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Geocaching Hunting for stuff in all the right places

By Daisy Welch In your travels, you may come upon a person looking all over the place for something they have apparently misplaced, perhaps out on a hiking trail, or on a city street. They will be carrying what looks like a fat cell phone and muttering “It says it is right here…” You have found a geocacher, and although they may look a little flustered at this moment, they are enjoying a hobby that is a natural for Airstreamers on the road. Geocaching (pronounced JEE-oh-kashing) is a fast-growing hobby descended from the sport of Orienteering, and pirate treasure hunts which used a compass, a map and some clues to find a “treasure.” Geocachers take a more high-tech approach and use handheld GPS receiver units to find treasures, and explore the world. Early GPS use was limited to military use. For security reasons, the satellite data had a variable error of 500-1,000 feet, which limited civilian use. But after the Korean Airliner Flight 007 wandered into Russian air space and was shot down in 1983, it became apparent that GPS receivers should be available to everyone. Finally, on May 1, 2000 President Clinton signed an order to remove the security variable, making possible today’s inexpensive handheld units, which can calculate your position within about 20 feet.

Two days after the presidential order was signed, computer engineer Dave Ulmer dreamed up the idea of burying a bucket containing a logbook and some treasures. He posted the coordinates (latitude and longitude) on an Internet user group, inviting others to go find it using GPS receivers. The idea took off, and geocaching was born. Recently, geocaching.com (the biggest website for the sport) reported there are more than 96,435 active caches listed on their site, in at least 202 countries around the world. Today’s caches are hidden in cities and the woods, in large ammo boxes or tiny magnetic containers as small as the end of your finger, and everything in between. Some of them require extreme physical effort to get to, or even a boat, and some you can almost reach from your car. Some are right out in the open and some are so well camouflaged that they are nearly invisible. Caches always contain a log to sign, and often trinkets (usually aimed at the kids in the family) and sometimes trackable items. The point of finding the cache is to find it and write in the log, not really for the “treasure” inside.

The Fun of Geocaching Some people like the statistics of geocaching: How many you found, most found in one day, in what states, etc. Others like the challenge of the hunt. Although the GPS will get you to within about 20 feet of the cache, you still have to find your way to it without climbing a cliff or crossing an interstate, and once you are close, you still have to look for it. Others like the technology part, which can get pretty wizardly, with specialized software, and ever fancier hardware. Geocaching is great for families and other groups, and events are organized all over the country to make it even more social.

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For Airstreamers on the road, geocaching is an excellent way to get to know a new place, as well as a great hobby that takes up no space in your RV. In an article in Todays Cacher, Dave Ulmer, now retired and traveling in his RV, says “I use geocaching while I’m traveling to locate the sweet spots. The world is covered with these wonders.” Local geocachers hide caches at interesting historical sites, urban parks, and best of all, beautiful, interesting out of the way places that you would never find on your own or from tourist guides. I remember a drive up into the southern end of the Black Hills in South Dakota where we found a cache and stopped for lunch with an astounding view, far from the traffic headed to Mt. Rushmore. A cache in the mountains east of San Diego provided a whole history of the local area, as well as a pleasant walk. If you are staying in one place for a month or so, you can meet other geocachers for local events, so it becomes a way to make friends wherever you go.

password. Although you can pay $30 a year for a premium membership, regular membership is free. Everything you need to know is on this site, including “Geocaching University,” where you can learn more, and links to related sites, merchandise, fancy software and information on GPS units. You can search for caches near your present location, and filter out ones that are too challenging physically, or too hard to find if you are new to geocaching. You can learn how to hide your own caches, or find out about trackable trading items like “geocoins” and travel bugs, and locate geocachers and geocache events in your area.

What you need to play 1. Computer and Internet access

You must have access to the Internet, because that’s where you find the coordinates (or waypoints), and the directions and hints. This is also where you enter your finds, leaving a short message for the cache owner and others to read. Geocaching.com is the main site (although there are others). You will first chose an ID “handle” that is your unique user name, and give yourself a Caches range from tiny to large. Signing the log is a big part of the fun, once you find it!

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If there’s no path , there is probably a reason. Since the GPS tells you how to go as the crow flies, roads and paths to the cache may have to go around obstacles. My least favorite part of geocaching is when we forget this rule and fight our way up a steep cliff covered with spiny brush only to find a nice path that went around the other side. Or worse yet, a paved road we could have driven up. Use your brain and your eyes, in that order. The information about the cache location will often contain hints, plain or hidden. When you get near, re-read the description and hints, and start looking for likely hiding places. Look for something in the landscape that is not quite “natural,” a pile of rocks or sticks for example. Sometimes you can see where previous searchers have walked. Do not leave the area looking as though pigs have been rooting everywhere. Be subtle if you are in a busy area.

2. A handheld GPS unit. It’s possible to use a GPS unit designed for cars, and some newer cell phones, but these don’t give you nearly the information of the handheld units designed for hiking. These GPS units also act as Personal Digital Assistants, remembering your list of caches for the day, telling you which are closest, and they can have fairly detailed maps in them. They will link to your computer so you can download data directly into them (if you have the paid membership at geocaching.com). More importantly, they have better antennas for more precise locating. Once you have the equipment, you are ready to start the hunt! If you are nervous about techie/geeky things, don’t despair. GPS units are pretty easy to use – easier than a fancy cell phone. The geocaching.com website is very easy to use too, and if you don’t normally have Internet access on the road, you can do it all at home before and after your trip.

www.waymarking.com Virtual caches (no log books, interesting locations)

Helpful Hints

geocaching.gpsgames.org/history More history

BE SAFE. Don’t hike alone, leave your itinerary with someone, take appropriate clothing, and water. You can mark your car as a waypoint and use your GPS to find it!

Cache in, trash out. Don’t litter and clean up any you see. Respect public and private property. When searching, obey all the rules of parks and public land. If on private property, where caches are only supposed to be hidden with permission, be a good guest. Bad or illegal behavior may cause that cache to be shut down, and will spoil the fun for everyone. Daisy Welch is an avid geocacher and Airstream owner. She will be giving a seminar on geocaching at the WBCCI International Rally in Bozeman MT this July.

Somewhere here ... There's a hole ... And there is the magnetic cache!

GPS Units Garmin and Magellan are the two major manufacturers of GPS units, with the map folks Delorme being a late entry to the market. Prices run $100 to $400. An entry-level hand held GPS will do its job to help you locate a cache. Higher end models will have better antennas, longer battery life, hold more detailed maps, and keep a more detailed record of your finds. When considering a purchase, it would be a good idea to go to an outdoor store that has a wide selection and which is likely to have a salesperson who can demonstrate and show you how they work. Try it yourself to see if it fits you. Look for long battery life, and light weight. For specific recommendations your best bet is to attend a geocaching event or get-together and ask people what they have, what features they like, and to get some hands-on practice. For more depth, see gpsinformation.us/ main/whichgps.html

WEBSITES www.geocaching.com This is the main web page for geocaching en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geocaching General history

BOOKS “The Geocaching Handbook” (Falcon Guide) by Layne Cameron “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching” by Jack W. Peters

Pepe the Geocaching Wonderdog finds another cache.

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Geocaching Summer 2008  

Find out about geocaching

Geocaching Summer 2008  

Find out about geocaching