I thought I knew everything about the Outer Banks. Every nook, every cranny, every activity that goes on. But this afternoon, I found out differently. There’s something unusual going on right under our noses, and only those who have been initiated into the new craze of geocaching are aware of it. My friend, G.W. Meadows, is one of those who is “in the know.” He’s done some pretty amazing stuff in his life, which you can read about on his blog, but his newest passion is geocaching, the equivalent of a modern day treasure hunt.
Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing, geo for geography and caching as in hiding a cache of treasure) is an entertaining adventure game for GPS (Global Positioning System) users. Individuals and organizations set up caches all over the world and post the latitude and longitude of each cache on the Internet, along with subtle hints as to their location. Treasure hunters visit the Geocaching website, download the coordinates into their GPS units, and then go in search of the hidden booty. At a minimum, the cache contains a logbook, which is signed by every person who finds it, however it can also contain maps, books, software, hardware, CD’s, videos, pictures, money, jewelry, tickets, antiques, tools, games, etc. Since G.W. is visiting the Outer Banks for a couple of days, we got together for lunch and he offered to let me tag along on his treasure hunt this afternoon.
Our first GPS coordinates led us to the beach access at the site of the wreck of the USS Huron. Halfway across the boardwalk leading over the sand dunes the GPS beeped. We had found our destination. But where was the cache? We retraced our steps to the foot of the boardwalk and plodded through the sand at its base. Sure enough, in plain sight underneath the boardwalk was an old metal ammo box.
G.W. opened the box, signed the logbook, and raked through its contents. This cache contained mostly what I would consider junk, however there was one interesting note on a 3″x5″ index card: “January 4, 2008. OUR FIRST FIND!! This is going to be so addictive! So glad we discovered this sport!” To the box, G.W. added a miniature paper umbrella, like the ones used to decorate fancy drinks (he and his wife Jan have chosen this as their “signature” donation to all caches), and we were on our way to the next GPS location.
Some caches contain trackables known as Geocoins and Travel Bugs. Treasure hunters remove these trackable items from one cache and, before placing them in another, sign onto the Geocaching site and log the number of the item. In this way, it is possible to track where these items have been; some have traveled around the world. Many trackables have specific instructions; indeed, G.W. was carrying a numbered miniature rubber flip-flop that said its goal was to visit every beach in the world. He had picked up the flip-flop from a cache in Florida and planned to leave it in a cache on the Outer Banks.
Our second destination proved to be the perfect depository for the flip-flop. Again the GPS coordinates led us to a beach access ramp. This cache was secreted underneath the boardwalk in a high cubbyhole. We pulled it from its hiding place and carried it to one of the built-in benches on the ramp, where we examined the contents: medallions, ticket stubs, a container of grapeseed oil butter, and a variety of other useless items.
G.W. signed the logbook, deposited his flip-flop, sealed the plastic Tupperware container back up, and surreptitiously replaced it under the ramp. The real treasure at this location had been the view from the ramp: an azure ocean gently lapping at the beach under brilliant sunshine and cloudless skies:
One of the goals of geocaching is discretion. Participants attempt to discover the cache and open it without alerting non-participants to the treasure hunt. I was fascinated that this has been going on since 2001. There are geo-caches hidden all over the Outer Banks and I never knew they were there. The clue for our third set of GPS coordinates was in its name, Gretsky’s Office. It led us to the outdoor faux-hockey rink of the high school. Following the GPS, we walked to the rear of the open-air rink and I spotted it! A small round white container was shoved behind one of the metal pipes that form the framework for the rink’s fence. The cache held only a logbook and once again we signed it and were on our way.
Our final location was a dead giveaway because it was named Snowbird. Anyone who’s lived on the Outer Banks knows about the Snowbird Ice Cream stand; we didn’t even need coordinates to find it.
When we arrived, the GPS indicated the cache was 65 feet to the southeast. I easily ferreted out the cylindrical waterproof container that was hanging between the horizontal support beams for the shop’s street sign. Pretending I was there to take a photo of the sign, I unhooked the container and sneaked it back to the car, where G.W. singed the logbook before I casually returned it to its hiding place.
Although we didn’t find any real treasure today, rumor has it that people have placed hundred dollar bills and other valuables in caches. I signed up at the Geocaching site and registered the four caches I helped find, even uploading photos of our adventure. On perusing the website, I came across another cache site that I plan to visit tomorrow. I don’t own a GPS, but in this case I don’t need one. From the photo of the cache’s location, I know precisely where it is – at the end of the secluded dirt road where my Outer Banks house is located. Imagine that! All this time, there’s been hidden treasure at the end of my road, and I didn’t even know it was there. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I found one of those $100 bills? Oh yes, I am hooked.