Coordinates and clues take geocachers on a global scavenger hunt

March 20, 2009 

  • If you want to get lost and find a few treasures in the Lowcountry and beyond, all you need to get started is a handheld GPS device and Internet connection. Local geocachers suggest registering for a free account on www.geo caching.com, a popular Web site devoted to the global scavenger sport that maintains a list of caches hidden around the world and allows users to post comments and keep track of their finds. Once you've established a user name and password, the site suggests following these easy steps: 1. Click "Hide & Seek a Cache." 2. Enter your postal code and click "search." 3. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name. 4. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS device. 5. Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache. 6. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location. 7. Share your geocaching stories and photos online. Source: www.geocaching.com

Hide-and-seek has gone high tech.

No longer just an afterschool activity for the kids in the neighborhood, the game -- with the aid of an Internet connection and portable GPS device -- has evolved into geocaching, a 21st-century update that's more like a global scavenger hunt for all ages.

Using coordinates and clues posted on geocaching Web sites, the sport's enthusiasts, or geocachers, search for everyday objects and trinkets hidden by fellow hobbyists in public areas near and far. But as most of the hunters will tell you, it's less about what they find at the end of the excursion than what they experience along the way.

"The thing about it is that it takes you to places you wouldn't ordinarily go, even places where you've lived in an area your whole life. All of a sudden, you find yourself

looking for treasure in a corner of a park you've never been to before," said Jim Reeves, a Moss Creek resident who has been geocaching since 2005. "Every time you go out, you never know what you're going to get into, and that's what makes it exciting."

In the past four years, Reeves has found 77 caches in more than 10 states, including one on a backwoods trail in Oregon, one in a park in Pennsylvania and one on a private island in the Bahamas.

The containers, which range in size from lipstick tubes to ammo boxes, seldom hold anything of great value -- stickers, plastic toys, keychains, golf balls -- but they almost always contain a logbook or scroll for geocachers to sign.

Some hunters bring items to trade, but most just record their find and move on to the next hidden adventure.

"The things in it are not important," said Hilton Head Island resident Michael Levine, who with his wife, Jane, has found more than 71 caches around the world. "It's finding the box and the location. Truthfully, as you find more and more caches, you get better at it and sort of understand the tricks of the trade, but there's always another trick out there."

A handheld GPS and set of coordinates will typically get a geocacher within 20 feet of a hunt's desired object, but the rest of the work is left to the human search engines, who are given clues such as "natural illusion," "for the birds, maybe" or some description of the cache that must be decoded first.

Some caches are found inside tree trunks, hanging on branches, attached to the bottom of bleachers or even along waterways. Many are placed near historic sites and beautiful vistas.

The Levines' geocaching travels have taken them to Mexico, Puerto Rico, London, St. Lucia, Jamaica, the Shetland Islands and even Iceland.

"When most people go on a cruise, they get to a port, take an excursion and go shopping," Michael Levine said. "(Geocaching) is so much more fun. You get out and you go someplace where the tourists don't go."

The couple have found caches in the hollow of a tree on a beach in Barbados, in a well in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and on the shelf of a restaurant on the island of Dominica, where the owners had given a geocacher permission to hide the container.

For a cache to be listed on an official site such as www.geocaching.com, it has to meet certain requirements and guidelines outlined on the Web site. Caches cannot be buried, located in areas of high traffic,

hidden in national parks or placed near military installations. Coordinates and clues also have to check out before they are posted online. To date, more than 750,000 geocaches are hidden across the globe, reports www.geocaching.com. Less than a decade ago, when the sport was just getting started, that number was around 75.

"It's truly an adventure," said Rita Kernan, who has been geocaching with her husband, Joe Kernan, since 2004. The couple, known as "Sea Pines Duo" on www.geocaching.com, have found 124 caches and hidden 7. They say that even if folks never left the Lowcountry to participate in the sport, they'd still be sitting on treasure island.

"We have so much fun in our living room, sitting around and thinking of places to hide them," Rita Kernan said. "We try to bring island history and beautiful nature sites to the attention of cache seekers."

One of the couple's caches is hidden on a beach in the Calibogue Sound on Hilton Head, an area that is accessible only by kayak. Other hunts will take geocachers on a scenic hike through a forest preserve, near a horse farm along the bike trail in Sea Pines and in an archaeological preserve near an overlook on Skull Creek. Nearly all of the duo's cache descriptions include a history lesson.

"Some people refer to this as the best tour guide," Joe Kernan said. "We like to use it to point out and find what is behind-the-scenes."

Like other geocachers, the Kernans have found that instead of using a GPS device to find the quickest route home, the fun lies in navigating unfamiliar terrain.

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