All posts by Benjamin Flessner

Geo-Slump

I just used this family blog as a reference for someone, only to see that it hasn’t been updated in almost two years! I have a handful more geocaching stories (though maybe none as exciting as almost stranding my family in Governor Dodge!) to tell, like the Whereigo through the USS Arizona memorial, that I led my Epic team-lead through through only to finally discover a thorny stump with no cache. When I parted the company after 12 years, one of his friendly send-offs was “thanks for teaching me that geocaching can be frustrating and unfulfilling!” Or another coworker with whom I actually found a neat bridge-hidden cache in a warehouse district…before being chased away by the local rent-a-cop.

In 2017, I was caching constantly. I almost made > 1 cache-per-day that year (decent for someone who does have a life, family, and full-time job apart from caching). Then in December, disaster struck, and I was out of the game (and most of life) for a few months. I never quite recovered – sure I did a bit of caching in 2018, but my heart wasn’t into it. It took some friends from work and a healthcare conference in Canada to rekindle the interest.

I claim major geo-fu rustiness, but when a coworker asked me to show him some some geocaches in downtown Montreal, he was the one who ultimately ended up finding most of the ones we attempted (though I did surprise him by finding a couple ingeniously hidden ones, including one I had found several years prior the last time I was in Canada). On the last day of the trip, I took a hike with an old friend up Mont Royal; we both thought we might die, but we were rewarded with spectacular views, 3 new smiley faces (again, he found a cache that I could not!), and a reminder that geocaching always takes me to new places I might never have discovered otherwise.

I’ve now been excitedly planning a 5-day road trip surrounding our team week to Denver, CO in July. I started by finding many of the missing squares on my Fizzy and Jasmer grids, but then when I started researching high-favorite caches, I discovered a world of roadside wonders right along my route. And who knew you could drive to the top of Pike’s peak now?! Perhaps I still have more geo-stories to tell yet…provided I don’t fall off a cliff or get bitten by a snake first!

Geocaching Pies

People geocache for many reasons. Some to challenge themselves. Some to validate themselves by being better than others. Some just to explore. I still don’t understand cachers with tens of thousands of finds, and I can’t stand challenge caches of the “find 200 caches in a day” variety. Perhaps if I had been caching full-time at my current rate since the game started I’d have close to a 5-digit find count, but it’s never been about the numbers for me. I cache to get outside when I’d prefer to stay inside. And I cache to explore the vast beauty of creation (hence my recent Instagram account). Sure, I’m working on the Fizzy and Jasmer grids, but I won’t be heartbroken if I never find them all.

But I learned about an interesting challenge last year which is well in line with my exploration motivation: find a cache whose bearing is each of the 360 degrees around a certain location. Usually this is the site of the challenge cache, but you can always make personal challenges. So I set out to find caches every degree away from home! As a bonus, I got to play around with HTML5 canvas drawing and can now generate a neat pie chart (I love visual representations). Green wedges are degrees I’ve found, and yellow wedges represent an unfound cache that is within 30 miles of home. Red means I must expand my search a little farther out!

Pie chart showing caches around Dodgeville
Dodgeville, WI

Pie chart showing caches around Cedar Falls
Cedar Falls, IA

We knew that moving to Cedar Falls would open a much wider opportunity for geocaching, as Dodgeville is somewhat of a sinkhole on the geocaching map – not a whole lot of activity. As you can see, I have many fewer “found degrees” (oriented towards Wisconsin where I’ve done the majority of my caching), but on the flipside, I’ll be able to mostly complete this challenge locally!

After this, it’s onto the “distance” bands! (Find a cache within every 5-mile band up to … whatever distance, usually 500miles). Probably not. It’ll be more exploratory to continue to check-off counties. I had almost given up on Wisconsin, but a future planned work retreat to the northwoods makes collecting all the Wisconsin counties an attainable goal.

Cache on!

Why We Are Moving

We’ve told this story to a few people personally, but enough have asked something along the lines of “why in the world are you moving to Iowa??” that we figured we’d break the year-long dry spell and tell the story on the family blog. Aside from the fact that we’re both Iowa natives and we want to be closer to family, there’s a much more personal reason behind the move. Continue reading Why We Are Moving

Learning to say NOPE!

When you’re out hunting for geocaches, you’re going to fail from time to time. Sometimes the cache is just missing. Sometimes it gets too dark on you. And sometimes, as I experienced thrice today, you just decide to say NOPE!Nope[1]

After receiving an alert for 5 brand new nearby caches during an afternoon meeting, I headed out to pick up just one. I wasn’t feeling super as it was, but these all looked like easy grabs. I picked up one (leaving the others for other cachers to find first), and parked in a nearby cemetery to compose my log. Also… hey cemetery! I’ll bet there’s a cache here. Indeed there was. Emphasis was. This one seemed to be a typical abandoned / muggled cache that was no longer there. The previous two seekers reported not finding the cache. Well, that was a little disappointing, so I looked for a couple others I might pick up on my way back to the highway.

The first was a T4 due to “proximity to water and barbed wire.” Sounded interesting, so I went to check it out. Considering it was on the other side of a ditch with at least a 4-foot width of standing water, this was a quick and easy “nope!”.

The next was also a T4 with a “little hike and some steep hill scrambling.” I actually parked and approached this one. I took a few steps off the path and considered my circumstances. Failing light – though now I’m well-equipped with a rugged flashlight. Fading cell phone battery – I do have an external pack but of course, it wasn’t with me today. Finally, after I took a few steps off the path and was immediately blocked by thick thorns, I reminded myself that I’ve been fighting a cold or sinus infection for over a week. Tackling something like this would definitely be a bad idea. This looks like a fun location to try another sunny day when I’m feeling better.

After three disappointments in a row, I figured a couple of easy cemetery caches were in order. The first one was a quick find on a steep incline. The other was a “nope!” of a different kind. As I approached the cemetery, I saw a truck parked by it and someone with an easel set up right next to GZ. While this might’ve been a great opportunity to meet a random stranger, perhaps introducing them to geocaching as a unique way to find new beautiful vistas to paint, my introversion kicked into high-gear, and I drove on by.

Geocaching is a great, fun hobby. It remains fun only as long as you don’t get too disappointed by a few “Did Not Find”s or at the decision to skip a cache you’d rather not approach. Since I’m not in this for the numbers, I was perfectly fine with all of my “nope!”s today.

Cache on!

Almost Stranded in Governor Dodge

Starting out on the journeyAfter a week of rainy weather, the sun was finally out, so Amanda and I thought we’d take the family out on a caching adventure in nearby Governor Dodge State Park. Just one trail (Mill Creek Trail aka MCT) with several easy-to-obtain caches. We’d been on the particular target trail before (or so I thought), so I didn’t figure it would be too difficult of a trek.

Samantha's FrogL. was loving her backpack ride, and S. found a pet frog for awhile. Things were off to a great start. Little did I know this day-after-DST-ended trip was going to take a quick turn to terror.
Continue reading Almost Stranded in Governor Dodge

Conversation with my 2-year-old

As a parent you have the joy of experiencing great exchanges like this every day with your minions…I mean children:

Me: Would you please bring me a tissue for Lilly?
Naomi: Over there.
Me: Yes, could you get me one, please?
Naomi: Over there?
Me: Yes, they’re over there. Can you bring me one, please?
Naomi: Over there.
Me: Yes. Can you walk over there and get one for me?
Naomi: (Walks past the tissues to the corner of the room)
Me: No, they’re on the couch.  (points)
Naomi: (wanders over to me)
Me: No, the tissues are over there. See? Right there. (points emphatically)
Naomi: Here?
Me: Yes, that’s it!
Naomi: These?
Me: Yes, would you bring me one?
Naomi: Just one? (holds finger up to eye)
Me: Yep, just one.
Naomi: (brings me a handful)
Me: Thank you. I love you so much!

Complaints and Thankfulness

I’ve had a hard time with complaints lately. And many have been really awful, 1st-world-type complaints. Like just now I was running to the gas station for pizza, and since we just got back from vacation, my keys were in two pieces rather than the normal convenient clip-to-my-belt fashion. I sat down in the driver’s seat and realized I had to *gasp* dig down in my pocket for my keys. I had just driven my dad’s brand new Toyota with a pushbutton start. Man, if only I had one of those, I wouldn’t need to twist my carpal-tunnel-addled wrist into my pocket, and I could just push the button.

We’ve been teaching our kids about thankfulness. For several years now, in fact, during bedtime prayers we ask each kid one thing about the day that they’re thankful for. My self-inflicted penance for complaints like this is to immediately think of something I’m thankful for that relates to the complaint. For really dumb ones like, “man, I have to reach into my pocket to get keys??” maybe I should do more.

  • You know, people used to have to actually get out of their car and turn a crank to turn it on. Twisting a key is so hard.
  • I’m thankful I even have a car, so I can make the 5-block trek for pizza in 2 minutes, rather than a 20-minute walk.
  • I’ve been blessed with hands that can not only reach into a pocket, but can also tickle my kids, caress my wife’s cheek, produce beautiful music on a piano, and type out complex computer code that produces the income needed to pay for both the car and the pizza.

I’m trying to eliminate stupid complaints from my life. As you can see, so far I’m having a tough time of it. But if I can augment each complaint with 3 statements of gratitude, maybe I can eventually learn to skip the complaining portion. We’ll see. Now I just have to stretch my hand over to move the mouse all the way over to that ‘publish’ button.

On our way home

So, it’s been a long trip and we fell behind a bit in blogging. We’re now on the plane (a story in itself) and reflecting on the past 11 days. It was a fast-paced trip, but we had an amazing director, and with only 22 people, we were able to make friends with pretty much everyone. We’ll be all connected on Facebook and sharing our pictures via Flickr, so the trip really doesn’t end today.

About to take off though. Later!

Interesting Signs from Tuscany

Of course any country with a different language and culture is going to have unique translations and messages. Rather than write about Tuscany, which Amanda did while half asleep last night and will maybe expound upon more tomorrow, I thought I’d share some of the interesting messages I’ve seen over the last couple of days… At least the ones I pulled out my phone camera for.

Chocolate, sweets and gadgets. How can you go wrong?

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Quite clear what this outlet is used for.

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I love that such a short title became so long in Italian.

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In this case, I prefer the Dutch version. Raphael? That’s me!

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Even in Italia, there are outspoken vegetarians.

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This secret betting house is not very well disguised.

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Free Willy!! Unfortunately, it was not an aquarium.

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And to end with a rare picture of Mr. Ben, yes pizza in Italia is amazing!

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Everything leans in Pisa

We didn’t have too much time here, but it is definitely a different experience seeing the tower in person rather than only in pictures. Having said that, here’s a picture:

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Yes, we did the dorky “Ahh! She’s pushing the tower over on me!” but it’s on the camera, so you’ll have to wait. Oh, heck, here you go:

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Not lined up super well, and the shadows definitely spoil the illusion. But cute nonetheless.

As they didn’t want us walking on the grass (pay no attention to the photo above…), they had lined boards from the entrance to the first monument. Amanda said, “look! A boardwalk!”

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Yes, I do believe I’m rubbing off on her! The other fun part of the trip was riding the “choo choo train.” We thought our director was just being cute, but I guess my German was just a little rusty:

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Unfortunately, our driver didn’t sing to us (see the sign).

After surviving ordering lunch at an Italian-speaking-only autogrill, tonight we’re off to a Tuscan farm dinner where, once again, all our decisions are made for us. Except which of the five wines to drink, though that might be answered for us as well (all of them).