Geocaching brings thrill of the hunt
INDIANA TOWNSHIP - It was Sunday afternoon in Emmerling Park. It was my first time geocaching, and I felt like Egon from "Ghostbusters."
I was walking through the woods, not looking in front of me or around me, but down at the global positioning system unit in my hand, watching as the approximate distance to the object I sought dropped from 200 feet to 35.
Like Dr. Spengler walking through the New York Public Library with his psycho-kinetic energy meter, I was close.
Then the number started to climb again, to 38, 41, 47 and finally 58 before I stopped and retraced my steps. I got back to 35 feet and realized it was time to put the GPS unit in my pocket and start hunting the old-fashioned way.
Like the other participants on the trip run by Venture Outdoors and leader Judy Herilla, I was looking for a small plastic film canister. The only clue we had was that it would be in the heart of five trees.
It was Kathy Giegel of McCandless Township who spotted a clump of five trees just off the trail, and after a few minutes I found the canister, hidden inside a partially hollowed-out branch. Inside was the next set of location coordinates that would direct us to the real cache, roughly 1.3 miles away.
I had only heard the word geocaching, best described as a high-tech international treasure hunt, once or twice before mid-July. After I ran into not one but two groups of rock climbers on the same day who started talking - no, make that raving -- about it, I decided to try it.
Geocaching started when the military stopped introducing intentional, random errors into its GPS satellites for public use on May 1, 2001. Two days later a man in Oregon documented hiding a cache and posting the coordinates on an Internet newsgroup. It was found and logged three days later, and the game was on.
The largest Web site, geocaching.com , now lists caches in countries from Brunei to Iceland to Papua New Guinea and everywhere in between. The caches themselves can be anything from microcaches, which hold only a log for finders to record their visit in, to containers large enough to hold a variety of trinkets.
The rule is that if you're going to take something you find in the cache, you have to leave something behind.
On the geocaching Web site, the people who hide the caches often also offer clues to help find it once you reach the approximate location. Our clue told us that the last 100 feet of our search went up a steep hill.
That was an understatement.
After going off the trail and practically crawling up the hillside to keep my balance, I saw a rock jutting out that offered a chance to stand on level ground and rest.
I looked at my GPS unit.
I was 10 feet away.
I called that information down to my fellow geocachers, who at that point were close enough to see a metal box wedged underneath the rock I was standing on, roughly 10 feet below me.
As is the case with most geocache treasures, the contents held little to no monetary value.
There were a few McDonald's Happy Meal toys, some Play-Doh and a few other trinkets. Kathy and Mike Giegel, also first-time geocachers, signed the log, then took a small ladybug charm and left a Matchbox truck.
It didn't seem like much of a reward for all that work.
But as I'd learned over the course of the day, people don't geocache for the 10-cent toys at the end.
I'd just spent three hours on a beautiful weekend afternoon hiking through a park I'd never been to before and probably never would have visited were it not for geocaching.
Geocaching is a reason to get outdoors and an excuse to explore somewhere you might never see otherwise. It can lead you around the world, or it can lead you to places in your own city you might not have even known existed.
And that is the real reward.
What it is: An international treasure hunt for caches hidden outdoors, in places that range from easily accessed urban areas to remote wooded locales.
What you need: A handheld GPS device (Magellan and Garmin are popular brands, generally ranging from $100-$300), an Internet connection to get coordinates and, usually, a pair of hiking shoes.
Where it is: Everywhere. The Web site geocaching.com lists caches all over the world, including more than 1,600 within 50 miles of downtown Pittsburgh. Additional Information: