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Geocaching: For the adventurer in you

May 31, 20044 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Geeks get to have some fun too

Summer’s here, and it’s time for all good geeks to get outside and play! 

Week after week, I write about the business use of technology.  Today’s topic is how you can have some outdoor fun with technology.  With a Web site and a global positioning system (GPS), to be exact.  I’m talking about geocaching, of course, as described by as: “The sport where YOU are the search engine.”

Geocaching is the rapidly growing sport of exploring the outdoors and searching for “treasures” with the aid of a handheld GPS unit.  It’s like the old game of “hot and cold” you played as a kid, with a computer system telling you when you’re getting hot (i.e., close to the treasure). This computer system is really a series of satellites in the sky that can determine your exact location on the planet.

This modern-day sport is only four years old.  It was made possible in May of 2000 when the Clinton Administration removed restrictions on the accuracy of GPS signals for non-military use.  Today, an inexpensive ($150-$500) GPS unit can direct you to within a few feet of specific coordinates.

To play this game, you need a GPS unit and some coordinates for a treasure, or cache, hidden in your area.  The Web site is the definitive source of cache coordinates.  The site tells us that, as of this writing in May 2004, there are nearly 100,000 cache locations in all 50 states and more than 100 countries, and more caches are being hidden by enthusiasts every day.

For all you geomuggles (i.e., newbies) out there, the basic game goes something like this: 

First, you go to to find caches in a specific area, such as a neighborhood, city or state park.  Select a cache that you want to hunt for.  Enter the waypoints, or location coordinates, into your GPS unit.  Then get out there and walk the trail, letting the GPS tell you when you are getting close to the cache.  Depending on the accuracy of your unit, you should get to within 10 or 20 feet of the cache’s hiding place.  Now put the GPS aside and hunt for the treasure chest, usually hidden somewhere off the beaten trail.  It might be under a rock, in a tree hollow, or even up a tree. 

There are easy geocaches and more complex ones.  Experienced geocachers like a little challenge to their game.  For instance, you may have to solve a riddle to figure out the waypoints to enter.  Or the location of the cache might be high on a cliff, requiring mountain climbing skills to reach it, or under water for those wanting to combine geocaching with scuba diving.

So what’s in a cache box?  Usually junky little trinkets – the kind of stuff you get at trade shows or fast food places.  Some caches are virtual in that there is no treasure chest.  Instead, the real treasure might be a vista that you wouldn’t find otherwise.  But it’s not the treasure that makes this game fun; it’s getting outdoors and enjoying the act of hunting.

Geocaching enthusiasts have taken this sport to friendly competitive levels.  There are numerous geocaching clubs that sponsor fun events that pit one team against another in the hunt.  It probably won’t be long before ESPN picks up on geocaching and turns it into a spectator sport.

If you like to get outdoors and explore, geocaching is a great sport for the whole family.  My family likes to roam the state parks of Texas with our GPS units in hand.  My geeky husband researches and downloads the cache locations, my kids lead the way on the trails, and I just enjoy the wildflowers along the way.

Linda Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company.  You can write to her at