Geocaching is a kind of worldwide high-tech scavenger hunt. Members hide caches (containers) ranging from fingertip-sized nano-caches to big, heavy Army surplus ammo boxes. After hiding a cache, the member posts a descriptive page at http://www.geo caching.com, including the cache’s precise latitude and longitude. Other members try to find the cache, sign its log and register the find back at the website. FTF (First To Find) is a special honor — the appearance of any new cache initiates a race to see who’ll get there before the rest.
You do have to join the Geocaching website to participate. It’s free, and you get to pick out a clever handle to identify yourself. Rymer, Spelunk, eCrane, Two Bison, RadioMom, Astrofox — these are all lively Davis cachers whose handles appear frequently in local cache logs.
Traditionally, geocachers rely on hand-held Global Positioning System devices to lead them to a cache’s coordinates. These gadgets aren’t the same as the driving- directions GPS in your car. Rather, the geocacher’s GPS points toward the coordinates you’ve set and tells you how far away it is. When the distance gets down to a few dozen feet, the search is on!
My geocaching career started with a hand-held GPS I received as a birthday gift, but I don’t always use it. Every cache listing includes a link to a map that points precisely to the specified coordinates. Sometimes zooming in on the map in satellite view is enough to fine-tune the cache location. This doesn’t work so well with multi-stage caches (you locate one stage to find the next stage’s coordinates). No problem … I just make another trip to find the next stage.
Davis is a hotbed of geocaching activity. Within 2 miles of downtown Davis there are more than 160 hidden caches. Extend that to a 4-mile radius and you can seek nearly 300 caches. As you get outside the city limits the cache density diminishes, but there are plenty to seek in Woodland, Dixon and West Sacramento.
Thanks to geocaching, I’ve visited every park in Davis, including Davis’ “smallest park” on E Street. I’ve traveled tree-lined streets that I never would have seen without the reward of finding a cache. And I’ve learned to be subtle and stealthy to avoid confusing the muggles. (Yes, that’s what geocachers call non-geocachers).
Geocaching on your bike is great for stealth, by the way. A car pulled over in an odd location draws attention; a bicyclist who’s stopped to fiddle with the gears doesn’t.
Of course, seeking hidden caches is just half the fun … the other half is placing your own. When I find a really excellent route for a ride I start looking at places to hide a cache, and thinking about how to describe it. Was there a village here once that’s vanished — except for a name on the map? Could I make some kind of clever puzzle or multi-stage cache?
Since I started geocaching in 2005, I’ve found more than 500 caches, both in Davis and while traveling elsewhere. Sounds like a lot, but one Davis geocacher is approaching the 10,000 mark. Once you start, you’ll find that cycling for exercise becomes a lot more fun.
— Neil J. Rubenking (“RadioMom” on geocaching.com) is the lead analyst for OS and security at PCMag Digital Network, working from a home office in Davis. You’ll find Rubenking on his bicycle somewhere around Davis almost every midday. To offer a Davis Bicycles! column, write to column@ davisbicycles.org