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Geocaching: High tech scavenger hunt

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by Audrey Thomasson

Scavenger hunting today is nothing like the days of yore when someone handed a list of peculiar items to a party of peculiar teens and then released them on the neighborhood to run around in a bunch, searching.

Imagine opening your front door on a hot summer night and finding a group of frenzied teens you don’t know begging you to hand over a rubber ducky.

No rubber ducky?

8 steps to Geocaching

  1. Go to http://www.geocaching.com and register for a free account.
  2. Click “Hide and Seek a Cache.”
  3. Enter a postal code or address and click “Search.”
  4. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
  5. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS device.
  6. Use your GPS device to help you find the hidden geocache. The GPS gets you close, but the cache name usually offers the clue to the hiding place.
  7. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location for the next player to find.
  8. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

    info courtesy geocaching.com

How about sifting through your drawers for a size 48 men’s boxer shorts, they ask as they scan the list.

If, for self-preservation, you complied, the boxers would be snatched from your hand and the teens would be on their way, scurrying off to the woods in search of a “white owl” (instead of looking in pop’s humidor for the brand cigar).

Today’s scavenger hunters aren’t looking for that kind of excitement. They don’t even use the same terminology. Scavenger hunting has gone high-tech—it’s now called geocaching (pronounced gee-o-cash-ing). And it’s no longer scavenger—it’s treasure hunting—using longitude and latitude to search for “caches” hidden or placed in plain sight in both remote and highly visible areas.

The phenomenon is sweeping the globe with caches located on every continent from Antarctica to Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, the number of registered caches recently passed the million mark and within days was up another 68,000.

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To begin, all you need is Internet access to find the coordinates in your area from the website: http://www.geocaching.com. This is where the kids’ high-tech i-Phones come in handy. Or you can go-it the old fashioned way—printing hard copies of the coordinates off your computer before you leave home.

You’ll also need a hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) unit to punch in the coordinates and point you in the right direction. While a GPS unit can range in price from $80 to $500, state parks will rent a unit for $8 if you plan to cache in the park.

There are hundreds of caches throughout the tri-river area—in towns, out in the woods, under water and up trees. They are even hidden in graveyards, local shops and museums. The game can be played as a couple, on a family outing, as a corporate team builder or used as an economic development tool for the community.

And it’s still a good party game—entertaining enough to get even the most dedicated couch potato up and out on a hiking trail in search of hidden treasure. The GPS unit puts players within a few feet of a cache’s location, but the exact hiding place is up to you to find. Treasure could be hidden behind a bush or in an abandoned mailbox.

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Let’s be honest, folks, you’re not really hunting treasure. It’s more like using a multi-billion dollar satellite system to find Tupperware in the woods. A cache is usually not much bigger than a man’s hand and can be as small as a magnetic key holder. There are even micro-caches the size of a watch battery. And the booty, it turns out, is usually no more than a cheap plastic trinket that players can leave or exchange with a cheap trinket of their own. Micro-caches are for hard-core cachers since they are too small to hold treasure.

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This is where the first rule of geocaching comes into play (there are always rules and consequences): the caches cannot be used to promote any commercial, religious or other affiliation.

Don’t leave food either. Rangers at Belle Isle State Park tell the story of a dental hygienist who left dental floss—much to the delight of a raccoon attracted to the minty fresh scent. The raccoon didn’t replace the floss but his breath was much improved.

Inside each cache is an itsy-bitsy logbook where players document their find by signing the team name. High-tech explorers like to use low-tech handles like “Muddy Frogs,” “Godux,” “RainRshine” and “Wheegeo.” It’s advisable not to use a long name like “Dragonspassion4caching” because it could take up the entire logbook in a microcache.

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Each cache is different, with some offering interactive treasure. Players can also create and hide caches then register them on geocaching.com for others to find. Many are listed under catchy names that are also clues, like Yakitty Yak, Coffee Break or Reflections.

This brings up another rule: never hide a cache in a dangerous location such as under a bridge, along a highway or near railroad tracks. Private property is also a bad idea. However, businesses sometimes welcome the extra traffic. Be sure to ask permission before choosing to hide one in, say, a bank vault or in the landscaping at historic Christ Church or the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington (hint, hint).

“We’ve had a number of people come here looking,” said Ann McClintock at the museum. “Some take time to tour the museum.”

One popular cache is at the Kilmarnock Antique Gallery on School Street.

“It looks like fun to me,” said gallery owner Steve Bonner, who has seen people wandering aimlessly through his parking lot with a GPS tracker. The hunt occasionally moves indoors, mostly to find out if they’re headed in the right direction. “If it was hidden in the store, it would bring them inside. I think that’s a great idea,” Bonner thought out loud.

I could see visions of dollar signs dancing in his eyes.

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Glenn Warner Jr. started geocaching two years ago after his mother passed away and he inherited her GPS unit. His dad, Glenn Sr., is well into his 70s but still enjoys geocaching and places caches at all the public marinas in the region.

The newer team of Glenn Jr., wife Aimee and daughters Danielle and Nicole are registered as “Scoopitup.” They belong to River County Geocachers and participate in club events that include...what else?...exploring new destinations for hidden treasure. Glenn boasts 183 finds so far. He’s worked his way to Gloucester.

I followed the Warners on a search that led to a cemetery north of Kilmarnock, past rows of grave markers, and into the middle of an enormous hedge of Leland Cypress trees. I won’t give away any more, but suffice it to say, the caches’ name, “Coffee Break,” gave no clue to the location but was a hint for the container.

The Smerchansky family from Arlington, new cachers camping at Belle Isle State Park, led me on a quest for a cache called “P.O. (Box) Belle Isle.” Hiking through brush, climbing over broken tree limbs covered with poison ivy, I couldn’t help noticing 12-year-old Jake Smerchansky was wearing flip-flops. When we found the location, Jake and his little brother, Luke, were the first to spot the cache hidden behind some scratchy vines. Not wanting to rob them of the joy, I held back while they fished it out. That reminds me of one final rule: Don’t forget to bring the calamine lotion.

And have fun!

posted 05.29.2010

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