Last weekend, I met up with a group of geocachers for a few underground adventures. And by “underground adventures,” I mean, “we were in drainage pipes and tunnels.” It was fun!
There are different types of geocaches – traditional caches, which are containers you find in the woods, on a city street, or in a parking lot (the non-woods ones are subcategorized as “urban” caches), virtual ones that require you to go to a location to answer questions, puzzle caches, blah blah blah. If you’re really interested, you can find them all listed and defined here. One type of traditional cache is subcategorized as a “tunnel” cache. You find the entrance or “trailhead” at the outset of a storm pipe drain and make your way through it until you find the container. These types of caches can be fairly easy, just requiring a flashlight or headlamp, to extremely challenging, requiring crawling through the sewer system and elevation changes from pipe-to-pipe where you’ll need a ladder and/or teamwork to get everyone up. Tunnel caches are what I met up with the group last weekend to tackle.
There was a list of 12 or so tunnels, but we knew that realistically, we would only get to maybe 6. There were a few on that list that I’d wanted to do for a while. None of them were particularly challenging, thankfully. At 5′ 3.5″, I have a height advantage, haha. At points where the taller people were really working their quads, I was still lucky enough to only be slightly hunched over. But that also meant that for some of the “jumping up” portions of the day, I needed a boost lol. I still think I had the better end of the deal.
The longest tunnel we went through was underneath the Walmart by my house (across the street from where everyone’s stayed for the podcast meet-up for the past few years). We ended up having to replace the container with a fairly large one. We hung it from the ladder that you climb up and down from when you’re accessing the drain from the street. I’m the one who did it and I took note of a street sign that I saw above me because I wanted to go back to that grate and see if I could see the container from above (I’m 95% sure you can) but of course, my perception was totally off underground and I couldn’t find the sign once I was streetside! I’m gonna find it, dammit! And take a picture!
Another tunnel we entered was a short drain pipe that emptied rainwater into Crabtree Creek at the Crabtree Valley Mall. This was a cache that I had solved a cipher puzzle to get the coordinates for a while ago and have been waiting years to find. It was an easy pipe and an easy find by a taller geocaching friend. And it was really cool because this cache was placed in 2012 and hadn’t been found by anyone since 2015. Yeah, yeah, dorky to everyone else, but super cool to us.
Another cache was in a different tunnel system in Downtown Raleigh, one that’s actually very close to my new office. The tunnel was neat – it was stone instead of concrete because it was older – and it was much cooler, temperature-wise. But the tunnel itself isn’t the notable part of this adventure. We were trying to figure out ways to get down to access the entrance. While my friend Michael was climbing down, I stopped to take a picture of him. There was a bunch of bamboo near where he climbed down, so another friend, Cheryl, went into the bamboo to see if there was an easier way into the tunnel that didn’t involve climbing 20+ feet. Just as I took the picture, I feel a sharp pinch on my stomach and cry out, “Oww!”
Then, I felt 3 more sharp pinches on my right leg. Before I know it, there’s a lot of sharp pinches all over. A third friend, Mike, had rushed over and is going, “Colleen, there are yellowjackets all over you!” as he’s swatting them away.
I drop my phone and fanny pack (shut up, it’s awesome) on the ground, take my gloves off (because you can’t go into the sewers without gloves, GROSS), and start swatting at them with my gloves, smacking my legs as Mike is swatting at the ones on my back. Poor Michael has climbed 20+ feet down to the drain’s entrance and has no idea what the commotion is, lol. Another cacher-friend, Tommy, ends up helping Cheryl, who also got stung but not as many times as I did. I was wearing neon yellow because I thought it would help people see me in the dark tunnels. It also helped attract angry yellowjackets! Thankfully, Tommy had a first-aid kit with cooling wipes, which helped a bit, but my welts were pretty significant in the moment; significant enough that we took pictures and measured them to make sure they didn’t get bigger. In the end, Cheryl remembered that she had a ladder in her car and we climbed down it from the other side, avoiding the rest of the angry yellowjackets.
All in all, I did five tunnel caches with them that day. I had so much fun and cannot wait for the opportunity to do it again. We finished the day grabbing Mexican food and adult beverages and chatting about life, work, and which underground geocaches we’d like to do next. It was a really great day.
I also need to give a HUGE shoutout and thank you to Jay for being the primary parent for a full day while I did my thang. I really love adventures and am so thankful to have married someone who understands that the things that make me happy take way longer to do than the things that make him happy. Love you, Smoopsys.