SALEM, Ohio – They’re hiding everywhere. In trees, under rocks, behind guardrails.
Every time you hike a nature trail or sit on a park bench, they’re right there. Just under your nose.
But most people never notice. They’re not supposed to. That’s what makes the game interesting.
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The game is geocaching, a simple combination of technology and the outdoors.
The basic premise works likes this: Geocachers all over the world hide caches (usually packages of inexpensive, nonedible goodies) and list the coordinates of their cache on the Internet. Then, other geocachers can use those coordinates – along with a Global Positioning System unit – to find the prize.
Sounds easy, right?
Knowing the latitude and longitude of a particular location will give you a good idea of where to go, but finding a cache can be challenging, according to Robert Macomber, a geocacher from Canfield, Ohio.
“Just because you’re getting close to zero doesn’t mean it’s right there,” he said.
Geocachers are smart – they hide their loot in places most people never look. And for a good geocacher, that’s the beauty of the game.
“The ones I really enjoy are the ones that are very clever,” Macomber said.
One of his most memorable finds was at the end of a walkway that extended into the middle of a lake. The posts holding up the end of the walkway were hollow and the cache had been tied to a piece of fishing line and dropped into one of the posts. The other end of the line was tied to the top of the post so the cache could be retrieved.
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Macomber said. “You never know what you’re looking for.”
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Geocaching revolves around three rules. When you find a cache, take something from it. Before you return it to its hiding place, leave something new in it. And be sure to sign the logbook before you go.
Caches can range in size from a 35 mm film canister to a 5-gallon bucket, but no matter how large or small, every cache should have a logbook. The logbook is a record of who found the cache and when they were there.
Also, caches are typically hidden in public places, so geocachers should try not to disturb the area around the cache.
Anyone can hide a cache, as long as he uses a weather-proof container and is able to maintain the stash.
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Players can head out any time – day, night, summer, winter, in the rain or in the sun. Some geocachers devote a good bit of time to the game.
For instance, Macomber has found 489 caches and hidden 30 since July 2005. He’s geocached in about 15 states and each experience brings a new touch to the game.
“It’s the adventure because you never know where you’re going to go,” he said.
The trick to finding a cache, according to Macomber, is to spot something that’s out of place.
“Look around for something that doesn’t look natural,” he said.
Rocks arranged in a pattern, twigs placed parallel to each other, a container in a tree, part of a wall slightly out of place. These are all signs a cache could be hiding nearby.
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Dave Eichenmiller and his wife, Alison Gee, of Chesterland, Ohio, have tracked down almost 3,000 caches (and hidden 81) since they began geocaching nearly three years ago. They do most of their geocaching in the area from northeast Ohio to Niagara Falls to northwest Pennsylvania.
For those just getting started, Eichenmiller suggests they try to meet other geocachers from their area through the Internet and local geocaching events.
Talking to more experienced geocachers should make the game easier, he added.
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Some people add a twist to the sport by giving their fellow geocachers a challenge. Recently, Barbara Thompson of Pittsburgh left a Steelers key chain at a cache in Sedona, Ariz. A note attached to the key chain asked geocachers to get it back to Pittsburgh in time for the 2007 football season. So far, the key chain has been from Sedona to Ohio to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Ontario, Canada.
“We’re still hoping it’s going to make it here,” Thompson said.
Thompson has found about 40 caches since she began geocaching 18 months ago. For her, the game is an extension of a sport she already liked – hiking.
“I don’t enjoy walking, but I absolutely love hiking,” she said. “Especially hiking for a reason.”
She shares Macomber’s theory on finding a cache by searching for things that are out of place.
“You have to look for clues,” she said. “You have to think in terms of nature. What does nature not do?”
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So, what’s the big deal about looking for a Tupperware container holding cans of Play-Doh and Silly Putty hidden under a rock?
Actually, it’s not as much about the cache as it is about the adventure.
“You probably get to see places you wouldn’t go if you weren’t looking for a cache,” Macomber said.
Thompson has stopped to geocache at Pittsburgh-area parks that she normally drives past. And she geocached at some abandoned coke ovens near her home that she’d never had a reason to visit.
In April, Eichenmiller came across a ravine and waterfall in Chautauqua County, N.Y., he would’ve missed if he hadn’t been geocaching.
With 200,000 caches hidden around the world, even an experienced traveler will likely end up in a new place if he or she is looking for caches.
Remember, they’re everywhere.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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