Most all of us have had aspirations of being a pirate at some point in our lives--sailing through the stormy seas in a wooden ship with a 12-foot plank and flapping sails, slapping hands with fellow pirates while searching for a long, lost buried treasure.
Though typically viewed as a childhood dream, this treasure hunt fantasy has recently become a global reality through geocaching, a new recreational activity Saint Scholastica's Outdoor Pursuit Program (OP) has introduced to students.
Geo, meaning of earthly nature, and caching, meaning hidden valuable items, began in May of 2000 when Global Positioning System (GPS) availability improved tenfold, making it easier for the general public to utilize this technology."Some of the people that did orienteering were looking for a different venue using new technology, and GPS offered this," OP coordinator Mike Odberg said.
The concept of this outdoor treasure hunt is simple: "Take some stuff, leave some stuff."
Geochachers log on to one of a number of international geocaching websites, type in their zip code to locate hidden caches near them, program the coordinates into their GPS and head into to the woods for an adventure.
Though there are 949,597 caches throughout the world, Dan Koutsky, an OP leader who just recently started geocaching, estimated that there are hundreds of caches around Duluth.
"Pretty much anywhere you can find parks there are usually caches," Koutsky said.
Odberg and Koutsky said caches include such items as stickers, pens, McDonald's toys, marbles, rings and other knick-knacks. The idea is to take something from the cache and do your part in continuing the activity by leaving something behind.
"People get real creative, and most have a logbook as well," Odberg said, noting that items, such as coins, have been logged and sent all around the world through geocaching.
OP added geocaching to its offerings last fall, and recently went to Jay Cooke State Park and Chester Bowl in search of caches.
Koutsky, who was one of two leaders on OP's geocaching trip to Jay Cooke State Park, said that it probably takes about 45 minutes to find a cache, but that it is harder than one would think. For example, the group at Jay Cook ended up on the wrong side of the river from the caches and spent an hour and a half crossing the obstacle.
"The GPS shows where the cache is and where you are, but most of the time there are no trails leading directly to the cache" Koutsky said of the challenges that geocaching presents.
Odberg agreed with Koutsky and said that although it may sound simple, geocaching is harder than it seems.
"Sometimes it's a total bushwhack in the woods," Odberg said, noting that although geocaching rules state that a part of caches must be visible, people hide them pretty well. "Sometimes even within a 30-inch circle it's not as easy as you'd think."
Despite these challenges, Odberg said geocaching gets many people outdoors and hiking that wouldn't normally be interested in the activity.
"It's another excuse to get outdoors," Odberg said. "It's a great family activity."
Koutsky said geocaching also presents an opportunity to see new scenery that one probably would not have seen before.
"It's all about exploring, and you find so many cool places when you're walking around," Koutsky said, noting that some of the best views in town are not found on trails, but rather off the beaten path.
Odberg said OP typically organizing geocaching trips between fall and winter and winter and spring, when, for example, it is too warm to ski but too cold to climb.
"It extends our activity season," Odberg said.
Koutsky said he would like to plan a snowshoe geocaching treks during the winter as well.
"OP has a lot of snowshoes, so why not?" Koutsky said.
In addition to snowshoes and other outdoor equipment, OP has six GPSs, which are available to rent so that students can experiment with geochaching if they do not wish to do it in a formal group setting. Odberg said there are even two caches located on campus, and he encourages people to have their own outdoor treasure hunts.
"Give yourself a couple hours, and get out there and try it," Odberg said.