Sunday, May 25, 2008

go forth and be creepy

while creepiness and crawliness are qualities most often associated with insects, worms, and other little beasties, they are attributes which i have frequently adopted and even sought to develop for most of my life. slinking undetected through shadows and occasional stealthful prowling have long been pastimes of mine (most of you know what i'm talking about...john, brandon) and have come to serve me well. now, with a concrete goal and set parameters, i encourage you all to channel your inner ninja and join in the creepy crawly fun.

the proposed application of these aforementioned skills is a game called geocaching. the modern incarnation of the activity started in 2000 when the US government made GPS satellite signals more widely accessible to the public and a computer consultant and GPS hobbyist from portland, oregon decided to test the capabilities of this new access. he hid a bucket in the woods near beaver creek, oregon filled with books, software, money, and other shwag, then posted the GPS coordinates on an internet newsgroup. david ulmer's bucket, deemed "the great american GPS stash hunt," gave instant rise to the sport now called geocaching.

there are over 580,000 registered caches hidden all over the world and most of them are listed at the game works like this: a player hides a cache (which contains, at minimum, a log book) and posts the coordinates and description online for other players to access. another player then finds the cache using the coordinates. once the cache is found, the rules are simple. sign the log book, replace the cache exactly where you found it, report that you found it back on the website. if the cache is big enough to house goodies and you want to partake, you must leave something in return. aside from those simple guidelines, the game has very few limitations.
caches range in size from very large, like a 5-gallon bucket, to very tiny, like a keyring pill holder. some are submerged, some cleverly camouflaged to fit surroundings, and some are magnetized and affixed to any number of the metallic surfaces all around us. you could potentially be using the government's multi-billion dollar GPS satellites to find someone's old tupperware! the only restriction on container type is the player's imagination.

also included in the sport of geocaching are benchmarks, virtual caches, multi-caches, theme caches, puzzle caches, webcam caches, earth caches, and letterbox caches. again, the imagination is the only limit and the sport continues to evolve. one such evolution was the advent of traveling, trackable gamepieces called travel bugs. travel bugs are serialized tags attached to items that hitchhike from cache to cache. most have "personalities," objectives, and destinations. when found, the player's obligation is to try to obey the "bug's" mission and then to move it along to the next cache. we found the smurf pirate pictured here back in wheaton, maryland. he was "born" in austria and released into the game in malta back in 2004. his objective was to see as many coastal places as possible, to someday return to the mediterranean, and to have his picture taken on beaches, ships, or anything pirate-related. we obliged.

the creepy crawliness i spoke of before comes into play while actually retrieving and replacing the cache. most caches are hidden right out in the open and those not familiar with geocaching (commonly referred to among cachers as "muggles" (borrowed from the harry potter series)) will often become suspicious if they witness a geocaching transaction. these "muggles" will sometimes find/plunder/remove/destroy the cache so it is imperative that stealth and discretion be used while caching. let the secret agent within you flourish!

cachers are a fun-loving, social, and responsible group. caching advocates respect for the environment, promoting the "cache in, trash out" mentality, and does abide by a certain ethical code to, among other purposes, help preserve the sport. the challenge and reward of a treasure hunt provides a simultaneously relaxing and exciting respite from one's daily nonsense and it's a great way to get out and enjoy areas you might not otherwise experience.

except for the newsiness of the reporters, this video gives a pretty concise orientation.

it's free (except for a GPS if you decide to use one...they're not necessary but they sure help), it's fun, it's exciting, it can be done 24 hours a day, in any weather, and it's easy. try it and you'll be hooked. go here, type in your address, and be amazed at how many there are around you right now just waiting for you to find them. so go forth and be creepy!


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