Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Finding ‘hidden treasures’ gets trucker moving

We hadn’t quite walked all the way to the green dot on the GPS display when veteran geocacher Jason Fostier spotted the small “treasure” chest fastened to the trunk of a tree. Inside, we found some modest trinkets like a cigar wrapped in cellophane and a small notebook, which he signed his name in and dated, before leaving a package of Halloween candy inside for the next intrepid explorer.

What’s a geocacher? Someone who participates in a “real-world outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices” according to the official explanation from the website geocaching.com.

Fostier, an OOIDA member from Somersworth, N.H., stopped by OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo., on Oct. 30, intent on hitting the geocache hidden at the nearby park. We walked out there together Friday afternoon, while he explained his hobby, which is basically a never-ending scavenger hunt.

Fostier says he likes having a reason to get out of his cab and walk around. When not behind the wheel, he said he enjoys hiking and biking. He said a dispatcher at a company he used to work for introduced him to the game.

“We were just walking, and she said have you ever heard of geocaching?” he said. “You go out and look for things. The first one I found was right outside my mom’s house.”

Fostier said all it takes to begin geocaching is a smartphone or other GPS-enabled device, and access to a geocaching website or app. He uses a free app that he downloaded from geocaching.com to his smartphone, which includes a map and different color-coded designations to denote various caches. The app also helps him log and track which caches he’s visited. So far, he said he’s found more than 110.

“There’s usually a geocache at rest areas along the highways,” he said. “I’ve found caches under trees, above picnic tables, even magnetized to an electrical box, which I don’t recommend. I’ve even heard of one that’s supposedly inside a cactus.”

Some, like the one we found in Grain Valley, are fairly straightforward, but Fostier says others can involve puzzles, or even multiple caches that must be discovered before the location is “cleared.”

According to the website, geocaching – literally a portmanteau of “geography” and “cache,” referring to either the storage of information or provisions – began in 2000, shortly after the U.S. government ended what was known as “Selective Availability,” or the intentional degradation of public GPS signals. With GPS signals more responsive to civil and commercial uses, a group of GPS enthusiasts decided to test the accuracy of the signal by hiding a target at certain point, and sharing the coordinates online. Would-be treasure hunters were encouraged to go find the target.

Over time, the game has evolved to include more than a dozen “cache types,” a glossary of terms, and a thriving online community of enthusiasts like Fostier. In addition to hunting caches, enthusiasts are also responsible for hiding and maintaining the caches.

Fostier said geocaching isn’t really about competition; it’s just about “going out and finding them.”

“It’s the getting out aspect I enjoy,” he said. “It keeps me from sitting all day.”