Out to Sea (aka: A Stranger’s Perspective)

I live in a suburb of Sacramento, in Northern California. And, as I mentioned in a previous post a year ago suburb snore  , I have really never liked living in the suburbs, where I have always felt like a rose trying to bloom in a concrete desert. I used to imagine my life in a secluded cabin somewhere in the mountains, or an artsy bungalow somewhere in the Bay Area, or a high-rise apartment in some grand city – anywhere but some dull suburb filled with boxy chain stores and look-alike houses. It is when I dwell on those old dreams that I feel the familiar tug of wanderlust. I don’t want to keep standing on the old wooden dock, watching the sailboats head out to sea. I want to be on the boat, sailing toward anywhere but here.

I recently met someone who is a seasoned world-traveler. And while I was hoping to live vicariously through his tales of adventures beyond my own dull suburb, he said something completely unexpected. Sacramento, he said, is freakin’ awesome.

Wait. What?

Okay, when I think of this place where I live, a dozen descriptions come to mind. And not one of those is freakin’ awesome. You don’t know what you have, said the stranger, along with a few other things that made me ponder. And ponder. And…you get the idea. What on earth does this little part of the world have that an outsider would see as something special? Like the INTJ that I am, I analyzed it and made a list:

Ways in Which My City Rocks

  1. Affordable housing. (Yes, well, there are some serious hole-in-the-wall places around the country with cheap housing, too. So maybe that isn’t so special).
  2. The river! (Because that means wildlife, and wild places for hiking and water activities)
  3. The Kings and the Sacramento Republic (NBA basketball and, well…MLS hopeful team)
  4. Some of the most beautiful autumn foliage out there (Seriously. You should see it).
  5. Everything is just a 2 hour drive away. Want snow? Two hours north. Sea? Two hours southwest. San Francisco? Two hours. Giant redwoods? Two hours. Mountains? Two hours.
Midtown Autumn

Fall foliage in midtown Sacramento

Okay, maybe that last one doesn’t exactly count, because it is not about being in Sacramento. But it is still a huge plus for a wanderer like me. In fact, just yesterday, my kids and I drove two hours away to Point Reyes – one of my favorite Northern California destinations for its wild, rugged coastline, wildlife, and beautiful scenery. We enjoyed a great hike through the wilderness and a perfect day on the beach. Then we reluctantly said goodbye to the fresh, salty air and headed toward home.

As we neared Sacramento, I had to rub my eyes a few times. Where our city began, the clear blue skies ended abruptly in a thick, brownish-grayish haze of smog. My kids and I stared in dismay. “Does our city always look like that?” asked my son.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. I hope not.” The smog was so incredibly thick that it obscured our view of the downtown skyscrapers and crept inside our car, burning our throats. Nope, I decided. Sacramento was not freakin’ awesome. In fact, I wanted to freakin’ turn the car around and drive back to the Bay Area.

“Oh look, there’s a fire over there!” my daughter pointed out the window, where, sure enough, a plume of smoke rose from an urban area wildfire, filling the skies with smoke. Aha. So the thick haze was not how Sacramento usually looks. That was a relief.

community summer gathering

There’s something to be said about those events where the community gathers together to celebrate and have fun together.

After returning home, we gathered our portable chairs and joined a few thousand neighbors in the park across the street from our home. My kids raced around to inflatables and puppet shows with friends from school and soccer teams, and then we sat back and enjoyed the big fireworks show. And as I sat there, content by my children’s side, I realized how good it felt, after a long day at sea, to have returned home again. To have a safe park and nice kids for my kids to play with, and warm summer nights to sit with the community, watching a fireworks show. That is freakin’ awesome – and one of those things that chips away at the concrete barriers, exposing the earth and letting the flowers bloom wherever they’re planted.

celebrate fireworks

Hidden Treasure in Your Neighborhood (aka: Geocaching)

Did you know that buried treasures are hidden all around your community? In your local parks, beside creeks, along dusty trails, and even in crowded shopping mall parking lots. In every community, and all around the world, there are hidden caches just waiting for you to come along and find them. All you need is a GPS device, and you, too, can join the great treasure hunt.

Geocache Box full of treasure

A traditional geocache, filled with hidden treasures

Geocaching has been one of our family hobbies for around ten years. The sport itself is fairly new, though it is related to Letterboxing, an activity which has been around since the 19th century. To begin the search, you must have a GPS Device, or a cell phone with GPS capability. For years, our family has used a Garmin eTrex Legend Cx.

Garmin eTrex cx Legend

It is not as fancy as some of the newer, pricier devices on the market today, but it works well. Lately, we’ve begun to use the official Groundspeak geocaching app for iPhone. It costs around $10, but it is very user-friendly and convenient.

Groundspeak app

Once you have a GPS device, you are ready to begin the search. You can look up hidden caches on the Geocaching.com website, or on your app. Read the details before you choose, as some caches are harder than others, and there are different types of caches. Some are mini-caches, which are tiny containers, like film canisters, which contain no more than a log book. Some are historical or nature caches, which do not involve a hidden container, but lead you to an important monument, or statue, or a breathtaking view of nature.

Fun for the whole family

Our favorite is the traditional cache. This are usually a camouflaged coffee can or other sealed container. Inside, you will find a log book and pencil, so that you can sign your name. There are also various treasures within, which you are welcome to take, but you must leave a treasure in its place. You never know what you will find — sometimes McToys, or golden dollars, or a ball to toss around with your kids. Some of the caches have a theme, like Disney paraphernalia, pet toys, or holiday items. Occasionally, you may find a “Travel Bug,” or a hitchhiking keychain with an imprinted code and a traveling goal. You can log in to report your find, and then move the travel bug to a new cache and follow its progress online. Our family has our first travel bug — a medieval Playmobil soldier who has managed to free himself from a gang of vicious pirates and is hoping to hitchhike a ride to Playmobil Fun Park in Palm Beach, Florida. We’ll place him in a cache and see how it goes.

Our Travel Bug, "Sir Henry," (center) surrounded by pirates.

Our Travel Bug, “Sir Henry,” (center) surrounded by pirates.

After finding the cache, trading treasures, and signing the log book, it is customary to log in online and report your find, as well, and comment on the cache (though I’ll admit that we have often neglected to do this step. We’re trying to improve).

One thing that our family has not yet done is to hide our own cache. Anyone can do it, though there are certain guidelines that must be followed. All hidden items must be family friendly, for example. And you can’t hide dangerous items like weapons or explosives, nor drugs, alcohol, food, etc. It can be helpful to get permission from land owners before placing a cache, though I’m not sure how common this is.

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

My teen, hunting for a cache somewhere in the Bay Area

Ready to join the great treasure hunt? Just head over to the Geocaching website and create your free account. While you’re there, look us up. Our screen name is Solfire4. And who knows…maybe one day, you will help our family’s travel bug to travel across the country or around the world.

Official geocaching symbol

Remember to follow principles of Leave No Trace while hunting for caches. If you pack it in, pack it out. Leave nature better than you found it.