Modern Treasure Hunting

Go on a geocaching adventure this fall

So Rhode Island Magazine ·

Since its introduction to the world 14 years ago, geocaching has been a sport that has spread like wildfire.

There are 2.5 million geocaches hidden around the world, and more than 6 million geocachers looking for them. Locally, there are hundreds to track down on public and land trust properties. In Rhode Island and Connecticut you can choose from more than 2,700.

It’s sort of like a treasure hunt, but the only riches you will amass are the memories of great vistas, fresh air and the exercise that comes from hiking outdoors. Oh, and you might pick up a few trinkets from the cache, but just make sure to replace them with something of equal or greater value. If you like to hike, you might have stumbled upon a cache by accident, or passed dozens of them without knowing of their existence.

According to www.geocaching.com, “Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”

You can go the website and search by state or zip code, get the GPS coordinates and head out to search. Once the geocacher finds one, he or she signs the log at the cache, visits the website and logs it in as having been found.

Geocaching is not just for hikers. There are even groups that hide caches along rivers and ponds, allowing people in boats to take part. On the Pawcatuck River, for example, there is a geocache tied to a tree growing on a large rock in the middle of the river. More hints could be given about its location, but then one would be a “spoiler,” or someone who logs in to say they found the cache and then offers too many clues, making it easier to find.

It is an activity that is also developing its own lexicon. For example, nongeocachers are called “muggles.” Those who steal or vandalize a cache are called “mugglers.” And for veteran geocachers, “to get your comma” means that you have found 1,000 caches.

If you delve deep enough into it, the activity has a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms that can be used when either signing tiny log books found in caches that prove you found it, or in descriptions of caches that you look up to find the coordinates before hitting the trail. There is TNLN, which means “took nothing, left nothing.” ATCF means “as the crow flies,” or the sad log-in, DNF or “did not find.”

But DNF also serves a purpose. If the owner of the cache sees enough DNF notations, it is time to go to the site and see if a muggler took off with the cache.

Jenny Gruslin and her partner Holly Wiesendanger, of Warwick, have been chasing geocaches for the past three years, starting when Jenny bought a smart phone with a GPS app. She said that she had heard about the sport in 2000, but back then you had to have an expensive GPS device. The phone app “took away the added expense,” says Holly. “It is an activity that brings you to places you never knew existed,” explains Jenny. “We went on vacation to Niagara Falls and were able to find some geocaches along the way.”

So far the duo has found 224 caches, some of which are rather memorable. They try to avoid the spring months when tick activity seems to be at its highest, but later in the summer and into the fall they try to head out each weekend. They will continue into the winter months, depending on how cold it gets and whether snow makes the search nearly impossible.

Holly says that one of the more unusual caches is actually a toilet that someone carried into the woods in New York. The commode is adorned with antlers and has painted eyes and a nose. The cache was an ammo can attached to the tank that was painted gold.

Some of the caches are hard to find. They come in different sizes, all the way from large plastic boxes to micro caches that require tweezers to extract the log book. Micro caches, a bit smaller than a thimble, are usually a metal cylinder with a screw cap. All of them are sealed to keep out water, and log books are usually kept in a plastic bag in the bigger caches.

Holly says that sometimes they go back to the site where a cache is hidden more than ten times and it could take months to find, depending on how crafty the geocacher is at camouflage. When it is finally found they realize they might have walked past it numerous times.

There is a cache in Big River Management Area in West Greenwich that is titled “A Good Can is Hard to Find.” Each cache has a name that is somewhat of a clue. Some examples include “Seas the Day,” “Choose Wisely,” “Surrounded by Briars” or “Forest Giant.”

The two have searched for caches in a variety of places such as along bike paths, in the sand and rocks at the beach and in historic cemeteries like the one behind Best Buy in Warwick. Near their home, a micro-cache is hidden behind the Mickey Stevens Sports Complex. It took them a few tries to find it. One day the pair was geocaching and met “Patsfan2071” on a trail. He has hidden a few caches in the area. “He is sneaky and clever,” says Holly about his ability to hide caches.

Recently the pair took off to Oakland Beach to try and find a cache called “Right by the Beach.” They had been to the area numerous times and armed with the clues of previous geocachers, and on this day finally found it. They turned over rocks and stuck their hands in crevices of the seawall for about 20 minutes before Holly straightened up and said she thought she had found it. She bent down and pulled out the cache. This cache was a plastic box. She opened it an added her name to the log. Although there were trinkets in the box, she didn’t take any or leave any behind before she carefully placed it back in its hiding place.

At Oakland Beach, the two stood out searching among the brush and rocks. When passersby ask what they are doing Holly says she usually tells them, but the rule is not to explain too much because people could find the cache and destroy it.

But on this day several people made inquiries. To one Jenny told them about her search and said, “It’s fun but a little frustrating when you can’t find it.”

Their next stop was “Bayside Field I.” The cache is hidden along a bike path near John Delgiudice Memorial Field. It was not their first search for this particular cache. After about 15 minutes of casting about in the brush on both sides of the bike path Holly found it. She opened it and added her name to the log.

“I’m impressed,” Jenny said to Holly. “I didn’t think we would find it,” replied Holly.

"I like clever hides," says Holly. “And I do enjoy the hiking and the challenge.” One of those clever caches was a fake bolt that had been hollowed out and stuck in a fence. Some others have been found inside hollowed out fence posts, or by pulling the end cap off a railing. Some are hidden in plain sight like the “Gates of L” cache that was a magnetic letter of a sign. The lucky ones who found it pulled it down and signed the back. That particular cache is no longer active.

Jenny and Holly have released a “travel bug” which is now in Massachusetts. A travel bug is a trackable tag that you attach to an item which becomes a hitchhiker that is carried from cache to cache. Its progress can be then be tracked online.

When they were geocaching around Niagara Falls they found a travel bug that the owner hoped to get to Germany. They looked and left it in a cache near Green State Airport.

“Sometimes people waiting for a flight will search for a few caches if they have time,” says Jenny.

And perhaps one of those travelers is heading to Germany. Its progress, like all travel bugs, can be monitored online.

“I love seeing the different spots and it is neat that they are everywhere,” says Jenny.

For Holly, who grew up in Warwick, finding all the coastal access point has been an eye opener. “I don’t know how I grew up here and didn’t know about them,” she says.

Jim Cole of Charlestown and Sally Hanson of Westerly have given classes in geocaching at a variety of places in southern Rhode Island like Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown.

Sally has permission to set up caches on Westerly Land Trust properties, such as the Grills Preserve, Riverwood and the Dr. John Champlin Glacier Park. But there are others setting up caches in Westerly, including some in Wilcox Park. Whoever sets up the cache is responsible for maintaining it, says Sally. That work includes making sure it is not muggled, the log book is kept dry and its hiding place is not altered.

Sally says the fun part of each cache is coming up with a name and a blurb about it. Some of her caches are called “Big Hill,” “The Pines,” “1775” and “Glacier Park I.” Jim and Sally use GPS devices to search. These devices can cost anywhere from $100 to $500. GPS units can also come preloaded with maps for the entire United States.

For the beginner, a class in how to use a GPS is a good idea, says Jim. One tip that Jim and Sally urge searchers to adopt is setting a waypoint on the units before leaving the parking lot. That way after a day of wandering in the woods, travel back to your vehicle is easier. (Waypoints are sets of coordinates that identify a point in physical space.)

Geocachers normally carry a backpack or waist pack with a few assorted tools. Jim and Sally have a list for safety and searching that includes, a flashlight and extra batteries, gloves for reaching into sketchy places, maps, compass (in case your GPS fails), a knife or multi-function tool, hat, sunscreen, first aid kit, cell phone, spray to ward off ticks and water.

And they both say know when to call it a day. The geocaches are not going anywhere… unless there’s a muggler around!

geocaching, treasure hunt, treasure hunting, david smith, rhode island, outdoor, sport,