The Joy of Geocaching
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In early 2003 Ed Manley decided to kill himself. Life couldn’t have been much worse for the then-49-year-old veteran. A series of mishaps resulting in forty-two surgeries over almost thirty years featuring bone grafts, chronic bone infection, amputation and repeated prolonged recoveries had left him with one leg, an irreparable broken neck and in severe chronic pain that would never go away. Finally unable to work, he sold his business and began a long slide into depression. By 2003 Manley was nearly bedridden, in constant pain, addicted to massive amounts of the pain medicine Fentanyl and ashamed of himself and of the burden he believed he was to his family. "I saw no hope for a functional life. I wanted out of here." he says “Whatever is next has to be better than this.” Manley planned to go fishing, his favorite hobby. He would drive his pontoon boat to the center of Lay Lake near his Birmingham, AL home, where he would stage a realistic-looking fall from the boat. His empty boat would be found after he quietly slipped into the water. No more pain, and this plan would relieve his family of his care while leaving them with sufficient life insurance to carry on. As he was loading his boat on the chosen morning the postman arrived with a package. Inside was a Garmin eTrex global positioning satellite receiver. Manley had forgotten that he had ordered the gadget months earlier in a mail-order promotion. Even in his hour of darkness, the gadget freak in him was intrigued. What was the new toy good for? Manley stopped loading the boat and went to his computer, where Google led him to Geocaching.com, a website dedicated to a new kind of global treasure hunt. People pointed each other to hidden objects by sharing latitude-longitude coordinates. He saw that one of these so-called geocaches was near his old high school. The listing description for ‘The Mountie Cache’ mentioned a hole in the fence as a landmark. "I knew that hole very well, because we used to go there to smoke." he says “I wanted to see if this GPS thing could navigate me to that place.” Although wheelchair-bound and in what he terms “seriously sorry shape” Manley struggled out to find the treasure: an ammunition can full of toys. “Found it! Cool!” For the first time in years he was excited about something. And the website said geocaches were hidden all over! Arriving home exhausted Manley was faced with a decision: “Do I kill myself or get healthy? Killing myself really didn’t sound too appealing, so that left getting healthy” he says. Geocaching would be his road to recovery. The goal: “Higher Than A Hawk,” a cache placed at the top of a nearby mountain. Finding that cache would prove that he still had the power to recover. The first step was to get off drugs, so Manley threw away $1,600 worth of pain killers. Withdrawal was agonizing, but at least there was a goal.