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Hunting for buried treasure may sound like something from a storybook, but the twenty-first century has put its own spin on this pirate pass-time. Meet geo-caching, the combination of GPS tracking, the great outdoors, and a good old scavenger hunt.

Geo-caching originates from the advances in GPS navigation systems in the United States in 2000. These system advances purported to allow users to pinpoint their exact location, or the location of an object, a claim which paved the way for the world’s biggest game of hide and seek.

Computer expert Dave Ulmer decided to test these claims, by creating the world’s first ever geo-cache, and beginning the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt.”

A geo-cache, although each one is individual, can generally be described as a waterproof box, hidden in a remote location, containing a logbook, pencil, and other small trinkets. Some geo-caches contain ‘travel bugs’, which allow them to be tracked as they pass from one geo-cache to another. You can find a geocache by using their latitude and longitude coordinates, which are listed online at Geocaching.com.

Ulmer hid the world’s first geo-cache, now affectionately coined, ‘The Original Stash’, in Beavercreek, Oregon.

The contents of ‘The Original Stash’ were contained in a black bucket, and included software, food, videos, money, books, and a slingshot. He then posted the co-ordinates ‘N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800’ online, and the fun began.

Twenty-two years later, over 3 million geo-caches are hidden worldwide, and over 5 million players make it their job to hunt them down. The game spans across 191 countries, and all 7 continents, with the UK having an estimated 70,000 waiting to be found.

Geocaching has its own unique set of rules, respected and upheld by players, to ensure everyone can enjoy the game. A fundamental principle is “Take some stuff, leave some stuff,” which asks players to leave something of equal value for any trinket taken.

Geocachers have their own lingo too. BYOP (bring your own pencil), SWAG (stuff we all get) and TFTC (thanks for the cache), are all used by geocachers to communicate, giving the activity its own identity. Non-geocachers have been coined ‘muggles’, in a nod to Harry Potter, and if a geocache is ‘muggled’, it means it has been disturbed by a non-player.

Over the years, geocaching has developed, and different types of cache have come to exist. It is estimated that there are around eighteen different variations of geocache to find. Aside from your traditional cache, players can hunt down Multi Caches, which have multiple steps involved in tracking them down, Mystery Caches, which require players to solve puzzles, and Night Caches, which use reflectors and torches to direct players, meaning they are only trackable after dark.

Another popular variation are EarthCaches. These caches are designed to teach the player a valuable lesson about the geology of the area in which it is located and are a demonstration of the way geocaching can be used to promote climate conservation, thus being used as an educational tool.

The fundamental elements of geocaching: tracking down, finding, and sharing, can be seen in other games and activities too. The most prominent example being Pokemon Go, which allows users to virtually hunt down Pokemons, instead of physically hunting down caches. Another example are book swap boxes, which incorporate the “take some stuff, leave some stuff” principle of geocaching, to ensure they can be enjoyed by all users.

The geocaching community is one founded upon mutual respect for one another, for our shared resources, and for our planet. It is a demonstration of the power of collaboration and the use of technology for leisure and education, and encourages players to get outside, explore, and learn more about the world around them.

So, grab your backpack and get out there, you’ve got 3 million to find…

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