Last Saturday night I had a major-whompin’ kickass adventure!!! It was a night which made me fully understand WHY I spend hours in the gym each week — why I turn up the spinning-class bike resistance until my thighs burn…..why I sweat the cardio until I’m drenched all over….why I perform pulldowns, curls, extensions, and raises until my muscles quiver.

Is it just so I can go back to the gym and do it again the next week? Like a hamster on his little wheel?

Nooooooooooo!! I spend hours in the gym each week so I can get out there in real life and freakin’ participate.

Now. I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of a letdown for you. I can’t tell you much about the adventure itself. You see, I want to go back. And I want to take some of YOU with me! If I told you all about it, it would spoil the polka-dotted crotchless underpants off of all your fun. And fun is more fun when it is wearing polka-dotted crotchless underpants.

So this post is actually going to be a pitch. You, my friends, will want to taste the adrenaline for yourself.

The challenge

It began as a teaser post in the Upstate SC Geocachers Association (USCGA) forum. One member had just returned from beta-testing a new night/multi/puzzle geocache. About a week later, a second beta-tester chimed in. Between their two accounts, the rest of us learned that this was a brain-draining, brawn-challenging, stamina-testing, fabulous MOTHER of a multi-stage adventure. One tester had thousands of caches under his belt, and he rated it among his top experiences. The creator of the new adventure had spent an entire year planning, scheming, consulting, and building.

Finally, the cache, named “Athena’s Curse,” was approved and published. Here’s the abbreviated gist:

PROLOGUE. The ancient Greek society had in their mythology more titans, gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines and creatures than any other culture in history. They also had some of the greatest minds in history, some of whom discovered and established rules in mathematics, geometry, and physics that are still valid today.

STORY. Athena, the goddess of wisdom and courage, learned that her temple was degraded by Poseidon and one of the Gorgons. In her fury, Athena cursed the mortal, turning the maiden’s beautiful golden hair into serpents and making her face so horrid that any living creature looking into her gaze would turn to stone.

MISSION. You, as an adventurer, must find and open the mortal’s lair where she has hoarded the stolen treasures from her victims. To find the treasure you seek, you must summon the help of mystical figures and mortals. But great care should be taken NOT to cross path with her sisters Stheno and Euryale.

PREPARATION. Read this description very carefully, search for hidden clues, and heed all warnings! Since this is a cache you will hunt in darkness, it would be wise to learn about methods of communication designed for such conditions.

CHECKLIST. These things are not all inclusive, but are definitely required: team mate, time, headlamp, pen, notebook, darkness, TV remote control, research notes, flashlight with strong focused beam, water, snacks, heavy duty work gloves, small towel, 4 AA batteries, compass, trade item, bug spray, comfortable shoes, a tender touch, the ability to make one pull-up, and a willingness to navigate, walk, run, sneak, crawl, limp, fly, wade, climb, stagger, and stroll on a path in the woods at night.

NOTES. “Athena’s Curse” is not for the lily-livered, yellow-bellied, willy-nilly, wimpy, acrophobic, timid, faint hearted, or claustrophobic. Be prepared for a real adventure with lots of different activities, surprises, and fun that will challenge your physical and mental abilities. Do your homework and take good notes, or you’re toast !!!!

LEGAL DISCLAIMER. You are attempting this Geocache hunt of your own free will and responsibility; you have not been coerced in any way by the cache owner or anyone at Geocaching.com to do so. If you are placed in any danger, sickness, compromising situation or are injured due to the actions of yourself, other people, wild or domestic animals or the natural and man made environment around you, you must take care of yourself and your situation – we are not at fault and/or responsible. … Remember, it was your choice to go on this hunt and it is your choice to participate in the sport of geocaching.

The preparation

Yikes, that disclaimer made me stop and wonder! Ha!! But NO WAY was it going to scare me into not going. I’m not afraid — no, sir!

Guessing that it may be awhile before I’d be able to go, I watched the cache listing on geocaching.com (most of you are not able to access the cache description since it’s a members-only cache; otherwise, I’d give you a direct link)…. waiting with great anticipation for the first finders to tell us about their experiences. And I was not disappointed! Here are some excerpts:

After meeting the cache owner for a beverage we assembled at the starting point and were off. Over the next five and a half hours we just had fun! We made some mistakes, used our wits (or what was left of our wits), did some pretty crazy stuff, and laughed, grinned, and cursed! … This cache supplants all others in western North Carolina as THE epic caching adventure! Some caches may take longer to complete, and some you may have to travel over greater distances, but this cache — IMHO — should now be the standard by which other extreme caches are measured.

The craftsmanship put into this cache will leave you speechless. The physical portion will bring out the inner child in all of us. You will be tired, you will be tested, and you will feel as if you had been on a true adventure.

I have found many challenging hides. This one comes in at the most challenging – physically and mentally. And yet it was fun. Each stage was a different idea executed and presented very well …. We were marveled and awed at every turn.

We started at approx 9:00pm and finished up around 4:45am … I would compare it to the TV show FEAR FACTOR. If you love a challange then this one is for you. … The story behind it was great and every part along the way up to the plot had your mind wondering what in the world could get better than this.

Right from the beginning we knew this was going to be a long and intense night. The tecnology, engineering, time and money put into this cache is incredible!! If you like puzzles that are clever, evil and fantastic that will challenge you both mentally and physically then this one is a MUST DO!!!

It’s as if Disneyland, basic training, college mythology finals, and a metric ton of laughs and thrills have been somehow squashed together. … At one moment, Athena will test you. The next it will be Hades. Or just maybe Cyclops will snatch certain victory from your grasp, and you’ll swear revenge when the momentum is on your side! Each will cause you to think outside of the box, thrill you completely, leave you with that “how did he do that?” smile, and then burn the calories right out of those thighs… but you love it!!!

OK, the “Fear Factor” comparison concerned me for a second. Maybe three. But after reading the comments, I wanted to do it even more, and I could NOT wait!! I kept watching the USCGA forum to see when a group might go. At one point, it looked like I wouldn’t be able to join them on the date they were planning, so I started to plant seeds with some friends and co-workers. Just little seeds. A tease here and there. I started to gear up for the sales pitch of my life — which, I feared, was what it would take to convince you guys to go with me. Many of you just sort of look at me, bemused and a bit droopy-eyed-bored, when I talk about geocaching. You seem to be thinking, “I can’t freakin’ believe she has free time and does THAT with it. What is wrong with her?”

But, joy of mega-huge orgasmic joys, the USCGA peeps changed their date, and I was in!!!! It was the same fun gang (well, almost the same gang) from ‘Strangers in the night.’

So. Where should I start? I’d need to get some sort of waterproof container for my iPhone, and I’d need a new backpack since my old one had bitten the dust years ago. I noticed that wading was mentioned….good lord, I hoped my waterproof hiking boots would suffice because I certainly wasn’t going to buy wading boots. I hadn’t tried pullups in quite some time, but I kicked ass with the machine pulldowns I did regularly…….um, OK, maybe semi-regularly……when I felt like it. Hmmmmm, I’m sure it’ll be good enough. Right? Right.

And, oh yeah, there’s the hell my lower body had been in since the Candlelight Run the week before. My feet were still achy and tingly and numb in places and seemed to be on the verge of cramping all the time…..and my knees were, um, weird. I’d get a sort of startling pain for a nanosecond now and then. Ahhhhh wellll….fuck it. If I could handle a 3-mile run, I could certainly handle a low-impact hike. Right? Right. But, in case I needed them, I packed a bunch of ibuprophen for pain and potassium tabs for cramping.

I had all the other checklist items taken care of….well, except the headlamp. Geesh, a headlamp?? Why in the world would I need to strap a light to my noggin if I have a high-powered flashlight in my hand? And where would I even get one, anyway? Coal Miners R Us? On top of that, the whole light-attached-to-my-head notion just gave me giggle fits. Ha!!! I’m not sure why. Maybe in a previous life there was an incident with a clown, a monkey, and a headlamp. Maybe the monkey strapped one on……

[ gasp!! ] Oh, wait, I realize now why it’s funny!!! It just came to me! Hahahaahaaaaaa!

Goodness gracious….I know the placement isn’t like a headlamp, exactly, but I guess my brain was making a leap somewhere between ‘strap on’ and ‘head’……

HahahaaaahahahaaaaaaHAAAHAHAHA!!!!

Sigh….

OK. I’m fine now. Really.

[ insert snort here ] HAHAHAhahahahahahahahahaaaaa!!

Just for the record, I am not laughing at you if you own or have played with one of these. On the contrary, I’d really appreciate it if you’d e-mail me to explain, specifically, the turn-on factor.

Wait a minute…

Hmmmm…..on second thought, I’m putting the puzzle together in my head…..

O….K……

Ahem.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah. So I asked around the office about headlamps (hahahahahaaaa!!) and one frequent camper looked at me, amused at and bewildered by my ignorance, and said, in that tone of voice you use when speaking with a slow 5-year-old, “Yeah. Our whole family has them. Even the kids have their own.”

Dammit. Fine. I decided to cave and buy one.

I went to Mast General Store that day at lunchtime, and they had a slew of choices. The salesperson who nabbed me asked a lot of questions in an attempt to fit me with the right product, so I ended up telling her about geocaching and “Athena’s Curse”….she was fascinated, and we chatted so long that I was afraid she’d get in trouble for spending too much time with me.

Anyway, I settled on a fun orange one with a flame design on the head strap (hahahahahahahaaaaa!!!!) that was made for kids (oooohhhhhhhh, THAT picture in my head is so wrooonnnng…no more laughing). I just liked the fashion statement, I guess. It turned out NOT to be a practical choice, though, because within a day or two I realized that it was not water resistant — and there was a chance of rain the night of our adventure. So I had to buy a second one since I’d already opened Mr. Flamey Headlamp and thrown away the package.

What was left to prepare? I did my research on the ancient Greeks — the myths were fascinating, even though I felt like I was cramming for an exam — and made PDF cheat sheets to print and email to the rest of the gang. I bookmarked helpful sites on my iPhone. Then I decided to try and get my days and nights turned around, so I made arrangements with my boss to work ‘second shift’ the day before the adventure. Cool, huh? I love my boss!

And, last but not least, I made a plan to avoid that dreaded potential necessity — peeing in the woods. I hydrated like a m’f#cker the day before and the morning of, and drastically cut my water consumption after that. I’d done something similar before the 5K, as recommended by seasoned runners.

I was ready, baby.

The night

Shortly after 8:30pm, the seven of us loaded into two vehicles and carpooled from Spartanburg to the cache location in Columbus, NC. Driving up to the parking coordinates, we saw another car there — another team had apparently begun the first stages. As we were getting ready to set out ourselves (my priorities were mega-dosing some preventive ibuprophen and applying copious amounts of bug spray), the cache owner showed up to greet us.

He was a jovial, cigar-smoking, rugged man with a heavy Greek accent, and I smiled as I caught on to his ancestral connection with Greek mythology and history. He was OBviously having buckets of fun! The entire night, he went back and forth between our team and the other team, popping in and out on his 4-wheeler, laughing with us and making sure we were doing OK.

“It is so fun to watch people when you know what they are looking for, and they don’t,” I heard him tell someone early in the night, as he laughed heartily and took a lonnnnng drag on his cigar.

Also early in the night, we ran across the m’f-ing biggest MUTANT of a spider I have ever seen. Check out the picture, taken by one adventurer who brought his point-and-shoot. The leaf that the freak-of-an-arachnid is sitting on? It spanned a generous 8 inches. Aaaaaaaaaaaaackkk!!

By the way, have you ever heard of butthole spiders? They come out at night, and can be quite sneaky should you decide to sit down in the forest. They didn’t scare one 13-year-old boy, though, who accompanied his dad on our night caching trek. Duhhh — you just insert a tampon, he said. Then you will have NO problems with butthole spiders.

I learned a few other things. One thing is that it IS possible to avoid peeing in the woods while adventur-izing for 7 or so hours — yes, my no-pee strategy worked! Yay! Another thing I learned is that a headlamp, while actually useful for several reasons, will attract flying insects to your face, which means you are subject to sucking in a bug or two when you talk. And one of the wing-batting varmints may mistake your ear for an inviting bug cave. Yikes!! And, finally, I learned that AT&T reception is spotty in the woods in Columbus. It turned out that my iPhone was not much of a comparison to a teammate’s Verizon device. Dammit.

An excerpt from my own log on the “Athena’s Curse” geocaching.com page:

“A M A Z I N G !!! How many times during the night did I gape at something, in awe of the inventiveness, skill, time, and expense behind it?? Wow. Unbelievable. Holy cow. Far OUT, man. Phenomenal. I felt like I was in the middle of a treasure-hunting reality show with a pretty decent budget for materials and special effects. … Meeting the cache owner was an honor and a pleasure, even though I felt a little stomach-churning action when he pointed at me and said, “You. You are the one for ‘Phoenix’.” Auuugh!!! Why me?? But then it turned out to be my superfavorite part of the evening, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the entire world.”

And you, dear readers, get a visual peek at ‘Phoenix.’ See the picture? I’ve entitled it “Lisa in Chains.” Alice has nothing on ME. :) Ha!

Did you catch a couple mm readers’ comments on the June 22nd post? One person, a USCGA member, penned this on the day we were meeting to do the cache: “Get ready for tonight with your headlamp. Who knows, you just might end up flat on your back with your legs up in the air again tonight. What happens in the dark woods, stays in the dark woods.”

Well. My legs were in the air, that’s for damn sure.

A second USCGA member’s mm comment was posted a couple days after we did the cache: “Heh…heh… Where else but on a night cache would half-a-dozen people be yelling at Lisa to get her legs up!!!”

The ‘neverdone’

I can’t tell you the details, but I assure you that ‘Phoenix’ was an official neverdone. :) Trust me. I deserve credit for this one — I’m told I almost took out my shins. That would’ve sucked. *

The call for new adventurers

Curious?

I know you are. I can hear your brain-wheels turning.

Come on.

LIVE life.

Let’s go.

Call me, and we’ll plan. :)

* By the way, here’s a tip for anyone who needs to get something through my thick head while I am busy, excited, nervous, or otherwise distracted: make me look at you, make me repeat what it is you need me to know, and watch for that glimmer of understanding in my eyes. Otherwise, I may just be nodding in an automatic reaction to words being tossed in my general direction. It’s sort of like trying to communicate with a man who has a remote in his hand.

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