The man sat gazing at the screen of his laptop. He had no idea where to begin. Every time he thought he saw a way to crack the cipher, it proved to be a dead end. Codes were not his strong point. After a while he decided to look at the puzzle another way. Could it be a hidden picture somewhere? He scratched his head and looked harder. Eventually he thought about phoning a friend. It might be the sort of puzzle one of his caching buddies could solve. Surely the local puzzle expert would be on the case? A quick text to the man himself. Texting… hmm, could it be one of those puzzles using the numbers on a phone keypad? No, that didn’t work either. Or maybe something was hidden in the back end of the web page? Right-click, inspect… There must be something in all that computer code? He scrolled to the end, even searched for “51” in case by some lucky chance the entire co-ords were just sitting there, waiting to be extracted. Fat lot of good that did. It seemed that the web page itself held no clues. Frustration was rolling over him like a giant wave. Torment, that was all these rotten puzzle caches gave him. Yet still he would not give up.
On a whim, he decided to get on his bike, even though it was dark, and go for a ride around the dimly-lit streets. Nobody was out at that time. Even the local teenagers had stumbled back from the pub and gone in for the night. For what seemed an eternity, he pedalled along the empty street, out of the town and into the adjoining countryside. On and on he went. Riding his bike was one of his favourite hobbies, after geocaching of course. The sense of freedom as the road flew past under your wheels. You couldn’t beat it. Finally, he found himself at the crossroads where there used to be a cache on the back of the road sign. One of these days he’d put another on there, maybe inside the post. Unless there was another cache within 0.1 of a mile, of course…
Right at that instant he suddenly had an idea. Perhaps he had to look at the code backwards? Or every other line? It had to be something like that. Nothing too complex, surely? These puzzles were driving him round the bend. Eventually he’d just give up. It wasn’t worth all these sleepless nights. Going crazy looking at meaningless gobbledygook. He wished he’d never started geocaching. The wasted hours when he could have been doing something better with his time, like playing pool or scrabble or subbuteo… Something other than these rotten puzzles. Even gardening seemed to hold a sudden appeal. Visualising a plot full of brightly-coloured roses, asters and chrysanthemums, his concentration wandered. Eek! Nearly rode straight into a ditch.
Everything around was suddenly silent. It was now over fifty minutes since he had left the warmth and safety of his home. Great trees loomed overhead as he rode further into the woods. He couldn’t turn back now. The cache was out there somewhere. Without hesitating, he took the public footpath off to the right under the pine trees. Even though he knew bikes weren’t allowed on public footpaths. Something was drawing him on. There had to be a solution and he was the undisputed king of the first to find. Only he could find this before daybreak. Nobody else had the talent, the tenacity. Everyone else was at home, after all. Some might be up watching catch-up tv. If that’s what it’s called. X-factor at midnight? That’s what some people like, he mused. Even Simon Cowell has his fans, back down there in the safety of the town. Even Louis Walsh. No accounting for taste.
Perhaps this wasn’t such a clever idea, he thought, as the mud clung to the tyres of his bike. On he pedalled, no longer knowing where he was going or why. Isn’t there a turning on this path soon? No, no sign of one. The path got narrower and narrower.
Suddenly he arrived at a bridge over a stream. Even before he rode on to its creaking planks, he knew that destiny had drawn him to the cache. Very slowly he came to a halt in the middle of the bridge. Eerie shrieks emanated from the dense woodland to either side. Nothing was going to stop him now, though. For a moment, all he wanted to do was go home for tea. It was late; he was cold, muddy and tired. Visions of a plate of beans on toast clashed with ones of an unsigned log sheet in his mind’s eye. Extremely carefully, he lowered himself over the side of the bridge onto a small island in midstream and crept under the bridge itself. Something metallic glittered in the moonlight. It was the cache! X marks the spot, as they say!