Lee and I slid down the concrete wall into the channelized stream and turned to examine the tunnel. It was tall and circular, so we wouldn’t need to hunch over like dwarves, at least. A trickle of water slid lazily into the tube and disappeared into darkness. Lee checked his smartphone one more time. His geocaching app told us that the prize lay somewhere within this tunnel, underneath several roads and all four lanes of Highway 101. The search was on. I wish I’d brought a flashlight.
Geocaching is a new international sport that emerged in the era of global satellite positioning. People began hiding containers in unlikely locations, posting the coordinates online to provide a sort of treasure hunt for weekend adventurers. Whenever a container is located, the finder simply signs their name in the logbook and takes or leaves a trinket – some little coin, button or toy small enough to fit in the receptacle.
This was my first introduction to the sport. I walked carefully through the tunnel, using the indirect light of Lee’s smartphone to help me avoid the water pooling at the lowest points. After a quarter mile, we still hadn’t discovered the cache. The light at the opposite end of the tunnel illuminated the only dangerous section – a stretch of metal culvert that had partially rusted through, perhaps due to the pool of water three feet wide that had formed along the floor. We had to straddle the pool with our legs stretched to their widest limit and waddle forward a few inches at a time in order to keep our boots dry. I felt lucky that my thighs didn’t cramp. If they had, I would have awkwardly tumbled sideways into a stagnant puddle… embarrassing for any adventurer.
We emerged at an intersection with an urban stream, full of refuse and the usual debris blown in from local streets and businesses. On the other side of a second tunnel, the creek became channelized again, with eight-foot high embankments that were too slick to scale. I wanted to get a look at the surrounding neighborhood, but to escape the creek I had to tap into some skateboarding moves. I ran a step up one tapering wall, then back down and across to the opposite wall, running up that side and down again. By banking from one side to the other, I built up momentum, increasing my height each time until I finally could latch my fingers onto the dirt above the wall and claw my way up.
That was fun. But a neighbor with a barking dog warned us that a nearby property manager would call the cops on us. We returned to the tunnel, and on our way back, I got lucky and discovered a camouflaged metal tin tucked into an alcove. We signed the logbook and continued on.
Other sites we visited that morning led us to funky and intriguing parts of town… places we would not otherwise have known existed. I found one storm drain tunnel that I desperately wanted to squeeze into and explore, but that expedition will have to wait for another day. For a person who normally likes to get away from the urban environment as much as possible, this was a great reminder that adventures can be found almost everywhere you look… and the geocaching smartphone tool can really get you looking in the right direction.
For more information on geocaching and to see more pictures, check back at www.facebook.com/offthemapbooks later in the week.