Daniel and I did a couple of geocaching expeditions late in the afternoon (and early in the evening) on Sept. 6 and 7, 2009. Even though we did not spend all day geocaching, by picking strings of caches close together to hunt for, we managed to find four on each day. In total, over the course of two days, we found eight caches out of nine that we hunted for together! Here's a rundown of our finds, listed by the official names of the caches (although I did shorten a couple of the titles to cut out geocaching jargon).

WARNING: The following narrative and photos include several "spoilers." Since this page is a) not intended for wide distribution, but directed at a very small audience of people who b) neither live in the Charlottesville area nor pursue geocaching as a hobby (yet), I figure that it's OK to reveal some details of where and how we found these caches. There are quite a lot of geocaches in the Charlottesville area and surrounding region, and new ones get added from time to time, so I'm fairly confident there will be a supply of "fresh" caches for us to look for together, if any of you come to visit me in Charlottesville and want to try out geocaching while you're here!

Find 1: A Dam Site Better

This one was located just off the Rivanna Trail, near the Forestry Service (?) building at the Fontaine Research Park. (Mom & Dad may remember that there's a loop trail at the Forestry building.) There's a stream crossing nearby, and the name of the cache refers to a beaver dam that was in place when the cache was hidden back in 2001; Daniel and I didn't see any evidence of recent beaver activity. We had to make two attempts on this cache: perhaps because there was a very steep slope (going up to a railroad bed that crossed the stream), we had some trouble getting an accurate fix on the location with the GPS unit, and we had accidentally loaded the GPS unit with minimal information on the cache (just its name and coordinates). After getting frustrated in our first attempt, we went back to my place, hooked the GPS unit up to my computer again, and re-loaded it with fuller information including descriptions of all the caches we were hunting and helpful clues for some of them. On our return to the Dam Site Better location, Daniel quickly located the cache, which was probably the largest we have seen yet--a Tupperware or Rubbermaid container large enough to store at least half a lasagna.

One of the objects you can see in this picture is a stuffed dog toy, labeled "Meg's Fuzzy Bone." It has a metal tag bearing an alphanumeric code attached, making it what's called a "Travel Bug." Travel Bugs (or TBs) are objects that geocachers move from cache to cache. Many Travel Bugs have a destination assigned, and the objective is to move it closer to that destination, or at least move it into a cache where somebody else is likely to be able to move it closer to the destination. We picked up the Meg's Fuzzy Bone TB, which is headed towards Vancouver, WA. According to the general guidelines of TBs, we're supposed to place it in another cache within two weeks. The trick will be finding a cache that's not only in a good location for moving the TB along, but also finding one that's large enough to accommodate this fairly large object. The majority of the caches we have found would be nowhere near large enough to store the Fuzzy Bone. We may need to seek out a "hotel for TBs," a large-sized cache that is intentionally created as a stopover for Travel Bugs.

The cache also contained some "tradeable" items; the rule for tradeables is take one, leave one. We took a blue plastic ring (toy jewelry) and left behind a piece of crystal (geologic sample) that I have had for a while but had no use for nor any special sentimental attachment to.

Find 2: Nuts!

After leaving the site of A Dam Site Better, we went in search of a cache located near the entrance to the Fontaine Research Park, out on busy Fontaine Ave. This is perhaps my favorite cache so far, at least for the cleverness of its hiding. (Other caches have been much more scenic in location.) As we were walking to the cache, I wondered out loud what the name might refer to: would the cache be hidden inside a fake acorn, perhaps? (The description identified it as a "nano," a really tiny cache.) When we got to the area identified by the GPS coordinates, I hunted around in some wrong spots before noticing that a nearby light pole was attached to its base by four very large bolts and nuts. Daniel and I poked and peered all around the base of the pole, convinced that the oversized nuts had to be the key, but didn't immediately discover the cache. Finally Daniel looked at the extra hint that came from the geocaching website. It said: "Light pole: one of these things is not like the others." That solved it! There was a fifth, smaller nut-and-bolt combination that we had taken to be part of the light pole hardware, but when I tried lifting it, I was able to pick up the whole assemblage. A nut, bolt, and stack of washers were simply sitting there in plain sight on top of the flat base of the light pole. Inside the bolt (hard to explain--it was a sort of two-piece, hollow bolt) we found a narrow strip of paper rolled up tightly. The instructions said to write only the date and our initials, since there was no room for the other remarks that people sometimes add to geocache logs. We carefully recorded our find and re-assembled the cache. I wish I had thought to take a picture before leaving! Maybe I'll go back later for a snap.

Find 3: UVA Micro #1 - "Stuck on You"

For our next cache, we moved on to a pathway in one of the dorm areas at UVA. The hint for this cache told us that the only hint was in the title. At first we focused on the "you" in the name, and scanned the area for yew trees or the letter U. As it turned out, the important element was "stuck on." I had read about "micro" caches being hidden in magnetic "hide-a-key" containers, and I noticed a number of attractive (so to speak) metallic objects in the area, including lamp posts, an emergency phone kiosk, and . . .

. . . the metal supports of this footbridge. At first I searched the uprights supporting the hand rails, with no luck, but after ducking down under the bridge, I quickly spotted the hide-a-key container stuck to one of the joists.

It was getting to be after-dinner time, and the path we were on must have run between one of the dining halls and a cluster of dorms. While we were hunting for the cache and logging our find, we overheard many snatches of undergrad conversation about the dining halls.

Find 4: Observatory Hill -UVa.

This was our final cache of Sunday evening's run; it got dark as we headed into the woods (but not far off the road) up on Observatory Hill ("O Hill"), and we had to find the cache by the light of my mini Maglite. Daniel handled the GPS and got us within a few feet of the cache, and then by sweeping the flashlight beam around, I found it! The cache was a somewhat cruddy (both ouside and in) re-usable / disposable plastic container stuffed into a hollow under one end of a fallen, decaying tree. We traded a pair of "fish hook" (i.e. for pierced ears) earrings that I think I must have received in some long-forgotten Christmas exchange for a string of cube-shaped red beads which I might like enough to make into a necklace.

Find 5: Gold's Strike

This was the first cache that we found on our Labor Day caching expedition. It was a recently-hidden cache and we were the first to find it, scoring an "FTF" in cacher lingo. The cache was a three-inch plastic tube hidden inside the base of a lamp pole in the parking lot of a Gold's Gym (hence the name). Hidden next to the cache was an identical tube marked "FTF Challenge." The description of the cache on the geocaching website told us that our challenge, as the first finders, was to take this extra tube (already stuffed with a small log book) and hide it somewhere else in Charlottesville, creating a new geocache for the area. We haven't made the hide yet, but we've discussed a few ideas for general locations.

Find 6: Billy Goats Gruff

After bagging the Gold's Strike FTF, which I was pretty excited about, we asked Dan's GPS to show us the next nearest cache. It led us to a location on the Rivanna Trail that Mom & Dad will be familiar with. As you walk northeast from the English Inn, you come to a place where the trail runs on concrete lintels under a bridge on the 250 Bypass. Given the hint in this cache's name, I thought surely it would be hidden under the bypass bridge. But there were no good hiding places in that long concrete tunnel, and Dan was the first to realize that the cache was actually hidden under a nearby wooden footbridge. It hung from a nail driven into one of the stringers (is that the right word?), on the inside-underside of the bridge where hikers not hunting for caches would never spot it.

We logged the find, took a toy shark, and left behind an egg of silly putty (I think--memory is getting a little fuzzy).

Find 7: Golden

Next, we walked northeast up the Rivanna Trail and looked for a cache called Toyland (originally filled with toys) that was supposed to be hidden in the woods not far off the trail. We hunted for what felt like a long time and could not find the cache; other seekers' recent "DNF" (did not find) logs on the web page confirm our suspicion that the cache must have gone missing.

So, on to the next cache. We hiked even farther on the Rivanna Trail and took one of its side trails up to a commercial area on Route 29. As we zeroed in on the cache location, we speculated on the name "Golden" and what it might mean--was the cache located at the Senior Center and named for the "golden years," perhaps? As it turned out, we were led by the GPS straight to another lamp post cache very similar to "Gold's Strike," but this one was in the parking lot of a Golden Corral (a cheap buffet restaurant). The cache was an Altoids tin and so had limited space for trade items. We removed an expired coupon for some Procter & Gamble sort of product (air freshener, maybe?) and replaced it with an Irish coin (made valueless by the Euro--just a curiosity of the sort appropriate for leaving in geocaches).

Find 8: The Old Softball Cache

For our last cache of the evening, as it was starting to get dark, we walked back to the car using sidewalks rather than the Rivanna Trail, then drove to "The Park," UVA's not-very-distinctively-named site for intramural softball and soccer fields. Several night games were in progress and the area was buzzing with activity. The cache descriptions and logs on the geocaching website often stress the importance of "stealth" among the "muggles," i.e. the non-caching public. The fear, apparently, is that drawing attention to caches by seeking them openly increases the risk that the caches will be "muggled," i.e. vandalized or removed by people who do not know, or know but do not care, about geocaching. Daniel and I are skeptical that the risk from muggle passers-by is really so serious, and we made no special effort to evade detection as we walked the path around the sports fields with the GPS. Nevertheless, I think that the softball and soccer players were too attentive to their own sporting activities to notice us scampering off the paved path, up a steep embankment, and into a wooded strip that separates "The Park" from businesses on Millmont Street.

Employing the Mini Maglite once again, we found "The Old Softball Cache" nestled at the base of some pine trees, partially camouflaged with a covering of dry pine needles. We took out a plastic raccoon figurine (possibly a movie figure from Over the Hedge?) and left behind a small Slinky, which I think will make an awesome find for someone.