by Whitney Wilde
Arrrrrr! Ay be Captain Woof—the pirate pooch searching for hidden treasure with me mateys! Come along on this adventure called geocaching: the modern “Find It!” game using a handheld GPS device to get location coordinates off a satellite. It is part treasure hunt, part outdoor adventure, part techno-geek, and all fun for pups and people.
We discovered geocaching by accident. Hiking through the lush green forest, mom stopped to tie her shoe and noticed something odd, out of place: a metal box hidden in a hollow fallen tree. Hidden treasure! I expected scurvy dogs to come claim their pirate booty of gold doubloons and jewels. Mom bravely opened the box and found some stickers, AA batteries, and a plastic army man. Huh?
Geocaching started in May 2000, when Dave Ulmer hid a plastic bucket of goodies (software, videos, books, food, money, and a slingshot) in Beavercreek, Oregon. He posted the coordinates in an online newsgroup and dared people to find the “stash.” Today, there are over two million caches worldwide.
For our first treasure hunt, we accompanied veteran geocacher Rhonda Rocker and geo-dogs Cissy (Australian Cattle Dog) and Leila (Border Collie/Chow). Rhonda explained to us “muggles" that our first step is to go to a website such as www.geocaching.com, to view a list of caches (nearest one first). They are rated for the difficulty to locate and difficulty of terrain (one star = easy; five stars = difficult).
Geocaches come in a variety of flavors. A geocache contains at the minimum a logbook to sign. An event cache is a meeting of local geocachers, with the location discovered using GPS. Letterbox caches contain a rubber stamp that you stamp in your personal journal, and then use your own rubber stamp in the cache logbook. Multi-cache or series caches involve two or more locations. For a mystery or puzzle cache, solve a puzzle(s) to figure out the coordinates. Virtual caches, also called “waymarks,” are located at a landmark (like a waterfall or Pinnacles).
With our experts in the lead, we quickly found the Carmel Valley cache inside a Tupperware® bowl. Caches can also be inside ammo boxes, plastic paint buckets, or magnetic key holders. Most caches contain SWAG (Stuff We All Get), and the rule is TSLS (Take Something, Leave Something). You’ll want to stock up on inexpensive trinkets such as key chains, carabiners, AA batteries, tweezers, pliers, or beads. A “hitchhiker” is an item that travels from one cache to another cache. Travel Bugs are geo-coins or tags that are trackable hitchhikers, embedded with a GPS chip that can be followed online. Rhonda discovered a geo-coin in Salinas that had originated in Hawaii, which she then left in a cache near Yosemite.
Leila barked until the cache was returned to its hiding place, then ran back to the car. What a scallywag, but it was nice to know I wasn’t the only one nervous about bilge-sucking pirates.
TOTT (Tools Of The Trade)
Rhonda had all the TOTT of an experienced geocacher. Here are a few things you might need:
GPSr (global positioning system receiver) to coordinate the longitude and latitude, trail descriptions, clues. Handheld GPS units run from $100–$300. Ideally, you want a one-click, paperless device to load info (such as instructions and hints). Size matters when it comes to the GPS screen; a larger screen is easier to read. Touch screen or buttons? You can use your smart phone, but there are many places you won’t get coverage.
Journal to log your finds
Extra AA batteries for your GPS (batteries only last a day)
Magnet-on-a-stick and mirror-on-a-stick (to see or reach difficult places)
Doggie bags, water to drink
Knowledge of the leash laws in the area
Camera to take pix of your finds
Trash bags – CITO = cache in, trash out
First Solo Outing
Geocaching has its own language, and it took my people some time to learn the lingo and the icons, but the hardest part was choosing which of the many caches. We started in a rural park a few miles outside Santa Cruz. Using our smart phone as a GPS, Mom went online and found there was treasure only 406 feet from where we were sitting and over a dozen more within a mile! She checked out the online log entries and the “selfies” posted by previous geocachers. Relying on a compass and not my nose, we quickly found the cache. Mom was hooked and we raced to treasure hunt the next-closest cache. I was busy enjoying all the new smells of deer, skunk, and geese—this was a real sniff-a-thon. The real pirate pooch plunder is that we go hiking more often, and that geocaching has introduced us to new dog-friendly places to hike! Arrrrrrrf!