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Park Ranger Jennifer Giblin holds up a Masonic coin hidden in a geocache at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area. (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)
Palm Coast Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 8 years ago

Bugs and buried treasure

by: Jonathan Simmons Senior Editor

When a park ranger pointed out the fire ants swarming up my pant legs Saturday, at Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, I was relieved. Thank God, I thought: Something’s finally gone wrong.

See, most sane people go into an outdoor adventure hoping for an uneventful trip: moderate weather, minimal discomfort and no close encounters with dangerous animals.

Not the case with the story-hungry journalist.

Nobody wants to read about an uneventful trip, so we intrepid reporters seek out survivable disaster. A freak storm, say, or a close critter encounter.

At the very least, an outdoor story in Florida should include some ants in the pants.

Treasure hunting

But actually, I’d come to Flagler Beach to attend an event called “Geocaching 101.”

Geoachers use GPS to hide and seek items, often on public lands. A geocaching event, with people racing around after hidden treasure, should provide plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong, I thought.

Participants’ GPS could crash. A storm could sweep in. Someone could round a bend and come face to face with a basking gator or a coiled snake.

Now that would make for a good story.

But when I pulled into the park, the novice geocachers were a group of middle-aged folks seated at a picnic pavilion listening to Friends of Gamble Rogers board member Patty Steman explain how to set up GPS programs on their smart phones.

Not one word about mad, treasure-hating alligators.

So when park ranger Jennifer Giblin suggested I tag along while she checked on a cache that had been hidden and contained some actual treasure, I grabbed my backpack and followed her into the woods.

Many caches don’t hold items of much genuine value, but this one, Giblin said, contained a Masonic coin with an interesting history.

The coin’s owner, Wayne Winders, sent it out into the geocaching world in Illinois after his grandfather, a Mason who had wanted to visit all 50 states with his wife but never made it, died of cancer.

Winders sent the coin out in his granddad’s memory, with an attached tag asking geocachers to bring it from one state to another on their journeys, marking off the places the coin had visited.

The coin’s final journey, the instructions said, should bring it back to Bloomington, Ill., where Winders would give it to his grandmother.

By the time the coin made it to Gamble Rogers, according to a log on the website, it had been to Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

People along the way had taken photos of it in front of the entrance signs at various parks, and Giblin wanted to take one at Gamble Rogers.

The coin angle sounded great. But first, we had to find it.

Giblin gave me the coordinates, and I plugged them into my phone.

Bingo: A green, dotted line on the screen led northeast. But when I looked closer, I saw that the line ended at a location roughly a mile east, in the Atlantic Ocean. Could I have typed the wrong coordinates?

I tried again. And again, into the ocean. So I scrolled, following it across Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan to its end point in New Delhi, India.

Clearly, something was wrong.

Giblin suggested I try reversing the coordinates.

I did.The line took me into the Arctic Ocean.

We stood in the parking lot scratching our heads and double-checking the numbers.

Giblin then tried it in her own GPS, which pointed us toward a location less than half a mile away. We found the coin, uneventfully, a few minutes later.

I was taking pictures of Giblin holding it up in front of the park’s entrance sign when the fire ants found me.

She pointed them out, and I grinned as I wiped dozens of them off my pant cuffs and hiking boots.

Buried treasure and swarming fire ants? Finally, we’d both found what we came for.

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