Starting 2009, this column will be both easy and hard to write. It will certainly be gratifying - and fun.

It's not every day that you get to interview someone who shares the same adventurous outdoor hobby as yourself. Well, I was pleased to do that this past week, talking to Kim Kaster of Spring Valley, along with son Matt and daughter Jessi. You'll read it on the front page of this Reader.

The trio (minus dad and an older daughter in college) took it upon themselves to go to all kinds of nooks, crannies and far-flung border crossings as they found all 72 geocaches in the Minnesota State Parks Geocaching History Challenge. The special geocaching promotion - including four regional finals and then, one very last find - was tied in with the state's 150th anniversary.

When I had first heard about this series, I decided that the 25 parks in the Southern Region would be a worthy goal, plus maybe the Metro Region. Not even starting until Labor Day weekend, I finished off the south over Thanksgiving vacation.

By that time Kim and crew were long done with all 72, completing the final at Mille Lacs Kathio on Oct. 5. I'd started watching their accomplishments through her online logs at www.geocaching.com, once I realized there seemed to be a new geocacher in the area quite serious about the challenge.

It was fun and gratifying to watch them knock off the parks, especially going to Garden Island Recreation Area in, let's face it, Canada. OK, so there is some slim sliver of Minnesota up there beyond the 49th Parallel.

Kim said quite a few things had to fall into place to reach that one successfully. She was part of a group chartering a boat from Young's Bay. In case bad weather ruled out their first attempt, they allowed an extra day over Labor Day weekend.

Without a cell signal to the resort, Kim said they didn't know if the trip would happen or not, so they had to skip some parks and get to Warroad to meet the others. Then they found out the trip wouldn't occur, so had a day to waste.

There was a two-hour drive from Warroad into Canada and then back out again into Minnesota's "Northwest Angle." At the main border crossing, Kim said she had tried to make sure everything was researched and in place. She hadn't heard that the border guards wanted a note from the spouse at home explaining that it was all right for the traveling parent to take the kids into Canada. Luckily, the guards were considerate and let them cross.

Later, they made the second border crossing, which included a stop at a small shed where they needed to use a videophone and stand by a camera, speaking to guards in another location. That went fine and so did the trip to the island, an area few have seen unless perhaps boating or snowmobiling in the winter on Lake of the Woods.

Kim said that was an adventure unto itself. Heck yeah, I answered, I would have gone to Garden Island, minus any geocaching, just for its remoteness and the craziness of getting there.

It was fun comparing notes on the 25 Southern Region caches we'd all visited. Kim said that Whitewater State Park marked the first time she ran into another geocacher (and - small world - it was the relative of someone who lives in Spring Valley). She wasn't quite sure of the etiquette, especially since a special Minnesota sesquicentennial medallion was awaiting the first finder of the cache. The other cacher said she could have it, once found, since she had arrived at the park first.

Lac Qui Parle State Park was another challenge since parts of it were flooded when they visited. The initial cache location (it was a multi-cache) required a bit of wading. That poor park must have had a bad year. When my geocaching buddy and I visited over Labor Day, it had just been the victim of a windstorm. The Kasters also got a photo of a fawn at Lac Qui Parle (and no, none of us are still quite sure how to say that name).

At Nerstrand Big Woods we compared finding the various stages of the multi-cache, eventually figuring out the location of the final had been changed. The same held true for Minneopa at Mankato. They found a cache at the base of the bluff; when we found it, it was hanging from a railing on top. Park officials would move caches if there started to be a foot trail to them, then update the latitude and longitude coordinates online. Some two-part caches allowed it to be done even more readily with the second set of coordinates shared on a bulletin board or kiosk in the park.

While they avoided bad weather until the downpour at the finale, they did have to run to avoid hail at Lake Shetek. At Afton, they had to suspend their search when a tornado was reported to be moving in.

Itasca provided memories in that it was a tough find, located right in the area of the Mississippi River's headwaters. Why, a toddler even tried to join them. Finally, more cachers came along and it was found hidden behind a removable piece of wood in a log. It was the first find of that type for the Kasters.

Moving into the Northeast Region, they started right up on the Canadian border again with Grand Portage. Then they started visiting wonderful parks with lots of waterfalls. At popular Gooseberry Falls, Kim said there was the typical madhouse of people, but they thinned out considerably just a short distance from the road and falls.

One of the North Shore parks also had another fun surprise. The geocache (the final was always an ammo container for this series) was located in a former outhouse, where specific instructions gave the toilet's history - and insisted the toilet not be used.

By the time they did the final at Mille Lacs Kathio, they had read enough logs to know not to try an offtrail shortcut through a marsh. If you'd like to read more logs on the final, which I really enjoyed, you can set up a free account at www.geocaching.com, then go to www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=538ab85a-af6d-4b67-840f-4781f2147b9f

Yes, it was gratifying to live vicariously through Kim, Matt and Jessi as they had fun, explored and finally earned the victor's spoils by completing the Parks Challenge.

It also was gratifying, when I asked how they got started, that Kim answered, "Well, it was one of your columns..." No, I didn't cry or anything, for Pete's sake, but it's always wonderful to learn that what a person shares has made a difference for someone else.

It made quite a difference for the Kasters - and now they've shared with all of you in return. So, take that kernel of wisdom (plus a bit of "pay it forwardness"), find what you like to do as a family - and get outdoors and do it.

Lisa Brainard is the news editor for the Republican-Leader and Chatfield News. She writes for the Phillips Bluff Country Publishing group of newspapers, which also includes the Spring Grove Herald, Bluff Country Reader, News-Record, and Spring Valley Tribune. She can be reached at: lbrainard@bluffcountrynews.com. She also photographs many scenic landscapes in her travels near and far, in addition to taking numerous newspaper photos.