With GPS in hand, they hunt for hidden 'treasure'
Tuesday, September 7, 2010 1:00 PM CDT
ROY SYKES PHOTO - Chuck Roberts, proud geocacher, displays plush-toy captains Lewis and Clark, and dog Seaman.
As a St. Charles native, Chuck Roberts, 40, couldn't pass up the opportunity to mix geocaching with Lewis and Clark.
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game for people with an adventurous spirit and a GPS device. You proceed outdoors to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, that contain a log to sign and, often, small toys or trinkets. If you take something you're supposed to leave something behind, as well.
In July, Roberts trekked 7½ miles, out-and-back, in Skagway, Alaska, to find the metal ammo box with "Lewis and Clark" on its side. But the plush toys representing Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Lewis' dog Seaman were missing. According to the unofficial rules of geocaching, they should have been in the ammo box.
After some detective work, Roberts retrieved the captains and dog. They had been shanghaied to St. Paul, Minn.
But now, thanks to Roberts, the geocache and all its contents are on display through October at the Lewis and Clark Boat House and Nature Center in St. Charles.
The Lewis and Clark geocache was created in 2002 in New York with the instruction that it should be moved, when possible, along the route the explorers took in 1803-06. It was incumbent upon those who found it and moved it to enter the new GPS coordinates on the main geocaching website.
Well, the canister didn't quite follow the explorers' trail to Oregon, near the mouth of the Columbia River.
"Its journey is dependent on the whims of the geocachers," Roberts says. "It's like throwing a leaf into the wind."
The geocache eventually made it to Oregon in 2004. Once the Pacific Northwest mission was accomplished, the new goal is for the captains and Seaman to visit all 50 states to hold "councils with indigenous geocaching peoples."
Roberts and his girlfriend, Kathleen Peterson, 39, are 1988 graduates of St. Charles West High School. They travel the seven seas working on a cruise ship that conveys 1,100 passengers to exotic ports. They have logged geocache finds in places like French Polynesia; the top of Manoa Falls, Hawaii; and just outside Machu Picchu in Peru.
The geocache containers often are Tupperware, film canisters or metal munitions canisters. They must be waterproof.
If you are the "hider," you are not allowed to bury it. But you can apply sticks and rocks as "geoflage."
Geocaching started in about 2000 and has taken off in recent years in large part because the cost of a GPS unit has fallen below $100. In addition, new smart phones have GPS applications.
The GPS device will get you within 20 to 30 feet of the hidden geocache. From there, the 'secondary search" commences. You rely on observation and the ability to decipher any clues that might have been given. For example: "It might help if you're tall" means you probably should look up.
The main website worldwide is geocaching.com. There are between 4 million and 5 million geocachers.
On the home page you can enter your ZIP code to find local geocaches to track down. There's no shortage.
There are 1,260 treasures in 63301, St. Charles; 1,166 in 63376, St. Peters; 800 in 63366, O'Fallon; and 611 in 63385, Wentzville.
The geocaches are ranked online in terms of how hard they are to find and the difficulty of terrain. Some can be discovered by those who use a wheelchair.
The best local information source is the St. Louis Area Geocachers Association. The website is slaga.org.
"It takes people outdoors that otherwise would be sitting on their butt watching television," Roberts says. "You also might stumble into a little bit of history. You might have to look up some dates."
Roberts' father, John, 66, of St. Charles, proudly claims more geocache finds than his son. Dad, who is retired, has tallied 4,600.
"I have been in every park in the St. Louis area over the last eight years or so," he says. "Otherwise I would be sitting at home and not doing much of anything."
He created his own geocache - a film canister in Frontier Park. He once found one at Lolo Pass, which is in the Rocky Mountains between Montana and Idaho. It was traversed by Lewis and Clark in September 1805 and again in June 1806.
Paul James, 46, who lives near the city of St. Charles, was in Colorado in the summer of 2007 when a fellow actor raved about geocaching and how it can help someone become familiar with a new locale.
"Frankly, when I first heard about it it didn't sound very interesting," James says. On the other hand, he thought his sons - ages 8 and 12 at the time - might like it.
The first family geocaching odyssey was memorable. The GPS device got them close. One of the boys then found a blue tarp under rocks. Paul was yanking up the tarp when his wife informed him it was infested with maggots. A dead dog had been wrapped in the tarp. They later theorized the dog died in the winter, when it could not be buried because of the Colorado cold.
James says there is an incredible rush as you hone in on the coordinates.
"I thought it was going to be the nerdiest thing I've ever done," he says. "But I was hunting something and I didn't have to kill it. How cool is that?"
Last Updated (Monday, 27 September 2010 12:22)