For the third year in a row Izzy and me decided we were going to the GeoNord Mega event. This year’s was to be held in Dunkirk, which is kind of only just in France really. The previous two years’ events had been held in Valenciennes (see Going Mega in France) and Saint Omer (see Saint Omer). On the first day we spent most of our caching time in old forts, and sand dunes.
Off We Go!
As with last year, we were joined on the trip by the Happy Hunter, which meant our caching team name for the weekend would once again be “Team Happy Vampire Pig”, shortened (sort of) to “THUP” on most logs. Unlike last year, though, we decided to set off first thing in the morning and get an extra day of caching under our belts. In my case, it’s quite a big belt, so I can get a lot of caching under it.
In a remarkable break from tradition, I’ve also decided not to post a photo of the Queen Elizabeth Bridge at the start of this post. There’s a picture of it on pretty much every other post that included a crossing of it. It’s a tradition made to be broken.
Our first geocaching target was the set of puzzle caches that the GeoNord team released over the month of December last year. These were located around the “Bois des Forts” just outside Coudekerque. It was an area very familiar to Izzy and myself. We’d done a previous series of caches here on our way back home from GeoNord 2016 (in Valenciennes). On that occasion it was a fiercely hot day and we had Alibags and Norfolk12 with us. This time around is was fiercely hot again. It had been fiercely hot in both the UK and northern France for the previous 9 weeks or so.
We walked around the caches in reverse number order, for some reason. This put us in conflict with practically everyone else who was doing them on the same day. I never was one for doing things by the book.
The walk around was rather pleasant but a little slow. It took us a good three hours to finish the 24 puzzles and one Wherigo there. It should also be noted at this point that the Happy Hunter was the only one among us who’d leaned towards the full trouser when getting dressed in the morning. He was therefore the only one who get caches from the undergrowth without getting stung or bitten into extinction.
A part of the slowness was that about 4 caches from the end I managed to find the magic “completely trash the setup and delete all the caches” button on my GPS whilst it was in my pocket. This left me with the slight problem of having a GPS device with no caches on it.
That wouldn’t normally be too much of a problem. However, in this case, HHHP20 didn’t have the solutions to the other series we were planning to do. And the battery on my phone lasts about as long as a goldfish’s daydream. The problem was further compounded by the realisation that whilst I’d packed my little travelling laptop, I hadn’t packed a cable with which to connect it to the GPS. The day was getting more complicated than I’d planned.
Anyway, we finished off the series at the Forts using HHHP20’s phone. On returning to the car, I googled office stationery and/or electronics shops that were nearby. There was one kind of half a mile away on the way back towards Dunkirk, which was kind of convenient.
Because I needed to set up the GPS, we basically had to go find somewhere with power and free wi-fi. We decided the best bet was probably our hotel – the Ibis Budget Dunkerque Grand Synthe. According to many of the reviews, describing it as a hotel is a little grandiose. It’s basically a budget motel.
It’s the same chain as the place we stayed in Saint-Omer last year. However, the one in Dunkirk is a bit more dated and a bit smaller. The room was clean and the bed was comfortable even though it’s definitely at the “functional” end of the market.
When we arrived we had to figure out how to get in. There was no receptionist present – only an automated check-in machine. It wouldn’t allow us to pay for both nights up front. The machine only charged for the first night. We had to pay for the second night and the breakfast separately at the reception desk. Just as soon as the reception desk had a human being at it.that is. Anyway, we got into our rooms and it took me half an hour or so to redo the GPS so we could go out again.
By this time it was a bit late to attempt our second target for the day, so we swapped that out until Sunday and instead headed up to France’s most northerly point, in Bray-Dunes. Why? Because a couple of nights earlier, and literally at the moment where I asked the GeoNord crew on Facebook if they were releasing any new caches, a whole host of new caches had appeared around Dunkirk.
Sand in Our Shoes
One of the new series was a trail of Wherigos around the dunes. I managed to use my cunning and guile (cough, cough) to extract all the sets of coordinates from the cartridge file while I was at home, thereby guaranteeing finds on the caches even if we couldn’t get the Wherigo app to work.
Bray-Dunes is a busy little town and it was getting towards the end of the afternoon when we arrived, at about 5pm. We thought the 18 caches here (plus an earthcache) should maybe take us an hour and a half. OK, maybe two hours at most. What we hadn’t bargained on was that the paths through the dunes were mainly composed of loose sand. As a result our speed over the ground was quite slow. The caches were all easy, and we found them all quite quickly, but it seemed very hard work covering the ground between them. The net result was that it was most definitely dinner o’clock by the time we’d done the caches.
We’d arrived back in the town somewhere other than we’d left it, but the walk back to the car gave us a good overview of the various restaurants on offer. Izzy had a particular one in her mind, so we walked back there. The food was really quite good. I treated myself (again) to the local Flemish delicacy of beef stew with gravy so thick that it can be scraped up directly with the chips. In this case, the chips had been cut in such a way that each one formed a tiny shovel that was ideal for gravy excavation. Lush. By the time we’d finished main courses it was distinctly dark and we were getting cold, so we confused the staff by moving indoors while they weren’t looking. Izzy ordered a massive pudding which ended up being good enough for the both of us. Also lush !
It was completely dark when we left. This meant that, once back at the car, I had to dig the little headlight beam converters out of the glovebox and stick them on. I’m getting reasonably adept at that now, having done it to the current car on six occasions at least. So now I was suitably legal again. We returned to our sleeping place to try to grab a few hours of zzzzzzzz’s. Saturday promised to be a busy day of caching.
Over the course of the day we’d found 43 caches in total. That’s despite the big gap in the middle of the afternoon.