We have been lying to our friends at an alarmingly increasing rate over the last 6 months.
THIS is why.
Some memories stick with you more than others. While it is difficult to recall important times with my closest family at a young age, a seemingly non important moment is clear as day. The particular moment I remember was coming home from my local ski resort on a sunny spring day. I was riding in the car, between 12-15 years old. We passed through an intersection with a small sign in the shape of mountains that said 1715’ above sea level. This must have been a clue in a large scale scavenger hunt because I witnessed a car pull up and the occupants get out and find a piece of paper attached to the back of the sign.
That’s it. THAT is the memory that I haven’t forgotten. In fact, I think about that moment at least a few times each year. Why? Because the idea of a large scale adult scavenger hunt sounded amazing. I had always wanted to do it and this year Samantha and I made that idea a reality by organizing an adventure for our friends and then upping the ante by trying to do it anonymously. The goal was to gift a memorable experience and the process was simple: remain anonymous while having our friends follow a trail of ‘breadcrumbs’ over hundreds of miles while trying to find fist size rocks that contain clues that eventually lead to a beautiful final destination in the woods where we would be waiting to spend an evening around a bonfire recounting the steps that brought us all there.
By doing it anonymously we would test people’s hesitation and trepidation of signing up for the unknown, and then see who would step over that line which is oftentimes where the adventure starts.
What does it take to organize an anonymous scavenger hunt? Lying, a lot of lying; especially when you become the primary suspects in the minds of dozens of people who received strange letters in the mail with no return address. But hey, we just happened to be ‘flying home to visit family that weekend’ so unfortunately we would not be around for this weird mysterious meander they spoke of.
Monday, July 25: Three months until the meander
We assembled and sent the vaguely worded invitations out to 36 people, being sure to print the labels in order to eliminate all hand writing and the potential for recognition that comes with it. We wanted to give everyone plenty of notice so that if they were intrigued enough then they could make sure their schedules were clear. We also sent invites to ourselves to make us look less conspicuous as the organizers. We were sure to leave these open invites on our counter when we had another friend that was a potential participant stop in to feed our cat when we were out of town. We also worded the invite in a way that would lead to suspicions of a larger multi-city event and/or the brain child of the business that they had to return their invites to, all to try and throw the suspicious in alternate directions.
Upon delivery of the envelopes through the USPS we learned that 5×5 inch envelopes require more postage than a standard envelope. While our mailman was kind enough to deliver them to us anyways and request that we leave the 21 cents in an envelope he provided, we became worried that this may not be the case for everyone else and the whole idea had fallen apart before it even started thanks to inadequate postage; the lack of return address causing them to be lost forever in the snail mail system.
The invitations read:
CAN YOU GIVE UP 36 HOURS OF YOUR TIME TO STEP OUT SIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
AND SEE WHAT YOU DISCOVER? YOU ARE BEING GIFTED THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO JUST
THAT BETWEEN 6:00 AM SATURDAY, OCTOBER 22 AND 6 PM SUNDAY, OCTOBER 23RD.
You are capable, but are you ready and are you willing?
You have until the fifteenth day of the 8th month of 2016 to mark yes on your
invite and leave it at the predetermined location chosen for the city you live in. Future correspondence from that date forward will be only with those participants that have returned their invites and provided a legible e-mail address.
You will not be alone on this journey, but you must accept or decline on your own.
Be sure to follow any special directions that may be required.
Followed by a smaller envelope that read:
Yes, I’m up for anything. [Write e-mail address below]
1. Place this inside the small envelope
2. On the backside of the envelope draw something that represents the PNW to you.
3. Take this small envelope to Bale Breaker Brewing Co. August 15th and give it
to the bartender on staff
4. Clear your calendar for that weekend and await further correspondence.
August 22: 2 months until the meander
To lightheartedly test the attention of procrastinators, the last day to return the invitation to Bale Breaker Brewing Company was on a Monday, when they are closed. Those that committed on time and returned their envelope were provided with a complimentary beer. 2.5 weeks later, on the two month mark until the meander we discreetly picked up the envelopes that had been turned in. Twelve individuals decided it was worth the risk of stepping into an experience they knew little about and the wheels of our idea were now turning. On the backside of each 3×3 inch envelope were quick sketches that symbolized what the Pacific North West was to each participant and we now had the list of e-mail addresses so we could anonymously contact them from’firstname.lastname@example.org.’
E-MAIL 1 read as follows:
Congratulations on committing to the unknown!
Our correspondent assured us that you all know each other in some capacity
or another so we have kept the e-mail addresses visible so that you can begin
to piece together your local team.
The following are important details:
A vehicle is necessary.
Rain or Shine.
Prepare for an overnight in October.
Bring a tent, air mattress, sleeping bag, blankets, flashlight, warm clothes, etc…
You will not have a cellular signal.
Dinner and Breakfast to be provided.
You will receive another e-mail the week before your departure.
E-MAIL 2 read as follows:
T-MINUS: 1 WEEK
In addition to location way-points,
your meander will include smaller objectives
that if completed will result in rewards.
Get an Instagram account, even if only for this purpose.
You will complete objectives through photographs
Causing you to accrue points that will be added together at the end of the event.
Friday morning, 24 hours prior to departure
you will receive your first way-point clue.
Prepare for an early Saturday start.
You will meander as a group.
Assemble your carpools!
Saturday, October 15: One week until the meander
The two months leading up to the meander is when the lying really picked up. White lies out of necessity and interest in providing a better experience and surprise for those participating. Or at least that is how we justified it. We had sat at Bale Breaker Brewing Company with friends who were drinking their complimentary beer after turning in their invites while discussing who we all thought was organizing it. We were sure to include our own guesses as well as criticize whoever was behind it for not realizing there was not enough postage on the envelopes. We endlessly dodged and deflected accusatory inquires about our involvement and stood strong behind our story that we were flying home (for the first time in 2 years) to surprise our families.
At this point we also brought our good friend Brian into the loop. You may remember Brian from THIS POST in which we (truthfully) credit him with our entire decision to move to Yakima. He now resides in Corvallis, Oregon but would be meeting us at the final destination the day prior and spending the weekend with us and the participants, most of which were friends of his as well. We knew that we wanted to incorporate a photo component along the way to incentivize a fun first hand documentation of the meander so we developed an extensive set of Instagram ‘photo objectives’ that would earn the teams points that could be redeemed for a reward at the end. The Instagram also would provide an communication link between us and the participants in case something needed to be changed or an additional hint provided; that is, if both sides even had cell service, which was extremely hit or miss along the chosen route.
We had the general route and major waypoints decided months ago but it wasn’t until this last week that we really began to flesh them out and develop the detailed clues after checking with road closures, weather forecasts and satellite imagery of each location to find the best area to hid each clue to the best of our ability without actually being there.
The final destination was a mere 2.5 hours South of Yakima, on the East side of Mount Hood but in a true ‘meander’ we would have the participants follow a 7-11 hour bread crumb trail of clues around the North, West and South sides of Mt Hood in what would become 360 degree circumnavigation of Oregon’s tallest mountain. The map below was included in their sealed emergency envelopes incase anyone got lost or clues were tampered with or removed in the 24 hours in-between placement and discovery.
Wednesday, October 19: 72 hours until the meander
Wanting to further reduce the amount of tasks for the night before or ‘departure,’ Samantha and I went grocery shopping to pick up dinner and breakfast supplies for 16 people. Worried that someone might catch us in the act with a shopping cart overflowing with camping food supplies just 36 hours before we were supposed to ‘catch a flight’ we decided to go to a different grocery store than our routine one. We then stashed all of the groceries in my office so that we were not seen transporting them into and out of our tiny house. I also do not think it all would have fit in our tiny house fridge.
Thursday October 20: 48 hours until the meander
After Graham left for work I started packing all of the gear needed for the weekend into my car and took it to my office. It is not a small amount of stuff to set up and be prepared for 16 people and it was important that Graham didn’t see us packing a car full of camping gear before we were supposed to be boarding a plane. I showed up at work that morning and added an expeditions worth of gear to the already present piles of groceries. Thank you to the office family for dealing with the mess for a day!
After work, I drove out to pick up a keg of our favorite local beer at Bale Breaker Brewing Company only to be caught me in the act by a meander participants father. ‘Refilling the keg at home, Robert!? He shouted, jokingly, I think. ‘Um, yep. See ya later, Jim’ I nervously said as I back peddled out of the door, keg in tow.
We spent the evening refining the clue text, printing, cutting, rolling them and then placing them inside small individual (hopefully) water proof baggies before stashing them inside the corresponding hid-a-key rock that would be placed at each location. We tried to do everything possible to make sure that the clues would not be tampered with and that if one was, there was still an opportunity to complete the meander via the emergency envelope which contained all four clues as well as a map that plotted the entire path to the final location.
It was at this point that we started to wonder if we had gone a little too far by anonymously sending 12 friends hundreds of miles across state lines on remote back country forest roads in hit or miss weather as they chased after generic looking rocks smaller than a fist that contained tiny printed clues that if saturated would surely dissolve all traces of very important directions.
It didn’t really matter now, the wheels were turning faster and faster and at 10:00 pm I discreetly made my way to the first clue location in downtown Yakima, buried the ‘emergency envelopes’ and placed the first hide-a-rock.
Friday October 21: 24 hours until the meander
At 6:00 am on October 21, a prescheduled e-mail was being delivered to the inbox of the participants while Samantha and I awoke and began to lazily prepare to leave for our afternoon flight out of Pasco, WA. At least that is what we wanted Graham to observe and hopefully report back to the others something along the lines of: ‘Yea, they left this morning with only a suit case so I don’t think it could be them.’ Later this day I would even post a video (that I had shot a year prior) taken through an airplane window at the clouds to make it look like we really were flying across the country.
The e-mail read:
You’ve made it to the starting line and we have a few words of advice before you depart.
Have fun and be safe. There are no safety bumpers on this ‘course’ and reckless decisions could result in serious injury or death. Do not go alone, have a minimum of two people in every car. Be discrete in your actions. Find and replace clues in a manner that will not lead to tampering by others around you that are not involved in the meander. Your actions could make it impossible for those following you to complete a full meander. Remove only one clue (there will be multiple in each rock) to ensure there are breadcrumbs left for those meandering after you.
Every single car should have an emergency envelope to be received with your first clue tomorrow morning. Inside this sealed envelope are emergency directions to the final location should you get lost. Opening the envelope should be considered a last resort. Your goal will be to hit all way-point locations while acquiring additional points along the way by completing some of the photo objectives. You are completing the objectives as a ‘carpool team’ and therefore an objective is satisfied if any one person in the car completes it. The points for each vehicle will be tallied and rewards distributed Saturday night. The first vehicle to arrive at the final destination will receive +5 points.
Two things will eliminate all points from your record:
.1. Not arriving at the final destination by 5 pm. Each waypoint clue will have a time listed. This time should be your goal for arrival. If you begin to fall significantly behind these times, you run the risk of meandering in the dark and arriving at the final location after 5 pm, if at all.
.2. Tampering with the emergency envelope. Proof of un-opened emergency envelope is required at the finish of the meander or the points for all persons in that particular vehicle will be erased.
In exactly 22 hours you will receive the precise location of your first clue leading to a chain of events not soon forgotten. It will be in the downtown area of your city. You should plan to arrive under the cover of darkness around 6:00am.
Samantha and I then drove to my office, loaded up our car to the brim with all of the stashed supplies for a weekend in the mountains and started our own journey along the entire meander path in order to lay the clues and uncover any potential problems in the route that may need to be addressed.
As we hid each clue we took vague photographs of its location to be released to participants via instagram as ‘photo hints’ as they traveled the same path in 24 hours time. If there was a crux of this trip it was going to be the clue at Lost lake and the ensueing trip over Lolo Pass; a remote 24 mile stretch of road that meanders around the Western flanks of Mt Hood, at times, close enough to hear glaciers crumble. Not only was this the most remote section, but the clue was probably the hardest to find, and the entire portion is without cell service.
And that was before Samantha and I arrived to find the road to the campground, day use area and proposed clue location at Lost lake closed. Our hearts skipped a beat as we digested what could be a major wrinkle in our plan. With rain pouring down we decided to walk the stretch of closed road to the originally proposed clue location and see if it was feasible to keep the plan intact or figure out a way to counteract the already printed and hidden directions over a hundred miles prior by using instagram to propose a new location. We arrived at the north view point, thoroughly wet after what we estimated to be a little less than 3/4 of a mile walk and decided to keep the wrinkle and mold it into the original meander. We dropped the clue rock under the edge of a larger stone with hopes of keeping it semi-dry and returned to the car, twice as wet.
We continued along Lolo pass, a road that we chose because of the fear it instilled in us on a spooky and incredibly foggy 3:00 am drive to lost lake after a failed summit bid on Mount Hood. It seemed like the type of road that could instill the feeling of adventure in all who traverse it. This was our second time driving it and our first time in daylight. To our surprise a vaste amount of it was clear cut to provide an avenue for large power lines to presumably carry electricity south from the Columbia river, which generated it. The slight disappointment in this eye sore was replaced by a fantastic spectacle of fall foliage color when the road did dip into long stretches of forest and in your face views of Mt Hood.
In many ways this meander was a part of us; a reflection of some of our favorite places and waypoints that contain personal memories. Even though we were preparing the course for the following day it was enjoyable to revisit and add new memories as we prepped each location to be shared with our friends.
We stopped in Government Camp, stocked up on ice to keep the food and keg cold and made our way to the final clue location, Timberline Lodge. This incredible 40,000 square foot lodge built in the 1930s during President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration is a favorite location for us to visit and sometimes stay when we are in the area. Constructed primarily of stone and timber, the scale of which is unmatched in any building I have ever seen, boasts incredible views of Mt Hoods summit from its perch at 6000′.
This location also provided difficulty when trying to decide on an exact written location for the clue based off of our memory and satellite imagery. Not to mention the popularity of the lodge with tourists and the tumultuous weather the region was experiencing which left the lodge and surroundings under 6 inches of snow as seen from the live webcams three days prior. The thought of one of the thousands of visitors stumbling upon the clue or it being buried under snow was enough for us to only provide vague directions to Timberline Lodge where the participants were told that they would receive a final photo hint on instagram giving more specific location for the clue. This allowed us to wait until we physically visited Timberline lodge and find a good spot before committing to the location with a photo hint.
We waited until we were out of site from all tourist, stashed the final clue, snapped a photo and then returned to the road for the final hour long drive East to the finish destination. It was here on a lightly forested butte with a view of Mt Hood, Mt Adams and Mt Rainier we met Brian, Salish, and Dave for an evening around the fire as we eagerly anticipated the following days events.
Saturday October 22: The Meander
I awoke to my alarm at 5:00 am and checked to see if the last pre-scheduled e-mail had been sent. It had and it read:
Location of clue # 1:
In your city, there is historic train depot that now hosts a coffee shop.
In the parking lot of that coffee shop there is a concrete planter that
contains two trees and six shrubs.
Under one of these shrubs you will find a fake rock.
Inside this rock you will find your first clue.
Buried underneath this rock you will find your emergency envelopes.
I fell back to sleep, re-awakening a few hours later in the 14×14′ glass room, 60 feet off the ground. The Eastern horizon showed remnants of an approaching sunrise but the surroundings were still mute with cold tones of blue and grey. The fire had gone out and a thick layer of frost clung to all surfaces outside the window of the fire lookout tower we occupied.
I opened up the instagram app on my phone once again and we intermittently watched as the day unfolded through the eyes of those who were meandering.
CLUE 1 of 4:
You are to travel South to the edge of the Columbia River and find the first
memorial in the United States to honor the dead of World War 1.
It is said to be constructed of “countless stones.”
Exact Clue Location Puzzle: Backwards Alphabet code
Evvi irtsg lmgl gsv tizevo wirev gl gsv nlmfnvmg zmw hglk rnnvwrzgvob zg gsv
yfrowrmt lm blfi irtsg. Yvsrmw gsrh yfrowrmt blf droo urmw zm rwvmgrxzo uzpv
ilxp drgs blfi mvcg xofv rm rg.
Arrival at this way point by 8:00 am is advised.
+3 Someone touching a wind turbine.
+2 All carpool members at the memorial
+1 An enthusiastic carpool photo that includes all participants in the car.
CLUE 2 of 4
By way of Hood River city (Consider grabbing a bite on the fly and fill up your
gas tank here) meander to a body of water known asE-e-kwahl-a-mat-yam-lshkt
(“heart of the mountains”).
If you are feeling lost, you are probably there. Visit the north view point and
parking area for lakeshore trail #656. If your view does not resemble the
attached photo, you really are lost.
Exact Clue Location Puzzle-Backwards Alphabet code:
Zolmt gsv mligsvim li dvhgvim vwtv lu gsv kziprmt zivz, xlmxvzovw rm gsv evib hznv uzpv ilxp.
Arrival at this way pointby 11:30 am is advised.
+3 Rowena Crest Overlook (will require a detour onto HWY 30 and add time)
+2 A Wind surfer or Kite boarder
+1 A Subaru with any combination of kayaks, windsurfing boards and/or
SUPs on the roof.
CLUE 3 of 4
Retrace your steps on lost lake road until its junction with FR-18 and turn right.
The following route takes the remote forest road 18 South over Lolo pass and
divides the Sandy River and Hood River watersheds. You will be on FR-18 for
24.1 Miles. Be cautious as you may encounter debris or oncoming vehicles in one
lane areas. Turn Left onto HWY 26 towards Government Camp and remain quite through
the silent rocks, approximately 7.1 miles from this junction. Any pictures,
speaking, or sound other than the car during passage through the silent rocks
will incur a demerit. This simple and humble gesture of respect is all the
mountain asks of us. After passing through the silent rocks it is your task to
drive to an elevation of 6000’ and find the building that bares this emblem above.
The exact location of the final clue will be released on the @theamazingmeander
Instagram account when our correspondent observes that you have arrived. Arrival
at this way point by 2:00 pm is advised.
+3 A porch swing in Government Camp that’s an old lift chair.
+2 A ‘Reservoir Dog’s’ photo on Lolo pass
+1 A photo of you helping take a photo of other tourists.
+2 A tourist taking a selfie.
+3 A tourist taking a selfie while situated on a dangerously narrow
shoulder of the road.
CLUE 4 of 4
Congrats on making it to Timberline!
Consider grabbing a quick drink and scoring some points before moving on to
your final location which is still an hour away.
+5 Photo of you in the pool or hot tub
+4 Making a snow angel
+3 Picture with a ski patroller
+2 Playing Shuffle board in the lodge
+1 A photo of your carpool group
in front of the fireplace column.
Head back down to HWY 26 and turn left (East).
Take the state route 35N exit and travel North on HWY 35 for…
[This portion of the clues directions have been removed for security purposes.]
…There is a gate that you will have to unlock. The code to this lock is inside
a fake rock located within a 12’ radius of the lock.
Proceed through the gate and follow 122 to the end. The route is approximately
3 miles and is marked with orange and blue diamond blazers.
And with that final clue only one hour of turn by turn directions separated them from us and we were slowly reacquainted with our friends as they began to arrive, car by car, at our secret little camp site.
As we sat around the fire that evening, trading stories of meander prep and meander participation we were filled with joy to learn of just how rich of an experience that day seemed to be for everyone. And as we lay in the back of our Forester that evening, having offered up the fire lookout accommodations to those who meandered we also felt thoroughly immersed in the adventure, the love, and the camaraderie of our attempts to share a unique experience with others.
The next morning we finished that circumnavigation as a goup with a visit to a nearby waterfall hike and a communal migration North, back to Yakima.