Oregon Vacation (1) Planning and Departure

I had a 7-day vacation in northwestern Oregon in June 2019. This is the biggest solo road trip I've ever had so far.

Why Oregon?

Earlier this year, Alaska Airlines messed up with my flight, and then I received a $200 voucher. The voucher entitles me to a free flight to west coast.

Alaska flies to five cities on the west coast:

  • Seattle, Washington
  • Portland, Oregon
  • San Francisco, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • San Diego, California

Geocaching is All About Expanding My Comfort Zone

I started geocaching as a hobby in 2013. Since then, I have found more than 1000 caches across 18 US states as well as in China. During these years, I stepped out my comfort zone several times, and became a more experienced geocacher.

Puzzles

Geocaches come with different types. Traditional is the most common type: the webpage of a Traditional cache has its coordinates, and I can straightforwardly find the physical container at that location. Another common type is a Multi: I need to visit a location, collect information such as reading text from a plague or counting the number of windows, and then find the physical container at a different location whose waypoint is computed from the answers from the first location. I'm quite familiar with these types.

One geocache type I'm uncomfortable with is Mystery puzzle cache. These caches are published with bogus published coordinates, but the webpage contains clues to find the real coordinates of the physical container. The puzzle could be a piece of cipher text, a crossword puzzle, a strange picture, or something else. Although I know a thing or two about classic ciphers, I could not get a hold of them.

This all changed when Geocaching HQ assigned me a mission to find a puzzle cache in August 2014:

Yuma Mega

Since my spontaneous visit of Pima Air & Space Museum on my 2015 birthday, I started a tradition of having a little road trip for every birthday. I rode a bike to Sweetwater Wetlands Park to see some birds with Tucson Audubon Society on my 2016 birthday. When my 2017 birthday came close, I planned something big: I wanted to attend the Yuma Mega, the biggest geocaching event in the Southwest region.

Finding the Event

I started geocaching as a hobby in 2013. Geocaching for me is mostly an individual sport: I rode bikes all over Tucson metro area, lift up lamp post covers and poke my hand into guardrails to find mint containers hidden within. Event Caches, on the other hand, are special geocaches that allow geocachers to gather and socialize. I browse Geocaching.com's event listing from time to time, and attend those events regularly. Normally, 15~30 people would show up in a local restaurant or city park. People would tell their stories, and plan out-of-state trips to search for large number of geocaches.

Yuma Mega is not just any event, but a "Mega-Event Cache". Geocaching HQ awards Mega status to events attracting more than 500 geocachers. I heard about Yuma Mega in 2015, but the date was adjacent to a conference trip so I wasn't able to arrange it. 2017's Yuma Mega event falls on Sunday Feb 12, which happens to be my birthday. 2017 is also my last year living in Arizona. It was "now or never", so I have to attend Yuma Mega!

I made up my mind on Nov 24, 2016, and booked a rental car and a motel room for the trip. Both reservations were cancelable in case there's a paper deadline on that weekend, but thankfully there wasn't one, so I'm greenlighted for the trip.

How I Started Geocaching

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt game. Participants, or "geocachers", use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. I learned about geocaching by accident in Jul 2013, and I was immediately hooked to this game. Since then, Geocaching had a strong influence in my weekend activities, gadget purchases, and travel choices.

selfie with GC5WHZV container

It All Started from Jenny

Grocery stores offer discounts with a loyalty card, but I forgot to bring mine on Jul 12, 2013. I complained on Facebook, and my friends told me that I could give my phone number to the cashier, and they would be able to apply the discounts. Daniel's answer mentioned that I could enter "area code + 867-5309" as the phone number, and there is usually a loyalty card associated with this phone number. I did not understand what's special about this phone number, so I started online searching.

Facebook post about forgotten grocery loyalty card