24 June 2002. Thanks to B.
Have Geocache, Will Travel
By Michelle Delio Wired News
2:00 a.m. June 11, 2002 PDT
"N 40Â° 47.920 W 073Â° 57.384" marks the spot.
Actually, those coordinates mark just one of the thousands of special spots in a high-tech worldwide scavenger hunt known as geocaching.
The rules of the game are simple: Someone creates and hides a cache -- usually a weatherproof container holding a stash of inexpensive goodies -- and then posts coded clues and the cache's latitude and longitude coordinates on one of the many websites devoted to the sport.
Anyone can then attempt to find the cache.
"It's a game where you are the search engine," explained Jeremy Irish, who maintains a popular geocaching website.
In January 2001 there were just a few hundred caches in the world. There are now around 25,000 caches in 122 countries. Some are easy to find: Just plug the location coordinates into a global positioning system device and follow the trail.
But locating others requires a major investment of thought and physical effort.
Geocachers say that while everyone is welcome to play, many participants are technically inclined folks who sometimes seem rather shocked to find themselves frolicking in the great outdoors.
"Before geocaching came along, I was just sitting around, spending long hours in front of the computer or TV," said Quinn Stone, owner of a website dedicated to geocaching. "Now I am actually outside having a good time with my family and friends."
Stone remembers the day the game started.
In May 2000, the Clinton administration lifted restrictions preventing civilians from accessing information from military satellite systems that now provide navigation data to GPS devices. Stone and some friends were online discussing how accurate personal GPS devices might be without the restrictions.
"One group member said he was going to test by placing a bucket out in public and posting the coordinates of the bucket's location in the newsgroup," Stone recalled. "Nobody thought much about it until a few days later someone posted a message that said: 'I found your bucket and left a toy inside it as proof.' And thus, geocaching was born."
Caches still usually consist of a rather motley collection of objects: rubber bugs, music CDs, tins of Altoids, computer games, Lego bricks, comics, yo-yos and kazoos.
But you can find almost anything in a cache. Software engineer Ed Hall, who maintains another geocaching website, fondly remembers finding an ape spoon, a prop from the Planet of the Apes movie, last summer. He also discovered a brand-new portable TV set in a cache last December.
A cache finder removes one item from the hoard and is expected to leave something in return. Hall said finders also make a habit of picking up any garbage they may find during their hunts, a practice they refer to as "cache in, trash out."
Caches also usually contain some sort of logbook with scrawled messages from the cache hider and finders. Some caches include a disposable camera; finders snap a picture of themselves and then replace the camera. The pictures usually end up on the cache owners' website.
Caches exist in urban parks, deserted islands, woodland trails, festering garbage dumps, cemeteries and hidden caves behind waterfalls. They can be found virtually any place where someone can hide a container of interesting stuff. Cachers try to choose interesting sites that will encourage people to explore places that only locals may know about.
"That's the great thing with geocaching: It sometimes takes you to places you never knew about before, as well as shares the places that are special to the people that placed the caches," Stone said.
Stone's very first hunts were a little depressing.
"When this all began, the only caches around my home in upstate New York were the ones I placed, so it was kind of like finding your own Easter eggs," Stone recalled. "But about four weeks after we got the ball rolling, a guy named 'Gimpy' placed a cache near where I live. Out the door I ran with GPS and daughter in tow. Hunting for hidden treasure makes you feel like a kid again."
Stone enjoys brain-busting caches like one he designed called "Graveyard Grumble." The navigational clues are birth and death dates on tombstones at the cemetery where the cache is hidden.
Player Nick Gerald, a website designer from New York, likes caches that lead him directly to the person who hid them.
"One cache contained the promise of a drink in the cache owners' favorite bar if you e-mailed him a password from the cache log. Another contained an invite to a home cooked dinner," Gerald said. "Now I plan my vacations around finding interesting caches, not for the trinkets, drinks and dinners but because it lets me meet local folks."