This Could Be The Perfect RV Hobby!
Combining outdoor activity, the kind of technical toys that all guys love, low entry costs, exercise, and opportunities all over the country, geocaching may very well be the perfect hobby/sport for RVers.
Geocaching (pronounced gee-oh-cash-ing) is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world and is suited for both the young and the old. Geocaching can be adapted for almost any level of physical activity participants may be capable of. Using coordinates found on several different Internet web sites, geocachers use a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver to locate “caches” hidden by other geocachers all over the country, and in fact, in dozens of foreign countries as well.
A typical cache might be a plastic Tupperware container filled with a stash of small goodies such as plastic toys, costume jewelry, patches, pins, and novelties. Caches can found in public parks, at historical sites, on private property (with permission of the owners) and sometimes at businesses. The thrill of the hobby is not so much in what you find inside the cache, but rather in the hunt itself and the satisfaction of finding the hidden “treasure.” When a geocacher finds a hidden cache, he or she is welcome to take an item from the cache if they want to, asked to leave something in exchange, and to sign the caches’ log book. They then log back onto the web site where they found the cache information and log their find. Some experienced geocachers have 1,000 or more caches to their credit.
To understand the hobby, you have to understand the very basics of how a GPS receiver works. By tracking military satellites in orbit high above the earth, a GPS receiver can pinpoint its own location anyplace on earth, with an error factor within 10 to 30 feet, depending on the model used and local terrain. GPS units can be purchased for anywhere from about $100 up to over $500, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. The more sophisticated units include electronic compasses and altimeters, as well as mapping features that make them useful in finding your way in the back country or for navigating while in an auto or RV. However, they all receive satellite signals the same way, and even the most basic GPS units can be used successfully for geocaching. The most popular GPS receivers for geocaching use are made by Garmin and Magellan.
The biggest and best web site for finding geocaches is www.geocaching.com where you will find thousands of caches located anywhere you might be traveling. By logging onto the web site and entering the zip code of your location, you will be directed to dozens (or more likely hundreds) of caches in your area. For example, by doing a search for zip code 77399 (the Escapees Club’s Rainbows End RV park in Livingston, Texas) you will find over 200 separate caches within a 50 mile radius of the park. Another search of the Escapee Club’s Sumter Oaks park near Bushnell, Florida reveals over 240 caches within 30 miles of the park. Planning to be in one of the snowbird roosts around Yuma, Arizona this winter? There are 100 caches within 30 miles. As I write this, we are at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground in Lexington, Kentucky. Geocaching.com shows nearly 200 caches within 25 miles of the campground. Traveling geocachers have also placed hidden caches at roadside rest areas, giving cache hunters the opportunity to make a pit stop, stretch their legs, and log in a cache or two all at the same time! As you can see, the opportunities for traveling geocachers are virtually unlimited!
There is no fee to use the services of goecaching.com, though premium memberships are available for just $3 a month or $30 a year. Premium membership carries some nice benefits, including access to hidden caches for members only, and the ability to download cache coordinates in bulk. The web site also includes a nice online forum where members share their caching experiences and offer advice on every aspect of the hobby. Premium membership is not required to use the forums.
In addition to regular geocaches, there are also some different variations, including micro caches (often a 35mm film container) that contain just a log book; multiple-caches, where searchers have to find clues in several different locations to lead them to the actual cache; and virtual caches, in which the clues lead to a historical site or other point of interest, and the finders are required to gather information from signs at the location to answer questions that they e-mail to the person who hid the cache to prove they have found it. Virtual caches can be found at many different historical sites, ranging from famous buildings, to battlefields, and old cemeteries.
Some caches also contain travel bugs, but don’t worry, you don’t have to reach for the Deep Woods Off just yet. A travel bug is a small toy or other item that has a small dog tag attached to it with a unique number. Travel bugs move from place to place, and sometimes have a destination in mind, so finders are asked to move them in the direction of their goal. Others may just want to see the country, or visit theme parks, presidential homes, or great bodies of water. More information about travel bugs can be found on www.geocaching.com.
Caches on geocaching.com are rated on a difficulty level for both how hard the catch will be to find and how difficult the terrain will be, using stars to indicate the challenge. The easiest finds rate one star each for difficulty and terrain, while the hardest show five stars. Beginning geocachers or those with physical limitations should probably restrict themselves to caches with one or one and a half stars to start out.
There are very few rules to geocaching – each geocacher hunts in his own way at his own pace. Some are after numbers and want to get as many caches under their belts as possible. Most beginners probably fall into this category. Other, more experienced cache hunters, may limit themselves to finding only caches with a high difficulty rating, only caches within a certain area, or only caches relating to a specific theme. All geocachers are asked to respect the environment and private property, and asked to practice CITO (Cache In – Trash Out) by bringing a bag to carry away any trash they find during their hunt. Not taking an item from a cache without leaving something in return, and returning the cache to its original placement are about the only other rules to follow. Geocachers are always asked to use common sense and to leave a place better than they found it.
Organized geocaching clubs can be found in many states, and organized cache hunting events are becoming popular, usually sponsored by a local caching club. This is a hobby that can be practiced alone, but is also perfect as a family activity, for couples, or to introduce children and grandchildren to the great outdoors.
Placing your own cache for others to find is a relatively simple process, and guidelines are supplied on the geocache.com web site. In today’s terror-conscious world, it is no surprise that there have been instances of nervous citizens spotting someone with a cache and calling in the authorities. In one recent case in Indiana, the local police blew up a cache, believing it to be a bomb. Geocaching.com urges cache placers to label their caches with the Geocaching logo, along with their name and address, to hopefully allay fears of the boys in blue. Caches will not be listed on the web site that are located too close to water reservoirs, bridges, and other places that might be considered a terrorist target. Cache hunters have also been questioned by the police occasionally when spotted wandering around in the field, and several geocachers have reported that by the time they finish explaining the hobby, the cops have become interested and are asking how they can get involved!
A neat online geocaching magazine, Today’s Cacher (www.todayscacher.com) carries interesting articles on the hobby and can be downloaded in PDF format for reading offline. There are several books out on the sport, one of the best being Geocaching For Dummies, written by Joel McNamara. The book covers the basics of the hobby, as well as more advanced aspects of geocaching.
I discovered geocaching when RVing friends told me about the hobby, and logged onto the geocaching.com web site to learn more. It did not take long for me to become hooked! Geocaching gives me the opportunity to get outside and get some much needed exercise, and fits very well into our interests in history and travel. My first find was at a little community park in the small town of Wellborn, Florida, aided by my friend John Palmer. My Garmin 60cs GPS unit took us right to the spot, then we spent five minutes or so searching through the heavy brush to locate the camouflaged cache. Now, wherever we are going to be traveling, I download the coordinates of local caches and am ready to get out in the fresh air and have some fun.
Give geocaching a try. I bet you’ll be hooked too!