Geocaching, is a world wide recreational activity where participants use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receivers and other navigational aides, to hide and locate caches. An all age activity, geocaching is combination between orienteering and a treasure, hunt, which made for a great Sunday morning adventure in Eugene.
The first recorded geocache was placed in Beavercreek, Oregon, on 3 May 2000, following the United State military end of excluding the public to satellite positioning. With free access to precise latitude and longitudinal co ordinates, Geocaching was born, and as of 1 April 2014, there are over 2 million active caches hidden in the world, in 185 countries and over 6 million registered participants.
As a “location based” game, hiders place caches and then publish those co ordinates through a number of web sites, the largest of them being the the original geocaching.com. Once published, the race is on to be the “first to find” (FTF). Geocaches can be any size, from a small matchbox, to the size of a shipping container. Participants come and go, trade swag, pick up and drop off travel bugs.
Prior to leaving home, I loaded up my Garmin Rhino 120 GPS. The Rhino is a solid workhorse, which I have dropped off buildings, into deep water, and on one occasion, run over with my mountain bike (not the recommended treatment.) Knowing where I was staying, I logged into geocaching.com and typed in the address. The web page gave me a selection of caches available within a five mile radius. I narrowed down the list to types of caches, availability of travel bugs, and what was achievable within walking distance of the hotel. On a recent Sunday morning, I set out to cache around Skinner Butte Park.
There are places in the world you visit that a little history helps set the mood. Eugene is no exception without a visit to the virtual cache, Skinner’s Letter. Virtual caches are reserved for locations where the placement of any physical object may not be in keeping with the “spirit” of the area. Normally used at memorials or places of historical significance, virtual caches require the finder to extract some information from the area, and report back. The first set of co ordinates lead me to the original house of Eugene Skinner, where a plaque provided the information needed. A quick email to the owner of the cache, logged the find on my Android smartphone, and I was off to the next geocache.
A short walk away was a traditional cache, Eagle’s Nest. By far, this is the most prevalent type of cache. These types of cache can range in size from a small bolt, to a large shipping container. At Eagle’s Nest, a former lunchbox had been pressed into service, camouflaged with tape and ivy. It’s location, as the name suggests, was chosen by the owner due to it’s proximity to a nearby Eagle’s nest. The cache was positioned just off the walking trail, and located without any difficulty. Inside the cache was a log book, a small toy car, some vouchers, and a travel bug.
Travel bugs are items that geocacher’s pick up and move from location to location. Some travel bugs have logged over 300,000 miles in 80 different countries. In this cache I located a geocoin, a minted travel piece called the Bulgarian Mystic Geocoin. The coin was of unusual design, and was collected. It would eventually be passed onto another cache in California, and then, made it’s way to Australia.
Further up the hill I walked. The third geocache of the morning was an Earthcache called Basalt Column. An earthcache is a set of coordinates where cachers can learn about the formation of the earth. Much like the earlier Virtual Cache, to log the find, the geocacher must answer a set of questions in an email. At this earthcache however, an additional requirement of a photograph of the geocacher is required. I snapped a “selfie” in accord with the cache requirements, before moving further up the hill.
Near the top of the hill I encountered my first Did Not Find (DNF) of the day. A DNF occurs when the cacher is unable to locate the cache. A mystery cache The Platypus Cipher, involved solving the coordinates from a set of numbers. I had worked on decrypting the coordinates at home the week prior but was unable to come up with a solution. Upon arrival, there was nothing in the area to assist. I left unable to locate the cache. Later that night I showed the description to a local, who immediately recognized the pattern, and solved the puzzle.
Near the top of the hill I arrived at my final cache of the morning, SBR -1926, and discovered, (once again) I had not paid close enough attention. Each cache is accompanied by difficult and terrain ratings, to give the geocacher an idea of what they may encounter. This cache was rated difficulty 4, the earlier Eagles Nest was rated 2.5. Additionally, attributes may also be included, that signify “bring specialized equipment”. Climbing equipment was suggested, despite the fact I had I arrived wearing black leather shoes, black dress pants and a collared shirt; attire more suited to plane travel, and not necessarily rock climbing. The GPS coordinates pointed “up” so up I climbed, and after a little sweating, had the cache in hand. I signed in on the log, and scaled back down, and returned to the hotel. In a little over 90 minutes, I had four finds, 1 DNF and discovered a part of Eugene that i had not seen or known of.
Geocaching is not an expensive activity to become established in. The Garmin Rhino 120 GPS is no longer available, similar models starting at $150 are available locally at REI Eugene. Membership at geocaching.com is free. Premium membership, which provides greater access to more caches, is $30 a year There are training classes and events where you can meet with other geocachers. Geocaching can be a dangerous activity. Always be aware of your surroundings, and the creatures that may inhabit them. Like all activities, injuries can occur, but can be minimized with some simple precautions. Always dress for the weather, tell someone where you’re going, and carry more water than you think you’ll use.