posted on June 01, 2011 in travel
@story TONYA MCCOY
Chris Moore walks over to where a loop of wire is attached to a nail in a tree, just off Pine Hollow Drive in Van Buren. One end is attached to one tree and the other end is slung over the limb of another. He grabs the wire and moves a couple of steps forward, causing a camouflaged ammo box to slowly appear from above. When the box lowers to the ground, Chris’s wife Kristie opens the metal container with the words “Geocaching” stenciled on the side. Inside is treasure. A toy soldier, someone’s photograph, a log of names and dates, and, unfortunately, a whole colony of tree ants.
Geocaching is high-tech treasure hunting that uses GPS coordinates. Adults love it, kids find it fascinating, and couples like Chris and Kristie can’t get enough of it. The sport has been played around the world for eleven years.“Using billion dollar government satellites to find Tupperware. It’s wonderful!” laughs Chris.
The object of the hunt is to follow coordinates from a website like geocaching.com to a place where some sort of “geocache” (which is usually a container of some sort) is hidden. It doesn’t take much more than a GPS system, a little curiosity, and a feel for adventure.
Once it’s found, the hunter opens the cache (container), unrolls the log and signs their username as proof of the find. Then they also log their find on the website for all to see. It’s the thrill of the hunt that attracts these cachers. Some have found thousands of caches, and there are millions hidden worldwide.
Sometimes cachers will hide a box with “treasure” inside. This can be anything from a McDonald’s toy to an old, collectable coin. The rule is if hunters take something, then they leave something of equal or greater value as a trade. Also, when cachers are doing all of this hunting and trading, they’re supposed to use a little stealth. The trick is not to be noticed by non-hunters.
By day Kristie is a librarian at the Arkansas Tech University in Ozark, and Chris is a network designer for Diversified Computer Resources in Pocola. But by night, weekend, and sometimes lunch break, the Van Buren couple live for the “cache.” Chris goes by username Pizzaboy 2600, while Kristie goes by username Guwisti (Kristie translated into Cherokee).
At another hunt site in Van Buren, Chris and Kristie walk straight across a parking before disappearing into the forest. The smell of cedar wafts upward as the two crunch through the thick brush. A white mother duck sits on her nest – stone-still, protectively staring back.
There are two ratings on geocaches: a rating of one through five for difficulty, and a rating of one through five for terrain. This hunt is named “Spider in the Spout” by its creator Jay Gill, and is rated a two out of five for both difficulty and terrain. “If you have a five-five [difficulty rating-terrain rating], you’re pretty much hanging off the side of the mountain in climbing gear. There’s one five-five that’s actually hidden on a plaque that’s in a trench at the bottom of the ocean.
There’s one on the International Space Station. “There’s a Russian cosmonaut that’s a geocacher and they allowed him to hide a cache [container] on the ISS. There’s one person that logged it [as a cache find] after watching a YouTube video of the astronauts. He actually found it in the shot,” says Chris.
But most containers are hidden under a stump, in a tree, or behind a street sign. There are about thousands of caches hidden in the greater Fort Smith area. And since there are a lot of rural areas here in the Natural State, that sometimes means hiking through thorn-covered territory.
“Ticks. I hate ticks,” says Chris as he reaches down to brush a large bug off his calf, just above an Apple icon tattoo accented with the words iGeek.
Kristie peers at her iPhone through her black oval glasses, sunlight glinting off the rhinestones along the the rims. She reads the clue for the cache titled ‘Spider in the Spout’ by the geocacher that hid it: “Placed in the rough at a Van Buren park about 150 feet from a parking area and is placed inside another container.” The hint is: ‘walk the spider out.’ “His are very creative, they’re not straightforward. You usually have to do something to be able to get the cache.”
After about twenty minutes of backtracking and circling, Chris yells that he’s found it and holds up a can with three nails hanging by short wires attached to the can. The can isn’t the cache, but the nails are left as tools to be used to free the nearby cache which is in a camouflaged pipe wired to a tree across from him. Chris takes the nails and walks the container (the spider) up the pipe (the spout), just as the title of the cache suggests.
“It’s addictive,” says Kristie, who has over 300 finds; Chris is only slightly trailing behind with about 250. It’s so addictive that the two made time for the hobby even on their honeymoon in New Orleans.
“The coordinates led to a high-rise… So we walk into this ritzy jewelry store and we’re wearing backpacks and I’m in a tie-dyed shirt and I got a GPS around my neck and I tell them I’m looking for Bamboozle. They didn’t know who I was talking about, so they sent me to the concierge desk to ask. They knew him. He was the superintendent of this building and he took us up the service elevator to the top of the thirty-sixth floor. In the maintenance access at the very top of the building, there was an old toolbox.” They’d found their cache. That hunt was called the “View Carre,” because the location allows hunters to see a view of the French Quarter from high above the crowds.
Back in Arkansas, Kristie and Chris created a cache of their own to celebrate their marriage. They hid the container at an old church where they were married on October 16, 2010. Kristie likes to incorporate song lyrics into her hides, so she posted the lyrics to “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups, along with the clue. She even has a photo of herself caching at Fort Chaffee in her wedding dress on her profile at geocaching.com.
Also, believe it or not, the two drive around in a type of cache. On the back glass of Chris’s metallic orange Dodge Nitro is a window cling called a “travel bug”- another sort of geocaching find. Just below the image of the bug is a code that geocachers can log on the website, which plots where their travel bug has been sighted.
And “treasure” from geocaching containers is on the move as well. Sometimes inside one of the containers there will be instructions to take an item like a key chain, toy, or coin and move it to another cache and then log the move. Some of these items travel all over the U.S, and sometimes overseas.
“One of my favorite things, almost like a prized possession, I got out of a geocache… It was at a blues festival in Sedan, Kansas, out in the middle of a field. They had the biggest ammo can I’d ever seen in my life. All the things in it were things people had made. I found a film canister in it, and it had five dice in it and it had instructions on how to play an old pirate dice game. It’s bone-head simple but it’s so much fun. I keep it in my work backpack, it’s always with me,” says Chris.
“We went through the logs to find out who left it and it was some guy from Nebraska. We emailed him to say ‘Thanks for leaving the game, we had so much fun,’” adds Kristie.
From games and coins, to buckeyes, and sometimes even tree ants, hunters never know what they’re going to discover. Cachers may have the coordinates to where they’re going, but they never know exactly what they’ll find once they get there. But, Kristie explains, it certainly changes the way you look at things. “You get a geocaching eye. Once you start doing this, you’ll never look at trees, or light poles, or parking lots the same.”