Arts and Entertainment

A muggle's guide to geocaching in Kitsap

What
What's Up took a lesson on geocaching from Seattle-based Geocaching.com and a few local hobbyists.
— image credit: Jennifer Morris/Staff Photo

I suppose a muggle by any other name would be just as clueless.

Muggle — a word from the pages of Harry Potter that roughly translates to “unmagical” — now belongs to the geocaching community. It means a non-geocacher, or in other words, someone who sees a guy with a Global Positioning System device poking around in the bushes and thinks, huh?

A muggle myself, I set out to discover what geocaching (“cache” is pronounced like “cash”) is about.

I didn’t have far to look.

Geocaching.com, the authority on all things geocache, is operated by Groundspeak, a Seattle-based company founded in 2000, the same year the term “geocaching” was coined. According to the site, the activity began when a fellow named Dave Ulmer, a “GPS enthusiast,” posted the coordinates of a hidden item, called a cache, online to test the accuracy of a GPS signal. Another fellow, named Mike Teague, found Ulmer’s cache, spread his story around the Internet, and soon caches were being hidden and found worldwide.

Now these little deposits dot the planet like a case of the chicken pox. There are 1.4 million geocaches on the globe, with more than 4 million registered finds. Fellow muggles may be surprised: These caches lurk where you least expect them, along roads you drive, near parks you play in.

Or, say, the end of your driveway.

At least that’s where my search first led me, when I punched in a North Kitsap area code and chose the first in a list of nearby geocaches on Geocaching.com. It wasn’t until I plugged the coordinates into my cellular GPS that I saw a dot on a map of very familiar terrain. The cache was so near my home it give me an oddly silly feeling, as if I’d just discovered a neighbor who’s really from outer space. Folks, geocaches are among us.

Often heralded as a fun, free way for families to spend time, geocaching continues to balloon in popularity with the presence of a GPS device in nearly everyone’s palm, courtesy the smartphone. Here’s how it works, according to Geocaching.com: In an online community, (Terracaching.com and Earthcache.org are two others), participants register hidden caches, logged with waypoints (latitude and longitude) as well as brief descriptions of terrain and difficulty. Other participants can plug that information into a GPS or mapping system to locate the cache. Often small toys, a pencil and a logbook are placed inside a cache. There are variations on the traditional cache, including multi-location and puzzle caches.

Keep in mind the three cardinal rules:

1. If you take something from a cache you’ve found, leave something of equal or greater value behind.

2. Always sign the cache’s logbook.

3. Log your find online, as your online presence is nearly as important as your physical location. Posting online about your search experience can help other geocachers, and if several people report they haven’t been able to find a cache, it can alert the person who hid it to a problem.

(Groundspeak was contacted for an interview, but didn’t respond by presstime.)

Remember that first geocache, the one close to home? After successfully finding it and recording What’s Up’s visit, I called Bob Doughty and Laura Sanderson, known on Geocaching.com as Laura&Bob, the couple that originally hid the cache back in September 2008.

Nearly 70 people have found it since.

“We’ve seen some of the coolest places you wouldn’t even know existed,” said Doughty, 46, of Poulsbo. He and Laura began geocaching in 2006, when there were roughly 300,000 caches around the world. After seeing geocaching featured on television, and later getting a GPS device, the pair began searching out caches, and then hiding them.

They’ve seen caches as large as a footlocker and as small as an aspirin. Once, they found a GPS device and manual hidden in a cache.

“Look where you don’t think,” Doughty said. “You’d think, ‘Oh, nobody would put it there,’ and it’s probably going to be there.”

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