Geocaching is today’s modern treasure hunt
It is, admittedly, difficult to make out when Antone Berger died. With the afternoon sun beaming directly into their faces, geocachers Monty Wolf and a companion, who asks only to be identified as “Rick,” squint eagerly at her tombstone. At first, they think the tombstone reads 1835.
“It can’t be ‘35,” says Wolf, staring into his GPS device. “It must be ‘85.”
With that, the proper coordinates are plugged into the GPS navigational device, and they set out toward a large pine tree about 200 yards away. Under the tree’s canopy, they discover what they’ve come to find, a brown plastic Tupperware container buried near the tree’s trunk. When they pop it open, it reveals an assortment of junk: a couple of key chains, a little toy ninja and a decorative gold coin which turns out to be a “travel bug”—a trinket with a unique number printed on it so that its movements can be tracked online. But there is also a strip of paper with several dozen little signatures scribbled on it. This is the log, one of the required elements of an officially approved cache.
Geocaching is a treasure hunting game in which the players use GPS devices to hide and seek caches. A cache is simply a receptacle containing the log—everyone who finds the cache signs the log—and anything else that the geocacher might want to put in there. They can range in size from that of a watch battery to the size of a car battery and beyond. If you take something out of the cache, it’s understood that you should leave something of equal value. To place a cache, a person simply finds a spot to put it, plugs the coordinates into their GPS system and then submits the information to Geocaching.com. Provided that the cache isn’t too close to another cache, on private property, in the middle of a freeway, or some such thing, it is then uploaded to the Web site for the world to see.
Geocaching began in Oregon in May of 2000 and now has more than 350,000 players worldwide.
Monty Wolf, a 53-year-old self-described “old hippie,” is the president of the Great Basin and Eastern Sierra Geocachers (GBES) who, in their fifth year, claim to be Nevada’s oldest geocaching organization.
“After three months of caching in the area, I kept seeing the same names on the hard and online logs and wanted to know who these people were,” he says, describing his decision to form the club in 2003. “I decided if it was going to happen, I was going to have to get the ball rolling. Four years later, we are incorporated with the state of Nevada as a 501(c)3.”
Memberships fluctuate, but Wolf thinks there are around 200 active members in GBES at a given time.
Friends have described him as a geocaching evangelist, and he lives up to the name. Gray haired, bespectacled and possessing a powerful voice honed by years of radio broadcasting, he elucidates on the “mystery of the hunt.”
“There are so many things that have made geocaching my favorite obsession,” says Wolf. “The adventure of the hunt that sometimes leads me to places I may not have visited without being led there by a geocache; the mystery of the hunt; the creativity of the camouflage or the type of hides for some of the urban caches; the creativity it has inspired in me to come up with unique hides.”
The list goes on and on.
Muggles and techies
The mystery of “urban caches” has a titillating, covert feel. Caches are often cleverly hidden in plain view. Urban caches have to be well-disguised because of their increased risk of being “muggled.” That is, found by a non-geocacher—a “muggle”—and stolen or moved or destroyed. Geocachers often use magnets to stick the cache to urban structures, such as light posts, signs, phone booths and even the Reno arch.
Michelle Zukovsky, 42, has been geocaching since January of 2004.
“I was born and raised in the Reno-Sparks area,” she says. “Since I’ve taken up geocaching, I’ve learned more about this town and state than I ever knew before.”
To date, Zukovsky has logged around 380 caches, which she says is “not into the real high numbers.” Joining her on most of her geocaching adventures is her 8-year-old son, who has his own GPS device.
“I bought a new one and gave him the old one,” she says. “He’s learning how to use it. It’s a great alternative to sitting at home and playing video games.”
Wolf also makes the case for geocaching as a replacement for—or perhaps supplement to—the hours upon hours that young people log in front of monitors.
“Its high tech,” he says. “But you’re outside, moving around, getting fresh air.”
For the outdoorsman, it can add a suspenseful detective feeling to an already pleasant excursion. There are numerous caches in and around the Sierra that expose the geocacher to beautiful views, waterfalls, historical landmarks, and the like. For the techie, it adds a little fresh air and exercise to the hopeless addiction to gadgets.
Geocachers span the spectrum creatively. There is a geocacher who has hidden caches throughout the Sierra in the shape of the constellation Cassiopeia. A local cache called “All and all, it’s just another …” requires the cache hunter to complete the famous lyric in order to find it hidden in a hollow brick. Geocaching has also spread into what would seem the most unlikely of places. A quick search on Geocaching.com reveals seven known caches in Cuba—three at Guantanamo Bay—and more than 100 in Iraq.
“There’s so much you can do with it,” says Wolf.
This June, GBES hosts its fourth annual Geocaching and Navigational Rally. People from as far away as Maine come to the area to compete in what is basically a timed geocaching race that takes place over two days.
The event has been growing steadily its first three years and, Wolf believes, “this is the breakout year.” He estimates that the rally will draw about 40 teams, many locals and Californians, with a few coming from all over the United States. The teams will enjoy “the thrill of competition, amazing vistas and off-road challenges,” according to the GBES Web site.
Additionally, teams can look forward to being exposed to some Northern Nevada history, as this year’s race is “incorporating historical figures, buildings, mines and a few ghosts, too.”
“Each year, we’ve tried to top what we did the year before,” Wolf says. “It’s going to be really tough next year to top what we’re doing this year.”