Sunday, September 11, 2005

A Geocaching 9/11 Memorial

When I started this blog, one of the things I said I might write about was geocaching, a fun hobby (some might say addiction) that I picked up a couple years ago. In its typical form, geocaching combines navigational skills using a GPSr, sleuthing ability to find hidden objects, and often (though not necessarily) hiking. The sport is organized through a website,, where participants have registered nearly two hundred thousand active geocaches in over two hundred countries around the world. The typical geocache is a tupperware container holding a log book and possibly some trinkets, hidden or camouflaged in a spot whose exact latitude/longitude coordinates are posted on the website, along with a description of the cache. On the website, you can enter a location (by lat/long, zip code, or country/state) and discover the listings of geocaches that have been hidden near you. The object is to use your GPSr and sleuthing ability to find the cache, sign the log book, trade some trinkets if you like, and then report the find by posting a virtual log entry at the website. People have been incredibly creative in variations on the theme, and there are now urban caches (often hidden in small hide-a-key containers or film cannisters) as well as ones in the wilderness, and "virtual" caches (where there is no actual container, but you must do something to prove you were at the site, like take a photo, or answer some question that can only be answered by actually visiting). The sport had tremendous appeal to me, as I've long been a "map geek" and loved navigation, I've always loved solving puzzles (and loved "hide and seek" as a kid), and I enjoy a good hike. (My geocaching nickname, DeadReckoner, comes from the fact that I found my first 50 geocaches without actually having a GPSr, just using map and navigation skills. The GPSr definitely makes it easier.)

I've had a number of great caching experiences, but the one I wanted to write about on this particular day is a fairly simple geocache called California 9-11. This cache initially just pointed to a memorial in a Burbank CA park, a plaque that lists the names of the 78 Californians who died on 9/11, but has since become a memorial in its own right. Originally, it was an urban microcache, a small container hidden nearby the spot. As sometimes happens, the container was discovered accidentally by non-geocachers ("geo-muggles") and pilfered. The owner of the cache (whose nickname is "Brainerd") temporarily converted the cache to a "virtual" cache, asking those who found it to prove that they had visited by logging the next name off of the list. At some point early on, a geocacher elaborated on this request by not only logging a name off of the list, but by doing a bit of online research and providing a few personal details about her. Many of the cachers who have visited since have carried on this tradition, each adding a new name to the logs, and in some cases providing entire mini-biographies. Inspired by this response, Brainerd decided it was appropriate to let it remain a virtual cache instead of trying to put a new container there. This virtual log is keeping the memories alive of these people who perished on 9/11, not only listing their names, but recounting their occupations, experiences, lives, and hopes. It has become a virtual equivalent of the AIDS Quilt, a way to memorialize these people not only in the "volume" of a long list, but making each one very personal. I have subscribed to this cache on my watchlist, a feature that causes me to get email each time a new person adds a log to this cache. Even two years of getting these emails, they have not lost their ability to inspire a moment of reflection. Thanks to Brainerd for putting up this cache. Here's to the memory of all of the hopes, dreams, and lives that were cut short four years ago today.

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