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Hi-Tech Treasure Hunting

t's common belief that people who spend a lot of time with computers and technology don't tend to get a lot of exercise. If you are one of these people, there's a new game in town that is right up your alley.

You may have rented or purchased a newer car with built-in GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation. GPS was born from the needs of the U.S. Department of Defense but has quickly been adopted by civilians and has been completely operational for over ten years. By using a minimum of three satellites and a special antenna, your exact position on the planet can be determined with incredible accuracy. If you combine this information with digital maps, it is possible to get driving directions to virtually anywhere. Although navigation with a car is perhaps the most common use of GPS today, there are others.

A site called Geocaching (www.geocaching.com) hosts the locations of something called "treasure cache's". A cache is simply a treasure chest (usually a plastic container) that contains a variety of things. There is usually a log book, pencil, and small dollar store items. There might be other things too; some caches are specialized (for example, one contains only marbles). The idea is that when you find the cache you may take an item (any that interests you) and you leave something different behind. You also log your visit and can look through the log book to see the others that have been there before you.

The location of these caches is varied but they are usually within a conservation area or public trail. You are given only the latitude and longitude of the cache from the site (and perhaps a few clues) and from there you are on your own. Using a portable GPS device (in my case, I have a Garmin iQue which doubles as a Portable Digital Assistant) you go for a walk. Usually caches are off the beaten path, and depending on their difficulty can prove quite challenging to find. The treasure chests are not meant to be visible to just anyone passing by so sometimes you really have to look.

By entering your postal code (or zip code if you are in the United States) into the geocaching site, you will be shown all of the registered caches in the area. A quick search from a central Brantford postal code shows no less than 20 matches in a ten kilometre radius.

Travel bugs are another interesting element of geocaching. Similar in concept to the "Where's George?" (www.wheresgeorge.com) tracking of U.S. or Canadian bills, travel bugs are registered by serial number on the geocaching website. If you pick one up from a cache, you would enter it into the website to find out where it wants to travel (if anywhere in particular). Some travel bugs attempt to make it from one coast to the other or from one country to another. Business travelers are the best people to pick up travel bugs since they can drop them off at another cache site if it gets the bug closer to its ultimate destination. Personally, I picked one up in Boston that wants to travel everywhere.

Whether it's the thrill of the hunt, or the justification for buying that expensive new toy that gives directions in the car or maybe it's just the idea of getting some exercise, geocaching is one of the newest "in" trends. In fact, the May 8th episode of 'Law and Order: Criminal Intent' incorporates this high tech treasure hunt into its storyline.

Garmin and Magellan are the two largest manufacturers of consumer GPS products and if you are interested in learning more about how they operate, just visit your local electronics store. If you want to understand more about how they actually work, visit http://www.garmin.com/aboutGPS/. Geocaching is a great way to get some exercise. With the weather getting better it's a perfect excuse to get outside without leaving your gadgets behind. You never know what or who you might run into along the way. The last time I went geocaching I ran into two interesting people I had not seen in years. Some might even say that the human personality is earth’s greatest treasure.

Article Copyright ©2005 by Syd Bolton. Original publication date: 5/7/2005.
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