An estimated 62,000 people
in 183 countries have taken up geocaching. People have hidden more than 300 caches around
Maine, including 36 within 25 miles of Lewiston.
High-tech treasure hunt
A new game uses global positioning system and the Internet to
help players find the 'geocache'
LEWISTON - A treasure was waiting in Thorncrag Bird Sanctuary,
hidden in a cluster of birch trees and beneath a pile of sticks.
Considering that there must be thousands of birch
trees in the sanctuary's 310 acres, the loot was well hidden - unless you knew the precise
location: 44 degrees, 6.879 minutes north and 70 degrees, 10.391 minutes west.
A new game
Dave Hodgins and his son Brian found the treasure - called a geocache - in little more than
30 minutes, thanks to the coordinates, plus their Garmin Etrex GPS receiver and sharp eyes.
It was half-mile walk in the rain up to the highest point of the sanctuary and then another
100 yards bushwhacking through the trees. They found the white plastic Rubbermaid box next
to a small-game trail in a stand of trees.
"It doesn't look that different from everything else around it," Dave said.
"It's amazing how many people can wander by something like this without realizing it's
Their prize? After sorting through plastic toys and trinkets, Brian selected a golf ball for
his collection. He dropped a deck of playing cards and a CD of digital photos into the white
plastic container before sealing it against the rain and tucking it back among the sticks.
It might seem like a lot of effort - hiking back and forth through the woods, braving ticks
and poison ivy - for rummage-sale doodads, golf balls and Hot Wheels cars.
But for geocachers, it isn't about the prize. It's about the hunt.
"It's just another excuse to get outside and see some unique things," Dave said.
"It's good exercise, fresh air and a lot of fun."
Geocaching has a national following and is getting more and more popular. It relies on a
hand-held global-positioning system receiver to locate geographic coordinates.
People hide their treasures, usually toys and cheap collectors' goodies, in water-tight
containers, such as a Rubbermaid box or an ammo can. Then they post their cache's location
on the World Wide Web and wait for people to find it.
And they do.
An estimated 62,000 people in 183 countries have taken up geocaching. People have hidden
more than 300 caches around Maine, including 36 within 25 miles of Lewiston.
Finders take something, leave a trinket of their own and sign the log. Mostly, they marvel
at the views.
"You do get to see some amazing places that you wouldn't know about any other
way," Dave said.
The game was impossible until the turn of the century.
It relies on a network of satellites circling the globe and the Internet to make the
The government-controlled GPS system has been around for years, but it had a built-in error
to keep civilian GPS receivers from being too accurate. That error was removed by the
Clinton administration in May 2000.
The game was born days later, according to geocaching lore. To celebrate the system's new
accuracy, a man hid a bucket filled with prizes in the Oregon wilderness and fed the
coordinates to his friends through the Internet.
Others began hiding similar treasures and posting their results on the Internet. In
September 2000, Web designer Jeremy Irish started the Geocaching.com Web site and the game
began to grow, picking up adherents around the world. The Web site now tracks caches hidden
in Saudi Arabia, Australia, Europe, Japan and South Africa.
The game is free and open to anyone willing to register with the Web site, which now is run
by a company called Groundspeak
Dave Hodgins bought his GPS receiver in 2000 soon
after the system became more accurate. Originally, he used it to map all-terrain vehicle
trails and to locate abandoned homesteads.
"I'd do the research, looking up old maps and then try and figure out their
coordinates," he said. "These were old farms and buildings from the 1800s. It
makes hiking a little more interesting."
He was looking for digital maps on the Internet one day when he stumbled upon the geocaching
"The next day, I went out and found my first geocache," he said. "I looked
and found one that was right by my house, and I was hooked."
He has since found 122 caches, most of them around his home in Clifton in Penobscot County
and most were found with Brian. The two go by the handle "Brdad" on the geocaching
Brian, 15, collects golf balls from the caches. Dave prefers unique items and one-of-a-kind
collectibles, such as handmade wooden nickels and carvings. In their place, Dave likes to
leave copies of his Maine Sights CD, a collection of digital photographs he's taken around
Dave has hidden four caches of his own, relying on devilishly clever clues to make finding
them even more difficult. His "You Sank My Battleship" cache requires finders to
visit as many as 25 different places around Bangor, answer questions and do math to figure
out the final hiding place. He tested the clues himself, and it took him two hours to solve
"I knew all the answers and it still took me two hours," he said. "With luck,
I guess someone could find it in three hours of hard looking. Most have to visit it a couple
of times to figure it out."
Geocachers in other states have formed clubs and organizations to promote the game. They
meet, sponsor park cleanup days and answer questions from curious public officials and
Maine doesn't have that kind of group yet, but one could grow out of a barbecue scheduled
for Aug. 23 in Augusta. Maine geocachers are invited to show up at the park for a day of
cache searches, cookouts and swimming.
The invitation, posted on the Geocaching.com Web site, doesn't give an address or driving
directions. Just the coordinates: 44 degrees, 20.684 minutes north and 69 degrees, 39.190