It's fun anyway... Geocaching: No 'X' marks the spot and no pieces of eight in the treasure chest

<I>TIMM COLLINS photo</I><BR>Frank Kudasik, of Raymond, sorts through a geocache hidden somewhere on the Long Beach Peninsula. Kudasik, who goes by the user name "Slinger91" in the virtual world of geocaching, is a pioneer of the sport in Pacific County.

PACIFIC COUNTY - "Try to think like a geocacher," Raymond's Frank Kudasik said. Then, reaching under a bleached and weathered wooden bench, he found what he was looking for - buried treasure.

Standing at the end of a well-worn trail near the Oysterville Church, Raymond's Frank Kudasik was searching, though not for pirate treasure or bank robbers' loot. Kudasik searched for a geocache.

Geocaching is one of the newest outdoor sports, Kudasik said, combining hiking, GPS tracking and Web surfing to find hidden boxes of goodies (caches) left behind by another geocacher.

The cache is usually a weather-tight box containing anything from bottle caps to currency, hidden in a secret location for anyone with a computer and a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to find. Kudasik's cache this day was made from a plastic Tupperware box containing small plastic toys, Turkish coins, a notebook and a pen.

Enthusiasts log on to (www.geocaching.com) to locate the coordinates for any number of hidden caches in the area. Those coordinates are entered into one of many GPS devices available to the public at electronics or outdoor stores. The GPS device then directs players to the nearest cache.

The typical geocache is never treasure in the classic sense; there are no gold coins and jewels, but instead a shoebox-sized container of trinkets and other knick-knacks meant to be souvenirs from the outdoor excursion.

"It is not always about what you can find in a box in the woods," said Kudasik. "Most geocachers are more interested in finding the cache, rather than what is in it."

Kudasik is a logger for Weyerhaeuser, and goes by the name "Slinger91" in the virtual world of geocaching. Similar to Web chat rooms, geocachers go by usernames they create when setting up accounts on the geocache Web site. Kudasik chose his name based on his job and the year he graduated from Willapa Valley High School.

Kudasik discovered the sport while Web surfing in July 2001. As a promotion, 20th Century Fox had hidden items from their new film "Planet of the Apes" in caches around the country. Kudasik, trying to decide on a movie, found the Apes website that in turn led him to information about geocaching.

"I already had the GPS for hunting, so I thought I would give it a try," said Kudasik. "I was going to Longview the next day, so I typed in Longview and found a few caches to look for."

Years later, Kudasik is a veteran with over 300 caches found and 26 he has hidden himself. He frequently travels the northwest in search of the next cache.

"The farthest cache I found was in Reno," said Kudasik. "I made the trip because it was my grandmother 91st birthday party, but I spent more time geocaching. My favorite caches are in the woods. The urban ones are fun, and when I take trips to Portland I usually try to hit at least one cache. I am a logger though, and I feel more at home in the woods."

GPS monitors use orbiting satellites to pinpoint locations on the surface of the earth. By entering longitudes and latitudes, the device can indicate the distance and direction to the target.

Originally developed by the Department of Defense as a military system, GPS has become a global utility, benefiting users around the world in many different applications, including air, road, marine and rail navigation, telecommunications, emergency response, oil exploration, mining and many more.

Geocaching on the PeninsulaOn this day, Kudasik agreed to show me the basics of geocaching. We met at the Chinook Observer office and logged on to (www.geocaching.com). The home page gives users the option to search for caches by city and state or by simply entering a zip code. The search engine then quickly organized all the caches within a 100 mile radius.

Kudasik and I agreed on two caches that we could find on the Peninsula. He showed me how to enter the coordinates into one of his two GPS devices.

Of his two devices, I was to use the smaller, less expensive model, suited to beginning geocachers. Kudasik would use the second device and describe the differences between the two units.

GPS devices vary in price based on features. Englund Marine Supply in Ilwaco carries monitors starting at $119 for a basic model like the one I used, up to as much as $1000 for units with color monitors and advanced computer software.

A short time later, we left the office and headed north to Oysterville for our first cache, listed on the Web site as "The Clay Street Cache." In an effort not to give away the location of the prize, I will refrain from giving too many details, but to those familiar with the area, The Clay Street Cache is a pretty easy one to find.

As we drove north on Sandridge Road, my GPS device displayed our speed as well as the direction and distance to the target. We drove to within one-tenth of a mile from the cache before we had to stop the car and walk to rest of the way.

I held the cell phone-sized GPS device up at eye level as I walked in the direction the arrow the display indicated. About the time I reached the bank of Willapa Bay, the device read "21 feet." I knew the device was accurate up to the same distance, so I figured I must be right on top of the cache.

"Us geocachers have a saying," said Kudasik when he saw I was starting to get confused. "Try to think like a geocacher."

He meant that I should look for a good place to hide something. The only man-made object nearby was an old bench. Beaten by time and the elements, the bench looked like it had been there long enough to tell many stories. It was a perfect place to hide a cache of goodies.

I reached under the bench and found the box, a green plastic airtight container with a bumper sticker across the lid reading "Official Geocache." I handed the box to Kudasik who quickly opened and unloaded the find.

Inside we found a multitude of small objects including and a notebook and pen.

"The first thing I do is write my name in the logbook," said Kudasik, who had found this same cache months ago, but for the my sake decided it would be a good one to search for. "The logbook is a way for other cachers to know who was here."

History of GeocachcingOn May 1 of 2000, the Clinton administration lifted the ban on Select Availability (SA) for GPS devices used by civilians. This meant that civilian users could pin-point locations with 10 times the accuracy than previously possible, and this opened the door of possibility to sports like geocaching

Two days after the ban was lifted, a container of trinkets was hidden by someone outside of Portland, celebrating of the removal of SA. By May 6, the cache had been visited twice and logged in the logbook.

Mike Teague was the first to find the container. He built a personal Web page to document other hidden containers and their locations. In July 2000, Seattle resident Jeremy Irish found Teague's Web site and found his first cache near his home. Recognizing the potential of the game (but never expecting the growth), Irish approached Teague with a new Web site design using for the first time the name "Geocaching." The two improved the site by adding virtual logs, maps and a way to make it easier to maintain caches as the sport grew. The joint site was alive for a while, but a few months later Teague officially passed the torch to Irish .

Since the launch of the Web Site, the sport has spread to all 50 states and over 180 countries. There are now many variations of the game, including virtual caches, offset caches, puzzle caches and multi-stage caches where one cache leads to another. The sport continues to grow as word spreads.

From its inception, www.geocaching.com has been maintained by Irish, with the assistance of geocachers around the world. After congratulating each other on our success, we decided to move on to the next cache. This time Kudasik said it was my turn to do all the groundwork. I grabbed the Internet printout, located the coordinates and entered them into the GPS device. I won't reveal the location of the second cache, but it was someplace to the east, near Ocean Park. A road crew had slowed our trip in Oysterville, so as any full-time resident of the Peninsula would do, we decided to use the beach as a short cut. This made the search a little more interesting, because we did not have landmarks or street signs to help guide our journey. The only thing we used to navigate our way to the next cache was the GPS device and it worked very well.

When we pulled Kudasik's green Nissan Pathfinder off the sand, we found we were in the vicinity of Pacific Pines State Park. Leaving his rig in the parking lot, Kudasik and I located a trail that lead in the same direction of our GPS arrow.

This cache was a little harder to find than The Clay Street Cache for a number of reasons. First, the trail was heavily concentrated with trees which hindered the GPS device's ability to receive clear signal from the satellites.

"When the trees or something else obstructs the signal," said Kudasik. "You've got to find a open space to make contact,. That is why I wanted to upgrade my GPS. That one doesn't pick up signals in wooded areas."

We eventually found the cache, hidden under a pile of sticks under a tree. Inside we found the same kinds of things as at the previous site, but the was something new in this cache that was made out of a military ammunition box, a favorite among geocachers.

This cache has a packet of fruit snacks like a child would carry to school in a lunch box. This is a no-no in the sport of geocaching.

"Food attracts animals," Kudasik said, smiling. "It is never a good idea to feed the bears. This was obviously some kind of geocachers inside joke, but I understood. "It is also illegal to hide caches in national parks and BLM land. It goes against the "pack it in, pack it out" rules."

We signed the logbook, ate the fruit snacks and made our way back the car after carefully placing the cache back in its hiding place. It had been a long day. Keeping with my guide's post-geocaching practice, we had to stop at the first watering hole we could find to drink a beer and discuss our day.

Since my initial foray in to this latest craze for pseudo x-gamers, I found myself thinking of my favorite secluded places and new adventures I could have by searching for and hiding my own caches.

"It is a great way to meet people also," said Kudasik. "I have made some great friends geocaching.".

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