GPS tells me where I'm lost

Future Tense for May. 14, 2007

By Steve Welker

DANBURY — If it hadn’t been raining Saturday, we would have gone to the Birthday Bash in Morotock Park.

Reading the logs from those who attended, it sounds like everyone had a great time.

Honeychile, MissAngele and Bartacus set up the Birthday Bash to honor David&Diana of Winston-Salem, who turned 3 on Valentine’s Day and who, on Saturday, found their 1,000th cache. David and Diana work in an office processing mortgage insurance records during the week, so a desire to get outdoors probably explains why they have become legendary North Carolina geocachers.

Lost? Confused?

Perhaps a little explanation will help you navigate the preceding paragraphs.

Honeychile, MissAngele and Bartacus are the “handles” — adopted names — of people on the Internet. Nicknames aren’t new (in movies about World War II, almost every soldier had a nickname). In 1975, however, people went crazy over CB (citizen’s-band) radios. Truckers commonly used the radios to exchange information. Then, Bill Fries nicknamed himself “C.W. McCall,” confused things by adopting the handle “Rubber Duck” and made a fortune with a song called “Convoy” filled with CB handles. Pretty soon, mild-mannered guys driving Impalas were reinventing themselves with handles like “Snake-eater” and bridge club ladies transformed themselves into “Hot Mama” and “52 Pickup.”

E-mail and the Internet brought handles — nicknames — back into vogue.

Honeychile, MissAngele, Bartacus and David&Diana are handles of people registered at www.geocaching.com. David and Diana registered on Feb. 14, 2001, making them nearly ancient as geocachers even though, in a photo, they appear to be in their 50s.

What are geocaches? “Cache” (pronounced “cash”) is the old term for supplies stashed along a mountain-climbing route or hiking trail, but it also refers to a place where people can leave a record of reaching a goal, such as the summit of a mountain.

People from North Carolina and Virginia have climbed the Sauratowns, the Blue Ridge and the Great Smokies for hundreds of years, but the idea of climbing a mountain for recreation is relatively new. In the late 1800s, climbing and hiking became a craze in Europe and people began to establish caches: usually a tin box with a small blank book and a pencil for people to write down their names and the date they reached the cache. Century-old caches still turn up from time to time along hiking trails in the Scottish Highlands.

Now flash forward.

In May 2000, the federal government demilitarized GPS (global positioning system) technology. Suddenly, anyone with a GPS receiver could pinpoint their location anywhere in North America to within about 20 feet. To celebrate, Dave Ulmer of Portland hid a pail of trinkets in the Oregon woods and posted the GPS coordinates on the Internet. Mike Teague found the pail two days later and recorded his visit by e-mailing a note to the sci.geo.satellite-nav newsgroup. The new sport of geocaching was born.

This weekend at www.geocaching.com there were more than 96,600 active caches in 202 countries. There are dozens in this area alone, as you can learn by going to the site and typing in your ZIP Code. We know that between the time Geni Leonard wrote about geocaching in The Mount Airy News last summer and when Bryan Gentry revisited the topic on April 22, the number of sites around here more than doubled.

To be a geocacher, it helps to have a GPS device. The lightweight, handheld units can cost as much as $1,000, but you can buy a good one for about $100 at places that sell hunting supplies — Robby’s Sales on Main Street or Wal-Mart, for example. Or you can skip the GPS and get a compass and a good topographical map, such as the U.S. Geological Survey topo maps for this area, which are sold at Pages on Main Street. Or check eBay for better-quality used GPS receivers (as little as $90) and find maps at MapMachine, http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/mapmachine/, or the amazing Perry-Casteñada Library at University of Texas, http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/index.html.

I believe you don’t need new technology to enjoy old pastimes such as hiking, but it is fun to see how new technology adds new dimensions to the familiar. Eighteen-year-old Marie Paradis climbed to the top of Mont Blanc in 1808 without a map or GPS receiver and signed her name in the cache log with a pencil. But I like to think she would have gotten a kick out of booting up her Garmin eTrex, seeing that she was 4,810 meters above sea level and then (because she was a French maid) e-mailing www.womenclimbing.com to announce she was looking down on every man in Europe.

Anyway, congratulations to David&Diana and the rest of the geocachers who gathered in Stokes County on Saturday. See you next year... and in the future.



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