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Geocaching galore: Treasure hunters meet in Menahga

NorthStar GeoSeekers (NSGS) have embarked on what geocaching.com calls "the world's largest treasure hunt." Geocachers from across north-central Minnesota and North Dakota gathered last weekend at Menahga's Memorial Forest Campground for NSGS' si...

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A Geocoin is a special coin created by individuals or groups of geocachers as a kind of signature item or calling card. Like a travel bug, each Geocoin is assigned a unique tracking ID which allows them to travel from geocache to geocache or to be passed amongst friends, picking up stories along the way.

NorthStar GeoSeekers (NSGS) have embarked on what geocaching.com calls "the world's largest treasure hunt."

Geocachers from across north-central Minnesota and North Dakota gathered last weekend at Menahga's Memorial Forest Campground for NSGS' sixth annual "GeoSeekin' Weekend."

Local NSGS members Jeff and Raelyne Fieldsend of Menahga organized the three-day event, which is held in a different town each year. Last summer, they all met in Bagley.

"Geocaching is a worldwide thing," Raelyne said. "You meet all these crazy people. It's very kid- and family-friendly."

The Fieldsends hid "tons of caches" in the area - all cleverly spaced to form Minnesota's outline - for the nearly 60 NSGS members in attendance.

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The Fieldsends advise beginning cachers to create a free account at geocaching.com and seek large, easy-to-find caches at first. There are tutorials online. The free app can be downloaded to a smartphone.

"And go to events like this," Raelyne said.

Caches range in size from "micro" to huge. They can be hidden in obvious spots or tucked within a challenging puzzle. The terrain may be anywhere from wheelchair-accessible to requiring scuba diving gear or mountain-climbing skills.

There's even a cache on the International Space Station.

According to geocaching.com, 518 caches are hidden around Park Rapids alone.

Along the Heartland Trail, there are caches every tenth of a mile, Jeff said. He has personally hidden 411 caches and discovered 1,702.

Raelyne enjoys creating caches in unique shapes, such as a dragonfly or road runner.

Each geocacher creates a unique username, or "geo-name." Most opt to use the GPS function on their smartphones rather than purchase a GPS unit for $800 to $900, Jeff said.

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Jody Puschinsky of Bemidji has been a NSGS member since the beginning.

"This event has gotten bigger," she said.

"You can do as much or as little as you want in geocaching," Puschinsky said. She goes out searching for geocaches as often as she can.
Her favorite part? "Probably what most people say: Where it takes you. They take you to interesting places, and then events are fun - just meeting other people," she said.

She and her husband will take different routes to and from the Twin Cities when visiting a son who lives there.

On a trip to Texas, "we cached our way down and cached our way home," she said.

Within a 10-mile radius of Bemidji, there are 1,000 caches, Puschinsky said. "In the Cities, you'll have a 1,000 in a 5-mile radius."

NSGS hosts an annual "travel bug" race.

Purchased at geocaching.com, these tags have a tracking number on them, explained Jeff. Geocachers often attach a decorative trinket to the travel bug with a key chain. It's then placed in a geocache. The next geocacher to visit the cache may take it and place it in another cache, and so on, and so on.

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"Every year, we have a race. It starts with zero miles here," Jeff said. "As the travel bugs move, they accumulate miles. This year, the winner put on 26,574 miles."

Second and third place in the 2017 race were neck-and-neck: 20,271 versus 20,087 miles.

Phyllis Dirk of Mandan, ND (a.k.a. "Butterfly77") was shocked that her travel bug - a miniature red purse dubbed "Spark the Speed" - traveled from Bagley to France, Japan and Finland within one year's time.

"I think it was in China for awhile," she said.

Her tech-savvy daughter, Amy Zachmeier ("Glowworm77"), helped her track its progress online.

"It was really cool to watch," said Zachmeier. A French geocacher even shared a photo of Spark in front of the Eiffel Tower.

This was the mother-daughter team's second year participating in the NSGS Geoseekin' Weekend.

Geocaching "is so addicting. I think it's so cool you get to go to places. Most of the time, it has something important or you've never been to that place. It's always interesting," Dirk said.

Zachmeier, who also lives in Mandan, started geocaching in 2015.

"I found five caches, and I tried to get my family, but nobody liked it, so I just quit. Last year, North Dakota State Parks had a challenge. One of the things to do was to geocache in parks. My mom and I did the park challenges. We've been addicted ever since. In the last year, we've found over 1,500 caches," she said.

Their geocaching adventures took them through all 53 counties of North Dakota.

"I was born and raised in North Dakota. I would have never known these things or places were there," Zachmeier said.

"Pathtags" are another popular collectible item among geocachers. They are a colorful, 1-inch diameter coin left behind by geocachers as a personalized marker.

"It's something you can keep it if you find it in a geocache. A lot of people trade them," Puschinsky said.

The design on the face of the coin is customized, while the other side holds a generic design and a serial number so it can be logged online.

Puschinsky's geocaching name is "Pink Monkey2" so her pathtags have pink monkeys on it.

"You can create your own design or have someone create it if you're not that creative," she said.

Chad Thorvilson ("Trycaches") has collected over 100 pathtags and mounted them to a walking stick. He's been geocaching for a decade with his family in Gilby, ND.

Etiquette requires that if a geocacher removes an item, called "swag" - a travel bug, a pathtag, a geocoin or a prize - from a cache, he or she must replace it with swag of equal value.

Carmen Sowers ("WhiskeySowers") lives in Grand Forks, but began geocaching while in South Korea in 2016. She's an active military member. Through her personal travels, she has geocached in Japan, India, Cambodia and New Zealand.

"Everywhere I went, I made a point to find one," Sowers said.

When she recently moved to Grand Forks, she held a geocaching event at her home and instantly made new friends.

Camaraderie and socializing is all part of the fun, Raelyne agreed.

GeoWoodstock 2019 will be held in Fort Worth, Texas in May, attracting up to 7,000 geocachers.

Related Topics: MENAHGA
Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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