║Geocacher Stories║ wildest_monkey

(This article was written at 2020-01-13)

“Geocaching is an any day, any time adventure that can take you to amazing and beautiful places.”

On Sunday, August 24, 2014, I found my first ever Geocache. Ever since that day, I have been hooked and feel the urge to play anytime I get the chance. I remember during my first few months of playing, I would set my alarm for the wee hours of the morning just so I could get up and go find these little boxes spread all over Taoyuan and the surrounding area. I remember going out with a full battery and playing literally until my phone shut off because I had no more juice. That quickly prompted me to buy a few external batteries so I could get my phone charged while on the go. When I finally “upgraded” myself technologically with those power banks, I would check out the weather forecast for cities all over Taiwan to see where the sunshine would be on Sunday Funday, which was my usual day off. I wanted to enjoy basking in the warmth of those sun rays while Geocaching so wherever the forecast proved favorable, I was there.

Ever since I started this hobby, or rather this lifestyle I should say, I have been fascinated by every aspect of this game — from trying to get the honor of finding that newly published cache first to seeing so many of the beautiful faces behind what makes this game so awesome to venturing out into the unknown to find that long lost cache that has been sitting there for years without a single visitor, I love it all. So began my obsession, or maybe better put, my desire, to seek out those caches that seem to be “cursed” with the perpetual red banner attached to the icons on the Geocaching map on my app — the icon that indicates that a cache has never been found since it was published, the icon that shows that the coveted First to Find is still available.

Now there are a few dozen of these “lonely” caches around Taiwan I’ve noticed. But one in particular caught my eye ever since I started this game — Dali Church / 大禮教堂. Hidden on July 23, 2013, this particular cache became the focus of my “must finds” really early on. I can’t really recall what it was exactly that fueled my desire to find it but over the course of three years, I would constantly go back and look at it, research it, read and re-read the DNF logs from March 2014 and December 2014 and wonder when or even if I could attempt this cache. I guess I was fascinated by this seemingly lonely church that was perched up high in the mountains. It seemed to be so perfectly situated high above the Earth, trying to reach for the heavens, and the person who hid the Geocache there definitely felt something special about this place and wanted to show others this hidden treasure, thus the Geocache hide. So back and forth I went with this cache for three years. I kept thinking to myself how this cache was way down in Hualien and how I could even find time to go down there, hike up some mountain to search for a cache that I wasn’t even sure was still there to begin with. After all, Hualien isn’t the most easily accessible place. Add a hike in the mountains to that and the challenge gets that much more daunting. But as any avid or rather crazy Geocacher would know, any challenging or daunting task gets that adrenaline rush going and we become unstoppable in our quest for that Tupperware container in the woods, right?

So after years and years of research, I finally make the decision to go down to Hualien the summer of 2017 to set out and find this lonely cache. Through the powers of serendipity, my best friend, Stephen Coleman, just happens to be going to Hualien the same exact weekend as I am! I take it as a sign to tell him about this lonely cache and my plan to seek it out and put a “Found It!” on this lost treasure. Now if anyone knows Stephen, when you start talking Geocaching and tell him how there’s a cache that has never been found and it is still up for FTF grabs, he is quite easily persuaded, especially when you got me, "wildest_monkey” to “persuade” him into going. (***insert evil laugh right here***). So Stephen is quickly convinced to go and he changes his train ticket that he had originally bought and gets a flight out of Songshan Airport so we can all arrive in Hualien the same time.

The next morning, Sunday, August 27, 2017, we are up super early and on the road right as the sun is starting to brighten up the Hualien sky. We ride our scooters for the 40-minute drive from downtown Hualien to Taroko National Park, arriving right about six in the morning since the cache is along a trail that requires permits and we need to get them from the police station that opens at six. We fill out some paperwork there and we are quickly on our way! Our hearts are umping and we are stoked for a beautiful hike on a very beautiful Sunday Funday.

The hike proves to be a little bit on the challenging side as most hikes in Taiwan require lots and lots of stairs and gains in elevation over the course of a short distance. It is summertime and it is hot, even though we are hiking first thing in the morning. I already have to change my sweaty shirt 30-minutes into the hike and know I will have to do that multiple times during our adventure. After what seems like an eternal curse of going up, up, and up some more, we finally complete the rise of 900 meters in elevation, which doesn’t seem like much, but when it’s hotter than hot out and you’re not the most in shape hikers, it can definitely be one difficult task. But we do it! And once it levels out, we feel like we are home free! I mean, the last half kilometer or so is going to be pretty level and much easier to tackle than the first two and a half kilometers. About two hours into the hike, I can see the church off in the distance and my jaw just drops. This place is breathtakingly beautiful and I can’t help but snap photo after photo after photo on my way down to the church. I naturally pick up speed because I know I am so close and I so want to find that cache! Stephen is behind me a few minutes, or so I think, but I decide to start the search first. I literally turn that place upside down trying to find that cache. I am looking in every possible place inside and out but everything is proving futile. I think I am at the church for a good thirty minutes before Stephen arrives. (Yes, I wasn’t the most considerate companion this trip since I didn’t wait for my hiking buddy. Please forgive me Stephen, but next time we stay together the whole time, ok?) When Stephen gets to the church he takes a little break and I give him the recon. I brief him on my futile efforts, telling him everything and anything about my search. After he feels reenergized, he and I begin the search together. I go back and retrace my original steps, going over every place I searched but this time with a fine-tooth comb, methodically and meticulously checking every possible place one more time. I go back to my phone to check the GPS and see where the GZ is, but from my experience as a Geocacher, I know it’s always safe to expand the search area a little, especially when you come up empty handed around the GZ. I am searching the stairs of the church. I am walking around the perimeter of the church, I am peeking into the abandoned church. I am turning over stones I see behind the church. I am looking everywhere but still cannot find a thing. I continue my efforts behind the church while Stephen focuses his search in the front where the posted coordinates are. I am standing behind the church in an area where a water tank is located while Stephen searches an area where there are a bunch roof shillings. He has a hunch that something may be under those shillings so he starts to turn them over one by one. Before long I hear a yell of excitement coming from Stephen. I quickly get into sight of him and I can see the biggest smile on his face — a smile of pure joy and a feeling of accomplishment. I yell back to him, asking him if that sound I hear means what I think it means and he nods to me, grinning from ear to ear. I run back to him and we both hug each other, congratulating one another on our persistence to find this cache that has never seen a finder in four years and one month! The cache was under those roof shillings that I ignored for the past hour! What are the odds!

So funny how I never thought about looking under that scrap heap but good thing for Stephen and his persistence to literally leave no stone unturned, or in our case, no roof schilling unexamined. That last piece he picks up revealed a Tupperware-looking container of sorts — something that looked discarded and in bad shape. At first it just looked like a piece of trash, something that may have come from inside the abounded church and something that most people probably wouldn’t give a second look to since it was somewhat buried in dirt under roof shillings. But Stephen picks it up, turns it over and notices something usual on the lid. Upon closer inspection, it was a very familiar logo indeed — that green, orange, yellow and blue colors that make up the Geocaching logo! We struck gold! Even though the log sheet had disintegrate into a void of unrecognizable nothingness, the cache container was still there, able to be identified by that sticker attached to the white lid of the container. I couldn't believe my eyes! We did it. We really did it! Teamworks makes the dreamwork!

It was the experience of working together for a combined effort of some two hours to find a cache that had been hidden some four years and one month ago. As Stephen later wrote in his log, “. . .Today's cache experience epitomizes what geocaching is all about for me” and I definitely echo those words.

Geocaching is indeed an anytime adventure that takes you to amazing and beautiful places. It is also so much more too — a hobby that helps fuel passion into exploring the unknown and propelling you out of your comfort zone into a world of absolute wonder and amazement. And experiencing it with Stephen Coleman was definitely a added blessing. And so marks the beginning of wanting to explore more and seek out those lonely geocaches. Who knows? Maybe one day, Conch Shell Horn (GC105E) will see a finder as well. You never know what you may find or even better, what memories may be created when trekking off into the unknown . . .

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