Space-based sport brings people back to earth
Geocaching catches on
BY AMY L. SMITH
With GPS devices in hand, Geocachers gathered at Glooscap Elementary School recently and headed off to find hidden treasures. Some were newbies, some old pros, but after a few minutes it was clear that what these cachers found is a very active and exciting pursuit. “This way!” a young searcher shouted.
After entering co-ordinates into hand-held Global Positioning Systems no bigger than a cell phone, groups made up of all ages crossed through the field and forest to find their targets, small boxes called “caches”.
Watching the numbers on their screens, they walked until they “zeroed out” -- until the GPS finally reported zero metres from the destination.
With nothing but a tree in front of one particular group, the real hunt began. The young searcher scoured its roots while a more vertically inclined group member reached into the branches. “Found it,” he says nonchalantly as he hands the cache to the excited youth.
Ed Fitzgerald is an experienced geocacher. While the Glooscap event was foremost a demonstration for those looking for something new, several seasoned cachers came out to partake. They’re excited to get new people into the sport and love an opportunity to meet up with fellow finders in the region.
Caching community based online
The Geocaching community is based online at geocaching.com. The site is where participants employ a user name to reference co-ordinates for new treks, record their progress, discuss the sport and register any new caches. Although people often make fast friends - almost like teammates - online, these Internet monikers usually remain a geocacher’s main means of identification.
Ed is known better to those out and about at Glooscap as 4Fitzs. He said a lot of “geonicks” as they’re called, start numerically like his. They correspond to the number of people participating in the sport as a family. “Nowadays,” he grinned, “it’s more often his two dogs rounding out the four Fitzgeralds than his two grown sons.”
Peeking inside the newly opened cache, the young searcher found a stamp to adorn the group’s list of co-ordinates. These caches we’re only for demonstration and therefore a bit different than their more authentic counterparts.
Caches usually contain a logbook and some trinket or prize for the discoverer. In geocaching terms, the group had just achieved a FTF, or a “first to find”. Competitive geo-cachers thrive on being the first to uncover a new cache and will triumphantly sign its logbooks virgin pages as well as log their find online. Later in the day many of the Glooscap groups would report a less welcome DNF, or “did not find”, when faced with a cleverly hidden cache in the roots of an old tree stump.
Customize the experience
Now onto the second set of co-ordinates, the group turned north. Most of the democaches were made to be an easy find, and with the clue “where the water goes” the group quickly zeroed in on a drainpipe.
The more challenging caches found on geocaching.com also contain clues, but they are usually encoded using ROT13; each letter in the clue must be rotated 13 letters down the alphabet in order to reveal the word. The encoding makes uncovering the clue a little more challenging for those who choose to use it and ensures that those looking to go without won’t spoil their fun accidentally.
This kind of customizable experience is what geocaching is all about. Cachers can choose to go for a demanding hike with a few friends or a family walk in the woods. “You can go to Cape Split and find seven caches on the trail, or to Lockhart and Ryan Park and find one 100 metres from where you parked,” said Roger Rafuse, an avid geocacher who has even traveled to Beaver Creek, Oregon to the original cache.
Geobuffs can even move their search into urban settings.
Urban caching can have its setbacks, though, mainly in the form of “muggles”. Geocaching has borrowed this term, meaning non-magic people in Harry Potter, to refer to those who don’t geocache. Muggles may interfere by inadvertently displacing caches hidden in storefronts or public places.
Anyone can create a cache so long as it abides by the safety, environmental and distance regulations stipulated on the geocaching.com website. While some who create caches position them particularly to be a challenge, some intend to share beautiful or important outdoor spaces with others.
Paul Madden, a geocacher from Sheffield Mills, says this is his favourite part. “There’s a lot to be said for the places it takes you, the most beautiful places you’d ever want to know about.”
Paul himself has placed a cache near a long forgotten monument to help remind the community of its past.
Shannon Bishop, event organizer, was pleased to see the enthusiasm from participants. Kings County Recreation, in conjunction with New Minas and Canning and District Recreation, are trying to boost awareness of this pastime.
Though the activity boasts high-tech gadgets, and an online base of operation, it seems to bring participants back to values of natural beauty, the adventure of outdoor discovery, and time spent with family and friends.
To check out more about Geocaching, head to:
www.geocaching.com – The international online database
www.atlanticgeocaching.com - The Atlantic Canada Geocaching Association’s website