Today marks the 5 year anniversary of a secret act, that is one of those moments I can’t help to be a little proud about still. In the five years that have passed, the ‘secret’ has not become so much of a secret anymore. Plus, I have shifted away from that whole community in practice, if not also in actual physical location. Which to me, gives me all the reason in the world to break the silence (whatever silence is left that is) and tell the story of Mingo & The Ninjas.
Back in the early 20-teens, I was living in Wichita and heavily involved in Geocaching (a GPS based scavenger hunt game, akin to Pokemon Go but with Tupperware). In short, you would use GPS devices to find ‘caches’ hidden by other users. Once found, you would sign a long that you were there, and occasional trade out swag – but mostly it is about finding the find than what you find on the inside. The hobby has grown to include millions of these caches worldwide with nearly as many people playing along. But like all hobbies, it has to start somewhere. Shortly after GPS technology was made in 2001 available to a consumer level, geocaching begin with just a limited few hobbyists. One of those was a gentleman who lived in the far northwestern part of Kansas. To do his part, he found a capped well that sat at a corner of a frontage road right off of I-70. Because every cache has a name, he named it for the little town (and little I mean, 5 people, a grain elevator, and a co-op fuel pump) that sat just up the road. That town, and the cache was named Mingo.
The hard truth of caches is that they don’t stick around long. Many are exposed to the elements, and deteriorate quickly. Some are found by non-geocachers (aka Muggles) and are moved, kept, or thrown out like trash (aka muggled). Others just have random events that happen to them. The first ever cache was destroyed by the blade of a snow plow. It could be rare that a cache last more than a couple of years, and by 2010 it was rare that any cache hidden before 2005 still existed. Mingo as it so happened not only still existed, it was in the same location in the original container – and by doing so was the oldest geocache in existence in the world.
Things changed, though, in early 2012. Sometime in the winter, someone took objection to Mingo. While it was placed on public land (officially owned by the DOT) an unknown person removed the cache from its spot, then proceeded to not only fill in the hole it was hidden in but cover the hole with cement. The decade of log books and the original container were missing. Additionally, the original owner had given up much of his interest in the cache, and hadn’t commented on the fate of the cache itself. Usually when a normal cache goes missing, it isn’t out of the question that another cacher comes along and just replaces it with another container – which happened in this case, but immediately it was noticeable that the replacement was ‘no replacement for Mingo’.
While Mingo was a four hour drive from Wichita, many of us in Wichita looked upon Mingo as almost a piece of history, and kept a good eye on it’s log posts. At first, some of us tried to reach out to the original owner, offer up suggestions and things we can do to help. We reached out to the administrators of Geocaching to get guidance or leniency from potential archiving of the lost cache. All the signs were pointing to the end of the old stalwart. That was a difficult pill to swallow for many of us. Most the hobbies we may come across aren’t really harkening back to something historical (I mean, you don’t play ping pong on the original table). But as a player in the game of geocaching, it was special to say that you went to the oldest geocache, and you signed your name. It was it’s own history, it’s own way to respect the people who may not have envisioned what the hobby had become but helped but took the first steps down that path. Now, this piece of Geoacahcing history was threatened, and we were about to lose it completely.
Not unless someone did something.
Three of us had a conversation, and a plan formed. The plan’s foundation came from two key things – we wanted the integrity of the original cache to be honored as much as possible, we wanted to respect the original owner & those who administered it. What this really meant was that we were going to reach out to as many of the key owners and let them know about our plan — but not tell another person. Ultimately, our goal was to restore the cache to it’s original look & feel – and do so as if nothing ever happened. We had to do it without being noticed by the general community. In other words …
We had to be ninjas!! From that point on, that’s what we called ourselves.
The original plan was to do a evaluation run. Assuming the hole was filled with concrete, we knew we had some work to do – so we sent the first ninja up to assess what tools we would need. He took along a pry bar just in case, and after a couple of hits noticed the concrete was pretty thin … thin enough he had it cleared and cleaned on that visit. The other two of us ninjas made the replacement run. An early morning departure from Wichita on a clear & warm March day, and we were on our way to Mingo. Arriving by late morning we collected the remnants from whoever first cleared the site, placed the cache, took pictures, and made a log under a pseudonym to alert people that “someone” had replaced it for real.
The thing was, we did all of this with just some blind hope – that this venerable piece of geocaching history will be kept alive because we did something. Even with making those trips, doing all that work to create replicas, and clearing out the hole, there was no guarantee the owner & administrators will revive the cache. But no sooner did we place the replacement, upload logs, and sent pictures we forwarded on what we did to those powers and crossed our fingers — like, we literally sent that information out from the road, at the first spot we could get cell coverage in Western Kansas. From that point on, we drove home with our fingers crossed. With all the discussions, the planning, and the work to make the replacement – the best moment in this whole adventure happened just outside of Salina, about 2-1/2 hours into the ride home. The cache owner replied with a quick thanks and a brief acknowledgement that the cache is replaced – and an administer returned Mingo to an active state. I remember that moment because I said to my fellow ninja, “We just saved Mingo.”
Honestly, I can see how some of you may not see this as that big of a deal, and I can tell you it is really hard to give the perspective we saw ourselves in at the time. I mean, what I am really saying is that a bunch of guys dropped a metal can in a hole. But like I said before, there are millions of these geocaches worldwide, and millions of people have gone in search for them. Nearly six thousand people have logged that they found this cache; and when you read those logs most made the trip to this nowhere place to find that metal can and say they have been there. It is a like a pilgrimage to a relic. The weight of the meaning to those who chase after that cache landed on my lap that moment I said “We just saved Mingo.” We did something special. We did something very very special.
But I am most proud that we did it is as ninjas. The main reason was that to draw attention to what we did would diminish what was done. We wanted to make it look like the original owner did all the work but he suggested right away that it wasn’t him. Granted, we left clues, like one of the things left in the new container included a cryptic message that when deciphered told the story of what we did. Within a couple weeks, enough people figured it out in Wichita that they openly asked us about it, and we didn’t deny things. Not too long after that, I got my job in Alaska, and with that slowly gave up geocaching as a hobby. Turns out, a couple more ninja missions were needed to maintain the cache, and the circle of ninjas have grown. But those early days, we kept silent. To us, it wasn’t important to know who saved Mingo – it was important to know Mingo was saved, and Mingo would be worth saving.
It was five years ago that the Ninjas saved Mingo, and it still sits in that same hole today. While I haven’t been around to help out since then, and telling the story now gives me a chance to thank those Ninjas (old and new) who do the right thing for all the right reasons.