Geocaching catching on as hobby in area
Hunting for hidden treasure appeals to the kid in all of us.
That's why the game/sport/activity of geocaching has caught on like wildfire across the globe in the decade since its conception.
Grannies, treasure hunters, computer geeks and young kids are joining the high tech search for tchotchkes.
It's not necessarily the object of the hunt that's such fun, although even adults delight in finding kitsch at the end of the rainbow. In geocaching terms, it's called SWAG (stuff we all get.)
But it's the allure of the search that stimulates the creative juices and taps into the youthful spirit sometimes hidden deep within.
Geocaching has quickly evolved into an activity with its own online community, lingo, code of conduct and ethical mantra.
There are 125 caches (pronounced like the money, cash) within 20 miles of Park Rapids, one cache at each public access in the county.
On May 13, a workshop will be held through Park Rapids Community Education that will explain the ins and outs of geocaching.
The following a day, a treasure hunt will allow students and other aficionados to ply their skills throughout the region in search of SWAG.
The best place to start is the website www.geocaching.com.
Raelyne and Jeff Fieldsend of Park Rapids found the world of geocaching a transformative experience a couple years ago when Jeff was bored, looking for something to do.
He got onto the website looking to see what geocaching was all about.
He and Raelyne set off to find a cache in Heartland Park in Park Rapids. According to the couple, there are numerous caches hidden there.
They found the treasure without a GPS unit. By that afternoon they were hooked. They purchased their first GPS (Global Positioning System) unit.
GPS is a satellite based navigation system in which users "triangulate" to calculate their location.
A satellite transmits a signal to a unit on Earth. GPS receivers can calculate the time difference between when the signal was sent and when it was received to affix their location from that satellite anywhere on the planet. Then a global position is displayed electronically on the unit.
Because smart phones have applications for GPS, you can also use your phone to hunt for treasure.
The cache and the code
A cache can be hidden in anything, including a peanut butter jar or other waterproof sealed contained.
Caches have also gone high tech and a whole industry has evolved manufacturing funky containers that hold little plastic spiders, hacky sacks, teeny flashlights, snap bracelets or other SWAG. Food and alcohol are verboten.
Each registered cache has a log inside. The finder signs the log to signify he or she has located the treasure. All permanent caches are registered through Geocaching.com and their positions are electronically recorded on a bulletin board. Once you find a cache, you can log into the website and relate your experiences finding it.
But here's where the code of ethics plays into the activity. No spoiler alerts allowed.
"We can always tell the newbies," Raelyne said. "They'll write things like, 'I found it under this rock,' or things like that," she said. "Those comments can be removed."
It's not fair to spoil the hunt for others, Jeff said.
The online community grows as finders share experiences and plan events together.
That's how the Fieldsends met Cal Miller, another geocacher. The three will conduct the May 13 class.
Cal had seen the activity on the Discovery Channel two years ago. He'd been a coin collector and enjoyed prospecting, so he went online and bought his first GPS unit.
You can spend a fortune, the trio says, or you can spend next to nothing.
As gas prices increase, you can stay within walking distance of some caches, or bike to others. Soon there will be caches you can reach by water.
The art of hiding
A cache should never be buried, another code of conduct element. You can't use a shovel or sharp object to bury it, Raelyne said.
The fun is in concealing something in plain sight. A hollowed out log, an indented rock, a nook in a tree can all serve as a treasure spot. Obvious areas are prone to theft or damage, so it takes some ingenuity, or "geosense" to conceal an object in a tricky location.
Increasingly, geocachers are making their own caches, boring out rocks, building elaborate camouflaged receptacles.
Permanent caches registered with Geocaching.com can be no closer than a tenth of a mile from each other. Temporary caches can go anywhere and are usually hidden for a special event or theme party.
"Almost every Walmmart in the world has them," Jeff said. Caches are concealed in store signs, parking lot stanchions and elsewhere.
And some extreme geocaching events involve mountain climbing or scuba diving. There are handicapped accessible caches.
That's where the website comes in handy. It rates all the registered sites by terrain and difficulty to find. You can check the website before setting off to get tips from other cachers and download information to your iPhone or GPS unit, The website will also let you know if you're looking for a large cache, or a "nano," a mini-container that holds only a teeny paper log you sign and replace.
It will also advise you what tools you may need, like a screwdriver or pair of tweezers, to extract the treasure. Like Boy Scouts, you always want to be prepared and bring a knapsack with you.
Some hunts have a theme such as a pirate adventure. Finders don pirate costumes and display plastic treasures for a digital photo that is then posted to the website. They leave the costumes for the next finder.
There are mystery hunts, Jeff's favorite, quiz hunts where you have to answer a puzzle or a riddle to get your next clue.
"FTF" (first to find) caches are always special, often containing a dollar bill. If you remove a cache, you must leave something or equal or greater value, the code states.
So the second to find a new cache usually gets a penny. That technically violates the code of conduct but lets finders know they were there second. Fieldsends and other cachers keep a scrapbook of their FTFs, their SWAG and mementoes of the hunt. As of last weekend, the couple had found 448 caches and hidden 15. Miller had logged 365 caches and hidden 47.
They recently held a "local superheroes" hunt in which little plastic figures were hidden at the fire and police stations, sheriff's department and North Memorial Ambulance.
Cashes must be on public property or have a private property owner's permission, they cannot be in dangerous spots like railroad tracks, can't be near wildlife management areas or school grounds.
Registered caches are first approved, then published on the website at a certain time according to the hider's wish.
Raelyne said there's two reasons to hide a cache: "having a really cool spot or a really cool cache."
The Fieldsends like to find caches when they travel or spend the weekends on the hunt. Their three sons, from grade school ages to a 23-year-old, all enjoy the activity. It gives them a unique opportunity to see areas of a city or region regular tourists bypass.
"And everybody takes their 'geodogs,'" she said, referring to the four-legged family members.
The Fieldsends simply get onto the website and request, for instance, sites along a particular highway.
They can filter out the locations they aren't interested in.
For the kids' caches, having a stockpile of bouncy rubber balls or trinkets is a must. Kids love the SWAG. You take some and replace it at each stop.
Some is uniquely identified with the cache location. Other SWAG, like the bouncy balls, is universally appealing.
"It's a very fun, very social event," Raelyne says. It's supposed to be a non-competitive event, but some geocaching does involve a race. The in-house joke is that it's an activity "where civilians use multi-million dollar military technology to find Tupperware in the forest."
Fieldsends sent two "travel bugs," temporary caches that don't stay put, east and west, to Disneyland and Disney World. They're tracking the bugs along the way to see which sees Mickey Mouse first.
And each cache carries a hint as to how to find it. Some mega events are in the planning stages that will attract thousands of cachers, Jeff said. Geocaching vacations are popping up on travel websites.
So if staying young is the key to good health, geocaching is the new keymaster.