Cabarrus

A geocaching life is a treasure hunt

Every time you run into the local grocery store to buy milk you pass one. It's been there for years, known to about 70 people. I found it. It has a tattered piece of paper in it with 70 signatures. I added mine. 71.

You may have even unintentionally sat on it.

In fact, you most likely happen by dozens of them in your everyday life without realizing. At Dorton Park, along the speedway, even in your own neighborhood.

They are geocaches, hidden treasures found by punching in exact longitude and latitude on a GPS device. And if you think there is no fortune left to be found, go to the hobby's most popular website, www.geocaching.com, type in 28027, and watch the map light up with at least 60 treasures.

Geocaching is a fairly new hobby, only 10 years old. The high tech game of treasure hunting began when Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant from Portland, Ore., wanted to test the accuracy of advanced GPS technology.

Ulmer placed a bucket with random treasures, a Ross Perot book, a slingshot, four crisp dollar bills, and a can of baked beans along a wooded road. He gave the coordinates online, inviting anyone who could find it to take from his bounty.

Not only did hoards of people find the trove, but they also discovered a love for the hunt, their inner pirates released.

Today, more than 1.1 million caches lie in wait worldwide, many of them stashed in the suburbs.

A typical cache holds a paper log so finders can leave a comment. Others hold small prizes, which seekers can take, if they leave something of equal or greater value behind.

"The imagination and creativity of people is unbelievable," said Gary Horton, a geocacher who lives in Concord.

Horton himself is responsible for one of the county's most intriguing caches, hidden outside the ranger's office at Frank Liske Park.

Called a monkey cache, finding the cleverly masked treasure is only half the adventure. Opening it requires a key hidden within the PVC pipe container.

Watch someone try to open the foot-long tube, by shaking, turning it over again and again, all the while scratching a perplexed head, and you'll understand why it's called a monkey cache.

Caches are rated twice on a scale of 1 to 5, once for difficulty and again for terrain. Those that require Scuba gear or rock-climbing equipment earn a five for terrain. Puzzling caches, like this one, earn a five for difficulty.

But that doesn't stop people from flocking to Horton's tricky cache, as evidenced by the logbook.

"I'm not even going into the details of day 1. This is now day 2," writes one treasure hunter. "After at least an hour, the choir of angels were summoned as the key fell out!"

"You were here watching me fiddle," wrote another seeker, perhaps driven a little mad by the puzzling cache.

It's best folks new to the hobby, like Angela and Payton Brown, leave those caches alone for now, said Horton. The Browns, geocaching for the first time, traipse through the woods of Frank Liske Park following the arrow on their handheld GPS.

The hobby has become popular with parents and kids alike. "It's an easy way for us to reconnect as a family," said Brown.

"I heard of someone finding a disposable camera," said Payton, dreaming of what riches await as they walk down a dirt path into an open field.

After a few more minutes under the burning sun, her idea of a good treasure changes. "On a blazing hot day like today, maybe you might find some cold water."

  Comments