The question of "What is Geocaching?"

posted May 17, 2011, 7:31 PM by Greg Jewett   [ updated Jun 27, 2011, 8:08 AM ]
Many have posted the following question to me, ..."So what is this GeoCaching thing that you're doing?"
There are actually people that have never heard of this hobby...

Back in the 1950's, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, scientists found that the satellite could be pretty easily tracked by beaming a signal from the ground up to the satellite and bouncing the signal back to earth. As the signal was returned, the position was pretty easy to figure out.

As time went on, more and more satellites were launched which as it turned out could paint a pretty clear picture of the earth to help follow ships as they navigated the globe. This also was a pretty key move for planning battle locations. With this network of satellites around the globe, it became pretty easy to tell where things were located.

Throughout the next two decades however, the application was fairly well used for military strategy only.

In 1983, then President Ronald Reagan declassified GPS technology and it became available for public use as a result of a number of tragic events including the shooting down of a passenger airliner. Although the technology was made available to the public, it was still new and was sketchy at best. For a short time in the mid 80's, GPS was once again limited to military applications due to the Gulf War, but shortly after was once again allowed for public usage.

Over the years, more and more satellites have been launched further refining the ability of the system. The technology has improved and GPS units have gotten better and better at narrowing down the locations. What was once a general location of several hundred yards has been brought down to feet.

Finally, on May 2, 2000, the decision had been made to completely deregulate GPS technology and make it completely available for everyone. At midnight, the 24 satellites managing the program all processed their new codes and immediately, millions of GPS units were updated and able to pinpoint the position by an improvement level 10 times more accurate. For the scant few public GPS enthusiasts, this was a completely new era!

One enthusiast named Dave Ulmer decided he wanted to test this new accuracy, so he decided that he would hide a navigational target in the woods and note the coordinates on his GPS unit. He then went to a newsgroup and posted his idea which he called the "Great American GPS Stash Hunt". He posted the coordinates in the newsgroup. The idea was simple. The finder would have to locate the hidden container With only the use of their GPS unit. The rule was simple...take some stuff...leave some stuff. Within 3 days, 2 others shared on the newsgroup their excitement over looking for and finding the stashed container.

Soon, as the word spread, more and more people from the newsgroup got excited about hiding their own stashes and it all began. People began sharing their experiences with each other and logging their finds on the newsgroups.

Within a month, the first person to find Ulmers stash began compiling a listing of the people involved and began displaying the information on his own website. Throughout the conversations, several variations of the name were incorporated and the term "geocaching" was born. At this stage of the game, most of the people involved with this new hobby were somewhat versed in the use of GPS technology from previous activities such as hiking. The hobby was not really geared towards the everyday brand new GPS user.

One individual in the collective group was a web designer out of Seattle. He thought to develop a database to refine the way that the stashes...now commonly referred to as "Caches"...were entered and logged. Through dedication and hard work, the growing list of data was compiled and entered into a website built by these hobbyists and in September of 2000, the announcement was made and the website was launched as http://geocaching.com. At the time, there were 75 caches hidden around the world.

Once the site was launched, magazine started reporting on the activity, and more people were being exposed to geocaching. People from all over began to wonder if they hid things, would others come to find them? A mantra of "If You Hide It, They will come began circulating. The growth of geocaching has steadily risen over the years. The database of known hidden caches covers millions of caches from all over the world.

Geocachers can take several approaches. There are basic caches where you can simply pull the data from the http://geocaching.com website and drive your car to the coordinates, get out, look for a few minutes to find the nano cache with an earth magnet attaching it to a guard rail in the mall parking lot...or you can go on elaborate puzzle cache hunts where the cache gives a clue to the mystery. The clues are spread over a series of caches and the mystery is revealed at the conclusion of the last cache find.

There are outings where friends and family can get together on a mountaintop for a cookout and day of group caching together. Geocachers from all walks of life band together and share their stories in blogs like this, various websites and online stores.

You never know what you will find in a cache. Occasionally, if you are the First To Find (FTF) a cache, you might be surprised with the newest lottery ticket, or movie passes. You might find a really cool geocoin commemorating a special moment in history. You might find a travel bug with an active code that originated in Germany and has made it's way to the cache you have just discovered in Colorado with hundreds of stops along the way. You may find a toy for your son, or a bracelet for your daughter. On one of our first caches, my lovely wife found a wooden beaded necklace for herself.  Remember though... take some stuff... leave some stuff.  My wife left a wooden rosary bracelet in trade.

The things that are put into caches are too varied and too creative to mention...but it is always wishful that when a cache is found, it has nice swag. It is hopeful that it is well maintained and there is always a logbook for you to sign saying "I found it...TFTC (Thanks For The Cache)...