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Rochester Times October 16, 2004

Geocaching craze: High-tech hide-and-seek gains fans

By John Nolan

ROCHESTER - "Geocaching" is a word that is currently just below the general public's radar but one that people are likely to hear with growing frequency - rather like "hacky sack" or "paintball," although without the annoying connotations.

Geocaching, as an international network, has been made possible by the Internet, and many thousands of Web sites are now dedicated to the topic, with the daddy of them all being www.geocaching.com. For people wanting to discover more, the FAQ page of this site is a great starting point.

It is described as "an entertaining game" for users of global positioning systems (GPS units), but "obsession" may be a more appropriate word than "game," judging by the way the phenomenon has spread across the entire globe, including Antarctica, in only three years.

These GPS unit-toting hunters, armed only with grid references and clues, track and seek out caches previously hidden by other geocachers who have named and submitted their challenges to geocaching.com, and which, having been approved, are posted on the massive site.

Like a myriad of towns and cities, Rochester already has its geocaching aficionados, and one of these is Richard Bailey, a retired GE employee and avid outdoorsman.

"Geocaching started in Washington State about three years ago and it has spread like wildfire, kind of like eBay. I was on a hiking site on the Internet in March of this year and somebody asked 'Does anyone do geocaching?' It sounded like fun, so I read up on it from the geocaching site," said Bailey.

The main expense, before someone can embark on one of these state-of-the-art treasure hunts, is the purchase of a GPS unit, and, according to Bailey, they can range from $100 on up and they are sold in multiple locations, from stores like Wal-Mart to outlets favored by game hunters, fishermen and hikers.

Bailey found his model, after some research on eBay, and as well as conveying latitude and longitude his GPS unit can display map segments, tell the time, give the elevation and do pretty much everything required by an outdoorsman except brew a cup of coffee.

His first geocaching experience was on Chesley Hill, which was created by someone with the user name of Granithead, whom Bailey believes to be another Rochester resident. He found the cache, entered his name in the logbook, and recorded his find on his geocaching Web page and that devoted to the Chesley Hill location.

Now, six months later, Bailey has logged over 300 caches of various kinds, and has created eight of his own, including the much admired Monumental Decisions. This is a hunt that starts at one Rochester monument for which the grid reference is given, and from there leads to another and another, with clues to the next stage being gleaned from inscriptions on the bases, plinths or plaques. Near the final destination, the cache is hidden, and this consists, in most of Bailey's creations, of an ammo box containing a log book and various items that can be exchanged for others.

These items, which are part of the fascination of the sport for many geocachers, are called Travel Bugs, and their function is succinctly explained on the geocaching.com site as follows:

What is a Travel Bug? Simply put, a Groundspeak Travel Bug is a trackable tag that you attach to an item. This allows you to track your item on Geocaching.com. The item becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache (or person to person) in the real world and you can follow its progress online.

What does a Travel Bug do? It's really up to the owner of the Bug to give it whatever task they desire. Or no task at all. The fun of a Travel Bug is inventing new goals for the Travel Bug to achieve. One Bug's goal may be to reach a specific country, or travel to 10 countries.

How do Travel Bugs work? Each Travel Bug has its own unique tracking number stamped on it. This tracking number is used as proof by the user that they found the item. It also doubles as a way for the user to locate the personal web page for the Travel Bug.

Travel Bugs are tracked with the help of users who go online and "grab" them from caches, or receive them from users. The idea is by picking up and dropping off Travel Bugs on the web site you are mirroring the Bug's real world adventures. Each Travel Bug has its own "diary" that follows its movements.

Within 20 miles of Rochester, there are already over 60 caches of various kinds and degrees of difficulty. The sites are chosen for their legal accessibility by the public, and often because of the beauty of the surroundings. On Blue Job Mountain alone there are six geocaches, and others, just by their names, give a clue to their general whereabouts - Pickering Ponds 1, Isinglass Riverwalk and Jailhouse Rock. The last mentioned, of course, is near the Strafford County Jail, on county land near the Cocheco.

Caches may not be buried underground, but should be hidden behind rocks or trees, which, as Bailey points out, makes it such a great family pursuit, as children often excel at finding them.

There is a certain protocol to be observed when new caches are being created - the site should not be near an airport or a federal building, for example, as people hunting around such an area could arouse homeland security fears. Cemeteries are also a no-no, as these are places of solemnity.

One new site went up in Rochester recently, which Bailey surmises was created by students, for to access the cache searchers had to go across a playground. As this could easily lead to misunderstandings, caches near schools are not permitted, and so Bailey called in to the central organization and the site was withdrawn and archived.

Occasionally caches can be discovered accidentally by ordinary citizens (known to the geocaching fraternity as Muggles) and most containers have a notice asking such finders to leave the cache undisturbed.

Bailey recalls coming across such a cache, called Powderhouse Stash, in the Exeter area. It had been found by Muggles who had not only signed the logbook, but also defecated in the box before sealing it up again.

"I reported it to the owner, and he archived that site and relocated the cache," said Bailey. A new box was used.

As of the end of September, there were 493 caches in New Hampshire, and this number is slowly growing as more individuals and families take up the sport. A recent meeting of geocachers in Stratham drew over 50 people, including one person known as Mountain Wanderer who was celebrating finding all of the Granite State's caches up to date.

But it is a sport that presents challenges no matter where one may travel. There are caches now in over 200 countries, including three in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq, created mostly by serving U.S. military units.

Someone who is about to be deployed near Baghdad, for example, might want to consider finding a cache called General Swinton's Tanks, created on Sept. 11 by Johann Panholtz and first solved, three days later, by "Termite Toothpick."

It is a six-stage hunt, and to share its unique flavor, here is stage one of this geocache:

Step the First. (see coordinates above, WGS 84) Find yourself in front of an Iraqi T72. A fearsome competitor and this one only needs a few hard deadlines fixed, and this tank could go back to scaring the zoomies back into their bunkers. This tank was an authorized copy from the USSR and ... (much more info located at the tank) and here http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/t-72.htm.

Answer this question to go to the next step: How many bolts are missing from the back plate of the AT-4 sized tube on the turret's left side?


Copyright 2004, Geo. J. Foster Company