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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Updating the Ancient Art of Caching, by C.W.B.

It was the summer of 1985 and I was deep in the rain forest near the ruins of the ancient city of Tikal in Guatemala. Talking over the cries of howler monkeys, the guide showed us a small cave that had been uncovered on the side of the road. He told us this was one of many caches archeologists had found around the outskirts of the crumbling city. Some had contained only empty containers, and some had been full of grain and other food items. Could some of the citizens of Tikal, preparing for what they saw as the inevitable collapse of their civilization, been preparing by caching supplies around their doomed city? Whether they did or didn’t the fact remains that caching can be an extremely effective survival tool. It is my understanding that the Apache Indians had several caches in the Guadalupe Mountains and elsewhere when fighting U.S. Cavalry units at the end of the last century. Caching allows you to spread out supplies so if any one area is hit, you have a fallback position and have not lost all of your resources. However, caches have other benefits as well. In finding and placing caches you learn your area inside and out. You can also learn how to navigate with or without a map and compass. In short it is good preparation and teaches you good skills.

I live in a small town in Central Texas (we call it "The Hill Country") near a large river. I live in an average suburban house. As a teacher I cannot afford to pay for the perfect retreat. I can only do my best to prepare for the worst right where I am. However, I know I can hedge my bets by getting to know my area of operations as best I can before disaster strikes. In so doing, I can also place caches of supplies and have fallback camps if my home becomes endangered. The best way I have found to do this is through the modern art of geocaching.
Geocaching is aptly described on the web site www.geocaching.com as follows:
“Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.
Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.”
And that same web site is probably the best place to get started in your geocaching adventures. Geocaching is a great way to learn your area. It will also train you to effectively place and find caches around your area of operations. It does, however, depend on a high tech (global positioning system (GPS) network and satellites that may be susceptible to destruction or an electromagnetic pulse. Therefore, after learning with a GPS you may want to start using map, compass, and landmarks to locate caches. A great book and a true classic on orienteering is "Be Expert with Map and Compass: The Complete Orienteering Handbook" by Bjorn Kjellstrom.

I could go into all these skills but you really just need to explore the resources mentioned above and practice, practice, practice! What I want to spend the rest of this article on is where to cache, how to cache, and what to cache. Although caches can and are placed in the middle of cities, I prefer placing mine on public lands with heavy cover or on my own property. I also have permission from friends to place caches on their property. This avoids potential conflicts with law enforcement; the discovery by “muggles” (non-geocaching folk); and respects the rights of private landowners.

Containers should be watertight and a color that matches the landscape. I like using ammo cans. I wrap the seal with camo duck tape and add additional protection by placing my items in Tupperware or sealing them in vacuum bags. That way, if the can is penetrated by water, my items are still safe and sound. For this article, I recently went back to Houston where I placed an above ground cache along Buffalo Bayou right before Hurricane Katrina. The ammo can was still intact and everything inside looked just like it did when I placed it. I then took the opportunity to cache it in my new area of operations. Keeping caches small and portable is a big advantage!

What you put in your cache really depends on what you anticipate your needs will be. I usually place food, emergency blankets, water, and water purification systems in my caches. I have found that the Katadyn water filter systems have held up the best on my backpacking trips. A cheaper and smaller alternative is water purification tablets or straws. A good collapsible water container is also a must. Those new water purifier bottles make a good addition to any cache or G.O.O.D. pack. Make sure to write down any expiration dates on food, water, glow sticks, etc. on your cache location sheets and rotate out items as needed.

Another good choice for your cache is non perishable medical supplies such as bandages. But until the Schumer hits the fan, you should not cache anything that could be considered the least bit dangerous such as firearms or ammunition unless it is on your own property. Even then, you may want to break firearms down and cache the pieces in different locations. Boxes of ammunition store great if vacuum sealed. I don’t even presently cache fire starting materials for the sake of safety, although I sure keep them ready in my G.O.O.D. bag.
One thing geocachers don’t do but preppercachers (my own term) can do is bury your booty. This makes it almost impossible for others to find. If you do this make sure to camouflage your dig site well with natural materials until time and rain make things less obvious. Also, make sure to record your cache locations on paper. I keep a coded list of my locations in my wallet, another in my G.O.O.D. bag, and yet another in my gun safe at home. A cache is worthless if you cannot find it again. I also visit my caches once in a while to make sure I can find them and that they are still intact. Because I do this I can usually locate my caches without a GPS receiver or map and compass. I simply navigate using landmarks. A great book on landmark navigation is "Finding Your Way Without Map or Compas"sby Harold Gatty. Once again, make sure you write expiration dates on your list. That way you can rotate items out and use them before they expire.

In conclusion, I enjoy geocaching with my family, it has allowed us to learn to work as a team. We all now know how to navigate with GPS units, map and compass, or by using landmarks. We also have learned how to travel quietly through the landscape without being detected by muggles. Geocaching is not only fun but allows you to practice some very important survival skills. Also, preppercaching is a great way to spread out your resources and not put all of your eggs in one basket. But please, when you are caching remember to avoid dangerous items and respect the rights of private landowners! A carefully thought out and placed cache may very well save your life someday!