Last weekend I took my bike into DC. I followed an extremely similar path to the DC biking adventure I went on last year, but this time I had a specific purpose; geocaching and letterboxing.
There are very few physical geocaches in Washington, DC due to security concerns, therefore there are a lot of “virtual geocaches” and “geocache challenges” around the National Mall. A virtual geocache is a cache that you still have to navigate to using the given GPS coordinates, but instead of proving you found hidden box by signing the logbook, you have to answer some questions about the location. An example may be that they give you the first line of a quote and you must complete the quote by finding the inscription at that location. Geocache challenges are similar in nature but instead of having to answer questions about the location which prove you were there, you’re supposed to take a specific photo of yourself at that location. As you can imagine, many of these locations overlapped at the major monuments.
I started out leaving Amy’s house at 7:15 a.m. and riding a mile to the Metro. 40 minutes later I was at the Judiciary Square Metro station and ready to start. The day journey started off poorly. I started off looking for the only two real physical geocaches I planned to search for. The first one I couldn’t find. The second, just around the corner, I discovered that my wi-fi only Samsung device which I was using to find all the locations, had failed to store the coordinates so I couldn’t even look for it. This turned out to be the case for four of the next six virtual caches too. Even though I knew where I was going, I didn’t have a paper copy of the questions on me so I didn’t know what to be looking for. During this time I did pass by the Spy Museum and Navy Memorial for photo challenges, then rode up Pennsylvania Avenue to get my first successful virtual at Pershing Park and then an easy photo in front of the White House. After vising the Zero Milestone, the rest of my day had no caches missing from my GPS device.
I went around the Ellipse and did a virtual at the old Washington Canal Lock-house. Remember, a “virtual” is when I have to answer questions about a place. In this case, all the answers were on the information plaque in front of the 19th-century building. Then south to the World War II Memorial for one virtual and three photo challenges. My favorites of these was to find the “Kilroy Was Here” graffiti inscribed on the monument walls – although based on photos I think there are two of them there. Another photo challenge was to take your photo in front of the name of the state where you were born.
Then on to 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial, located at Constitution Gardens (a very nice yet virtually unvisited memorial). Then a stop at the Vietnam War Memorial before finally visiting the first completely new place for me – the Albert Einstein Memorial just north of the Lincoln Memorial. Apparently this is the only memorial in Washington, DC on which you are allowed to climb upon.
The next few stops were places I’ve been to before; the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and along the Tidal Basin. Of course I wasn’t trying to take pictures of myself or answer questions on my previous visits. Then my first visit to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I didn’t realize that he was facing the Tidal Basin. For some reason I thought it was facing the other way, so that you could see his face and the beautiful Tidal Basin behind him.
On to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which had a few of the more fun photo challenges. One was to get a photo of yourself standing in the bread line. This is apparently a popular thing to do for non-geocachers too because other people were doing this before I arrived and they continued to take the same photo after I left too. This was one of the few times when I had to hand-off my device so that a stranger could take a photo of me.
On he bridge to get to the George Mason Memorial I got my first “Earth Cache”, which is similar to a virtual but you have to answer earth science -type questions about that location. Then a photo with the George Mason Memorial and the toughest virtual of the day at the Jefferson Memorial.
As a side note, the last time I visited the Jefferson Memorial I commented on how disrespectful all the students were. This is a memorial and has signs posted to be respectful, yet all the kids were loud, laughing, and fooling around. This day was much more enjoyable. One could reflect and think about why you were there.
It was now a quarter to one, and I had to race back to the other side of the Tidal Basin, to the far side of the Washington Monument for a special timed event. You see, today was an unusual day on the National Mall. Today was the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts, and over 200,00 Girl Scouts (not including all of their chaperones) had descended upon the National Mall for a massive celebration. I’ve never seen it so crowded. I’ve also never seen such a complete absence of
men on the Mall either. But I was heading to the German-American Friendship Garden on the north side of the Washington Monument to join the Girl Scouts. Yes, I joined them as they participated in a 15-minute-only geocaching event, as part of a world-wide geocaching event known as World Wide Flash Mob 9 (WWFM-IX).
Let me first set the scene: Girl Scouts EVERYWHERE. It was crazy. But this spot seemed no different than any other area, with Girl Scouts and their chaparones milling around randomly. Being a flash-mob, at precisely 1:00 p.m. on the nose, several dozen girl scouts jumped out from the croud of thousands and suddenly formed a circle and started singing “Make New Friends”. Minus the song, hundreds of geocaching flash mobs were taking place around the world at that exact same moment. I stayed away from the song part, but when they were done they broke into a geocaching event for the remaining 10 minutes. They knew I was coming because I asked ahead of time. It was obviously a Girl Scouts event but it was also a geocaching event so that’s when I akwardly crashed their party. The organizer knew I was coming because I asked permission ahead of time, but I still stuck out like a sore thumb. Funny thing is that fathers apparently don’t participate with the Girl Scouts as all the adults were all moms. I was the only man as far as the eye could see and I’m sure many adults were wondering what the heck I was doing there. Who cares.
So this was my first ever geocaching event, but this was actually a double-event because they also had a letterbox there too. I had been carying my stamp, inkpad, and letterboxing logbook during this whole bike ride. I stamped into the event’s letterbox too, and also exchanged stamps with two older girls (early 20′s?) who were the only two other people like me who showed up for the event but weren’t already there as part of the Girl Scouts 100th Anniversary celebration. They had been Girl Scouts in the past, so I was still the only true outsider here. The last stamp entered in my logbook was 2009, so it had been three years since the last time I had gone letterboxing.
At 1:15 p.m. everybody dispersed and quickly went back to whatever they were doing earlier. I went on with my geocaching ride.
I had planned on going into the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History but they were way too overrun with thousands upon thousands of Girl Scouts. The line of young girls went out the doors and around the block. I’ll get these caches at some other time. I stopped by the Smithsonian Castle, National Sculpture Garden, and the Embassy of Canada. I was then about to go into the Air & Space Museum which wasn’t overrun with young girls, but I noticed that my Samsung device was running out of batteries (after 8 hours of use) so I skipped this one too.
I quickly finished the trip with four separate stops on the grounds of the Capitol. The first was the reflecting pool, then the National Botanical Garden (because I didn’t need to go inside to answer the question), followed by a photo from the top of the Capitol’s west steps. The final spot was a location I didn’t previously know existed, called The Summer House. It’s an open-air brick structure that was built in the 19th-century to provide rest and water to travelers on their way to the Capitol. It’s pretty well hidden and includes a grotto with a small waterfall. Very unexpected.
Finally over to Union Station (which surprisingly has no virtual geocaches associated with it) to catch the Metro and then another mile of bike riding back to Amy’s house. I returned more than nine hours after I left that morning. I was exhausted. The rest of the evening I logged all my finds from the day – over 40 of them.