A National Treasure Hunt

Andy Beyer lived in Harrisburg, Pa., for seven years and never knew there was a waterfall in her hometown. One day as she was passing through, she decided to stop and do some geocaching. Her GPS lead her to a cache near a waterfall that she never knew existed. She skeptically went to the location and found not only the cache she was looking for, but the waterfall as well.

Geocaching is a game that involves people across the nation and the world hiding objects for others to find, and then posting the location online. After the location is posted, anyone can look for that object using a GPS or a smartphone. Participants visit the geocaching website, type in their zip code, and then the website provides the user the coordinates of geocaches near them. Beyer said that the geocachers enter the coordinates into their GPS and start looking for the cache.

“Geocaching is using multi-million dollar satellites to find Tupperware in the woods,” Diane Leiter, a member of the Central Virginia Geocaching Association, said.

This national treasure hunting game began in May 2000 when 24 satellites improved the existing GPS system. Beyer said that a guy in Portland, Ore., Dave Ulmer, decided he wanted to hide something, what would become a “cache,” in the woods. He later gave his friends the coordinates of the cache to see if they could find it, and geocaching was born.

James Denison, a 21-year-old VCU mass communications major, explained that once someone finds a geocache, or a “cache,” you have to sign the logbook found inside the cache. He said that he and his fellow geocaching friends came up with a team nickname to write on the logbook, so everyone else that looks at the logbook will see how many caches the team has found. Beyer, on the other hand, goes by the same caching name every time she goes on a hunt. She goes by orangereverie, which she chose because orange is her favorite color and reverie means daydream.

Leiter said that many of the geocaches have different trinkets such as trackables, travel bugs and coins for people to collect and replace with other items.

Beyer pointed out that the trinkets depend on the size of the cache. She said caches can be as small as a magnet the size of a button to as big as an ammunition can or a bucket. Micros, or the smallest caches, that usually contain just a magnet, only have room for a logbook.

Beyer said that the biggest cache she has found so far was in Hershey, Pa. As she was wandering through the woods looking for the cache, she saw a bowling bag. Inside the bowling bag she found a bowling ball that was the cache. Beyer said that the cache contained a marker for signing the bowling ball.

Leiter has about 30 travel bugs, which are caches with special tags on them indicating where the bug is from and where the bug needs to go. Travel bugs can travel across the nation or across the globe.

Leiter explained that she brought two travel bugs, Hot Wheels buses, to Tennessee to visit her friend who is a librarian at school called Chuckey Doak. Leiter named the Hot Wheels buses Chuckey and Doak in honor of the school. Leiter said the two Hot Wheels buses are racing to their destination.

“I have some [travel bugs] in Europe, one in Australia, one in England, two in Germany, a couple in the Netherlands. I’ve got one down in the Caribbean. I don’t know where they are now I’ll have to check again,” Leiter said.

The Richmond Visitor’s Center lists geocaching as something fun for anyone interested in exploring the area and learning more about Richmond’s history. Toni Bastian, manager of the Richmond Visitor’s Center, explained that other places in Richmond were already hiding caches near their businesses. She said that the visitor’s center decided to place a geocache there to get people inside the visitor’s center to look around. 

“When they find the cache they are directed inside this facility and pick up one of these coins. I also give them a discount in the shop and a travel counselor  has to hand them this [a cache].It gives them a little more time in the center  and hopefully they’ll decide to go do some other things,” Bastian said.

Denison said that the best cache he almost found taught him a lot about the American author and poet Edgar Allen Poe. He explained that it was a multi-cache, or a cache that led his group from one cache to the next by providing hints. The final cache is the one that has the trinket. Denison and his group of friends went to four different locations including Poe’s birthplace and a statue of the late poet. Finally, with the last GPS coordinates in hand, the group drove 30 minutes south of Richmond to look around in a person’s backyard, only to leave empty handed. Denison said they might not have had the correct coordinates for the final cache.

Beyer, who moved to Richmond this past July, explained that a geocache actually helped her find Pocahontas State Park.

“It took me to a lake that was undergoing recession so it was actually turning back into forest. There were trees and stuff actually starting to grow out of the lake,” Beyer said.

Bastian said that geocaching helps families visiting the Richmond area learn about historical facts and landmarks. She said that it makes the experience more relevant for the whole family.

Leiter said that when she first moved to Virginia about 5 years ago, geocaching was her incentive for getting out of the house to explore the area.

Beyer said she joined the Central Virginia Geocaching Association online before she moved to Richmond or even had a house in the city. She said that members of the group helped her figure out where to live and suggested neighborhoods for her. So far, Beyer has gone to one of the association’s “meet and greets” at Capital Ale House held on the 3rd Saturday of the month. She said it was a nice way to get to know members and discuss geocaches that she has found.

For Leiter, geocaching is a way to explore the unknown or to travel to places that seem interesting.

 “I think that people enjoy geocaching because it’s finding things. It’s almost like the whole era of buried treasure… There are not really many opportunities to just find something that’s lost, something that not many people know are there, but you can find,” Denison said.

Beyer explained that her addiction to the game lies in its connection to the outdoors. She said she likes the idea of treasure hunting. Beyer and Leiter both commented that geocaching can become a family hobby, or a chance to drag a loved one around searching for a tiny object. Beyer emphasized the importance of geocaching in bringing to light places that often go over looked. The geocachers agreed that geocaching is a new twist on an old game that explorers have been playing for centuries.

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