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searchers attempt to 'CACHE' IN

Sandy hosts geocache challenge that brings visitors to town

As children, youngsters often played a game called hide-and-seek. Now that those youths have become adults, their game of choice is called geocaching.

Geocachers, however, will reject the idea of a similarity between the game they played as a child and this high-tech treasure hunt now ongoing in the Sandy area.

Nevertheless, a gold coin imprinted with a unique tracking number awaits several hundred people who locate specific items that have been hidden all around Sandy.

About 15 years ago, Chris Jensen of Sandy was introduced to the game by his brother. For a couple of years, he was a bit bored because he was doing it alone - and not too often.

But once he had explained the game to one of his coworkers, Ryan Uhlig, life became a lot more interesting.

'The two of us started going out and caching,' Jensen said, 'and we found this whole community of people who have become friends.'

'Caching' involves finding a cache that has been hidden by another geocacher. The finder then signs a log book contained in the cache, which is usually enclosed in some type of container such as a wooden, metal or plastic box and hidden from view.

In the Sandy event, geocachers must find five of the 10 caches that Jensen hid. When the five special caches are found, the cacher will have five code words. The cacher also will have to find five other caches in the area before returning to the Sandy Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center office to claim one of the coins.

This event is sponsored by the Clackamas County Tourism Board and the Sandy Chamber of Commerce, and makes Sandy a destination.

'This brings people into our community,' Jensen said. 'By geocaching, I've learned a lot about the history of Oregon and visited places I never knew about before.'

Other nearby geocaching events (eight for the county in 2011) include one at Estacada, one in the Mountain Villages and another for North Clackamas County.

Geosynchronicity is a word that describes the high-tech part of this game, which gives geocachers the coordinates of the cache so they can program their portable Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to find the cache's location - or at least within 15-30 feet of the hidden container.

'I've heard it said,' Jensen said, 'that we use billion-dollar government satellites to find Tupperware out in the woods.'

Geocachers belong to a 'club' of people of all ages around the world who put forth a lot of energy to make this game not only interesting but also a challenge that requires tracking skills.

There are many thousands of geocaches hidden around the world, Jensen said, in almost every country - but not as many in Russia as there are in other countries.

A quick check of the website shows that in the past 30 days there have been 6.5 million caches found around the world and recorded during official events.

Before going out to seek and find, geocachers visit the website geocaching.com with their unique nickname. The website contains a glut of information about various geocaching events.

Each event has a series of geocaches to be found; each cache has its unique GPS location; and each cache has a unique name as well as hints about where to look.

After they have found a geocache, or a group of geocaches, they'll go back to the website and record the geocaches they have found. Some geocachers are interested in numbers - sheer numbers. They want to find as many as possible.

For example, Jensen said he has found more than 300 caches in a day, and a geocacher with the nickname 'The Wizard' said he has found more than 500 in a day. Meanwhile, Uhlig has a record of finding at least one cache each day for 340 consecutive days, and another friend of Jensen's has recorded more than 10,000 cache finds.

This game also makes its finders coin collectors. In each event where a geocacher is successful, a coin is added to his or her collection.

Uhlig, The Wizard and about 50 other geocachers and their families were in Sandy about 10 days ago.

They were looking for caches and hoping to earn a Sandy centennial coin.

Jensen, who organized the local event as one of the city's centennial activities, said he was impressed that many people responded to an unofficial event. It's a testament to the popularity of this activity, he said.

A number of different scenarios can be arranged with this game, including solving a mystery or puzzle before the cache's location can be determined or using the combined information from several caches to locate the desired cache. Every cache must be at least 528 feet away from the nearest cache.

Adults and children of all ages participate in this game. The geocaching events that have caches not too difficult to find are better for families and children, while those with geocaches hidden in places difficult to find are better for enthusiastic adults.

A cache, for example, could be hidden in a tree 30 or 100 feet above the ground or jammed, almost invisible, in the middle of a tall arborvitae hedge. They're also covered with such materials as tree bark, moss or branches.

'I have actually seen caches inside of (hollow) logs,' Jensen said.

That's why it's better for two or more geocachers to go hunting together. Otherwise, those going solo would have to look at a GPS device or a map while driving.

Brandon Tidd of Sandy said he likes the activity because it gives him something he can do with his wife and son.

'(Geocaching) gets me outside,' he said. 'This is like an adult game of hide and seek. It can't get much better than that. It mixes a treasure hunt with technology. I like it.'

Sometimes the hints for a specific geocache will give away what it looks like, but geocachers often do not know whether the cache will be a 55-gallon barrel or one of the minis (such as a dot stuck on a wall). Some of the minis are so small, all a finder can do is write his or her name on it.

Jensen is now trying to meet a challenge from his local club (georegon.com) where the state has been divided up into sections, and a geocache must be found in each section of the state.

That challenge has taken him to parts of the state he didn't know existed. He even found a geyser in Oregon.

'It's great,' Jensen said. 'It gets me outside, and I like to hike. You meet a lot of nice people while you are out doing this.'