01/05/13 — Geocaching: hidden treasures all around

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Geocaching: hidden treasures all around

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 5, 2013 10:40 PM

On March 23, 2010, Ralph Benedetto attached a travel bug to a blue Wayne Community College keychain and dropped it in a wooded area on the grounds of the college, hopeful it would wend its way around the globe and one day be returned to him.

Since then, it's been moved at least 84 times, traveling 9,727 miles -- canvassing England, Portugal, Austria, and Switzerland -- and, according to a recent e-mail alert, is in Germany, some 4,438 miles away.

The biology instructor at WCC calls it a game of sorts, a treasure hunt for the technology age.

It's name is "geocaching" -- a game in which participants hide containers of different sizes and then input the GPS coordinates online for others to find.

"At a minimum, the container will have a log in it for the finder to sign," he explained. "It may also have various items in it. The finder can take one of the items as long as a new item of equal or greater value is left behind in its place.

"The one thing I would say, if they're not going to play, just leave it alone for the people that do want to play."

A travel bug, like what he planted, is a special item. In his case, it was a dog tag with a special tracking code stamped on it.

Geocaching as a game does not have a particularly long history, he said, primarily because GPS was not always an absolute science.

"GPS is not always accurate," he said. "On a good day it will get you within 10 feet but of course the GPS the person used to log the coordinates is maybe off by 10 feet and you may be off by 10 feet, so on a bad day, you may be off by 30 feet."

But, he said, all that began to improve about a dozen years ago, when the federal government lifted the curtain on its global positioning satellites, allowing civilian technology better access and use on May 2, 2000. The next day, May 3, was when the first geocache was hidden.

Now, Benedetto said, he even has an app that loads geocaches directly to his phone -- a useful tool since he and his wife, Michelle, a nurse, often take their hobby on the road.

"We went to South Carolina for Thanksgiving and before we left home, I loaded up my GPS with a bunch of geocaches and went and found a dozen or so while we were down there," he said. "(Michelle) likes to go hunt for the ones that have stuff in them.

"Ideally, they take you some place interesting. There's a lot of old graveyards and some of them are puzzles."

There are guidelines for the game, though, he said, which operates mostly on an honor system.

"There are rules about where you can hide them, like not near a railroad track, on federal land, so you won't find them on the base, for example, in a federal or state park. But you could find them in a city park," he said. "The containers, an average container is about the size of Tupperware you use to put your leftovers in. But I have seen them as big as a five-gallon bucket, and a container so small I could put them side by side on a quarter."

The best website to learn more is www.geocaching. com. For a small fee, it also offers information, as well as ways to locate geocaches.

"You can put in an address and find sites," Benedetto said. "But no spoilers, because people will just go and steal them, people who don't understand what it is and stumble there by accident.

"They do disappear. They get lost, someone stumbles on it."

Folks would be amazed at how many there are, even just around Goldsboro or on the WCC campus.

"It's kind of interesting to know that all this stuff is there," he said, referencing an online map that shows how many geocaches can be found within 10 miles of the college -- 202, 11 pages' worth, he points out.

For someone who does not fashion himself as a hunter, it provides all the thrill of the sport, Benedetto said.

"You're hunting for buried treasure," he said with a smile. "It's like the Easter egg hunt except you get to be an adult and get to use high-tech toys.

"I sent this travel bug off. I didn't think two and one-half years later it would still be out there. To be honest, I thought it would have vanished. ... But it's still out there, kicking around Europe. People in Germany have never heard of Wayne Community College, but this little keychain is being passed around."