Geocaching provides high tech scavenger hunting

Stephanie Jessie

When Steve Briggs’ grandfather died in 2012, he chose to honor his name in a not so normal way: by hiding a geocache on WKU’s campus.

“Grandpa was a WWII veteran and taught me to be adventurous,” the cache reads online.

Geocaching is described as a “real-world, outdoor treasure-hunting game using GPS-enabled devices” on geocahing.com. 

Started in 2000 when GPS technology improved, geocaching allows participants to find objects hidden around the globe using only the GPS coordinates they have been given. Geocaching.com was founded shortly after the first hunting experience and has since served as the main gateway for the players, allowing users to get coordinates, hints and clues to find hidden geocaches in their area.

“I heard it from my father-in-law,” Briggs, assistant director of Residence Life at WKU, said. 

While visiting his father-in-law in Nebraska in 2007, the two found a micro-cache the size of a nail head. After coming back to Kentucky and seeing the abundance of caches in the area, Briggs began caching on a regular basis.

“My best year was 2011, right around the semester break,” he said. “August and September and then the semester break — December and January — usually are my peak times. My goal, I think seven is the max I’ve had in a day and so this year, during the break, I’m going to go and have a day of 20.”

Briggs has traveled as far north as Wisconsin, as far south as Florida and was even able to get three states in one trip during a visit to Chattanooga with his wife. During one cache hunt where the new hotel by South Campus is located, Briggs found himself face-to-face with a stray cat sanctuary.

“There’s all these Rubbermaid tubs turned over and someone would go out and feed them,” he said. “I counted 30 (cats).”

The hidden object could be anything, but it is normally a waterproof container with a paper log of everyone who has found the cache and some trinkets that are up for trade, including small toys, money or, in Briggs’ case, an Army man.

“My little thing is an Army man,” he said. “So, if you ever find one that I’ve been at, there’s usually an Army man associated with it.”

Briggs said that the cache hidden for his Grandpa currently has coupons, a bead and an eraser stashed in it with the paper log.

Geocaching has evolved since its first debut and now has different elements that go into the hunts. Multi-caches involve finding smaller caches that give you clues to where the final one is. Cache In Trash Out is a way for geocachers to help clean up the environment while searching for their treasures. Virtual caches, like one found near the middle of campus, require the finder to take a picture of themselves at the logged location and upload it online to find the treasure.

There are also items that can be tracked between caches. Travel bugs and geocoins are used by participants to keep track of where their items have traveled. The owners can log the bug online and put in a desired destination. They then put it in a cache and allow others to find it and bring it to its next spot until it reaches its final destination, logging its journey for the owner to keep up with.

“The travel bug that I have, it’s an American flag, it’s in Maine right now,” Briggs said. “My goal was for it to go to Europe and be on the Normandy Beach.”

Briggs had hoped the bug would reach the D-Day beach by its 70th anniversary last year, but is happy that it is still on its way.

There are more than 14,000 records posted in the 42101 zip code on geocaching.com. 

Dan Bays, a Lost River Cave volunteer, has hidden more than 300 of those, choosing locations he feels visitors need to see.

“If you think somebody needs to be brought to a place, you put one there and it brings them to there,” Bays said. “I’ve got almost 4,000 people I’ve brought to the Lost River Cave myself.”

Bays was first prompted to begin geocaching after buying a GPS with a Best Buy gift card he was given in 2005.

Today, Bays spends much of his geocaching time at Lost River Cave, showing visitors where the caches are hidden, taking elementary students on the explorations and organizing geocaching weekends where tourists can come and explore the parks. 

“The first of August I did a ‘Caching the Cave’ event,” he said. “They gave me, like, 85 free boat rides…we had a log book in the back of the cave so they let me fill the boats up and take people back there for free.”

Bays also gave Lost River Cave two pre-programmed GPS units they can lend out to those wanting to explore the park. There are also smartphone apps that can be downloaded to allow those who do not own a GPS to join in on the fun.

Briggs’ has found 134 caches since he joined the geocaching.com community in December 2008.

“It’s a geeky treasure thing to do that I like,” Briggs said. “It’s just my quirky way.”