Writing & Photography of Jim Murtagh

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The Writings & Photography of Jim Murtagh

Geocaching - Techno Treasure Hunting

The arrow on the handheld GPS unit points to the left and four year old Aidan Fiala yells out “The treasure is this way.” The young adventurer has already walked through a field, went through a tunnel, crossed a river, and now he stands in the middle of a salt marsh surrounded by beautiful views of Long Island Sound. The path he is following splits in three, and only one leads to the buried loot.

Aidan is a treasure hunter, and his electronic treasure map is a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver loaded with the latitude and longitude coordinates of a hidden treasure know as a “geocache.” The portable GPS unit relies on a constellation of 24 satellites, orbiting 11,000 miles above Earth, for extremely accurate navigation. Aidan is playing a game of high-tech hide and seek called “geocaching” (pronounced geo-cashing) that kids and adults throughout the world enjoy.

The GPS unit indicates he is within 10 feet of the bounty. Aidan climbs a pile of rocks, puts down his walking stick, and begins searching. He recounts the adventure on the drive home: “You were looking on the bottom and I was looking on the top. Here’s the treasure. Here’s me. I was just climbing up the rock. I saw a box. I didn’t know what it was. I took it out. It was the treasure!” His eyes are just as wide now, as they were when he found the hidden surprise. His smile is equally as large.

The treasure is a medium size watertight plastic container. It is filled with an assortment of trinkets including toys, puzzles, hand warmers, and other random goodies for geocachers of all ages. There is also a pencil and logbook to record the date of each successful find and provide details about the adventure. The rules of the game ask that if you remove something from the cache, that you replace it with something you brought. Aidan selects a small bottle of liquid hand cleaner and replaces it with a plastic dinosaur. After signing the log, the cache is hidden exactly as it was found.

The quest was successful, and the walk back to the parking is area is more relaxed than the trek out. Aidan takes a break, and sits on a large rock to enjoy a snack, after using his newly acquired hand cleaner, of course. A pair of nesting osprey provides an aerial exhibition in the distance. The wind blows across the water, and masks the warming temperature of the spring morning. The clouds drift across the sky, and everything seems to be moving at a slower than normal pace. It is a serene moment.

When Aidan comes to the river crossing for a second time, he can’t resist the urge to pick up some rocks and make some splashes. He is singing “Take me out to the ballgame” as he throws the stones. Eventually he tires and says “Let’s go home now.”

Geocaching is similar to a game called “letterboxing” that started in the late 1800’s, but this revised format relies on the Internet and GPS technology to locate its hidden treasures. The premise is simple. Someone hides a “cache” and then posts its location, called a waypoint, on the geocaching web site. Geocachers log onto the web site and enter the zip code of the area they want to explore. A list of nearby caches is displayed, complete with navigational coordinates, and descriptive information about the difficulty and terrain of the hunt. The waypoint is then entered into the geocacher’s GPS unit, and the search begins.

Creative geocachers have a seemingly endless array of hiding spots. Caches can be found in metropolitan, suburban, and rural areas world-wide. Many caches are hidden along scenic nature walks, but others are nestled in populated areas such as downtown shopping areas. There are dozens of caches along the shoreline, hidden in places that people pass by everyday.

To add interest to the game, there are different types of caches. The traditional cache is a mid-sized watertight container hidden under rocks or branches. There are also micro-caches, (35mm film canisters - no treasure in these), and multi-part caches, where the initial cache gives the coordinates to one or more additional caches that must be found. Puzzle caches challenge the geocacher to solve a riddle to locate the treasure. For the truly adventurous, there are even caches hidden under water, in trees, and on mountain tops.

Geocaching is evolving into a new form of family recreation. To get started, all you need is a GPS unit (prices start around $100), access to the Internet, and a yearning for adventure. For more information, log on to the geocaching website at: www.geocaching.com