This post is heavy on Geocaching, a hobby we are pretty involved with. Feel free to read a bit more about it here and here.
Out of Quebec, into Ontario
For the last 3 1/2 months we have stuck pretty closely to our post-Key West 2019 route plan, but in late July we made a major deviation. While perusing my front page on the Geocaching website, I noted an advert for an upcoming event. Though Rose and I have cached for nearly five years, we have never been to an official event, and this one looked to be huge; officially classified as a “mega event.” Think large, multi-day, hobbiest convention.
What is Jack doing under that big spruce tree during a one night stop on the way southwest? Probably looking for a geocache, right?
We delved into both the official event cache page and the dedicated website, and the more we read the more enthused we became. So on a whim, because our planning is loose enough to allow it, we changed up the itinerary rather significantly: rather than leisurely continue west through Canada and reenter the US in Sault Ste Marie as we did last year, we would sprint southwest, reentering near Detroit, and continue into Northern Ohio to attend MWGB 2019.
Wrong. PKM pulled out of her harness and found the spot decidedly comfortable, and declined to exit upon request.
There was a glitch, of course: because we discovered the event so late, we had missed the registration window (no problem, anyone can still come) but that also meant we missed the RV site reservation window as well. MWGB’s website showed one remaining site, meaning we would either have to be first in line on day 1, find someone who had to cancel and buy there site, or live with dry camping in the overflow and tent area.
One of our Walmart stops. Two other RVs were parked around the front of the mall, which had a lot of street noise and questionable foot traffic. I found the mall guard office and asked if I could park in the back. No problem! Much quieter.
We route planned to support option 1, but placed posts on the event discussion forum page aiming for option 2. Fortunately for us we heard back two days before the event from someone whose RV broke down and they would be staying in a hotel instead. We purchased her site for the standard $55 total for the three night stay, with power and water.
Our run south wasn’t all traffic and lot parking: we found a brewery near one of our stops with a parking lot big enough for Serenity.
But we had to get there first. A sprint for us usually means maybe five or so hours drive time in a day, so we broke up the 812 mile trip into three major legs, covering about 40% of the distance on the first day since we were fresh from a three day stay near Quebec city. We stopped at a Walmart in Kingston for the night, and then pushed on with leg two the next day. Completing our longest leg on day one was the right decision: we hit major traffic as we passed through Southern Ontario, particularly in the Toronto region, which turned our planned three hour drive into five.
The traffic at times became downright Miamian, only with actual use of turn signals and without the honking or road rage.
After another one nighter at the London, Ontario Walmart we crossed the Ambassador Bridge into the US. It was largely uneventful, though our border/customs officer was one of the ruder ones I have encountered. During the later half of my work career I traveled internationally quite a lot, and that experience highlighted how generally unfriendly our customs and immigration people are compared to foreign counterparts, and I say this as a US citizen travelling on official government business through legal ports of entry.
A bit of a tight drive over the bridge.
But we were through it, and less than an hour south of Detroit we made one final overnight stay, this time at a Cracker Barrel. Incidentally, the new fried chicken meal at Cracker Barrel is insanely large. Four full sized pieces of fried chicken, two sides, and two biscuits or corn muffins for about $10. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we both ordered this; we should have shared one, it would have been plenty. We had left overs for days.
Cracker Barrel put us just half an hour down the road from Fulton County Fairgrounds, the site of MWGB, and we pulled in late morning to set up in our RV site for the 3 1/2 day event. We were very fortunate with our assigned site: the fairgrounds electrical posts are in groups, with each post serving up to six sites. This means you could possibly require over 100′ of electrical cable and water hose to reach the connections if you were at the end of the line.
Our site on the fairgrounds.
Luckily we were but one site over from the post, so our 30′ cable had no issues reaching, it just required cooperation from the neighboring site to cross under the front of their rig. Our neighbor on the door, or “living side” had reserved two sites so he wouldn’t feel crowded, and was really not using much of the second one, so we had an ample “front yard.”
Kitty was pleased we had selected a site with the “things I might kill” option. A large mole variant was actively using this mound; we could see it move occasionally.
Our MWGB experience was just fantastic. The official mega event had several sub events, and we tried to participate in all of them so as to get a feel for how we might narrow things down at future gigs. We started things off with the ice cream social meet and greet on the first evening (with numerous raffle give aways.) We did the “Poker Run” on day two, consisting of a three hour car event that took us to seven different small businesses in the county, at each one you took a coded sticker that would translate into a poker card once you finished the run.
BBQ joint along the poker run route.
The highest 103 “hands” received special gifts. With two pair we had little chance given that over 700 people participated, but it was a truly fun time, despite a couple of us struggling to find the dang mini-putt golf course in the middle of farmland. At least we had no trouble getting to the brewery on the route!
Brewery on the route as well.
We did the “treasure hunt” event, using metal detectors to find travel bugs in the horse arena, with certain ones coded for additional prizes. If you have not yet noticed, this was a recurring theme for every single phase of MWGB: raffles and giveaways. After the official photo on day three? More raffles and giveaways.
Rose finding that trackable.
They also had an inventive bingo card provided on day one that required you to fill it in by finding other participants that met certain categories, such as “traveled more than 500 miles to be here” or “won the site decoration contest in a previous year” (which had prizes, natch.) Turning in a full bingo card entered you into more raffles.
Poker run card on top of the bingo sheet.
We even considered asking to participate as a vendor. A handful were set up in the main building selling every conceivable geocache related item. We nixed the idea because vending there was a nearly full day affair for at least two days, and would have seriously detracted from our ability to actually participate in the full event list and generally have a fun long weekend.
On the third day I completed a personal goal of finding and logging ten different types of geocaches in one day:
- Traditional (physical container in a single spot)
- Multi (physical container that requires going to at least two locations)
- Unknown Mystery (physical container that requires solving a puzzle)
- Virtual (no container, just go to a spot and provide photo proof, usually)
- Earth (no container, just go to a spot and provide answers to questions based what you see, usually geological or historical in nature)
- Wherigo (an augmented reality cache, sort of like Pokeman Go, that requires a third party app to solve a puzzle.)
- Letterbox hybrid (physical container, and a joint project with letterboxing)
- Event (one of the sub events we attended)
- Mega Event (MWGB)
- Lab (usually a time limited cache associated with an event, and having experimental and unusual characteristics.)
Some attendees go through a lot of trouble to make there sites fun and comfortable.
We had never done a “Lab Cache” before MWGB, but the bash provided 40 such caches divided into four different groups of ten cache “adventures.” One of them was associated with each stop at the Poker Run, another required finding clues at all of the official banners throughout the campground, and two more adventures took you to oddball caches often with some sort of puzzle element.
Fellow attendee Jeff, who has been coming for years.
Example: in keeping with a knights theme, one lab cache was a sword in the stone puzzle, that required three people; two to activate switches well removed from the sword and stone, and one to actually pull the sword. Another ostensibly required two people, one on each side of a fence with a PVC assembly projecting through it. One person covered a vent hole, the other blew through the other hole to rocket a small container out the top via air pressure. I MacGyvered it solo by ziplocking a plastic baggy around the vent hole. In the end we did 38 of the 40 lab caches, having simply run out of daylight for the last two.
I have frequently referred to “trackables” which are coded objects that can be logged, with their geographic journey mapped according to cache sites they have been dropped in and retrieved from. The two types are GeoCoins and Travel Bugs. This is an example of the latter.
We had such a great time at this mega event that we firmly plan to incorporate future events, especially big ones, into our route and itinerary down the road. On the small scale side, we are already confirmed for a get together and pot luck meal with local cachers in Marquette later this week. On the larger side, we are seriously looking at doing North America’s biggest event, GeoWoodstock, in British Columbia next August. Who wants to join us?
Signal the Frog, the official Geocaching mascot.