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Geocaching: High tech hide-and-seek popular in Cache Valley

November 27th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Alice Bailey

CACHE COUNTY–Chained to a post at the American West Heritage Center sits an old dairy farm milk can that resembles a pig. A hinge on its rear end will open to reveal a pink ammo box, also painted like a pig. If you are lucky enough to stop by on the right day, the ammo box will be full of other pig-themed objects, and you’re welcome to take one as long as you have something (not necessarily piggish) to put in its place. Whether you take something or not, make sure you sign the log book before you leave to let people know that with the help of your handy-dandy GPS, you found “This Little Piggy.”

The object described above is a cache, or in other words, the object of desire in a high-tech game of hide-and-seek. It was hidden or placed by a Cache Valley native named Dee Chugg. He and his family are known in the world of geocaching as Squib-C-kers. His description of the cache is unusually lengthy and consists of every pig-related reference he and his co-workers could think of. One example being, “it was so tight that it was like having pigs in a blanket.”

Chugg placed the pig in this location less than a year after he started finding caches hidden or placed by other enthusiasts. Some of the caches he has placed are not in as good a condition as the pig, though. One was welded shut by some unhappy onlooker, and another was wiped out by the Logan landslide earlier this year.

Chugg’s brother introduced him to geocaching and he has been involved for more than five years now. In that time he has placed 12 caches and found almost 1,300. While 1,300 may sound like a lot, Chugg has actually found less caches than people who have been doing it for a fraction of the time he has.

“We go through spurts where we’re addicted,” Chugg said. “We were going out three or four times a week and getting three or four each night. We just had to go out and see what was new.”

Geocaching began on May 3, 2000, exactly two days after President Clinton made the use of global positioning systems available to the general public. This allowed people to more accurately pinpoint their location, something that had only been available to the military up until that point. An Oregonian named Dave Ulmer brought geocaching to life when he hid a plastic bucket filled with several different items, including food and software. He posted the coordinates online and it was located twice within three days.

Soon other people took up the project, and an online following emerged. Now caches are hidden all over the world, totaling nearly 1 million, including 14 on the campus of USU. An official Web site, www.geocaching.com, has been created for enthusiasts. The Web site lists caches by location and will give you information about how hard it is to get to, how hard it is to find, what type of cache it is, how big it is, how long it has been there, who hid it, other user comments, how many people have visited it, additional hints and much more information.

In order to make your way around the geocaching Web site you’ll need to learn a whole new vocabulary. Upon reading things about the cache you may come across something like DNF or BYOP. If you do not know that DNF means–did not find–then you will not know that repeated DNFs mean that it may therefore be a bad cache for beginners. If you do not know BYOP means- bring your own pen, then you may lose your chance to log your find.

Beyond these cryptic letter combinations, the geocaching world uses other terms like muggle and drunken bee dance to explain the unique world of geocaching. Things like non-geocachers and the funny-looking walk you do when your GPS isn’t guiding you correctly.

Most caches today are less conspicuous than buckets and are filled with things less valuable than software. You are more likely to find a toy from a Kids meal or a marble. If you find something in the cache you would like to have, you can take it as long as you replace it with something else. Chugg said it used to be that the prospect of trading with the cache was the thing that excited his two older children about geocaching, but now at 12 and 16, they seem to be less excited about it.

“They are not as fun to take right now,” he said. “Now, having said that, if we team up with somebody else, oh they’re all ready to go. If we team up with their cousins or they take a friend, they’re great to go, but they’re not great to go with mom and dad.”

John and Rita Nelson are a local retired couple who have discovered a love for caching. “It’s sort of like a treasure hunt.” Rita Nelson said. “It requires you to be alert and notice things you probably wouldn’t notice. In a lot of cases it requires some exercise to find.”

The variety of caches today is great. They come in many different sizes and some caches are too small to contain anything more than a rolled up piece of paper for the finders to log their names on. Other types of caches include puzzle caches and virtual caches. Puzzle caches may require you to make step-by-step progress to the final destination, and virtual caches, require you to prove you were somewhere by taking your picture while you are there or e-mailing information about the location to the person who created the cache.

“The first time you find a certain type of cache it’s exciting,” Rita Nelson said. “The first time we found a tiny little micro, it was just kind of like, I’ve never seen anything like that before. Now we’ve probably seen a dozen of them.”

Not only are there different types of caches, but there are different things you can hide in the caches. One example is travel bugs, which are objects with tags attached that are meant to travel from one cache to another. When a cacher finds one they are supposed to log it out of the cache they took it out of and log it into the one they place it in. When properly logged the Web site will track the number of miles it travels. Some bugs get lost within 15 miles of their starting poing and others end up halfway around the world. Chugg said he currently has travel bugs that have gotten to the Netherlands and New Zealand.

So, who travels all over the place looking for little containers and geographic sites? John Nelson said geocachers come in all shapes and sizes. Students are involved as well as young families and retirees. Geocaching has also become popular among truck drivers who hide caches at truck stops to give other drivers something to do while they’re stretching their legs.

“There’s some strange people out there that do it, including me,” Chugg said. “There’s a lot of normal people that do it who don’t like to have everybody know that they do it. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know if they’re embarrassed that they have the time to do it or that they’re out looking for a stupid little box.”

Geocaching is a very environmentally friendly activity. Not only does it encourage people to get out and get some exercise, but it encourages cachers to clean up the environment through an initiative called “Cache In Trash Out.” Also, in order to place a cache you need to know certain rules about how you can place them.

“You can’t use a mechanical device to create a place for the cache,” John Nelson said. “You can’t drill a hole in a tree. You can’t even use a shovel to dig a hole in the ground. Each of these things has to fit into nature without doing harm to nature.”

The Nelsons and Chugg agree that one of the best parts of caching is finding out more about the area where you live.

“That’s what we like about getting caches,” Chugg said. “It takes you places you may not have seen even though it’s in your town. Little things here and there that’re odd thing that people can get you to go see.”

“We have found so many places in Cache Valley we didn’t even know existed.” John Nelson said. “We’ve lived here 35 years. We didn’t have any idea those places were there. It’s really been neat.”

Chugg said he caches because it is family friendly and it is cheap. The Nelsons said they do it because it gives them a project and a chance to exercise. So while their reasons for enjoying it differ, they all enjoy it just the same. So, after finding the cache in this treasure hunt, the goal now is to share the wealth.

“My brother got me doing it,” Chugg said. “We, kind of together, got my older sister doing it and her husband doing it, who ended up getting their sons doing it. It balloons out.”

We’ll have to see what kind of new heights this trend can bring in the future.

NW
NW

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  1. One Response to “Geocaching: High tech hide-and-seek popular in Cache Valley”

  2. By Leslie G. Williams (Geocaching GPS reviews) on Jan 18, 2010

    Nice article on geocaching. One other dimension of this increasingly popular activity is the fact that it’s a recession-friendly one. The price of GPS units — even high-end models with “paperless geocaching” features — have been dropping steadily. Geocaching is the kind of activity that will undoubtedly continue to grow in popularity.

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