South Jersey Caching & Safety: Geocaching …A Growing Fun Hobby ………BUT keep it Safe
|Geocaching …A Growing Fun Hobby ………BUT keep it Safe|
Geocaching …A Growing Fun Hobby …..……BUT keep it Safe
By Denis A. Dzurinko
The Global Positioning System (GPS) began its’ life as a support system to the United States military. In the early 1990’s flyers, search and rescue personnel and other emergency response personnel began using GPS for non-military uses. Hobbyists, fishermen, hunters, hikers, off-road enthusiasts and others who seek outdoor adventures had already embraced the technology when President Clinton signed a bill disabling “selective availability” (SA) in the GPS system. Selective Availability was a deliberate degradation of the GPS signal that limited the accuracy of civilian GPS receivers. By disabling “SA” the accuracy of civilian GPS receivers (GPSr) went from about 250 feet to around 20 feet and even less in some instances. With an accuracy of 20 feet or less, all types of outdoor people can now further their adventures and be more involved with their outdoor activities.
Geocaching is an activity or adventure that many people who love the outdoors have gotten involved with in the past several years. It’s a growing hobby (or game if you care to call it that). Geocaching is an activity that involves hunting or searching for a geocache that has been purposely and deliberately placed or hidden by other “Geocachers.” You use a GPSr with appropriate coordinates to find the cache. There are a growing number of GPSrs on the market today in response to the growing demands of Geocachers.
A geocache, or cache as they are often called, exists as a pair of latitude and longitude coordinates on the geocaching.com web site. These coordinates, or waypoints as they are usually called, are used to guide you to the location of the cache container. The container may be as large as a metal ammo box, or something as small as a film container. Many people use Tupperware or similar containers. When a person finds a cache, they sign the logbook that is in the cache as proof of their visit. The finder may exchange an item with something that is in the container. I have seen various treasures or trinkets such as mini flashlights, small plastic cars, key chains, smiley magnets, rubber dinosaurs, casino chips, dollar bills, spare GPSr batteries, metal cast trucks, plastic bugs and any other non-edible items. This aspect of "finding treasure" makes geocaching a great activity for families with young children. At the next opportunity, the finder logs the cache at the geocaching.com web site. The history of cache logs gives the potential visitor an idea of what to expect at a given site.
Geocaches are rated by their terrain and difficulty. Geocaches that are located in public parks that require less than a mile of walking are typically rated 1 or 2 on a scale of 1 to 5. Geocaches that require long hikes up treacherous terrain are usually rated 4 or 5. Similarly, caches that are easy to find are rated 1 or 2 for difficulty, while caches that involve solving puzzles or looking for unusual containers are often rated 3 or higher. A 1/1 cache is perfect for the whole family, while a 3/3 cache or greater is intended for fit adults only.
Sometimes a geocache is nothing more than a spot with a bit of interesting history or an exceptionally beautiful view. These virtual caches do not have a physical container so you are usually directed to note some detail about the surroundings and report that to the cache owner by email before logging your visit to the cache. A fun type of geocache is called an event cache. These caches are an opportunity to meet other geocachers and talk about your experiences.
Much enjoyment is derived from Geocaching. I personally find enjoyment in planning the hunt, traveling to the location, and searching for the cache. In some cases, this could involve a long hike, which is a great source of exercise and an opportunity to get away from the hustle bustle of everyday life. Geocaching got its start in May 2000 when a man placed a container outside Portland, Oregon, and posted the coordinates of the container on the Internet for others to find. Today, according to www.geocaching.com, there are 203268 active caches in 218 countries. In the last 7 days, there have been 117674 new logs entered by 21713 geocachers. If you live in an urban area, there is a good chance that there is a geocache within five miles of your home. This hobby continues to grow. It’s wonderful for families, couples, singles, and even Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. There are now an increasing number of Geocaching clubs.
As with any activity that could take you into unknown areas such as woodland, there are a few safety tips that need to be emphasized. Some are textbook, some lessons learned from personal experience.
A Few Words on Safety and other Helpful Hints
Geocaching is an outdoor activity that you and your family can enjoy for years. However, like any activity, there are perils that can quickly turn adventure into tragedy. Please follow these guidelines before starting on any excursion:
Know the limitations of yourself and/or those in your group. If someone in your group hasn't hiked in years or they are not in shape, don't attempt to tackle a high difficulty cache. Portions of the South Jersey Pinelands or woodland mountainous counties in northern New Jersey can be very demanding especially in temperature extremes.
Pack smartly. Carry more than your GPS into the field with you. Minimally, you should always carry a two-way radio or cell phone, bottled water, a magnetic compass, and extra batteries. If your trip will take you more than a mile away from your vehicle, you should pack a backpack with essentials. Do NOT take this hint lightly.
Don't be too reliant on technology. Even though the GPS tells you exactly where you are, remember that batteries only last a few hours and electronic gadgets can break. Learn to use a compass and always carry a paper map with you if you are hiking in an unfamiliar area.
Tell someone where you are going if you are going out by yourself. City parks can be just as dangerous as the mountains for different reasons. It's always a good idea to have a partner on outdoor expeditions.
Be willing to say "no". Geocaches are placed by real people and sometimes real people make mistakes in judgment. If you find yourself in an area that you aren't comfortable being in, tell yourself "no". There are lots of geocaches to find, you don't need to put yourself in danger to find every one. Also, don’t be afraid to accept the fact that a 3/3 or 4/4 may be too tough and you just have to say “no way”. Stay within your limitations.
Always keep an eye on the weather. Not enough can be said about this. Sunny days become thunderstorms and dry creeks can flood within an hour. Some of the hot humid days this summer in the southern New Jersey Pinelands reached a heat index of over 100 degrees. Hydrate! Also, the pinelands can have heavy populations of chiggers in some areas.
From personal experience, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, this is an extremely important safety tip...Waypoint your vehicle if you are going more than 300 feet! I cannot overemphasize this point... Waypoint your vehicle. The last thing you need when you’re on your 3rd tough cache of the day and totally exhausted... is not being able to find your way back to your vehicle after going 1 ½ miles into the woods.
Water is a great item to have. In fact...it’s a MUST! Especially if you have not established a waypoint for your vehicle. You will see several references to “water” in these safety tips. That’s NOT an accident!
While caching is fun at night, don’t do it alone.
Don’t wait to engage your 4WD into 4X4 mode. Engage BEFORE you realize you need it or it may be too late.
Morning caching requires carbohydrates.
When driving off-road, putting on your vehicle’s headlights is common courtesy. You are MUCH more visible to bikers, runners, horses and hikers.
Know your physical limitations. Sometimes you just have to say, “ I don’t think so….” Oftentimes, .20 mile from the trailhead or parking area can turn into an hour’s worth of walking round trip. Give yourself enough time and check that terrain rating. A 3 terrain can give you a beating you will not soon forget!!!
Wear Blaze Orange in the woods during hunting season. It could save your life.
Remember, if you take children with you...you are responsible for their safety. Make sure they drink water and are properly outfitted. They take smaller steps than adults and so therefore, they must take MORE steps than adults. Keep this in mind especially on those long 3/3’s.