WESTERN KY (11/13/12)—A couple months back, I set out to write a proper article regarding what I consider to be one of the most unique places in western Kentucky—Pilot Rock. In order to really do the landmark justice, though, I needed to revisit the area with a camera, a notepad, and a fresh eye.
But I can’t lie; even after I made my first visit in several months, I wound up assailing my brain, trying to come up with a few new angles on the remarkable location. I was experiencing the writer’s variety of tunnel vision. I mean, Pilot Rock truly is striking, but what can be said that can’t be seen with one’s eyes? As I came to realize through research and few conversations, the answer is “a whole lot.”
From far-reaching historical significance, to an abundance of wildlife and recreational opportunities, the stone protrusion really is one-of-a-kind, and the article I put together, which can be found here, turned out to be quite interesting.
An aspect I came to enjoy most about writing the piece, however, was the information I gathered about geocaching both at Pilot Rock and around the world. Nonetheless, how I was pointed to the idea, as well as the method by which I acquired many of the facts, was even more intriguing. In fact, as a mildly knowledgeable “muggle,” writing a section about geocaching wouldn’t have even crossed my flustered mind if it hadn’t been for a seemingly chance encounter with Trenton, KY resident, Chris Fox, his friend and roommate, Jarrod Weemes, and his faithful canine sidekick, Clifford, during an outing with my family.
As we came to learn that day, and through subsequent conversations, the trio was in the midst of what would become Chris’s most time-consuming geocache hunt in nearly two years. Needless to say, the wheels of inspiration were already turning from the moment Chris said “geocaching,” and I was lucky enough to have brought a notepad and pen along with me on the trip. I grabbed his email address and sent him a few photos I took of him and Clifford beneath the memorable “alligator rock” near the tower’s summit (see the main photo).
So, who is Chris and how did he stumble into the vast global community of geocachers? After swapping cell phone numbers with the outgoing gentleman via a few emails, I found out.
At the age of 57, Chris has located geocaches all over the US and parts of Mexico. From basic, entry-level treasure hunts, to complex and often-times dangerous treks into “no man’s land,” Chris’s geocaching tales are similar to Pilot Rock: one-of-a-kind.
Raised in Tennessee near Memphis, Chris longed to live in a bigger city once he got older, but soon changed his mind when he realized the drawbacks of a fast-paced, metropolitan lifestyle—mainly the loss of off-the-beaten-path locales. With this in mind, he moved to the smaller town of Trenton where he lives and is employed today. While he fully embraces his fondness for being outdoors, he notes that it wasn’t until early adulthood that he realized he had a true affinity for the natural world.
“This is what I’ve learned about myself,” says Chris. “I used to be a big deer hunter, but I realized that I really didn’t care about killing deer. I had plenty of friends that hunted and all I had to do was call and ask them to bring some meat over. Then I came to understand that my ‘fun’ with deer hunting was actually sitting out in the woods waiting on the deer. I suddenly understood that I would be just as happy with a camera in my hands, so that’s what I started doing. Then, after a while, I figured out that I just like being outside in nature in general. From there, I started hiking and backpacking more and wound up finding out about geocaching through some of my hiking friends.”
As fate would have it, it wasn’t long after learning about geocaching that Chris began traveling the country as a quality engineer for a consulting group, EHD Technologies. From there, it wasn’t hard to replace boring ‘down time’ in one-night hotels with exciting treasure quests.
To date, Chris has claimed right at 200 geocaches and isn’t looking to slow down if he can help it.
After learning this, I had a question: how did the geocache at Pilot Rock stack up against the rest? The answer I got was both surprising and informative.
“It took me three days to find the cache at Pilot Rock. That’s the longest it’s ever taken me to find one. There have been some that I’ve literally spent two or three hours searching for at other places, though. All of it ties in to how the geocaches are rated,” explains Chris. “If you’re searching for something that’s rated at a difficulty and terrain of ‘one,’ you know you can pretty much get out of the car and find it. If it’s rated at a terrain of ‘four,’ then it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’re going to have to scale a mountain or a cliff or climb into some sludge or something. Then you have to look at the difficulty rating, too. A ‘one’ is right in front of you, but I know of a level ‘5’ cache not too far from here that requires you to dive over 60 feet down into a body of water and into an old airplane. When I saw that listing for the first time, I was like, ‘Man!’”
And sure enough, this underwater “trove” is legitimate—and in Illinois no less—but it’s even more difficult (or fun) to locate than one might first imagine. According to the cache listing, which Chris kindly sent my way via email, the “Frozen Flight Scuba Cache” is ranked at a “five”—the hardest—in both the difficulty and terrain categories. Not only does the hunter have to possess certified scuba diving skills, but they also have to pay a $20 fee to dive in the quarry, must arrive between 10am and 6pm during the week (except on Wednesdays), and may also need to assess an underwater map the business has on-hand. The payoff? Getting a chance to tell the geocaching community that you signed the waterproof logbook while also getting to check out the sunken remains of a pickup truck and a long-defunct Cessna airplane body—what more could you ask for, right?
Though Chris hasn’t taken his love of geocaching to the murky depths of the “Frozen Flight” cache, he told me that he once braved what could have easily turned into a seriously dangerous situation while geocaching along the US-Mexican border near Juarez.
“One of the most memorable geocaches I found was when I was in Mexico,” Chris explains. “I got up on Sunday morning when I figured the drug cartel would be asleep and headed out of town. Now, if you’re in Juarez and start driving down toward Chihuahua or whatever, you can go for hours and hours, and once you leave the city, all you can see is more road and desert. Then, in order to get where I was going, you had to turn on Highway 2, and anyone who knows anything about that area knows that that is the last road you want to be on. Everyone knows it’s the road the cartel uses for transporting stuff in and out of Arizona. Well, I’m there at the crack of dawn because I figured that all the cartel guys would all be asleep. Sure enough, they must have been, because I did my thing with no problems whatsoever. When I got back, though, all the people I was with were like, ‘Dude, you have major cojones!’ They were freaking out, because once you leave the city, you have no police protection or anything. I simply told them, ‘There wasn’t a soul out there. I mean, I was out there in the desert all alone.’ And that’s a great story right there. That’s how a lot of geocaches are, too. It’s just as interesting to take the journey and to search an area as it is to find the actual cache.”
What made the find in Mexico even more thrilling to Chris was the fact that what he discovered was the first and only “travel bug” he’s found so far. As he explained, a geocaching travel bug is an item that is both traceable and serialized. Once found, a travel bug—be it a coin, a rock, an actual GPS beacon, or something else—can be moved to a new location, preferably a new state. Knowing this, Chris took the item with him back into Arizona where he hid it for the next adventure seeker to find.
On that point, Chris says that he has also created four caches of his own both in Trenton and portions of east and west Tennessee, all of which can be found by searching on Geocaching.com.
“With geocaching, there are times that you get to see parts of your own backyard, and the world for that matter, that you might not have even known existed,” says Chris.
When it’s all said and done, isn’t that what it’s all about? Our coordinates crossed, we became friendly acquaintances, we shared our tales, we agreed to meet again another day, and we are now adding new experiences to our interwoven web of existence by moving on. Whether it’s geocaching or simply going for a stroll amongst the vast wilderness of west Kentucky, there’s no telling where your trail will lead. Happy trails, my friends.
If you’re interested in learning more about geocaching or want to become a new member of the international geocaching community, check out Geocaching.com.
Sugg Street Post
Written by Luke Short
Main photo by Luke Short
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Darrance Sunday, 17 February 2013 23:58 Comment Link
That's way more clever than I was epxecting. Thanks!