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Geocaching Has Proudly Brought Nerds and Hiking Together for 13 Years Now

Scavenging for hidden time capsules in the woods with geo-positioning tech is still a thing.
May 3, 2013, 9:15pm

Image via Flickr

The free-school I attended in Seattle has to be one of the only schools that ever offered geocaching as a class, but I had little interest in the nerd-sport as a teenager. Now, weirdly enough, I'm a geography scholar, and I wonder if I'd missed out on something formative there. To this day, I've only once stumbled upon a geocache—and that was purely by accident—when I was walking around Prague with a friend.

But 90% of you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, so I'll back up:

Geocaching was born amidst the late-90's boom in personal location products. GPS units were flying off the shelves, and a few more intrepid gadget consumers started exploring ways to exploit the new technology.

"The idea is simple," said a post on Slashdot in September of 2000, explaining geocaching like so:

Take some item and hide it somewhere in the world, record the latitude and longitude using your GPS receiver, post the location to the Web so that others can find your stash. Most people leave a five gallon plastic bucket with a few items inside and a logbook. When someone finds the bucket they take an item, leave an item, and sign the logbook.

About a day after Bill Clinton opened up GPS for higher-accuracy readings, a GPS enthusiast and computer consultant, Dave Ulmer, placed a black bucket in the woods near Beavercreek, OR. At N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800 to be exact. That was the first geocache ever.

Hikers and backpackers would become the OG players of the game, owing to the fact that they'd been the first people to operate personal GPS units and were somewhat literate in terms of geodetic datums like WGS84.

Often located in scenic places, alongside a trail, hanging on a cliffside, a mountaintop, or only accessible via scubadiving; as nerdy as an scavenger hunt assisted by latitude and longitude tracking seems, geocaching nevertheless, requires some physical effort.

Originally, the sport garnered a great amount of attention from attention from the above-mentioned Slashdot post. It then circulated through some mainstream media outlets, and today, geocaching has over 5 million players searching for over 2.4 million caches. Happy birthday, geocaching!