Geocaching and the thunder pot

Susan
Susan Flanagan
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Until last week, I was gazunderless. But now, thanks to geocaching, I am the proud, if temporary, owner of a thunder pot that once adorned the wall of a 40-room hotel in Germany.

I know, you’re thinking that I may be one antler short of a rack, but I assure you that Susan, the owner of the Burgschänke Hotel in Kaiserslautern-Hohenecken, southwest of Frankfurt and slightly northwest of Freiburg where I once spent a summer, has sent me her bedpan.

Susan, you see, is a woman with a dream. She wants her Bettpfanne to travel the world. Susan lives vicariously through her thunder pot. As she sits overlooking the ruins of an 800-year-old castle, she tracks her bedpan’s progress via geocaching.com

You see, this bedpan is no ordinary gazunder. This bedpan is a travel bug. For those of you into geocaching, you know a travel bug has a tiny dog tag with a tracking number that gets carried from one hidden geocache to another by geocachers. Have I lost you yet?

Remember two weeks ago when I wrote about the Grebe’s Nest on Bell Island, I hinted about pirate treasure hidden in the tunnel? Well, up in the rafters of the ceiling, an ammo box filled with costume jewellery and coins waits to be discovered by anyone with a yearning for adventure. It also helps to have a handheld global positioning system (GPS).

If you’re into geocaching, you’ve probably already found NaGeira’s Treasure. That’s the name of the cache hidden at the Grebe’s Nest back in 2002 by aviex.

If you’re not into geocaching, it’s never too late to join in the most super-duper game of hide and seek that you’ll ever play. It’s a cross between orienteering and treasure hunting. For more than 10 years I have been dragging my family out in the woods to hunt for hidden buckets of treasure. Rain or shine. Winter or summer. It not only gets us outside, regardless of weather, and provides us with exercise and family bonding; it also teaches us skills that may one day save our lives. And all geocaching requires, besides a computer, a GPS and a spare set of batteries, is a love of the outdoors and a sense of adventure.

Here’s an example of the clues you will find online to lead you to a cache. Remember the story can be fictitious or historical.

NaGeira’s treasure was wrested from the dastardly pirate Peter Easton by the people of Conception Bay and hidden underground on Treasure Island. A recently discovered parchment, unearthed at Guy’s site at Cupids, appears to give directions to the hiding place. It reads:

 Proceed ye to N47 37.592 / W52 51.436 where for a few pieces of silver ye can obtain sea-going passage. Set a course westward over the Ocean to the Treasure Island where ye make landfall between the black cliffs. Follow the routes of smugglers and blackguards to the Descent Point at N47 38.492 / W52 58.702. Here ye can safely descend the smuggler’s path to the salt water. Behold the tunnel in the southern cliffs. Those with courage, who fear not noisome things, may enter the tunnel and journey to its southern end. The treasure is located above your head, 10 paces in from the southern entrance.

The treasure is jewels, trinkets and pieces of eight from foreign lands. Those of you who are young may take a keepsake, but elders amongst ye must make a donation. Obey ye this rule or suffer the curse of NaGeira …

Some early treasure seekers offer valuable advice.

The treasure co-ordinates are not accurate, as the early astrolabes would not work underground.

Geocaching was invented in May 2000 when then U.S. president Bill Clinton lifted a signal degradation called Select Availability which scrambles satellite signals allowing lay people (i.e. non-military) to pinpoint the exact location of an object using a GPS. Before then, this privilege was limited to U.S. military personnel.

Geocaching is now played all over the world. Newfoundland and Labrador alone has thousands of caches. Chances are if you go on the geocaching.com site and input your postal code, you will locate several caches within a kilometre of your home. Most geocaches offer seekers a spectacular view or an introduction to a new trail. Or an urban cache might take you to a little-known historical plaque or location forgotten by the history books.

You never know where geocaching might lead you. Last week, for example, I was contacted out of the blue by four residents of Ontario who were coming to Newfoundland for a geocaching extravaganza. These people are serious players of the game and have found more than 5,000 caches all over the world. St-Pierre was on their bucket list.

Now, I just happen to be the owner of the first ever cache on St-Pierre. It sits in a grove of trees near Cutty Sark house, the small dwelling constructed of whiskey crates from prohibition years when Al Capone was known to frequent the islands. It is about 2.5 km from the town centre. Every step uphill. A good stretch before dinner.

This cache is not without controversy. When I first hid it in 2004 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of French presence both in Newfoundland and Labrador and in St-Pierre-Miquelon, hardy cachers came from all over to bag it. Some people who had not sized up their maps were a bit miffed when they drove down to Fortune only to discover a cold body of water lay between them and the hidden bucket. They were so incensed, they contacted geocaching.com to send out an official Groundspeak reviewer who recommended a new geographical description was necessary. That is how St-Pierre-Miquelon came to have its own designation on geocaching.com.

Only 58 groups have attempted to find the St-Pierre 2004 cache, but they include honeymooners, families with children and hard-core rack-up-the-number-of-finds cachers.

One family went to spend the day on St-Pierre and ended up staying three. Another couple walked to Cutty Sark House from the Hotel De France one evening.

“When we signed the log, we noticed that another group had logged their visit earlier the same day. A couple hours later we were eating dinner in the hotel’s restaurant and overheard the group at the next table discussing their visit to the cache. We talked for a while and learned that they were at the cache only a few minutes before us but somehow we missed them.”

When I met the four geocachers from Ontario at the top of Patrick Street — where I also have a prickly hide called Up, Up and Away to commemorate the 1919 flight of Alcock and Brown — they said they had something for me. That’s when they returned to their vehicle and pulled a bedpan out of the trunk.

They gave me strict orders to pass it on to another cacher, but it has to be during a geocaching event. That could be a friendly gathering of cachers in a restaurant to swap stories or exchange travel bugs, or it could be a geocaching flash mob when a hundred cachers descend upon a public place and, at a given time, suddenly flock to a cache and disperse as quickly as they came, leaving the muggles scratching their heads.

So, if anyone knows of an event taking place soon and would like to be the temporary owner of a German Bettpfanne, by all means email me at susan@48degrees.ca.

But remember to read the German translation written in the bottom of the pot: “Please don’t use it in its original meaning.”

In other words don’t piss in the geocaching pot.

Susan welcomes your favourite geocaching story.

Readers react

Susan, I enjoy all your writing and especially the “Tails from the trail” one just recently.  Amazing but believable story of the lost camera and the German hikers!  Equally amazing is that your son hiked the Spout section at the age of 7! Tough little guy.

Donna

Organizations: Burgschänke Hotel, Cutty Sark House

Geographic location: Kaiserslautern-Hohenecken, Frankfurt, Freiburg Bell Island Treasure Island Newfoundland and Labrador U.S. Conception Bay Ontario Patrick Street

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Recent comments

  • Neil
    October 07, 2012 - 15:02

    Reached the ripe old age of 66 this week and was given a gift of a Magellan Explorist GC. So far have not got any further than my computer screen, (a bit on the dense side when it comes to computers) but realise that geocaching opens a whole new type of adventure which costs little, will keep me fit and let me sleep well at night. Thing is, I need someone to start me off including showing me how to operate the computer and GPS link........Any tips as to who or where to contact someone....Must be a ton of older people who would find this advantageous to body and soul.....Heck I would even consider teaching a course myself to fellow seniors. Thanks Neil

  • Oberli Philippe
    June 20, 2012 - 14:16

    Hello and greetings from Switzerland ! This would be a great gadget for my TB Swiss girl Fanny TB1977A ... If you're in Europe the next weeks, meet me at the MEGA in Leipzig (PROJECT: GeoGames GC32012)... We're travelling to Leipzig with a Charter Bus with 38 cachers and it will be a pleasure for us to take this uniqe TB to Switzerland... ;-) Liebe Grüsse nach Amerika Phil

  • long time cacher
    June 20, 2012 - 10:52

    Great article and can't wait to come out to the east coast again to search for these caches. My family and I have been geocaching since nearly the beginning and it has had the same influence on us as it has on the author. Great fun and exercise in the outdoors and pure adventure for the children. TNLN TFTC.

  • Allan Johnson
    June 19, 2012 - 09:10

    Great to see the sport getting some press. If you're interested in geocaching and/or nefoundland, why not check out our blog at treasureislandcaching.wordpress.com. We actually wrote a blog post about the Nageara's Treasure geocache, it's one of our favorite caches we've ever done. We've also shared many other geocaching stories there!