Torching The Tube

Ah, the golden days of youth, the sunny hours spent in innocent pursuits! Games of tag, hide and seek, treasure hunting through forest and field. But we grow older and life grows deeper, darker. We seem to want to hide, more than seek, and treasure hunts become a trademarked activity called Geocaching.

The culture of Geocachers is worldwide in scope, but the basic idea is the same. A Geocacher hides his or her cache, consisting of at least a logbook and often a collection of odd trinkets or memorabilia, in a location identified and published as GPS coordinates on a widely available website. From there, the hunt is on as other Geocachers attempt to navigate their way to the cache. There are hundreds of Geocaches lurking in Western North Carolina’s hills and forests, but none are more famous than Asheville’s Tube Torcher, created by two Geocachers who insisted they only be identified by their Geocaching handles, CrotalusRex and IndianaLee, for the purposes of this article.

“It’s as if they had just completed a grand adventure,” says Crotalus Rex of Tube Torcher II’s fans, who are led on a multi-stage journey through, and under, Asheville, negotiating storm drains, tunnels and man-made caverns. (The first Tube Torcher had to be put to rest, or “archived,” after the entrance to the final stage of the hunt was buried under a new parking lot.) For expert cachers, TTII takes at least two days to complete — less, says the cache’s website, “if you are made of steel and have quicksilver for blood” — and carries a difficulty rating of ten stars, which is pretty serious considering that the usual highest rating for difficulty is five stars.

Some geocache hunts are little more than “park and grabs,” a matter of driving along guided by a GPS until arriving at a convenient parking spot next to where the cache is hidden. “These are legitimate and enjoyable caches, but we wanted to create something that took days to complete,” says Crotalus Rex. “We wanted something that would leave the hunter feeling truly satisfied and with a great sense of accomplishment.”

It all started seven years ago when C. Rex decided his birthday gift to IndianaLee, a friend since high school, would be an elaborate scavenger hunt using storm drains and some old, abandoned grain silos. “Indy liked it so much that we started talking more about it, and Tube Torcher just grew from our discussions. We’re both avid outdoorsmen, and when we discovered Geocaching, we saw it as a great way to get outdoors in search of new places.”

The first idea was to use caves in the mountains around Asheville, each cave containing a clue leading to the next stage of the hunt. C. Rex and Indy soon discovered that most caves’ fragile interiors are protected by law, so C. Rex’s birthday use of storm drains was resurrected. “The Asheville area has miles of storms drains and tunnels, so we spent hours poring over topographic maps and aerial photos.” Once a number of promising sites were identified, late night excursions began, with the help of a third Geocacher known as Short Round, another handle inspired, like TTII’s murky environments, by Indiana Jones films. “We were accompanied by spiders, snakes, rats, insects of all kinds, and on one surprising occasion we met a beaver up close and personal,” C. Rex recalls of the many hours spent laying out the cache’s stages. (Crotalus, by the way, is the genus of snakes comprising rattlesnakes.) The hardy trio also discovered the challenge of being in a storm drain during a summer downpour, leading to the warning on TTII’s website never to hunt during, or just after, periods of heavy rain.

The first Tube Torcher (so named, with tongue firmly in cheek, for the torches needed to find one’s way through the enclosed darkness) consisted of five stages and soon became the talk of Geocaching websites and forums as a real adventure that lived up to its promise of a challenging and brain-teasing hunt. “It was one of the most popular caches in this area and for that matter almost anywhere,” Indy says. “It was a wild ride that’s still talked about today.”

The successor TTII took three years to plan and construct before it was released in January of 2007, with twice as many tubes and chambers as TTI. “It has lots more water, more mental and physical challenges, and plenty of interesting locals of many different species, included H. sapiens,” C. Rex boasts.

Cachers who’ve braved TTII seem to agree. “I saw plenty of huge spiders on my journey and even did a few parts while it was raining,” reported Hologram21 on TTII’s website. “I even walked up behind a beaver at Site 5 and had a nice talk with him as we walked down the tunnel together.” Chiefwings was in the midst of negotiating TTII’s multiple stages and mused, “I think I might need to bring chaps and a machete.”

It’s all in the spirit of adventure, tinted with the warm hues of those childhood games on lazy summer days long ago. “It makes us feel good that we’ve created something that, while a great challenge, really makes people happy,” says Indiana Lee. “Isn’t that what it’s all about?”

CACHE & RELEASE

If you fancy yourself the next Indiana Jones, Geocaching would be great practice. A good introduction to Geocaching in general can be found at geocaching.com, which provides the basic rules of the game as well as serving as the gateway to the websites for thousands of geocaches throughout the United States and abroad. You can search for caches in your area by zip code, or you can learn about a specific cache like Tube Torcher II by using its Geocache ID number. Tube Torcher II’s ID is GCWA47. To obtain clues and other pertinent information about any cache, you will have to create an account on geocaching.com (it’s free). Happy hunting!

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