Things You Should Experience Often

3 05 2010

This past weekend we inaugurated GeoCaching Season 2010 with a grand tour of the hill towns where I live.

Though it was 30 degrees at night just a couple days before, by Saturday we were roasting in glorious summer heat. The breeze was hot, the shade was cool, and the soaring trees overhead had finally exploded with foliage. Walking under the canopy was entering the oldest — and newest — cathedral in the world, where all the stained glass is varying shades of green.

We followed trails, read clues, struggled with satellite bounce, and even had occasion to use an honest-to-goodness, genuine, WiFi-free, compass. Nailing seven different caches in one day, and a large pile of cheeseburgers, we spent 8 glorious hours soaking up all the fresh air, sunshine and topsoil we could reasonably absorb without serious threat to health.

It was a great day, and nailed all of the following criteria for Things You Should Experience Often:

• Other than the GPS and the occasional glance at the iPhone for tips, we looked at no screens throughout the day.

• We came upon abandoned ruins (one of my favorite features of New England woods) like Broken Chimney.

• We sweated. A lot. Good, honest, body-cooling, stress-free sweat. We sweated for the reason that humans evolved sweat glands. And it was good.

• We got tired. Our bodies started to get weak. Then we pounded water and protein snacks, and charged on to another cache. Again and again, we self-renewed at every turn. Exhaustion was not our enemy. It was our secretary.

• We did things we thought we couldn’t do. We scrambled over rocks; climbed inclines much too steep for us to climb (and got to the top); found things that were too-well hidden; lived the motto “And there is one less thing you cannot do.”

We laughed, we argued, some of us cried, and by the end of the day, there was not one among us who did not feel the day was an unmitigated success.

We ended our day poetically. Down a long, rough, leaf-strewn dirt road, surrounded by dense, towering forest, we came upon an old town cemetery buried beneath layer upon layer of sedimentary silence. The sun had sunk low in the sky by that point, throwing up the first colors of sunset, and night began leaking from the shadows along the centuries-old stone wall.

After a hushed tour of the two dozen-odd headstones, we crept through the gate, over the wall, and dug out our last cache of the day. As we logged our discovery, the fatigue, the noise of the day, the fading glare of the sun, the silence of the cemetery all fell upon us at once. We spoke in whispers, though there was no need. We were surely the only living people in earshot.

Working our way back down the road and on to badly needed baths and well-earned food, everyone had grins plastered on sweaty, dirty, sunscreened, bug repellent-caked faces. We, all of us, had managed to spend an entire day with family and friends, in the sun and the woods, burning calories and building bridges instead of the reverse. The only effort we expended was climbing uphill. We spent little besides energy. What we carried back, though, we couldn’t have found anywhere else.