Articles & Resources

Caching In

Lee Barnathan
A GPS unit and a sense of adventure combine to create one of the hottest hobbies around — geocaching.


By Lee Barnathan

David Carr lives full time in his 38-foot 2000 Fleetwood Discovery diesel pusher. He spends three months in Kentucky and three months in Texas; California, Oregon and Illinois are home the other six months of the year. When he travels to a new area, he takes out his global positioning system (GPS) and, with the help of the Internet, becomes familiar with the lay of the land and the lesser-known history of the towns and neighborhoods he visits.

“You get into the rural area, the real America,” Carr says. “The best way to see what America is about is to use the GPS unit.”

Carr’s activity is a game called geocaching, in which someone hides something in a waterproof container (a “cache”) and posts the coordinates on various websites. Then people use GPS units to find the cache. When they do, they sign the logbook they find with the cache and maybe take one of the trinkets they find hidden, provided they put something else in the cache. They then have the option of returning to the same websites and writing about or posting photos of what they found.

“It’s like a little treasure hunt for adults,” Karen Larson of Jamul, Calif., says.

Geocaching is relatively new. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and Bryan Roth, a co-founder of Groundspeak, which runs the website, the game began on May 1, 2000, when President Clinton signed into law a bill that removed selective availability of the GPS system the military launched in 1978. As a result, GPS units could put a person to within 20 feet of a target.

This gave Dave Ulmer, then of Beaver Creek, Ore., the idea to hide a box and see if anyone would find it. Ulmer hid his cache on May 3, 2000, and posted the coordinates on a Usenet news group. Three days later, Mike Teague of Vancouver, Wash., found it. Today, there are more than 200,000 active caches hidden in 218 countries, Roth says, and there can be more than 1 million people discussing geocaching at any time online.

Who are these people?

“In a nutshell, we’re an eclectic group of people who share a few common traits that most of the general public doesn’t have in like quantity,” Texas geocacher Mark Ritter says. “Most geocachers are above average in intelligence. They are creative. They generally have well-paying jobs. They share a love of computer hardware, gadgets and the outdoors.”

They also rarely use their real names, opting for handles such as Princess Toadstool, Moun10bike, Team Perks and Snoogans. They meet at event caches to discuss all things geocaching. Some try to find as many caches as possible; others look for certain items in the cache, such as special coins. All own GPS units from companies such as Garmin and Magellan that cost between $50-$600 and are available online or from fellow cachers. Some also try to hide their own caches, but if they do, Carr says they should obtain permission from the landowner, do not hide food or weapons and hide in a see-through container in a place that will not harm the environment.

Although geocaching didn’t begin with RVers, Roth says it’s a natural thing to do.

“If you have a GPS, you have an activity,” Roth says. “People usually hide caches increasingly off the beaten path. It’s like getting a tour from the locals: a cool park or a cool view that only the locals know about and is not in a tour book.”

Carr once took a tour of a Kentucky bus driver’s route. Jon Stanley of Seattle has hidden caches in the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho to show people a favorite vista. Los Angelino Andy Perkins learned about Mack Sennett studio buildings from the 1910s that still stand. Ritter suggests checking out the beautiful views along Pacific Coast Highway. And Keizer, Oregon’s Alan and Holli Davenport, discovered the state park at Cape Blanco.

However, RVs often are too big to go everywhere, so many RV geocachers tow an auto and use that to hunt for caches. But regardless of how it’s done, a fun time can be had by all and, in some cases, geocaching changed a life.

Jeff Kaps discovered geocaching after rupturing a disk in his back that damaged his spinal cord and left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist down. While recuperating, he read about geocaching and learned there were 100 caches within 100 miles of his Memphis, Ind., home.
“My wife Dana thought it was a pretty crazy idea when I explained to her that we were going to go buy a GPS unit and go hiking in the forest in search of hidden treasures,” Kaps says. “Wow, it does sound a little weird now that I think back on it. Anyway, we did get the GPS and we would go in search of geocaches and while I sat in the truck, I sent her off to find the treasure.

“I have continued to improve over the past few years and today walk with a cane and only use a wheelchair for covering long distances or in cases where I would otherwise be on my feet for hours. I have pretty severe balance issues so I still have difficulty going on uneven ground. I credit RVing and geocaching for aiding me in my recovery. I am convinced that had I given up and just laid around the house feeling sorry for myself, I would not have recovered to the level that I have.”

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