Jasmer Challenge

One of the more popular geocaching “side games” is called the “Jasmer Challenge”. The goal: for each month since geocaching began in May 2000 (when Selective Availability was turned off), find at least one geocache that was placed in that month. As of this writing, that means finding 214 caches: one placed in May 2000, one in June 2000, one in July 2000, etc., all the way up to February 2018. It’s a difficult challenge to complete, because of the travel required, and the scarcity of some of the months. For example, there are only four remaining active hides in the world that were placed in August 2000.

I’ve been working on this challenge off-and-on for about 3 years. Many people, including some of my friends, have taken “geo-trips” specifically for finding caches to help them fulfill the Jasmer Challenge. Geo-trips aren’t really an option for me at this point in my life (not that I’m complaining by any means), but I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel for work several times a year. Work travel often gives me opportunities to work on my geocaching goals, including (you guessed it) the Jasmer Challenge. In 2017, I found myself with only two months left to go to qualify: July and August 2000. I was able to find the latter in April 2017, and the former in February 2018.

April 2017: GC36, “Geocache 612” (hidden 8/21/2000)

“Geocache 612” is one of the four remaining caches from August 2000. It’s located in Kalkaska County, MI, which is in the northern section of the lower peninsula, about 3 to 3.5 hours north of Detroit. My opportunity to find it came in April 2017, when I traveled to Ann Arbor for a work gig at University of Michigan. Upon arrival, I rented a car and drove 7 hours round-trip, with the weather threatening the entire way, and made the find. The full story of this find may become the subject of a future post…

February 2018: GC18, “Tarryall” (hidden 7/2/2000)

“Tarryall” is the oldest active geocache in the state of Colorado. It’s located about 2 hours out of Denver, in a rural area at about 8600′ elevation. I’ve had my eye on it for a long time, as work seems to bring me to the Denver area every couple of years. I had plans to find it in 2016, but decided to drive east and find another old cache instead.

Late last year, I learned that I would be heading to Golden, CO for a few days in early February 2018. Now, if I had my choice, I’d rather get sent to Colorado in spring or fall (note to readers: I am not a skier). I just figured that Colorado at 8600′ in February would be, well, snowy, and to maximize chances of success, it would be better to eliminate snow as a potential complicating factor. No such luck, but I decided to plan a mission to Tarryall in spite of it, and hope for the best.

First thing I would need would be a car. I’ll throw in a plug for Zipcar, a car-sharing service which I’ve used for several years. It’s great for just this kind of thing. As long as there are Zipcars available nearby, they can be rented by the hour, 24/7, and there are no rental counter lines or pushy agents to deal with. Just reserve, find your car, and drive. On this trip, I was happy to find that Colorado School of Mines (the site of my meeting for the week) had cars available. I reserved a 4WD Ford Escape, which I figured would give me the best chance for success should I have to deal with any bad weather.

I chose the first full day of my trip (a Monday) to make my attempt. My day job didn’t start until 12 noon MST, and by body clock would still be on eastern time. I figured I would need 2 hours for the drive out and 2 hours for the drive back. If I left at 4:30am, and planned on being back by 11, that would allow 2.5 hours for caching.

Departure day arrived. The weather forecast in Colorado looked beautiful, with highs above freezing, and no snow predicted in either Golden or the area around Tarryall. Maryland was another story, though: we had an ice storm the day I was scheduled to fly out. No significant flight delays, though, other than to de-ice the plane. I arrived in Golden, got my stuff ready, and went to bed early.

After about 5.5 hours’ sleep, I was up bright and early and making preparations to head out. I left my hotel at a little after 4, found my Zipcar, and was on the road at 4:30, just as scheduled. It was very windy around Golden, as a front had gone through overnight; but the weather at the lower elevation was a balmy 50°F (considerably warmer than back home in Maryland).

The drive was dark. Really, really dark. At about the halfway mark, I drove through Kenosha Pass, which has an elevation of 10,000′. This was the one area where my careful planning failed me. I had checked weather in Golden, and in Tarryall, but not here. Here, it was snowing. Not a huge amount of accumulation, but heavy enough to coat the roads and reduce visibility. Thankfully, the wind had died down, but it was snowing. And dark. And my car was out of windshield washer fluid. And did I mention dark? I was having a hard time seeing the road. The truck in front of me decided to pull over to wait it out. Morale was slipping, and I considered turning back.

I decided to soldier on. In spite of the snow coating the road, I could still see the yellow lines, so I knew it wasn’t deep. I stopped to manually clear my windshield, which helped with visibility. The Ford Escape seemed to be having no issues with traction. Braking was still crisp and responsive. There was no one else on the road to worry about. I cut my speed and drove carefully. Eventually, as the elevation dropped a little bit, conditions improved. I started to see the first glimmers of light in the east. The roads were no longer snow-covered. I might just make it!

I pulled into the parking area for Tarryall at about 6:30am, right on schedule. I had read that with a 4WD vehicle, it was possible to drive on the unpaved ATV road up to about 0.1 mile from the cache. Instead of doing that, I elected to park near the main road and walk from there, which was only about 0.5 mile. I hiked out; I found the cache; I did my happy dance. By now, the sun was up, and the area was just beautiful. I’m not saying that Maryland isn’t beautiful, but we don’t have stuff like this. I hung around for another hour or so, and found another cache, before returning to my vehicle for the drive back.

The drive back was uneventful. I stopped for several more caches. It was hard to resist the urge to stop for even more caches (fellow geocachers can relate to that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling), but I had a deadline, and couldn’t be late getting back. It was still snowing at Kenosha Pass, but the plows were out doing their thing, and the drive was much less daunting in full daylight. I made one more stop, for gas and a really bad gas-station sandwich. I rolled back into Golden with plenty of time to spare.

So, thus ends my quest to complete the Jasmer Challenge. It was fun, and it sent me on a couple of crazy adventures! If you thought it was over, though, don’t fret: once one has completed the Jasmer Challenge once, the next step is to complete it twice. I’m already crossing my fingers that work will send me to Atlanta, where I’m told another August 2000 and another July 2000 hide are lurking…