Our previous caching trip had left us on 2996 caching finds, and we were wondering where to cache to claim our 3000th find before the year was out.
As we mused, some days previously, we noticed a brand new series published in the area of Sulham just West of Reading. It was an area we had not cached in, so we looked at the caches. They were all mystery caches…and all online jigsaws. 21 online jigsaws varying in size from 80 pieces to 440 pieces.
Lovely pictures, but a little mono-chrome (a sunlit Autumn leaf path, a long view over farmers-fields to a folly). Many contained dogs, or possibly the same dog, so we guessed they celebrated the life of the owner’s dog(s). (One of the dog jigsaws was called ‘In Memoriam’). On completion of a jigsaw the co-ordinates of the associated cache would be displayed.
These jigsaws were published on the 28th December. We saw them on the same evening and set about trying to solve the myriad of online jigsaws. If we could solve 4 jigsaws we would drive to Sulham, and find the caches needed to reach the 3000 milestone. We may even be the first-to-find (FTF) the caches!
We spent several hours looking at several jigsaws, honing our online skills late into the early hours of the following morning. We awoke, and discovered another cacher had solved many of the puzzles and had already claimed many of the first-to-finds (about 16 of the 21 on offer). We continued our solving realising we might need to solve 5 or 6 jigsaws to give us a couple of caches as contingency (to allow for a did-not-find) in order to reach the magic 3000 finds.
Over the 29th and 30th of December, we solved quite a few jigsaws, and focussed our attention on those where the FTF hadn’t been claimed. Of course as we solved a puzzle, the 5 remaining unfound caches were slowly being found (including the bonus 22nd cache). Until only one cache hadn’t been found….
..so early on the 31st December we drove to Sulham, parking up by 9am. We surveyed the other early morning visitors to the car park. Were they cachers ? Were they dog walkers ? We walked down a muddy, tree-lined path, checking our GPS making sure we were heading as quickly and as accurately as we could.
More people. More dog walkers. A couple of litter pickers. We arrived close to Ground Zero for the unfound cache (cache 19 in the series). We had passed no-one resembling a geocacher. Would we be the first to sign the log?
We headed to a likely looking host. No cache to see, then we espied another a better example … wandered over to see a tell-tale pile of sticks guarding a container.
With trepidation we opened the cache, a cute dog to reveal….
We took copious photos and left the cache grinning. We now had 3 caches to find to reach 3000 caches.
Of the puzzles we had solved cache 17 was the next nearest. We had plotted the coordinates on a map (somewhere between two footpaths and a road) and headed there. Suddenly the path became very, very muddy and a field of 19 horses looked on as we slipped and slithered our way past. The cache was still not any closer so we walked along the road and then we turned around to walk back along the second muddy footpath..the cache was still 60 yards away. We gave up..we couldn’t see how to get to the Cache 17.
Good job we had a few caches in reserve!
Our next cache was number 5. (We’re quite sure if we had solved all the jigsaws our route to the caches would have been in a better sequence). We trudged through more muddy paths and arrived a large grassy field. Here a stile/gate guarded the entrance to a large wooded area, and the cache was quickly found. (Our only delay was caused by a dog walker with 4 dogs going by). That was cache 2998.
We were going to attempt cache 3 and cache 1 to reach 3000 finds, but as our contingency had disappeared looking for cache 17, we realised cache 14 was quite close. More mud. But a quick find. 2999.
So we headed for cache 3. In the middle of woodland, and probably where the GPS would wobble. We followed tracks as best we could, but eventually went ‘cross-country’ jumping minor water-courses until a very large hint item came into view. There a pile of sticks and piece of stone shielding a camouflaged bag. We undid the bag.. there was cache 3000! Hooray !
Then the fun started! It was a maze cache! To open the container we needed to slide the upper and lower part around a maze. It took us some time to do this but once opened we signed our names for the 3000th time!
We’ve encountered maze caches before, so we drew the maze out on a sheet of paper, and followed it in reverse to close the cache! A fantastic puzzle cache – first the jigsaw, then the cache container. What a way to reach 3000!
We didn’t try to find any other caches. We had achieved a First-to-Find (only the fourth time we had done this), and found four caches including a fabulous cache for 3000. Why find another? It would wait for another day!
PS If you are wondering why we went wrong at cache 17. we mis-transcribed the co-ordinates when we solved the associated jigsaw. We had to redo the jigsaw to get the correct coordinates!