Ten Days, 48 States, One Obsession 

Team Alamo, the world's leading geocaching team, is dragging its GPS gear all across the country.

My fellow nerds, it's time we had our own column. Not just about pursuits that people think are nerdy, such as science or saving Latin. We need a column that recognizes that nerdery is a method and not a particular madness; it's more about the laserlike focus of your intellectual passions than whatever it is that said light shines upon. Whether you're a nerd who loves comic books or cryptozoology or cuneiform, there's room for us all in the nerd Big Tent. What do we have in common? Smartitude. Creativity. And, of course, a tendency toward obsession.

This monthly column will be about how we get our collective geek on: the art we make, the science we invent, the culture we create, the games we play. Everyone is welcome. Tips are encouraged.

Since it's midsummer, let's start with sports. It's a myth that nerds aren't sporty. After all, we like strategy, rules, and gear. Mix all those together with a little athletic prowess and you have a pastime we can get down with. Take geocaching — treasure hunting using a GPS device. To play, log on to a Web site like Geocachers of the Bay Area (TheGBA.net), download the coordinates of sites where other players have hidden logbooks and stashes of trinkets, and venture out to find them.

Serious nerdwatchers will not be surprised to learn that the East Bay is home to the world's number one geocaching team. Team Alamo has scored more than 22,600 finds, and is staffed by Lee van der Bokke and his wife (who, he admits, hates geocaching). When we caught up with the Alamo-based team, it was racing through Seattle on a ten-day campaign to geocache in every one of the 48 contiguous US states, plus Washington, DC.

Team Alamo recommends some favorite East Bay geocaching locations: the Albany Bulb for its "hippie art," and the bay itself, where, van der Bokke notes, you'll need a kayak to get to some sites. He advises against attempting hiking-intensive caches in the summer heat; "night caches," in which reflectors attached to trees hint at the way to the site, are an alternative.

Other newbie tips provided by the folks at the GBA forums: Bring water, sunscreen, and sensible shoes; sign up on the site to pair with a more experienced player; time your trek so you'll get back to your car by sunset; and know how to read a map in case your technology punks out.

The (neglected) rules of Fight Club: Summertime in the East Bay means you can spot martial-arts practitioners haunting parks and median strips, drawn out of their dojos by the sunshine and the chance to practice fighting in street clothes and on uneven terrain. But outdoor sparring can be risky, as my own karate club recently discovered at Berkeley's Ohlone Park, a popular martial-arts spot. (As our instructor put it: "That park has seen so much tai chi that you can probably pick up the first twenty or thirty moves of Yang-style long form just from taking a nap on the grass.")

Within the hour, we produced one twisted ankle, two mangled shins, one extremely nasty shot to the groin, and a crowd of onlookers. Some lessons about safe outdoor practice learned the hard way:

1.) Maneuvering is harder on grass than indoors; go slow and expect to be clumsy.

2.) If your style normally practices barefoot but you're experimenting with street clothes, getting kicked by shoe-wearers will be an unhappy surprise. Bring shin pads.

3.) Consider leaving the weaponry at home; no sense alarming the neighbors.

Something new to check out: For those who prefer to exercise in the relative safety of the library, starting August 1 the Alameda Free Library will offer playtime on the stealthiest fitness device ever invented, the Nintendo Wii. Library card holders between grades six and twelve can drop by the main branch for wand-waving games of Wii tennis, bowling, golf, boxing, and baseball, as well as a chance to play the equally athletic Guitar Hero on the PlayStation 2. Board games will also be provided. "It's to get the kids moving, and then the board games are to keep their brains moving," supervising librarian Annemarie Meyer says. "Active Afternoons" will run Wednesdays from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and yes, Meyer says, kids will have to wear the protective straps that prevent the wands from flying off. (Check out WiiHaveaProblem.com for hilariously wince-worthy documentation of wounds and other mayhem caused by overenthusiastic play.) "No one is going to be knocking anyone's lights out," she promises.

Is it recess yet? Nerds may love new technologies and games of skill, but who can resist the charm of the simple games you played in grade school? On the first Tuesday of every month, the fine folks at Oaklandish stage epic games of Urban Capture the Flag all over Oakland's downtown. The next one kicks off on August 7 at 8:30 p.m. Check Oaklandish.com/events for a location to be announced. And bring your running shoes.


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