WHEN THE weather cooperates, Labor Day weekend is usually a time filled with fun outdoor activities for the entire family.
From swimming and boating to grilling and picnics in the park, Americans across the country take to the outdoors to celebrate that extra day full of opportunities.
So if you're going to be outdoors, why not take advantage of a relatively new recreational activity that has exploded in popularity during the last 10 years.
That activity is Geocaching.
What is geocaching?
The advent of geocaching, or at least the catalyst, can be traced back to the year 2000. On May 2 of the year, the United States Military removed restrictions on just how precise the information provided by its global positioning satellites (GPS) could be.
A day later, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, hid a cache, or item to be found, in the woods and marked its location with GPS coordinates.
He called it the "Great American GPS Stash Hunt,'' and posted the information for it online. That began the craze that is geocaching, with the first coordinates entered being N 45 degrees 17.460 by W 122 degrees 24.800, which happens to be near South Fellows Rd. in Estacada, Oregon.
More and more people began finding Ulmer's cache and returning online to post about their experiences.
Word traveled fast, as it quickly does on the internet.
A few months into the GPS Stash Hunt's infancy, Seattle-based web developer Jeremy Irish found information on this new activity while researching GPS technology online.
Irish took an interest and set out on some cache hunts of his. His interest grew and he started a website called Geocaching.com, now the key website for the Geocaching craze.
The site, with both free and premium memberships, allows potential hunters to search for caches across the country.
After finding potential hunts in a given area, caches are rated by both ease of finding the cache and how difficult the trek is to get to the cache. Some are relatively easy. Some are difficult and requiring climbing equipment.
A quick search of caches located within a 10-mile radius of Wheeling turned up more than 400 potential hunts. A search of a 50-mile radius from Wheeling turned up nearly 3,000.
Each cache has its town description page and notes from any previous hunters who've found the box and wish to offer advice to future hunters or comments on the box's contents.
The general idea
Although any type of box or container can be used as a cache, a favorite is a tupperware container. And there are generally four size-categories for cashes: Micro (35mm film canister or smaller); Small (sandwich-sized plastic container or smaller); Regular (plastic container or ammo can, roughly the size of a shoebox) and Large (a 5-gallon bucket or larger).
The key is to make sure the container is water tight. Since it will be sitting out in the elements, keeping the contents of the cache dry is essential.
Every cache needs a logbook so those who find the cache can record when they finally found it, see who else has and read up on any other pertinent information.
The cache should also be labeled. There is a decent chance someone will stumble across the box that isn't actively searching for it. If the box is labeled as a geocache item and contains a letter describing the purpose of the cache inside, it will generally remain undisturbed.
As far as what can be found inside the cache is left up to the imagination of the cache placer, as well as the people who find it.
Anything from small trinkets, souvenirs, CDs, toys, key chains, etc., can be found itself. Some choose to place a small digital or disposable camera inside so that they can have pictures of all who have found their box.
And don't forget one of the cardinal rules of geocaching, if you take something from the box, leave something in the box.
Considering the length of time most caches will remain outdoors, waiting to be found, it's generally a good idea not to include anything that could spoil. So no matter how tasty your chocolate chip cookies may be, this isn't the best place to share them with the world.
While finding a cache by using GPS coordinates is the general idea and what encompasses a good portion of the experience, it's not the only one.
Multi-caches are particularly enjoyable and have caught on. Basically, the first set of coordinates will lead seekers to the first box which contains coordinates to another box and so-on. These types of caches are generally identified on the listing websites so hunters know ahead of time their trek may be a bit more lengthy than usual.
GENERALLY all you need to begin hunting is a GPS receiver and a desire to hit the woods. If you're planning on taking in a multi-cache hunt or another lengthy event, it likely wouldn't hurt to have some light camping equipment and supplies if you're anticipating spending more than one day on the hunt.
For those interested, there are websites all over the internet devoted to geocaching, but a good place to start is geocaching.com. It will have everything you need to know to get started on this fun activity that combines technology with a love of the outdoors.
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org