“If you like to use million dollar satellites to find three dollar containers, we welcome you.”
A 69-year-old widower treks through the woods, GPS in hand, searching for an unknown container, which turns out to be a piece of fake dog poop, that a stranger from the Internet placed there.
This is Gene Moser’s hobby. This is geocaching.
Geocaching is a real-life, high-tech treasure hunt. Containers called geocaches come in all shapes and sizes—yes, even fake dog poop—and they are hidden across the globe for players using a GPS or smartphone to seek them. Once the players, called geocachers, find the hidden containers, they log their finds on the popular Groundspeak website, geocaching.com. The challenge comes from the level of difficulty in each find. Today, more than 2 million active geocaches are hidden around the world and logged on geocaching.com.
Moser started caching in Hampton Roads after his wife passed away in 2009. “I first learned about geocaching from my late wife Mickie who came back from doing something at church to tell me about a ‘geocache’ hidden in the prayer wheel back of the church,” Moser said. “I told her that was about the stupidest thing I’d ever heard of.”
pic | geocaching.com
Thousands of geocaches are hidden all across Hampton Roads, from shopping plazas to public parks to sandy beaches. An ammo box proves to be one of the most popular caches. Geocache containers vary in sizes from nano—about the size of your pinky finger—to extra large—some of which are so large people are able to crawl in to and out of the geocache. Each cache, no matter the size, should be watertight and contain a log for geocachers to sign. Some include prizes, toys, and trinkets that geocachers can trade for some of their own personal knickknacks. Anyone can place a geocache and register its location on the Groundspeak site.
“Once all the caches in an area are found, it is no good until more caches are placed,” said Moser. “We say, ‘Hide a cache and they will come.’”
Moser, or GrandpaGene as he is known in the geocaching world, has made more than 3,000 finds in 19 states. “I’ve found nanos glued to pennies, quarters, or bottle tops,” said Moser. “I’ve also found fake dog poop, fake flowers or plants, frogs, snakes, bird houses, bricks, and water faucets.”
While Moser’s record is impressive, it is a far cry from the highest record in Hampton Roads. Episcodad holds the record for the highest local and currently has more than 11,000 finds and ranks 6 in Virginia according to Groundspeak’s site.
Community is important to geocachers. Geocachers of Hampton Roads, more than 500 members strong, hosts monthly meetings where members meet and seek together.
Geocacher Jade Stone seeks caches with her husband. “We met a few people who we will be friends with for the rest of our lives,” Stone said. “The world is our playground. Geocaching just brought another aspect to our games.”
The pair is admired (and sometimes cussed at) for their difficult-to-find caches throughout Hampton Roads. Stone warns beginners to stay away from her caches. “Do not go after an Adventure Stone cache unless you don’t mind crying.”
Like many geocachers, the Stones have climbed mountains and explored trenches to find the hidden boxes. “We have had to explain to many law enforcement officials why we are crawling around in a ditch, hanging on a lamp post, have our hand in a sewer, are creeping around behind the Wal-Mart,” Stone said. “We laugh about it after we leave.”
The geocaching community practices green habits. The initiative “Cache In Trash Out” (CITO) encourages geocachers to bring a garbage bag with them every time they hunt and pick up pieces of trash on the way to their destination. This small act helps keep local parks and other cache-friendly places clean.
Treasure inside. (pic | geocachingmaine.org)
Tracy and Terry Critser Jr., along with their son “Little Hopper,” make up the team TCSquared. “He’s not even two and has his own caching name,” said Tracy Critser. “We cache as a family so our favorite places to cache would have to be parks. Anywhere the little one has room to run and play before, after or during our caching adventure.”
Public parks across Hampton Roads have caches hidden in trees, behind benches, or even dangling on fishing line behind plastic, store-bought vines. Popular parks on the peninsula include Newport News Park, Sandy Bottom Nature Park, and the Nolan Trail. On the southside, Lafayette Park, Ocean View Beach Park, Dismal Swamp canal, and the bike trails throughout Virginia Beach are well liked.
Tom DuBois originally started caching with his wife in 2009 to “get off the couch” after his kids moved out of the house. The husband and wife team, known as Suffolk Nana and Papa (SNAP), have gone geocaching throughout Hampton Roads and now take a vacation every October specifically to geocache in a new location.
“We still geocache today because we fell in love with it,” DuBois said. “Geocaching takes you places you never knew about or never knew existed, even in your own town. You also get to meet all sorts of people you never would have met.”
Some geocaches are more complex than others, requiring players to solve puzzles or find specific caches in order to get coordinates to the next point. The Treasure of Tulls Bay series is a fourteen-stage cache quest and is a favorite of the Stones. “We worked for months and worked hard,” Stone said. “There is no other series in Hampton Roads like it.”
The Geocachers of Hampton Roads members have some advice for beginners.
1) If possible, find an experienced geocacher to accompany you on your first hunt. You can find a gaggle of helpful cachers at their monthly meetings.
2) Inexpensive GPSs or geocaching phone apps, such as Geo Cache Navigator or CacheSense, will help guide you to your treasure.
3) Start off with an easy cache. Geochaching.com ranks caches in terms of difficulty (D) and terrain (T). Beginners should aim for nothing higher than a D/T of 2/2.
4) Use your GPS to get close to the cache, then put it away and start searching with your eyes and feeling with your hands.
5) Have fun! You won’t find every cache every time, but enjoy the hunt.
On July, 18, 2011, Moser was seeking a very special cache. He was pursuing his 1,000th find, on what would have been his wife Mickie’s 64th birthday, on the campus of William and Mary in Williamsburg—where both he and his wife had been students. “Several cachers had problems finding it,” Moser said. “I made the find very quickly, though the cache was not in great shape. This was not my hardest find, or the longest hike, or the steepest climb, but very memorable.”
Moser said, “If you like to use million dollar satellites to find three dollar containers, we welcome you.”
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