The Adventure Guys

The inside story on outside recreation for South Puget Sound and beyond

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Geocaching: 76 South Sounders find Adventure Guys’ Pierce and Thurston counties caches

Post by Craig Hill / The News Tribune on Nov. 13, 2011 at 9:01 am |
November 13, 2011 9:02 am

Congratulations to the winners of The Adventure Guys geocaching contest. Your prizes will be in the mail on Monday morning. A total of 76 of you found the caches before they were archived Friday.

As promised in today’s Adventure sections in The News Tribune and The Olympian, here’s some more information about this game.

Click here to read our story about Geocaching from October.

Also, here is the story that one of our geocaching contest winners said inspired him to start playing the game he now loves. We wrote this story in 2005.

BY CRAIG HILL

There’s treasure out there, and it’s closer than you think.At least that’s what I tell my kids as I study some computer printouts and a GPS handset with my brother-in-law, Ralph Godinez, in the front seat of my SUV.

Ralph is introducing us to his new favorite game – geocaching – and it is kind of like a treasure hunt.

Instead of yellowing maps with X’s marking the spot, you find your way using satellite triangulation. And, instead of treasure chests, your bounty is a container of borderline useless items such as Happy Meal toys and Canadian coins.

You can choose one item from the cache on the condition you leave something of equal or greater value.

We’ve already found our first cache stashed in a Graham park, and now we’re looking for our next treasure.

I drive while Ralph, known as El Pepino in geocaching circles, punches in the coordinates. He tells me where to go while the kids play with their newly claimed rubber salamander in the back seat.

After a few wrong turns, we are finally getting close as we cruise through a familiar neighborhood. Then Ralph says it’s time to park and head out on foot.

Geocaching etiquette says no parking on private property such as driveways, but I happen to know the owner of this home won’t mind.

It’s my house.

See, kids, I say as unbuckle my seat belt, there’s treasure out there and it’s closer than you think.

“I’ve heard a few stories like that, ” said Jeremy Irish, CEO of Seattle-based Groundspeak Inc., which runs geocaching.com. “People walk by geocaches every day – or live by them – and don’t even know it. It’s one of the things that makes our sport so fun.”

Irish might be taking liberties with the word “sport” when he uses it to describe geocaching. It’s not a competition, and you don’t need to be physically fit or even coordinated to find most caches.

Then again, that’s part of geocaching’s appeal. Almost anybody can play.

There are more than 152,500 caches stashed in 214 countries around the world, including at least one in almost every park in the Puget Sound area.

The game started in 2000 shortly after GPS signals were descrambled by congressional order, making the Global Positioning System of 24 satellites accessible to the public.

On May 2, 2000, Portland computer programmer Dave Ulmer hid a logbook, a $5 bill and some other items and posted coordinates on a Web site, Irish said. The next day, Vancouver, Wash., resident Mike Teague found the cache and the game was born.

Teague used to run a Web site that logged geocaches but handed it over to Irish, who, along with friend Bryan Roth, helped push the game to a new level.

Geocaches are, almost literally, everywhere. A soldier hid a container in Iraq. There is a scuba cache on the bottom of Commencement Bay. Others are right under your nose in urban areas, like one stashed in front of a Parkland coffee shop.

“That’s one of the things that really got me interested in geocaching, ” said Craig Olson, a 37-year-old Spanaway resident and rookie geocacher. “You can find geocaches everywhere you go, and looking for them gets you to areas you might not go otherwise.”

If the world is the game board, geocaching.com is the playing cards.

To play, you simply visit the Web site and type in your ZIP code. You will then be given coordinates, maps and other information for caches hidden near you.

There is no cost to play other than expenses such as gas and a GPS receiver ($100 or much more).

Once you find the container, participants are encouraged to log their finds on the Web site.

Most geocachers keep profiles using their code names on the Web site. The profile keeps a running total of caches they’ve found and stashed.

For example, Puyallup School District special assignment Principal Glen Malone, known as GEM’s, has found 1,005 caches and hidden 39.

“It can be pretty addicting for certain personality types, ” said Malone. “I’ve never called in sick, but I know people who have.”

Malone has, however, run through the Snoqualmie Tunnel at 2 a.m. to get a rare geocoin stashed in a cache. He got the coin (worthless outside of geocaching circles) and got home at 4 a.m., in time to shower and head to work.

Once, Malone found a $100 bill in a cache, but most items in the container are worthless.

“If you added up the value of the contents off all the caches in Pierce County, you’d probably have about five bucks, ” Malone said.

The treasure on this hunt isn’t in the treasure box.

“It’s not about what you find in the cache, ” said Jon Graciano, a Graham geocacher known as JagSound. “It’s about finding the cache.”

Still, each cache is different. Some are just a box of toys. One has spring-loaded toy snakes that jump out to startle geocachers. Another has foreign coins as a tribute to perpetually moving military families.

Occasionally, caches have special items such as travel bugs. Travel bugs are silver key chains with an attached note explaining where it wants to go. Geocachers move the travel bug from cache to cache as it moves closer to its destination and track its progress online.

Malone once successfully sent a travel bug from Graham to Italy.

While 2,311 caches are located within a 50-mile radius of the Tacoma Dome, there are places where these containers are not allowed.

National parks and forests don’t allow caches for fear that vegetation will be trampled by geocachers. Containers hidden on private land are not posted on the Web site without permission from the land owner, Irish said.

Geocaching.com also requires caches to be stashed in environmentally friendly areas. Those that are not are removed from the Web site, as are caches in unsafe locations and those with illegal or illicit contents.

“It’s pretty rare that we have to remove a cache or get complaints, ” Irish said. “Geocaching is a safe, family-friendly activity.”

Malone has even used geocaching at school to teach students about orienteering.

“Unlike a lot of outdoor activities, with geocaching you can take your young kids along and they’ll have a great time, ” Malone said. “You get them off the couch and enjoy the outdoors.”

Precisely why after finding our second cache, Ralph and I decide to take the kids on a hike in search of a three-part multicache.

We easily find the first container and the enclosed coordinates of the second cache, but the second cache proves to be our biggest challenge of the day.

“If they were all easy to find, geocaching wouldn’t be so much fun, ” Graciano said.

After about 20 minutes of checking under logs and moss, the kids are losing interest fast. But it’s not about family fun anymore. It’s about the challenge.

An hour later, Ralph and I are still sticking our hands into rotten stumps while the kids are pelting us with cries of “I’m hungry” and “Can we go now?”

“One more minute” works for only so long. So, we finally give up and head back to the truck.

As we return to the parking lot, we glance back at the woods and promise ourselves we’ll be back when we have more time.

There’s treasure out there, after all, and it’s closer than we think.

 

 

 

 

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