What happens when you combine a scavenger hunt with a GPS and a downloaded app? You get geocaching, an activity that is available in every continent and country in the world except North Korea. (Possessing a personal GPS or other similar device is illegal in that country.)
Typically, a geocache is a hidden waterproof container with a small item, log sheet and maybe a pencil inside. The sizes range from a miniscule pill container to an ammunition box. The cache is hidden, and the GPS coordinates are listed on the geocache internet site, along with a clue about the location or surroundings.
Geocachers try to locate the site and hidden cache. Success means adding their name to the log sheet and noting their find on the website. Accumulated “finds” mean higher rankings. Other honors come from FTF – first to find – and locating caches that are more difficult to find.
Bob and Patty Baker, residents of the Village of Glenview, head up the geocaching club in The Villages, where there are more than 1,800 caches. “We read about the club and thought it would be fun,” Bob relates. “Then the leader asked for someone else to take over and we said ‘OK.’”
Patty notes that some of the caches are in unlikely places and involve multiple steps.
“The coordinates took you to a specific place in a library,” she says. “A clue in that place led to another location in the building and that repeated several times. Finally, the last clue led you to a certain book, which was hollow and contained the log sheet. Of course, the library staff was in on the secret.”
“Friends of ours used to go on worldwide (trips) with another couple,” Bob adds. “While one group might go off on one activity, our friends would take a geocaching day. There are geocaches everywhere – on the polar ice caps, inside caves and even underwater. It’s crazy!”
While some geocaches may be large and easy to find, others are more difficult. Rated on a 1-5 scale, the most difficult can be almost impossible. There are several types of containers listed on eBay. One looks like a snail shell, another like an ordinary rock. Yet another is a ‘bison’ – a tiny metal pill container that’s just a fraction of an inch long. Add a magnet and place under a metallic object for a cloak of invisibility.
The Bakers agree that these can be difficult to find, especially in the beginning.
“But after you do this for a while you get a geo-sense,” says Patty. “You think: Where would I hide this? You’d be surprised at how many times you can zero in on it.”
She also says that the difficulty is an important part of the fun.
“We’ve gone back, sometimes three times, before we find it,” Patty says. “We like the challenge.”
The Bakers also have placed dozens of caches in The Villages area.
“We try to hide our caches in places where people might not ordinarily go,” Bob says. “We look for picturesque spots off the beaten track. Some people find our caches and say, ‘Gee, I never knew this place existed.’”
Public safety is a major concern for those placing and searching for caches. In The Villages, caches are prohibited on the golf courses, private property, close to power lines, railroad tracks and other potentially dangerous areas.
Also, no caches are allowed adjacent to schools – there have been incidences in the country of school authorities calling police and reporting “suspicious activities.” And no geocache hunting after dark.
“You don’t want unknown people rummaging around your house at night with flashlights,” Bob laughs.
While caches are hidden everywhere, there are a few rules. For example, caches cannot be buried out of sight. Ingenious cachers find ways around the rules. Bob displayed an ingenious device they use. A tiny, pointed plastic container containing the log is glued to the end of a magnolia cone, which is then stuck in the ground.
The person seeking the cache will see the cone, perhaps oddly sticking straight up out of the earth, but the container remains out of sight.
To add to the fun, some caches are virtual. Some are locationless, requiring people to find and photograph a relatively common place – a post office, for example. Other geocachers cannot use the same post office for their find.
One of the newer techniques is to hide the caches in locations that make the outline of a butterfly, animal or alphabet letters when viewed on the map. One geocacher near The Villages constructs small, complicated mechanical devices that must be activated to point out the nearby cache location.
Before becoming full-time Villages residents and geocaching aficionados, Bob and Patty had long careers in the Northeast. Originally from Cape Cod, Patty was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines for 29 years, then became an RN. Bob, from Braintree, Mass, was a Cape Cod middle school and community college math teacher.
Both are interested in going fast in great rides – especially Corvettes. For many years they were involved in amateur auto and motorcycle racing. Today, their special ride is a white 2017 Corvette with a custom red racing stripe.
A number of years ago, Bob and a friend painted the brake calipers on their Corvettes, a new innovation at the time. Later, they visited the Corvette plant in Kentucky, where the bright red paint was noticed by the company’s chief engineer.
The next year, the brake calipers on the high-end Corvettes were painted bright red.
“We asked if they had copied us. ‘We get ideas from you guys,’” he answered with a smile.
The Geocaching Club, which has about 200 Villages members, meets at Laurel Manor Recreation Center on the first Thursday of the month at 10 am.
“Grandparents are always looking for activities for the visiting grandchildren over the holidays,” Patty says. “Geocaching is the perfect activity for all ages.”
John W Prince is a writer and Villages resident. For more information visit www.GoMyStory.com.