published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Geocaching on: Satellite-guided searches gaining popularity

Gary Petty
Amber Rachels from the Greater East Tennessee Geocaching Club and 10-year-old Kaytlin Varner look over the items found in a geocache on the side of Lookout Mountain.
Photo by Gary Petty
Amber Rachels from the Greater East Tennessee Geocaching Club and 10-year-old Kaytlin Varner look over the items found in a geocache on the side of Lookout Mountain. Photo by Gary Petty

Most people don’t like looking for something, especially when they don’t know what they’re looking for.

However, that’s not the case for those involved in geocaching.

They look for a “cache,” which usually is a small waterproof container containing a logbook. The geocacher enters the date he or she found it and signs it with an established code name. Sometimes there are larger finds such as plastic storage containers or ammunition boxes with items for trading — generally toys or trinkets of little value.

Now with more than 5 million geocachers and more than 1.74 million geocaches planted worldwide, the sport has turned into one big haystack with lots of needles.

Two basic items needed are a global position system receiver (or smartphone) and access to the Internet. A user enters latitude and longitude coordinates obtained from the Internet into the receiver, and the hunt is on. 

One of the most popular free websites to obtain coordinates is www.geocaching.com.

The first geocache was hidden in Beavercreek, Ore., on May 3, 2000 — two days after President Bill Clinton announced that the United States Department of Defense would be ending its policy of scrambling satellite signals so that any GPS receiver would have an error up to 100 meters. The signals now provide close to a 10-meter accuracy.

Members of Geocachers of Southeast Tennessee use these signals to find hidden caches just about any time.

“I have a notification sent to my phone. I drop everything to be the first to find it,” GEOSET member Nathan Lewis said.

Lewis, a 24-year-old who just graduated from Southern Adventist University, started hunting geocaches in 2004. His tally of finds across 39 states and two countries now is at 6,400. He has planted 140 geocaches.

“What I enjoy about it is that it combines traveling and seeing new places,” he said. “Another aspect is that I get to meet a lot of other people. It is a big social sport for me.”

Carol McDonald, another GEOSET member, began geocaching early in 2003 after getting a GPS receiver for Christmas. She and some friends began looking for geocaches after work and on weekends.

“I kind of like things outside the box,” said McDonald, who is one of the outing planners for the group that was formed in Chattanooga in 2003.

She said the outings are basically “meet and greet” events, usually held at restaurants or parks.  Geocaching is the main topic of discussion.

McDonald said geocachers generally like finding ways to help the community along with their hidden containers. In late April several GEOSET members aided the Chattanooga Audubon Society in clearing trails and picking up garbage on Maclellan Island, she said.

They also have helped in river and creek rescues and adopting a highway stretch to pick up garbage.

As for her geocaching goals, speed and quantity are not that important.

“I am not interested in finding as many as I can. I am interested in the content and where it takes me,” McDonald said.

For Richard Manning, a retired electrical engineer, it means more than just finding a hidden object.

“Geocaching takes folks often to out-of-the-way places of interest that they wouldn’t likely have known about if they had not been brought there to search for a geocache,” said Manning, a GEOSET member since 2009.

He cited waterfalls, breathtaking view and historic places as examples.

“I think the most interesting part of geocaching is the odd and unusual things that turn up. It’s the discovery aspect that is most interesting,” he said.

He has planted close to 30 geocaches in the Chattanooga area.

Manning also noted the social aspect. He recalled a gathering of nearly 5,000 geocachers in Bell Buckle, Tenn., in 2009.

Dubbed “GeoWoodstock,” the event was held this year at Sellersburg, Ind., over the Memorial Day weekend.

Geochaching has a different appeal for Amber Rachels, a dispatcher for the Hamilton County 911 Center. She’s been doing it for two years and finds it relieves the stress of her job.

“It’s kind of like a down time for me,” she said. “When I went out on the very first trip, it got me hooked.”

Also a member of the Greater East Tennessee Geocaching Club, she said she sometimes will spend all day looking for caches.

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