Geocaching is my addiction. Since June, 2005 I’ve logged almost 9800 finds, travelled many thousands of miles, hiked and kayaked for hours. I’ve climbed trees and crawled into a drainage pipe. We geocachers are a crazy bunch, willing to do almost anything just to put our tag on a small piece of paper tucked into a container hidden by a fellow addict.
When Gizmo came into my life he became a geodog from the start, and he even has his own handle “LittleGizmo”.
GPS operates through the use of 24 satellites, paid for by the U.S. government but free for the world to use, that are orbiting the earth. Originally this satellite navigation system was intended for military use and therefore the signals were scrambled. On May 1, 2000, President Bill Clinton announced that this scrambling, known as Selective Availability (SA), would be turned off at midnight. Geocaching began on May3, 2000 when Dave Ulmer hid a container in the woods and posted the coordinates online. That container was found within a day and geocaching was born. There’s a slogan all geocachers know: “I Use Multi-Million Dollar Satellites to Find Tupperware in the Woods.”
The primary listing service for geocaches around the world is www.geocaching.com. Today there are over 5 million geocachers worldwide and over 1,675,269 active geocaches to hunt. There are extreme geocaches, or “caches” hidden at the tops of mountain peaks and under the sea. There are “urban caches” hidden at convenient locations in nearly every city and town, and there’s even a cache on the International Space Station.
The geocaching.com website is free to use, though for a nominal annual membership fee geocachers get some special benefits that become useful if you continue in the sport. Anyone can go to the site, enter their zip code and see all the caches that are close to home. I bet that every one of you drives past a dozen or more every day and never know they’re there.
Over the last few years geocaching has become a great vacation activity. Cachers will plan their vacations around areas that are rich with hidden geocaches. For example, I live near Disneyworld in Florida and my small town sees hundreds of visiting cachers each year, many from outside the United States, who drive over to cache after “theme park burnout”.
So how exactly do you find a geocache? First you visit the geocaching.com website and sign up for your free membership, then visit the “Hide & Seek a Cache“ page, where you’ll enter your address or zip code, select the distance from home you want to go, and click “search”. Here’s a screenshot of what the list looks like when I do a search for caches within a one mile radius of my home address:
Pick a cache from the list you see and click on the name. Let’s choose Anchor’s Aweigh and see what we find. Every cache is identified by what is called a “GC Number”. You can see above that the GC number for “Anchors Aweigh” is GCMC3M. That’s the number you’ll use to locate the cache after you’ve found it and you’re ready to post your log, so make a note of it.
The numbers in bold, N 28° 01.679 W 081° 56.913 are the GPS coordinates for the location of the cache. You enter those numbers into your GPS and you’re ready to go cache hunting! The rest of the cache page gives you more information on the cache and possibly even a clue. Caches are rated for Difficulty and Terrain on a 5 Star scale, with 1 being easiest and 5 being pretty darn hard. Cache size can be anywhere from a ‘micro’ that’s smaller than your pinky fingernail to ‘large’ … and I’ve seen some really large hides, like a giant boat cooler in the woods in North Carolina.
So the coords (geocacher-speak for coordinates) are loaded into your GPS…now what? Before you leave home you can read through the “logs” posted on the cache page by those who have visited the cache before you. (More about logs in a minute) You probably want to print out the cache page so you have the information with you. Always (and I mean always) check to see that you have a pen or pencil with you (yes, I’ve forgotten mine and had to use the “charcoal the end of a stick” method to get a writing implement). Drive yourself to the cache location, get out your GPS and start following it towards the treasure.
Geocacher University is one of my favorite geocaching resources. There’s a lot of great material there, including an excellent guide on how to find your first cache. They explain the hunt far better than I could, so do go and check it out for a detailed guide. They even have a “cheat sheet” you can print and use to enter information about the cache you’re hunting and some useful tips and tricks
Inside the cache you’ll find, at the minimum, a log. Sign the log with the date and your geocaching handle as proof that you made the find, then close up the cache and carefully replace it right back where you found it. If the cache was camouflaged or covered, replace the camouflage as carefully as possible. There you go…you’ve found your first geocache!
The final step is to record your find online by visiting the geocaching.com website again and logging in to your account. At the top of the home page you’ll see a row of options. Select “Play” and from the drop-down menu select the option for “Hide & Seek a Cache”. Scroll down the left-hand “Seek a Cache” column to the box for “Other Search Options” and enter either the name of the cache you found or the GC number of that cache. Hit “go” to open the cache page and at the top of the right hand side-bar under “Navigation” click on the link for “Log Your Visit”. Head back over to the Geocacher University tutorial for a great discussion on how to log your find.
I hope I haven’t made this too complicated. it’s really easier to do it than to explain it I recommend visiting the Geocaching.com homepage where you’ll find a link to their Guide to the Game, as well as a link to their “Geocaching in 2 Minutes” video.
I’ll be posting more about geocaching in the coming weeks, including interviews with geocaching canines from around the world. If you have any questions at all about any aspect of the sport please leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure and answer them all. And if you do go out and hunt a cache please tell me all about your experience.
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