Hidden in Plain Sight at the Gum Wall in Seattle

Any tourist trip to Seattle isn’t complete without a visit to Pike’s Place Market, a few blocks east of the famous Elliott Bay waterfront.  Hidden on the lower level of the Market on Post Alley is a quirky tourist attraction called the Market Theater Gum Wall.  It’s been in the news this week because for the first time in 20 years, the wall underwent a steam cleaning and removal of the estimated 1 million wads of used chewing gum.

Gum Wall

A small portion of the gum wall, measuring 50 feet long and up to 15 feet high.

In 2009 this gum wall was named one of the top five unhygienic sites in the world, second to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.   Another little known fact is that a similar and older gum wall, Bubblegum Alley, exists in San Luis Obispo, California.

But don’t worry!  When the maintenance is complete, tourists and passersby can once again leave their sticky legacy on the city.

Hidden in Plain Sight

What you probably haven’t heard about is the secret treasure known as a geocache that was hidden in plain sight on the gum wall.

But what is a geocache?

Geocaching is a treasure hunt that uses GPS-enabled devices to track the specific GPS coordinates of hidden containers, or geocaches, throughout the world.  Presently, there are 2,744,212 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide.

The geocache at the gum wall, named “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble,” was a very popular hunt for geocachers.  The online record for this geocache indicates that over 2,800 geocachers logged a visit at this cache since it was hidden in 2010.  Of that number over 25% of the geocachers could not find the cache.  I was one of those, logging the dreaded frown smiley face or DNF (Did Not Find) on my geocaching record.

Where is the geocache?

Can you spot the geocache at this Seattle landmark?

Although I hate to log a ‘DNF’ during my geocaching adventures, this day still holds pleasant memories for me.  It was thanks to Pedro, our host son from Spain, that I decided to search for this geocache.  As a long-time Seattle area resident, I didn’t even know about the gum wall until we started geocaching in 2010.

On the Hunt for Hidden Treasure

The first year Pedro was in our home, one of the student field trips was to Pike’s Place Market and the gum wall.  Days earlier Pedro went out on his first geocaching adventure with my family.  He was hooked.  Unfortunately we didn’t find out about the geocache at the gum wall until after the field trip.

Pedro at the gum wall, July 2010.

Pedro leaves his gum legacy at this famous Seattle landmark, unaware of the hidden treasure camouflaged on the wall.

When Pedro returned to Seattle the next summer, he was eager to find lots of geocaches, and to surpass my husband’s count of geocaches.  It was a good-natured competition to see who had the most caches by the end of his visit.  Pedro made a gallant try but couldn’t catch up.  He found over 50 caches in four weeks scattered throughout Washington and Oregon.

Back to the day of this hunt…

The day was memorable because it was the day that I took Pedro to The Piano Studio for his recording rehearsal.  We met Martin Buff, the studio owner, and Pedro spent some time getting his fingers used to the 9-foot Steinway Grand Piano.  His actual recording date was a few days later.  What a priceless memory watching this young man’s dreams come true.  Pedro has since gone on to compose music for short and full-feature films like Tempting Fate.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle.

Pedro practicing at The Piano Studio in Seattle, June 2011.

After a short rehearsal, we headed into downtown Seattle to geocache.  We found a few geocaches along the waterfront and then went to Pike’s Place Market.  Our goal: to find, or to log a smiley (that’s geocaching lingo) at “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble.”

We were surprised when we arrived at Post Alley and found a photography class set up taking photographs of the wheat paste art on the walls opposite the gum wall.  We walked past the students and tried to use our geocaching stealth and ‘geosense’ to search for the hidden cache on the gum wall.

Hints are provided on the online listing for this geocache, but sadly it didn’t help us spot the camouflaged container that measured about an inch in diameter.   GPS coordinates are fairly accurate most of the time, but with that small of a container and the large brick wall covered with gum, it felt like an impossible task.  Besides, even with gloves on, we really didn’t want to search that closely!

We ended our memorable day with dinner at the waterfront, watching the ferries on Elliott Bay, and planning our next adventure—recording Pedro’s first CD at The Piano Studio.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Photography students near the gum wall.

Restoration of the Hidden Landmark

So what’s next for “Double Bubble Toil & Trouble?”  The geocache listing has temporarily been disabled.  The owner of the cache reported that a physical cache container will be replaced after the wall is cleaned and re-gummification begins.

Since I didn’t find the geocache before, I think this gum wall cleaning is good news for me.  The sooner I return on the hunt for this geocache, the better my odds of finding it.  And then I can turn my DNF to an “I FOUND IT” smiley.  🙂

For more information or to get started on your own geocaching adventures, visit geocaching.com.

To Persevere or Let Go?

My family started geocaching a few years ago.  Geocaching is a recreational activity that uses a GPS to go on treasure hunts all over the world.  It has been a great pastime that allows us to take in the sights, get some exercise and explore places we never would’ve gone before.   (See gecocaching.com for more information.)

After church on Sunday, my husband and I took advantage of a glorious sunny afternoon in the Pacific Northwest to go on the hunt for a few local geocaches.  We hadn’t eaten lunch and we didn’t have a lot of time, but we ventured to a nearby park to make what we thought were some easy “finds”.  (That’s geocaching lingo for having found the hidden treasure.)  We thought these would be easy finds because geocaches are rated for their level of difficulty to find and the level of the difficulty of the terrain.  This was a “1” on both scales.

Geocropmom, aka Ardis Nelson, with a typical geocaching container.

We reviewed the online log entries from the previous geocachers to get some insight and clues for the hunt.  Their entries mentioned blackberry bushes and suggested long sleeves and pants, but that didn’t deter us for the hunt.  We pulled out our gloves from the geocaching backpack we keep in the car, thinking that would be sufficient to avoid getting scratched and poked, but cloth gloves are no match for full grown blackberry bushes.

After at least 40 minutes of searching in and around the blackberry bushes, we finally gave up the hunt.  So much for easy.  We logged the dreaded “DNF” (did not find) on the webpage for this geocache.  Ouch!  I hate those—and then to admit it online for everyone to see—how embarrassing.

“DNF”, it’s giving up.  It feels like defeat.  It seems like failure.  When is enough, enough?  I am not a quitter.  When the going gets tough, I keep going—often times beyond what is reasonable.  When it comes to something I am passionate about, it is especially hard to let go.

So move on we did.  By this time I am hungry, thirsty and my feet hurt.  Did I mention I was not in walking shoes?  But I was encouraged by my husband to go on the next hunt.  It’s only .2 miles away, he said.  I agreed to go.  After all, I didn’t want to end the day with a “DNF” on my geocaching profile.  We ended our outing with two successful hunts or finds.

I share all of this not to give a lesson in geocaching, but to provide food for thought on the challenges in life.  Unfortunately, we don’t get a rating scale of difficulty or terrain that we will encounter on our travels.  We can take a personal risk assessment based on our past experiences, our own abilities or wise counsel from others who have travelled a similar path.

In geocaching, as in life, you sometimes have to decide it’s time to move on to the next challenge.  In doing so, we need encouragement for the journey, like my husband gave me, and the stamina to persevere.  We also need to learn when to let go.

One last thought you might be wondering about related to the “DNF”—why would one post that online for all to see?  It is to help other geocachers who will follow you on the hunt.  That is like our journey too.  It is ok to admit defeat.  It can help others on the journey to self-discovery.  It does not need to define us.  After all, Jesus tells us in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (NIV)

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    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

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