Potential New Pastime

Santa Claus decided to visit me early this year. Since we are soon to be travelling back to the south of France playing midwives to a flock of ewes and were told to bring walking shoes, Santa decided that the Garmin eTrex H handheld GPS navigator that he had for me might come in handy. So, he gave it to me on Thursday.

The eTrex H is an entry level device which does not have any mapping. However, I’ve seen some the maps available on similar but more advanced devices and I don’t think that, for walking, I’m missing out on anything. GPS navigation maps are OK when it comes to roads and driving but I’ve yet to see a map that understands footpaths. I was most interested in it as a logging-where-we’ve-been kind of device. We frequently return from a walk muttering, “I wonder how far that was?” Now we should be able to find out.

We’d heard people talking about letterboxing on Dartmoor which seems to encourage people to wander the moor in search of hidden caches containing stamps to be collected. Today we bumped into the worldwide GPS equivalent, Geocaching. I went to the website. There was a search facility based upon postcode. I banged in our code and was stunned to find that there were supposedly many geocaches within a mile or so of our house. The idea seems to be to locate the cache and sign “a logbook” contained therein. Right, this sounds fun. Walking with a purpose.

As much to help me learn how to use my new gift from Santa as anything else, I managed to program in the coordinates of a randomly chosen cache nearby and set off. My target was a little under a mile away, as the crow flies, of course, and I was soon homing in on it with my new toy. I was in woodland but reception remained good and I was soon in the correct vicinity. Search as I might, though, I succeeded in finding absolutely nothing. It also started to rain so, initial enthusiasm a little dampened, I returned home … using the Garmin, of course. 🙂

What I hadn’t noticed before setting out was that the cache was actually a small magnetic key-box. Yikes! Garmin seems to think my new toy’s accuracy today was about 19ft. I’m not sure if that means it’s accurate within a 19ft radius/38ft diameter circle but, if it does, finding a small key-sized object within such a circle is no mean task. If the original placer of the geocache had similar accuracy on their GPS device, I presume that the total potential errors could be cumulative, making a 38ft radius/76ft diameter search circle. Phrases concerning needles and haystacks were beginning to spring to mind.

I didn’t expect the caches to be so small, I must confess. I was expecting something sizeable. Nonetheless I must have another go now that I know the sort of thing I’m looking for. 35mm film containers seem quite popular as caches but I imagine they’ll be getting less so as real film declines even further.

How great when a whole new pastime develops around a new piece of technology. I hope I get the hang of it. Walking in fine weather is fun all by itself but an added bit of spice could be quite welcome.

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