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The Geocaching Phenomenon: Treasure Seeking Enters the Satellite Age  
As helpful as your GPS Navigation device is in getting you from point “A” to point “B” safely and easily, you may have never thought of it as something to use for fun. Maybe you’ve never heard about Geocaching – the outdoor treasure hunting game that has adventure seekers around the globe using GPS devices to seek hidden caches (pronounced cashes) of treasure, ranging from simple logbooks, to coins, memorabilia, trinkets, and more.

“The only thing that each of them really have in common is that they were placed for you to find by a stranger that you may never meet,” says Steven Bell, a Geocaching enthusiast who sells Geocaching accessories through his store on eBay. Although Geocaches are a kind of hidden treasure, hobbyists generally do not take them away after they are found, but instead leave them for other GPS-based treasure seekers to find. Often instructions on a popular Geocaching website or at the cache location will request that the seeker contact the person or group who placed the cache.

With an estimated 350,000 Geocaches hidden in 222 countries (according to wikipedia.org), clearly this exciting new game is catching on. And the only thing you need to start is access to the internet (to find lists of caches and their coordinates) and a GPS unit.

“You don't need one with a ton of bells and whistles to play,” says Bell. “Many people use Garmin's base model yellow eTrex. They can be found for around fifty dollars on eBay or brand new at a store near you for about $99.” GPS devices like the eTrex typically have an accuracy of 3 feet to 15 meters depending on conditions and GPS device features, bringing you very close to the treasure, but requiring a bit of old-fashioned treasure-seeking along with the satellite-based kind.

There is one more thing that Geocaching enthusiasts should bring with them, Bell says: “A willingness to have fun. There are caches in every type of location, from the tops of mountains to your local mall parking lot; to our bases in Iraq to the local park. They come in all shapes and sizes, from 'mundane' hides to amazingly camouflaged containers.”

Through his store on eBay, Bell sells a host of Geocaching accessories, including camouflaged replicas of everyday items that are made to conceal caches of fun treasure. “I sell custom-made Geocaching containers, fake rocks, acorns, pine cones, golf balls, and tiny magnetic containers.” One popular item is his “Nano” Geocaching container that’s just ½” tall and features a magnetic base (Bell will custom paint them on request --a recent customer requested a bright red Nano to hide on the front of a stop sign.)

To compete in the GPS-based Geocaching marketplace, Bell provides superior products and a business plan based around customer service. “I believe that the attention to detail I give my containers is better than any others that I have seen. My rocks, acorns, and pine cones are created from molds taken from the real items,” he says. “I try my best to make them convincing. I also believe that my service is among the best. I work hard to ship every order the morning after payment is made so the buyer can get them as fast as possible.”

Bell began participating in GPS-based Geocaching in 2001, and predicts that the already popular adventure game will continue to grow. “At the time, there were only about three Geocaches within a short drive of my home. There are now over five hundred. I remember when I found my first cache that I was amazed that people would place these gifts for strangers to find. I'm still a little in awe of it every time I find one.”

While the typical cache may not contain items of great monetary value, one can expect to find a variety fun trinkets and objects ranging from small toys, to CDs, as well as the occasional currency or coins. As the hobbyists placing caches around the globe continue to think of more clever ways to hide their treasure, the game can only continue to get more exciting for enthusiasts.

Individuals and organizations who hide caches use a variety of strategies to create fun for hobbyists; there are basically three kinds of caches, according to www.Geocaching.com : offset caches, where the coordinate location points to a nearby monument or landmark, but not the actual cache; multi-caches, where the first cache gives coordinates to the next location, or with multiple caches referring to the final cache; and virtual caches, where the actual cache is a landmark, say a famous building, statue, or monument. With virtual caches, when a person finds a geo location, they are asked to contact the person who created the cache, and answer a question from the landmark as proof that he or she was there.

As they say at www.geocaching.com, the rules are constantly changing – and they will surely continue to do so, as hobbyists invent more interesting and fun ways to hide and find things and as GPS devices become even more amazing. For more information on the Geocaching phenomenon, please visit www.geocaching.com, as well as Steven Bell’s eBay store (eBay ID # sb111.)

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