by Kirby Lindsay
On May 1, 2000, the U.S. Government removed ‘Selective Availability’ limitations from GPS systems, and on May 3rd, an Oregonian – Dave Ulmer – hid a plastic bucket in the woods. He posted the location on-line and by May 6th, two people had found it. One logged on to declare he’d visited the site, and with that geocaching began.
Find the Lily Pad
Some geocachers may, while in the area, want to visit HQ of the largest geocaching website in existence – Groundspeak Inc, located at 501 North 34th Street in Fremont. In anticipation, on July 4th, from 11a – 3p, Groundspeak will host a carnival, free and open-to-the-public, at Evanston Plaza (Evanston Ave N & Burke Mill Road) for the geocaching community, as well as those interested in finding out more.
What is Geocaching?
In mid-June, Jen Sonstelie, Marketing Manager for Groundspeak, took me out to find one of the latest caches (of the dozens) hidden in Fremont. Along the way we met Jon Stanley (a.k.a. Moun10Bike), another Groundspeak staffer - and inventor of geocoins – also on a quest for the newest cache. Together we took a short stroll, with Sonstelie and Stanley monitoring their GPSs, along the Lake Union Ship Canal.
Geocachers hide caches in public places, in durable, waterproof containers, and share the coordinates on-line. Groundspeak maintains the largest database of caches, some listed for free and some available for a membership. Using a GPS, or an iPhone App (also available on 3G or 3GS), the treasures can be often be located within thirty feet or so.
“If you take something from the cache, you should leave something of equal or greater value,” Sonstelie explained of accepted geocache etiquette. Contents usually include small cheap toys or trinkets and, occasionally, a ‘signature’ item associated with a particular ‘cacher. They can also include trackable items, such as a geocoin or travel bug.
Geocoins have roughly the size and weight, but do not necessarily resemble, a coin. Travel Bugs, designed by Groundspeak founder Jeremy Irish, started as smaller, lighter items – like dog tags – that can attach to larger items, or allow space to write a short message. Both items contain a code that, if activated, give the finder directives – to place the item in another cache along a specific route, or simply help move it to as many new locations as possible.
When we reached the cache in Ship Canal Park, Ken Oldham (a.k.a. NavCowpoke), another geocacher, had already arrived. Together, Oldham, Stanley and Sonstelie located the small, round container and, on the log inside, registered the date and their nicknames. While Stanley left a geocoin, and caught up with Oldham, Sonstelie checked the log to see which friends and/or co-workers had been there before.
A Cache of Camaraderie
Irish began Groundspeak, a listing service, in September of 2000 to assist him in his new interest in geocaching. The website collects data and descriptions about caches from other geocachers. Today, they track caches around the world. They differentiate the caches with ratings from easy to difficult, and specify traditional, like above, from one that is a part of several (a Multi-Cache) or in pieces (a Puzzle Cache).
The website, and forums, has helped create a huge geocache community. Groundspeak estimates over 4 million people, around the world, geocache (although approximately only 10% of the U.S. population have ever heard of it.) Groundspeak staffers expect a small portion of this community to come to Fremont for July 4th, if only to find the cache hidden at Groundspeak HQ.
With GPS systems available for loan, the Bubble Man and a dunk tank, Sonstelie described the carnival as an event for everyone – even those just waiting for the fireworks to begin. Ultimately, though, she admitted the event’s main purpose, is “a thank you, to our community, for our tenth anniversary!”
©2010 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.