Following a treasure map... that is what geocaching is like, except the "X" that marks the spot is given in GPS coordinates and the treasure might just be the thrill of the hunt.
Wikipedia defines geocaching as "an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world." Caches might be a large bin or lockbox, or a small coffee can, and "micro-caches" are often tiny pill bottles, matchboxes, spent bullet casings or plastic film containers. The contents, or "stash," usually consists of a small paper log and pencil for finders to check in and small trinkets, the odder the better. It has always been standard convention for seekers to take a trinket and leave one of their own, but many cache-hunters don't bother with either.
Whether you enjoy solving puzzles, exploring, hiking or just being outdoors, geocaching is something you may love. In these days of social isolation, it is an activity that can bring much happiness. We have found caches hidden inside hollow tree trunks, hanging from tree branches, wedged between boulders, stuck on the side of a steel utility box and stuffed into a support pole of a culvert's guard rail.
You may have heard of the Fenn's Fortune, a hidden treasure of $1 million that wealthy art and antiquities dealer Forrest Fenn hid somewhere in the Rocky Mountain wilderness in 2010. He then published a poem of clues in his autobiography and treasure seekers have been hunting for the cache ever since. It has now been reported that the treasure chest was found in New Mexico. I bring up Fenn's treasure because clues are now being used in geocaching more and more. You use the GPS coordinates to get close and then solving published clues or riddles help you to the cache itself.
Cache hunters use popular websites and apps like Geocache.com or ExpertGPS (formerly GeoBuddy) to get a list of caches in their vicinity, along with the GPS coordinates, otherwise people wouldn't know what was hidden in their area. These sites are used by the hiders as well so that seekers will be able to look for their stash. Once equipped with targets, hunters use their smartphones, GPS devices or car navigation to go to the coordinates. An included blurb normally gives a brief description of the cache and hints about where you might find it. Also important to us is how long it has been since the cache was last reported to be found. Weather, construction, vandals or other environmental influences can cause a cache to be missing completely, and the owner of the treasure might not know it yet. If something hasn't been reported found within the last year, we know chances are slim that we would find it in our own search.
A few widely-accepted rules help the process. Most geocaching sites will not allow burying a cache and you must not hide one on private property unless it has free public access and you have permission from the property owners. Similarly, it should not be hidden in dangerous spots, like halfway up a steep incline, on a cliff or in the middle of a stream, and parking should be available somewhere nearby. Many of these cache containers are painted green, which is allowed, but it can make it difficult to find in a tree or bush even if in plain sight. Popular sites and apps include a difficulty rating as well.
All of this so we can call out loud, "I found it!" No matter how frustrated we might get from failure, the next find more than makes up for it. Geocache hunting is also one of the few outdoor activities in which social distancing is built in. The search gets us outdoors and I often combine a photo shoot with the activity, doubling my enjoyment of the day.
There were fewer contributors of comments this time around, probably due to the number of people we know for which geocaching is a mystery. Here are some of the comments I've received (I've paraphrased or edited some of them):
Andrea A.- We had one experience at our Gunnison camp out. It was interesting to learn how to use our GPS coordinates to find the "treasure." Because several teams were searching, it was competitive and exciting. The reward is not the trinket found, but in the satisfaction of successfully figuring out the puzzle.
Kathy H.- Now that Fenn's Fortune has been found, I'm done for now! But he did once say that he wanted people to get out and explore nature and that the treasure was an incentive.
Nadyne H.- Geocaching is one of the perfect activities during a quarantine! We enjoy searching for geocaches in various places but since being in quarantine, it's just more interesting! Remember to take cleansing wipes with you so you can clean your hands after looking in each geocache and writing in the log.
Cindy V.- It is always a lot of fun!
Jeanne W.- I’m not good at it! Or my phone’s not good at it. Anyway, I had to cheat to find the one at the last camp out at Grape Creek (in Colorado). It was still great fun.
Kelsey K.- Geocaching has taken us to some cool places that we didn’t even know existed! The grandkids used to love to go with us!
Warren and Terry of NE PA- Geocaching brings you to areas you may not have known about, sometimes even in an area you're familiar with. Also, it gets me out for exercise and moving. I have a back problem that hurts more just sitting or standing in one place, so it's great to move around. These outings have also helped lose about 75 lbs. in 2 years.
Steviegcampingmachine- Been a cacher for 20 years, used to do it as a scout leader teaching kids how to use GPS. Get some miles on and see nature. Do it!
I'll finish with an oft-heard quote from frustrated cache seekers. "I love it when the cache owner says that it's easy to find. Sure, it's easy for them. They hid it!" --unknown
From the first moment I received my driver's license when I was a 16-year-old kid in Southern California, the back roads were calling me. Perhaps that was because of the city life, or perhaps I longed to be free from the congestion of L.A. traffic. One thing was sure, once I took off for my first exploration of the Mojave desert, I always tried to avoid Interstates and major highways.
Now, freeways do have a great purpose -- they get you from point A to point B in the fastest time possible, even if some of that time is spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic. On a long trip, to completely avoid Interstates may add days to the journey, maybe not a problem if you are retired but definitely a consideration if just on vacation. You can always count on gas stations, truck stops and fast food, not to mention bathrooms, along a freeway or highway, not so much on the less-traveled roads. However, on the freeways, what you miss!
Dictionary.com defines a back road as "a little-used secondary road, especially one through a rural or sparsely populated area." The "rural" part is what makes it fun. From forest roads of Colorado to country hamlets of Upstate New York, to Texas' narrow "farm-to-market" routes to Oregon's scenic coastal byways, the pure pleasure of seeing nature, wildlife, country living, farmland and quaint Main Streets is totally absent from a jaunt on I-70 or I-95.
Certainly half the fun of parking our fifth wheel in a new (for us) region of the country, even during the pandemic's "stay-in-place" orders, is exploring from our truck without any destination in mind (we often self-quarantine in the pickup), and our satellite navigation system almost completely insures we won't get lost. The quirky "World's Largest" items in rural towns, the awe-inspiring fields of kinetic sculptures, the pure majesty of a redwood forest or a rugged coastline, the jaw-dropping views of the tallest jagged peaks, or a thunderstorm you can see fifty miles away, all of these things are experiences most likely missed on an Interstate highway. I take most of my photos of landscapes, wildlife, wildflowers and interesting rural scenes on these expeditions on back roads.
Something interesting to do, which we plan on attempting in the future, is to take US Routes 66 and 20 from end to end. The famous Route 66 was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System and begins and ends in Santa Monica, CA, to the west and Chicago, IL, to the north. Most of us have been on parts of this historic highway already, but few have taken it from start to finish. Likewise, Route 20 is truly coast-to-coast, spanning 3,365 miles with endpoints in Boston, MA, and Newport, OR. Our living in Western New York gave us glimpses of this rural highway and we saw much of the western portion when we camped in Oregon last year. Both of these routes have been usurped in some sections by freeway, and it can be quite a task to try to stay on the original routes as much as possible, but even that can be fun (if you like maps and navigation).
I received several great comments about back roads and here are some of them (I've edited or paraphrased some):
Sonny and Linda- We drive on anything but Interstates. I am retired and I am in no hurry.
Denster- I like the back roads. So much to discover, explore and enjoy at a nice easy pace.
RicU- I used to ride motorcycles. Back roads are more fun for sure.
Nadyne H.- I really enjoy the backroads we've gone on. I admit that some of them have caused me some angst, but ultimately I'm happy that we've done it. There's certainly more to see, places we'd never have seen if we stuck only to the paved roads. I grew up with a father who always had a 4-wheel-drive vehicle and took great joy in the roads less traveled. He even enjoyed making his own backroads!
Ayub B.- Back Roads bring forth melancholous thoughts, a mysterious feeling of being in harmony with the surroundings, as if this is where we had originally come from!
David V.- I love to see what's there and where it takes you!
Canadian Hellie- I love riding the back roads for the nature, the slower pace, less traffic and more things to view and to discover. But, at this moment; it's to relocate a groundhog. This is the second one and we have also relocated a skunk. Critters; they love it here.
BLSMSS- Back roads were where I learned how to drive as well as teaching my kids to drive. No traffic, had to go slow due to dust. Also loved to find beautiful flowers like Blackeyed Susan’s. The smell of the trees, such as pines and nature in general. Just calm and relaxing.
Al G.- I love riding the back roads and 4X4 roads, especially in Colorado. My last off-roading was near Tin Cup, if I remember correctly.
Tom & Trish- Off the beaten path, dirt roads are a complicated mixed emotions for me. June 10th is my mother's birthday. She would have turned 90 this year. The reason I bring her up is because of an eight-mile stretch of well-graded dirt road we lived on in the Ozarks when I was growing up. One of 22 places we called home in 6 states by the time I turned 16. That dirt road cut through a 300-acre farm in Sheepskin Valley. Our nearest neighbors were an elderly couple a mile down the dirt road, back toward the blacktop, town and school. You could sit on the porch on a cool, calm evening and listen to the conversation they were having a mile away. We were the last house on the school bus route, the party line phone, and electric. I think of that 8-mile stretch as an impenetrable barrier to the outside world, often impassable after heavy rains or winter ice storms. It separated me from my friends. In turn that 8-mile batch of dirt brought me and my family to one of the most pristine places I've lived or visited. And I've visited most of the lower 48 states and Puerto Rico. So now when I see a dirt road leading off the blacktop I wonder where does that lead? Who lives down that road? What's down that dirt path to explore, discover, be amazed by? And happy birthday, Mom. I know you hated that unforgiving dirt road you wrecked the beautiful '57 Buick wagon on -- the one dad used to haul the little travel trailer behind -- to escape down that 8-mile stretch of dirt road, out to another world, a world I wished we explored more when I was growing up.
Pat M. S.- Your blog photos prove that you can't get "lost" when you have a full tank of gas. I adore driving on back roads. Nature and wildlife abound on back roads.
My ending quote for this topic comes from Down Under, where Australian writer Robyn Davidson said, "By taking to the road, we free ourselves of baggage, both physical and psychological. We walk back to our original condition, to our best selves."
Hardly any waking moment goes by when I'm not using the Internet in some way. That got me to thinking about it, my 30+ years in IT notwithstanding. Life as we know it would not be possible without the Internet. First, a short history might be in order.
[Some of the following was paraphrased from Wikipedia]
Early packet switching networks [a "packet" of data is what computers use to communicate with each other and around a network] such as the NPL network, ARPANET, Merit Network, and CYCLADES in the early 1970's researched and provided data networking. The ARPANET project and international working groups led to the development of protocols for inter-networking, in which multiple separate networks could be joined into a network of networks, which produced various standards.
Research was published in 1973 that evolved into the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), the two protocols of the Internet protocol suite. [You've probably seen "TCP/IP"]
In the early 1980's the National Science Foundation funded national supercomputing centers at several universities in the United States and provided interconnectivity in 1986 with the NSFNET project, which created network access to these supercomputer sites for research and academic organizations in the United States. International connections to NSFNET, the emergence of architecture such as the Domain Name System, and the adoption of TCP/IP internationally marked the beginnings of the Internet.
Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) began to emerge in the very late 1980s. The ARPANET was decommissioned in 1990 and the NSFNET was decommissioned in 1995, removing the last restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic. Commercial entities began marketing Internet access, content design, telephone and communications platforms, search engines and sales platforms. Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, and all the other hugely successful web companies all owe that success to the National Science Foundation and ARPANET.
Today, the uses of the Internet are as numerous as the number of people on the planet. The top dozen most common uses, according to several reporting sites, are email, research, downloading files, discussion groups, interactive games, education and self-improvement, movie/music/video streaming, friendship and dating, electronic newspapers and magazines, politicking, job hunting and shopping. Specific uses can be inferred from this list, such as virtual health appointments, maps and navigation, virtual meetings and teleconferencing, social media and long-distance family interactions.
Like most people, there are times when I think the Internet is a pain, allowing anyone with a brain and access to spout any ideology they see fit, and the brain part may seem lacking. However, just maintaining long-distance family relationships can make all the difference in someone's life. The COVID-19 pandemic and the latest social injustice are two examples of events that bring us together utilizing the one communications service that seems to have been developed for just such occasions.
Would I be a published author without the Internet? Chances are slim. How easily could I share my 30,000 photos with the public? I've often referred to the Internet as my virtual memory, with nearly everything I would ever want to know at my fingertips. My blog would like never have happened either, nor our supplementing our income while living in an RV on the road. Like I said, life like we know it would simply not be possible.
Like always, I received some interesting comments to include in this article. I've edited and paraphrased some of them:
BLSMSS- The Internet makes me happy when it works! We have some tech tools that we use and if our internet isn’t working like it should, nothing gets done.
Kevin, Yvonne & 4 Doxies- We love the availability of information.
Becca R.- The internet makes me happy because we can stay in touch more face-to-face (via screen viewing) with family and friends during our traveling adventures. The internet has been really important during the ‘Rona as it has also allowed working from ‘home’ on a special project for Telehealth patients in need.
See Spot Run RV- The Internet just makes things easier. We use it on a regular basis for directions and to find attractions in new areas. We move to new locations every couple weeks so it helps us find things to explore. The Internet also allows us to share pictures and adventures with friends and family. I can send an explanation of what we did for the week with pictures to 50 people with one click. It can help us find people or places. We can get medical advice or advice on how to fix our coach and other information. It is just very useful.
Habadabeer- How did we tackle maintenance issues before the Internet!? I’ll bet there’s a dozen YouTube how-to videos for every repair I’ve had to make! Water pump, water heater, pilot light, generator starter solenoid, dually differential seals, pleated shades strings... you name it, I found somebody to walk me through the fix! The extensive knowledge base is something younger generations might take for granted, but it sure gives a level of freedom, confidence, and independence to what is already a daunting enterprise. You don’t have to be an expert in all fields, just good enough in the field of information searching to find an expert for your current problem. It’s hard to beat the feeling of accomplishment from completing a challenging task. Like Brian from “RV With Tito” says: “I fixed it my damn self, and it works!”
Elsiesmom (Candy)- My purse used to be the thing. Five minutes after getting rescued from near death I discovered that the smart phone is now the thing and the Internet made the smart phone possible. I love the internet because of the little computer in my pocket that can be replaced and restored within hours if necessary, unlike the contents of a purse which takes apparently two decades, give or take.
MieschLyn- Zoom app gets my vote. Recently had a 99th birthday party/family reunion with my Mom in a nursing home thru Zoom. It was the only way we could visit her! How awesome is that?
Ed R. (OCREF)- The Zoom app is a great tool! From computer internet, to smart phone, I'm able to host and do weekly meetings with all my managers, in my business, my Kiwanis Club members, members, officers from other clubs and my monthly Kiwanis Division, District and Membership meetings. Like I said, I think it's a great tool!
John And Debbie M.- Search engine!
Brenda and Bob- Taking a Fork in the Road- The internet does not make me happy, however having access to local information does. I need a haircut and found a local salon that is open, yeah! We also try and find local hiking/biking trails in the local area that provide behind the scenes natural and geological beauty.
WeMustRV- The Internet allows me to have my office anywhere in this beautiful country.
Mark & Anneliese H.- Well, I have learned a lot since I got a PC and Internet, one being that I learned to spell English and or translate it to German, major feat, plus that is how I got my hubby, he had to fix my total mess all the time, so he said it would be easier if he just married me!
Nadyne H.- I love the internet for the many ways it has enriched my life. *I got to know my husband in the early years of the Internet. We got to know each other for over a year only on the Internet and phone. *When our youngest granddaughter was born in England, she knew who I was by our Internet visits everyday. I even enjoyed hugs and kisses via video visit. *Internet access enables us to work from our RV while we travel all over the US. Without Internet access we couldn't live our dream. There are many other reasons I love the Internet but these are huge! The personal, life enriching ways it has helped me live some dreams.
Ayub B.- The Internet is the kind of net with which we feel simultaneously handcuffed and also free.
John H.- Being able to look up the thing you sort of remember but just can't quite recall more than the tiniest detail.
My closing quote for this topic is from Tom Wolfe, an American journalist, who said, "Once you have speech, you don't have to wait for natural selection! If you want more strength, you build a stealth bomber; if you don't like bacteria, you invent penicillin; if you want to communicate faster, you invent the Internet. Once speech evolved, all of human life changed."
Jack Huber is a writer, blogger, poet and photographer. Like many, he is concerned about the psyche of our planet's inhabitants and wants to try to improve his little corner of it.