So, What Is This Thing Called Geocaching?

I guess the first thing to ask would be, “Why Geocache?” The typical answer would be,”that’s a good question.” But I hate that kind of answer, it’s just a stalling tactic while thinking of an answer. I’ll just answer, there are about as many answers as there are geocachers.

My answers would include; It gets me outdoors, exercise, fresh air, adventure, exploring the unknown. If you’re a dedicated couch potato just hit the back button, there’s no need to continue reading. But if you think that there is more to .life than being indoors, keep reading. I’ve also met many new friends, some times I cache alone, other times I go with a group. The game, if you want to call it that, is different for every cacher, in fact it’s different when if you go out to look for a cache a second, or third time. Change your viewpoint or change the season, or even the time of day and you’ll be seeing your target from a fresh, new view.

A couple of ‘tag lines‘ sometimes used to describe caching include, “It’s where you are the search engine”, and “Hiking with a purpose”. There are some of the reasons, now what is geocaching? Well other ceocachers hide a small container, note its coördinates, and post them to a site on the Internet. Others, like you or me go to the same website, pick a geocache that piques our interest, load the coördinates into our Smartphone or GPS, then head out to find it. So where are those cache listing sites? See this list, it is not be complete, but it’s a start. (Send me your additions for this list)

Sometimes the search will take you to a part of a park, or forest that you didn’t know was there. I’ve seen parts of the world I wouldn’t have gone to without lots of prompting. One of them was on one of the rock outcrops in the Pacific off Monterey, Ca. Another was on the top of the highest mountain in Maryland. Yes these are extremes. Most geocaches I’ve found are on flat even ground and could be called ‘sneaker hikes’. Many are as ‘wheelchair accessible‘. Some involve solving puzzles, or more educational locations.

So now we know why, but what really is it? Well, that’s a good question, and one that I’ve heard many times. Some may call it a sport, an activity, or even an obsession. Me I just call it a great way to get outdoors, get some exercise and do some exploring.

It all started many years ago with a navigational system known as GPS. Mainly used by the military for location and guidance it also had a part that did not have great accuracy, I think it was about 300′. But in 2001 the “Selective Availability was turned off and accuracies of better than 30′ were usable by the public. The Usenet newsgroup rec.satellite.nav had some discussion about using GPS for ‘sport’ ended up with Dave Ulmer hiding a 5-gallon bucket near Portland, Oregon, and posting the coördinates. Within a day or so someone replied that he’s found it. Within a week more started appearing across the US. Geocaching had begun.

Today with the Web life is simpler than Usenet, with cache listing sites that can be viewed not only on your home computer, but on hand-held devices, down to the size of a smartphone. Let’s go find a cache.

4caching-1The first thing I’ll do is go online at Geocaching.Com and after logging in I’d select a likely cache. The one I’m using here was archived – that means it’s been removed from the databases as well as from the forest. The one I’m going to pick was known as Herman. 4caching-2. What doesn’t show on the screen shot is the description which read

Am not sure of the significance of the name of this cache which is ~50ft off trail.

For the APLCachers bimonthly event, we planted caches rather than looked for finds. The caches were originally placed at Rocky Gorge but have been moved to Savage Park. All caches are just off the trail. This is one of seven that were planted – some are easy, some are hard.

That disn’t say much, and there were no hints. The coordinates were all I had to go on. And of course Google Maps did provide lots of help.4caching-3. Many times this is all the help we get, while some cache listings go into great detail. I like the hides in the woods with little or no help.

With my GPS loaded with the coördinates, and the map giving me the general area, in this case in one of the local parks. I headed out.

4cache-4As I get out of my car I find that the cache is 0.39-miles into the park. This is nice, the first quarter-mile or so is a well-worn path. 4cache-5. I’m going to skip ahead till the GPS says I’m just a few feet from “GZ (Ground Zero). Most of the time this is not where the cache is, but pretty close. There are errors in the GPS that was used when the cache was hidden, there are errors in mine, and signal bounce off trees, buildings, and any number of other things. They all cause problems. By the time I near the cache the path was covered with leaves, You might be able to tell I was out during late November in 2009. After the GPS lead me off the path 4cache-7 into this field of leaves I kept following its directions until it basically said I had arrived. Now is when the real search begins. At first this looks like a hopeless task, but with a little experience one learns to be methodical and look throughly. 4cache-6when searching. Many times in a setting like this, a cache will be hidden near the base of a tree, or under a fallen log. This time it was hidden under a rock and covered with leaves.

This time the cache was a small “Lock-n-Lockl” plastic box. It contained a log book, and a couple of items that can be traded. Small toys in caches help make caching into a fun activity and a reason to go out for a hike with mom and dad.


About Mike

I'm an avid bicyclist, that also enjoys Kayaking, Nature Photography, Cross Country Skiing and Geocaching. There's nothing more boring than sitting indoors in "good" weather.
This entry was posted in Geocaching, GPS, Outdoors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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