, and just before we left for a holiday vacation.