Bemidji couple first in state to finish geocaching challenge
In honor of Minnesota's Sesquicentennial, state parks collaborated in setting up the Minnesota State Park Geocaching History Challenge.
Out of the thousands of registered geocachers in Minnesota, Cindy and Allan Habedank of Bemidji, Minn., took on the challenge and were the first to finish.
The basic idea of geocaching is to find hidden caches in various types of locations all across the world by using GPS coordinates. Individuals and organizations can set up the caches and then share the location coordinates by posting on geocaching.com. Some demo parks offer GPS units for geocachers to borrow for the day. The cost of a GPS unit starts at $50.
"The geocaches really are all around the world - you can actually find a geocache in Timbuktu," said Cindy.
Using given hints, adventurers must explore the landscape to find the hidden cache box. Once found, the visitor can choose from wide variety of rewards in exchange for leaving something of their own.
Geocache hunts vary in difficulty, so there are quests for every skill level. Geocaches vary in types as well; some require puzzle solving, some take the visitor to several locations before finding the actual cache container, some require searching for a cache the size of a dime.
This particular Minnesota State Park challenge began May 11 and will continue until Dec. 31. The challenge comprises 72 individual state park geocaches, four regional challenges and one final state challenge. In each uncovered geocache is a historical statistics card that has information about that particular park. A geocacher must first collect all of the cards from one of the five Minnesota regions. They then present the cards at the regional center in order to continue to the regional challenge. Once they complete the regional challenge, they earn a special coin designating completion. They must collect all four regional coins before they can complete the final challenge and earn themselves the final gold coin.
The Habedanks said it took them 31 days to complete the challenge. They traveled about 4,000 miles across the state and hiked about 150 miles. Some challenges were easier then others and would take only a few minutes to hike.
They said that the hardest cache to get to was on Garden Island in Lake of the Woods. In order to even reach the island, they had to go up to Canada, go through customs, get on a boat, go to the island and then finally start searching for the geocache.
"You can tell who will be finishing the entire state park challenge by checking who made it through Garden Island," said Allan.
Other challenges were more demanding to the mind, such as the regional challenge, which was actually set up in Lake Bemidji State Park by naturalist John Fylpaa. The Habedanks said once they reached the site, it took them more than an hour of searching to find the hidden cache.
The Habedanks also had their fair share of getting lost. They said that using GPS units definitely doesn't guarantee you'll be able to find a cache. Allan said that during the very last cache challenge, he was caught in a storm while it was getting dark. The GPS coordinates were not leading him to the geocache and the wind speed kept picking up, forcing him to cling to trees. He said he finally had to quit for the night and call the park to find a camping place. After a few hours of sleep, he got up in the morning and completed the challenge.
As of now, no other competitors have reached the finish line.
Since the Habedanks began geocaching 15 months ago, they have logged 173 "cache days" and in that time they have uncovered 832 geocaches. They said they have traveled all across the country to find caches and they even found a cache 4,000 miles away in Oslo, Norway.
They describe geoaching as the perfect activity to do together. They have fun, but they also take the matter to be very serious business. They have an alarm set on their computer to go off any time a new local geocache is registered. Like all geocachers, they have a profile name which is "Fargnots" and they refer to all their geocaching friends by profile name instead of legal name. The Habedanks have had official clothing, hats, coins and other gear made up with their profile name on them.
Besides being a recreational activity for the couple to enjoy together, geocaching has come in handy in other ways.
"When my daughter got engaged, this was how I tested her fiancé. I gave him a pair of boots three sizes too small, a pair of snowshoes, and took him out geocaching," Allan joked.
The Habedanks completed the DeLorme Minnesota Challenge last year and the Minnesota State Park Geocaching History Challenge this year. Next on the agenda will be the Great River Road Challenge, which involves geocaching up and down the Mississippi River.
For those interested in getting involved in geocaching, Fylpaa has been organizing training programs for the past couple of years. The first geocache at Lake Bemidji State Park was set up by Allan Habedank with the help of Fylpaa. Now, there are nearly 300 caches within a 25-mile radius of Bemidji.
"It's like a pirate treasure trail, Easter egg hunt and crossword puzzle, all in one," said Fylpaa.
Fylpaa's next Geocaching 101 program will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lake Bemidji State Park. For more details, call 308-2300.
According to the Habedanks, "Once you get started, it's addicting. You'll be looking up geocaches at every place you travel."