PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ For three weeks every spring, Greg Thomas can’t help himself. Following cryptic clues and vague rhymes, he jumps in his motor home equipped with satellite guidance systems, maps and encyclopedias, and searches a five-county region of the Pacific Northwest.
If he beats out thousands of others seeking a 2 1/2-inch-thick chunk of plastic, he’ll take home $1,500, and maybe some peace.
Two years ago, Thomas was so close that he wound up videotaping the winner as she celebrated a few yards away. He has never won.
``My friends won’t let me give up,″ said Thomas, who tells himself every spring that this hunt will be the last.
The object of the Rose Festival Treasure Hunt is a medallion made of acrylic, a material that cannot be picked up by metal detectors. The festival itself has been a springtime staple here since 1907, but the hunt _ started as a promotion by The Oregonian newspaper 15 years ago _ is now a regional obsession for thousands.
``It’s a fever, like hunters who get `buck fever,‴ said Marvin Calhoun, who has been looking for the medallion for 11 years.
The newspaper has offered cars and a trip on the Concorde to winners, but the detective work and adventure are the true motivation. The contest begins the Monday before the Memorial Day weekend and runs for three weeks, although the medallion is often found before the deadline.
Clues appear in the newspaper every day but Sunday _ and you’d better know the histories of Oregon and Portland if you hope to get anywhere.
For example, the 10th and final clue in 1989 read: ``Halfway between a cheerful place and a spot where dreams were drowned the object of your careful search will easily be found.″
The medallion was in a clump of ivy in Portland’s Laurelhurst Park _ halfway between Happy Valley and Vanport, the site of a 1948 Memorial Day flood that killed 15 people.
It generally takes about 10 or 12 clues before some treasure seeker grabs the booty.
``It’s an absolute obsession of mine,″ said Thomas, who has been joined by three friends for the last six hunts. His boss gives him time off to search and to set up a ``war room″ with 30 square feet of topographical maps detailing the Portland metropolitan area.
Calhoun is a self-employed investor who also searches every day. Like Thomas, he relies on teamwork, with four friends equipped with cellular phones and pagers.
``All we do is eat, sleep and think about the medallion,″ he said.
Keeping people like this interested takes a lot of work.
E.B. Gardner and a co-worker at The Oregonian spend more than a week every year researching and scouting a site across four Oregon counties and one in Washington before writing the first clue.
Gardner, who gets calls from out of state begging for hints, said he disappoints his wife and his mother-in-law every year by refusing to tell them the hiding place. Even newspaper Publisher Fred A. Stickel is kept in the dark.
``Every year we get calls saying it must be somebody you told, because the clues were too hard,″ Gardner said with a smile.
For Vicki Chambers of Vancouver, Wash., the hunt has involved her entire family since the mid-1980s.
Her brother, Jim Lough, was at a phone booth in 1995 when he got a call with the last _ and what proved to be the winning _ clue. Despite the intense competition, he shared the clue with Kathy Juenemann, who was standing at the same phone.
Her family was not quite as fast in calling, but thanks to Lough, she found the medallion a short time later (Thomas was nearby, video camera in hand).
Juenemann, who says she would have provided the clue to Lough had she learned of it first, gave him a restaurant gift certificate in appreciation.
``I was just amazed how many people follow it,″ she said. ``Even if they don’t search for it personally, they’re thinking about it and wishing.″