Geocaching: the real-world treasure hunt

By Liritze Pedroza, Staff Writer

The coordinates are N 32°49’, W 096°39’. The difficulty level and terrain are both easy. Its size is micro. The treasure has been there for three years, since geocacher Robin “Grrl_Unhinged” Washburn hid it.

Larry “FatFogy” Cooley, another geocacher who has a cache on the campus, found his first cache in November 2006, some time after he heard about the activity in his metal detecting club.

“The first three geocaches I found were in a cemetery on Grove Hill,” Cooley said. “There was a bison tube tied up to the middle of a wind chime. If it would’ve been a snake, it would’ve bit me.”

After his first find, Cooley spent the next seven years finding caches.

“I was hooked,” he said.

Cooley is just one of the estimated 6 million people who enjoy the global treasure-hunting game known as geocaching.

The objective of the game is to find a cache or container. Some caches have contents in them. If there are items inside the cache, the finder can take them as long as they replace them with items of their own.

There are different types of caches one can find by entering coordinates into a GPS, anything from a bucket to a film canister.

Caches are ranked on a scale of 1-5 by their difficulty to locate and the difficulty of the terrain. Sizes of caches can vary. Some can be as small as a centimeter wide by a centimeter long. These are called nano caches.

People of all ages can register online to participate. They choose a cache to find, hunt for it, sign their username onto the log sheet inside to record their find, and then log their experience online.

Geocaching started in the summer of 2000 when web developer Jeremy Irish came across the GPS Stash Hunt game, where people looked for items based on their coordinates on a website. At the time, only people who normally used a GPS for other activities, such as backpackers or boaters, knew about it.

After his first find later that year, Irish decided to create a website that would facilitate finding locations of caches by looking for them with a zip code so more people could participate.

Geocaching.com started with 75 known caches. Now there are 2,271,298 geocaches around the globe.

The idea of having caches nearby without knowing where it is is one of the reasons geocachers find scouting enjoyable.

“It’s pretty neat to think that there are places that you go to all the time … and find that there’s a cache there,” said Allison

“Aslomow” Slomowitz, a news photography professor and geocacher.

Washburn said she once found a cache while her friend fixed a flat tire.

“There was one lone cedar tree sitting by itself on the side of the road,” she said. “We stopped to fix the flat, and I turned around and I said, ‘That tree looks like a place where a geocache would be.’ And I went over there and found it. It was pretty obvious.”

Other caches are more complicated.

During one of her searches, Slomowitz said she had to solve a clue to be able to find the actual cache.

“You had to solve a Sudoku puzzle in order to get the coordinates,” she said. “My friend and I had no idea what that was, so we had to learn how to play the game to figure out how to do it well and then get the coordinates. It took us hours.”

Some experiences are not even pleasant.

Cooley said once he accidentally grabbed a dry, dead squirrel that was covering a cache.

“I couldn’t let go of that thing fast enough,” he said.

The game only has one rule: If you take something from the cache, you must leave something of equal or greater value.

Although the only rule is straightforward to geocachers, it means nothing to people who do not know about the game. Sometimes, they take the caches.

“I will sure try to be unobvious when finding the cache, but it’s not uncommon for a muggle … to say ‘Hmm, what are those?’ and go grab it,” Washburn said.

A muggle, someone who doesn’t know about geocaching, is just one of the words that make up the geocaching glossary.

Insider slang also includes many acronyms such as BYOP (bring your own pen/pencil), FTF (first to find), TFTH (thanks for the hide) and DNF (did not find).

According to the geocaching website, the only required tool to successfully geocache is a GPS. However, some geocachers have developed their own must-haves.

“I absolutely have to have this in this bag,” Washburn said, reading off his list. “A GPS, login pen, little roller thing [pin], pair of tweezers and a spare set of batteries.”

Another reason people enjoy geocaching is because of its social benefits.

“It got me out of the house, instead of being a couch potato,” Cooley said. “If you like to socialize, it can be a good hobby. If you don’t want to socialize, you can go out and do it by yourself.”

He encourages muggles to give geocaching a chance.

“Try it,” Cooley said. “If you like it, fine. Do it. If you don’t, you can say, ‘Hey, I went one time, I didn’t care too much for it.’”

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