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Interactive maps online at www.geocaching.com show users where geocache containers are hidden.
As any 8-year-old will attest, there are few things more fun than finding hidden treasures. Thankfully, the thrill of the chase is not reserved for children with treasure maps. In the modern age of the Internet and GPS, anyone around the globe can partake in the outdoor treasure-hunting game that is geocaching.
What Is Geocaching?
Founded in May 2000, geocaching is a GPS-based game, where participants navigate to a set of coordinates and attempt to find the geocache container that is hidden at that location. Almost all geocache containers are hidden outside, as the game was originally developed for people who
hiked, traveled and enjoyed exploring the outdoors. There are currently more than 1.8 million geocaches hidden throughout the world and more than 5 million active geocachers worldwide.
Wesmere residents Steve and Corinne Adams are avid geocachers who discovered the underground world about two years ago. Steve first heard of the treasure-hunting game from one of his graduate professors at the University of Central Florida. Steve’s first geocache find was on UCF’s campus as part of a class assignment.Around the same time, Corinne learned about geocaching from her family.“My dad actually read an article about it in a news magazine and wanted to find out if there were any ‘treasures’ around his house in Melbourne Beach,” Corinne said. “The whole family spent the better part of a day looking for caches in a public park and at a nearby middle school. We found one; the other was more elusive. But we had so much fun. I mentioned it to Steve, who already knew a little more about it. He ended up geocaching with me in more remote places like state parks, and I was hooked.”
What Does a Geocache Look Like?
A geocache, or cache, is a hidden container of any size or appearance that holds a paper scroll with the names of everyone who has found it and, sometimes, small items or trinkets that have been left by a previous geocacher. The rule is “take some stuff, leave some stuff.” Anything from an old film canister to a fake rock to a large Tupperware container can be used as a geocache. It only needs to be large enough to hold a small roll of paper to use as a log sheet.Since geocaches can be tiny or very large, they can be hidden almost anywhere. However, the majority are large enough to hold a few small objects, which fellow geocachers can take or leave when the geocache is found.“I’ve left trinkets for others to find,” Corinne said. “I tend to leave little beads from a broken bracelet I have. It’s like I’m leaving little lucky charms for others to enjoy.”
How Does Someone Find a Geocache?
The website www.geocaching.com serves as the headquarters for the game. Participants create a free online account and are able to search for hidden geocaches, log their finds and interact with other geocachers. Registered users can enter a zip code to display a map of active geocaches. After clicking on the geocache one would like to find, the user will be given exact GPS coordinates for the container, as well as basic information about the geocache, such as the general size of the container and the difficulty level of its hidden location. The user can also read comments from other geocachers who have already found the hidden container.Once the user has decided to find a geocache, he enters the coordinates into a GPS device or cellphone that has GPS capabilities. For convenience and up-to-the-minute updates, many phones, such as the iPhone, Android and Windows Phone 7, offer a Geocaching Live-enabled application. This eliminates the need for a separate GPS device.After entering the coordinates of the geocache into a cellphone or GPS device, one simply follows the directions.“I love the hunt,” Corinne said. “There’s nothing better than figuring out where something is hidden. You have to think creatively and figure out what the clues mean. Yes, there are easy ones, but when you find that hard one, man do you feel special. There was a cache in a local shopping center that used the slogan of the shop it was near as the clue. Though I knew the slogan, it still took about half an hour before I had my prize.”“I like having to be creative to solve the riddles,” Steve added. “A lot of times there are cyphers, so you first have to find the cypher to even figure out where you’re going. And then other times there are tricks that make it easier to find the cache.”However, because of technical limitations, a device will only get a player close to a geocache — never directly to it. Once in the general vicinity, it is up to the geocacher to use the basic information and clues from the website to hunt down a container’s exact location. This is what makes geocaching so exciting — the find.“There is a cache near the Winter Garden Village,” Corinne said. “I knew I had the coordinates correct, and I knew what the cache looked like, but I just couldn’t find it. After looking, then leaving, and then coming back, I found it hiding under a mound of grass and trash wood. I was so happy to have finally found it. It was like a true achievement, however silly that sounds.”
What Happens After a Geocache Is Found?
Once a geocache has been found, the player writes his name and the date on the log sheet inside the container. If there are “treasures” inside the geocache, the player can take one, but must place something of equal or greater value back in the geocache for the next person to find. Then, using either a cellphone application or computer, the geocacher logs the find on his www.geocaching.com profile, letting other geocachers know how hard the find was, what condition it was in, and other information about the geocache. The website is a great tool for networking and interacting with people around the world who share a common interest.“It’s a great way to connect to neighbors, strangers and people from all over the world,” Corinne said. “You can feel so connected without even leaving your neighborhood. And yes, there are some near my house in Ocoee. When I first started, I was on a quest to find a stuffed animal that had been traveling all the way from Germany and was said to be in a cache in Winter Garden. I never found him, but I left my own trinkets in the caches I found, knowing someone could take one some day.”
Steve and Corinne Adams of Wesmere love the challenge of finding geocaches in remote outdoor locations.
Once a geocacher has mastered the basics, there are numerous ways to expand upon the game and increase the difficulty level.After perfecting the hunt or exhausting the geocaches in one zip code or area, a player may decide to hide a new geocache. Just like with real estate, it is all about location, location, location. Hiking trails, interesting views and concealed areas make great geocache hiding spots. One must keep in mind that in order for the geocache to stand the test of time, it must not be found by nongamers — known as “muggles,” a name borrowed from the Harry Potter series — so areas that are not frequently visited or easily seen from busy streets work best.
“There is something to be said about being a part of a global community that not everyone knows about,” Corinne said. “You have to be crafty to find caches without being seen as a weirdo by the unsuspecting public. And I think it appeals to the inner Harry Potter in us all — this sense that we’re a part of something special. It’s no coincidence that geocachers call noncachers ‘muggles.’”Once the geocache has been stocked with a log sheet and small items, if desired, and hidden in a secluded location, it can be registered on the website. From there, it is the responsibility of the person who hid the geocache to maintain it, which includes ensuring there are plenty of log sheets, double-checking that the geocache has not been removed, and making sure it does not suffer any damage.Geocachers may also decide to pursue a Trackable — a geocache game piece that has a unique code that can be used to track its movements around the world. These Trackables have goals set by the player who originally hid them. Most often these are distance-related, such as moving from one coast to another or visiting every country in a continent. Trackables are very rare, as they have to be purchased directly through the game website. They also are highly sought-after, so one must move quickly if a Trackable is hidden nearby.
Geocaching & Southwest Orlando
A search for geocaches within 25 miles of the zip code 32819 yields more than 2,700 results. Their titles, which are often clues themselves, include I-Drive #2, Locals vs. Tourists, E.T. Phone Home, SeaWorld Serpent, Where Shopping Is a Pleasure, and more. Chances are, many Southwest residents have walked within inches of a geocache and not known it was there.Searching for geocaches also allows residents to get out and explore the area they call home. Even those who are Southwest natives can look at their hometown in a new way.“Geocaching is a great way to get people out into nature,” Corinne said. “You don’t have to be a nature nut, but you can learn to enjoy what’s out there. Central Florida has some truly beautiful scenery, even outside your front door. It challenges you mentally and physically, and it’s so much fun.”“It’s great getting to see things not a lot of other people get to see,” Steve said. “You have to go off the normal path and climb up things that you wouldn’t normally climb, and go to spots you wouldn’t normally go. There are some geocaches that are only accessible by boat, which is pretty cool. The cool thing is that the GPS gets you in the ballpark, but then you have to figure out where it would be hidden.”The rules of geocaching are fairly simple. Using GPS technology and creative clues, one inconspicuously — without being seen by “muggles” — hunts down hidden “treasure,” leaving something if he takes something. He then lets the underground world of geocachers know about the find. Anyone from children to seniors and homebodies to outdoor enthusiasts can partake in and enjoy geocaching. One can take a quick break from shopping to hunt down a geocache in The Marketplace at Dr. Phillips or downtown Windermere, or make a day of it and explore local parks and canoe down a river in search of hidden containers.“It’s like an underground community of people who want to preserve nature and are doing it in a fun way,” Steve said.“You may not find that first, or second or third,” Corinne said. “But once you do, you’ll want to keep looking and really try to be a part of the community. You’ll find that you’re seeing the same names pop up in geocache logs. You can chat online and leave notes to one another, and you’ll find that you have these geocache pen pals. They can provide advice and encourage you, which is what geocaching is really all about — finding others who like to do what you do.”
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