October 20, 2017
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Hunting for treasure in Maine and beyond: The art of hiding, maintaining a geocache

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

When I was about 7 years old, I buried a treasure beneath the white pines at my babysitter’s house in Frankfort. The tin that served as my treasure chest contained chunks of pyrite, also known as fool’s gold, which I’d won at camp that summer. I don’t know why I did it, but I remember the excitement of it — the sense of adventure.

The treasure is still there, for all I know. Not that I could find it. There was a map — the kind in which X marked the spot — but that was lost over the years. Nevertheless, I’m left with a happy memory worth more than a few glittering rocks.

It’s from our memories that we form conceptions. And for a long time, I’ve viewed treasure hiding and hunting as a childhood game, an activity I left behind long ago. Then I learned about geocaching.

Geocaching is an activity in which people around the world hide and seek “treasure” in the form of caches. A traditional cache is some sort of container that holds a logbook and a variety of trinkets. Each cache is hidden at a specific coordinate, which is displayed on websites such as geocaching.com.

When someone finds a cache, they sign the logbook and, if the cache is big enough to hold
“treasure,” the geocacher can trade an item of equal value with an item already in the cache. (For example, someone might replace a chunk of pyrite with a toy soldier.)

The concept is simple, but there are rules — a lot of rules — which I began learning in August, when I jumped into the world of geocaching feet first by constructing my own cache.

I placed my cache, which I named “Crazy Camo,” in the Bangor City Forest at the end of August. I can’t tell you where. To find it, you’d have to search the map on geocaching.com, where I registered the cache. From the map, you’d get a general idea of where the cache is hidden, then you’d have to walk into the forest with the coordinates and a GPS.

Over the past three months that Crazy Camo has been active, I’ve learned a few things about geocaching, mostly by making mistakes.

First, I learned that caches need to be spread apart. Physical elements of different geocaches must be at least 0.1 miles apart, as specified in “Geocache Listing Requirements / Guidelines” on geocaching.com. This may seem like an easy rule to follow, but in the Bangor City Forest, there are a lot of caches. It’s geocaching heaven. And initially, I placed my cache too close to another cache. Geocaching.com rejected my coordinates, so I had to choose a new hiding spot. The second time, I was successful.

Next, I learned that caches have to be made of rugged materials, especially here in Maine, where the weather gets a bit crazy. To construct Crazy Cache, I purchased a wooden box, in which I placed a waterproof container holding a logbook, trinkets and a writing utensil. To camouflage the box, I took hours attaching natural objects to it with hot glue. When I was done, the box was covered with acorns, moss, bark, rocks, sticks — you name it. I thought it was quite clever. I placed the box in the wild, and the glue released from the wooden box in a matter of days! A geocacher who found Crazy Camo left me a note on geocaching.com, letting me know that my cleverly disguised box was falling apart. I guess hot glue isn’t as magical as I thought.

And finally, I learned that wilderness is everchanging. I hid Crazy Camo by a certain tree (I don’t think that exactly gives away its location, seeing how it’s hidden in a forest). A few months later, I returned to Crazy Camo to do some maintenance, and I discovered that a big piece of the tree had fallen down, changing the hiding spot dramatically. Fortunately, my fellow geocachers did a good job modifying the cache so it remained hidden.

Unlike the buried treasure of my childhood, geocaches can’t be buried underground, though they’re typically hidden somehow. For example, in the wild, a cache may be constructed to resemble a natural feature, such as a rock or log. In a city, the cache may be a fake brick or fastened under a bench.

While geocachers usually sign and date the physical logbook in the cache, they also record the find on geocaching.com. My account notifies me every time someone finds Crazy Camo and logs the find on the site. The following are a few excerpts from the Crazy Camo online logbook. (Keep in mind that many geocachers log their finds with their cell phone; grammar and typos aren’t as important as the message.)

— “We almost did not make it to this cache. We chose one of the lesser used paths to get to it and were stopped short in our tracks by a HUGE owl who was feeding on the ground. It flew up into a tree and really gave us the stare and glare.” from parmachenee on Nov. 14

— “Nice cache! Took a Turtle, left a track able coin! Tftc!!” from Jfrost90 on Oct. 26

— “Since I was out in the City Forest today to do maintenance on my own caches I figured I’d grab this one being it’s my only un-found one out there. Nice job on your first hide.” from mainiac1957 on Oct. 6.

— “Out caching with Buddy the Geo Dog, we walked by this cache. Looked for a substantial time no find. Called friend who said cache within 3 paces of trail went back to main trail looked down about 10 feet saw the geo spot and made find. My coordinates were off about 35 feet. TFTC! 4PAWS UP!!!” from 3Woofs on Sept. 29

— “We had only three caches left to get out here and I took Ollie Geo Dog out for a walk after work today and we got the two caches on the other side of the forest and then decided to walk over to get this one. We got to ground zero and I told Ollie “where is it” which he went right to the cache, that is always a good thing when he decided to do that. After we made the find and found the right trail back to the old landfill, we had walked almost 3.5 miles which we both felt it or at least I did.” from Eric and Virginia on Sept. 17

— “TFTC — took me a long time to find for some reason haha” from TheSitarski on Sept. 17

— “Great walk through the BCF this afternoon, lots of runners and walkers. Picked up two in the Forest today. Great looking cache! Lock and lock will stay waterproof I am sure. Great fun! Took a baby turtle for baby L!” from 3Emmerts on Sept. 15

— “Really cool cache. Thank you very much for giving me an excuse for having to bike in the BCF again. TFTC.” from Sox4Life on Sept. 10

— “Saw a bunny on the post at the Main St. Jct. Saw a red squirrel on the Bunny Trail. Saw a hare crossing the trail on the way to the parking lot.” from GenieCache on Sept. 10

First of all, TFTC means “Thanks for the cache.” I had to look it up, being a newbie.

It’s nice to know that my geocache has lured people into the forest and led them to a trail they might have not otherwise visited. It’s even cooler when I learn a little bit about their journey.

I’ve also learned from the many messages in the log that the geocaching community is generally welcoming and encouraging. While many geocachers haven’t hesitated in pointing out my blunders, they do it in a helpful and encouraging way. For example, a geocacher named Still Avatar wrote on Sept. 14, “The exterior container is unlikely to hold up well under the local weather.” Avatar then left a bracelet in the cache for other geocachers to trade for.

Thinking of the winter ahead, I decided Still Avatar was probably right. So a few days ago, I visited Crazy Cache and substituted the wooden box with a metal container, which I spray painted green and brown — my more practical version of “crazy camouflage.”

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