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The thrill of the cache

An adventure game that originated in Estacada now spans the globe
by: Barbara Adams, Following GPS coordinates downloaded from geocaching.com, and clues left by other seekers posted on the website, Mickie Nichols (“Zippy123”), of Molalla searches for “The Fabulous Fob Exchange” by taking the difficult back route — a jungle-like trail. Getting out is much easier along a well-traveled path back to the Springwater Trail.

There are 269,715 geocaches hidden in 221 countries - and it all started six years ago with a five-gallon bucket in Estacada.

On May 3, 2000, a bucket was placed at N 45º17.460 W 122º24.800 (on Port Blakely Tree Farm's property off Redland Road in Estacada) containing two CDs, a cassette recorder, a 'George of the Jungle' VHS tape, a Ross Perot book, four $1 bills, a slingshot handle, and a can of beans. The first finder took the money and left a couple of cigarettes, a cassette tape and a pen.

Now, more than a million people enjoy the thrill of the hunt as they search for caches hidden along trails in their hometown, and just about anywhere else they might travel to.

A plaque with the official geocaching logo and web address now marks the spot of the original cache in Estacada. It was placed there by a geocaching team to honor the site where it all began.

The game is easy and the rules are simple. All you need is a GPS unit, Internet access, and a good pair of shoes. It's an adventure many people have become hooked on.

When Laurie Nichols of Eugene bought a GPS unit in April 2005, she took it to her mother-in-law's house in Molalla and tried it out on a geocache hunt. One year later, she has recorded more than 600 'finds' on the official geocaching website under her handle, 'LaBamba.'

'I had used the name 'Legs LaBamba' for something years ago,' Nichols said. 'I just shortened it. No rhyme or reason to it, really.'

A user name, or handle, is the identifying name an individual or group uses when they log onto geocaching.com to record their finds, and when they sign log-in sheets at each individual cache they discover.

During a recent geocaching trip to downtown Gresham, Laurie Nichols and her mother-in-law, Mickie Nichols, come prepared with 19 geocache coordinates downloaded from geocaching.com within the area already programmed into their GPS units. They decide to hit the Springwater Trail near Eastman Parkway and Towle Avenue.

Using the coordinates and clues from the website provided by the originator of the cache, the two women easily find one near Johnson Creek, hidden at the base of a large tree. The name of the cache is 'Gresham Foreign Exchange,' and includes a pair of sunglasses, a writing pen, pieces of a toy, and a few coins from other countries.

Mickie inspects the contents of the cache and adds a Spanish coin she brought along. Laurie looks over the log-in sheet and signs 'LaBamba' and Mickie's handle, 'Zippy123.' Signing the sheet is what Laurie looks forward to. As she looks it over, she recognizes names that she has seen at other finds, including a hand-made signature stamp. In red ink, the words 'Clovelove and the superhippomonkey tribe' encircle a monkey face.

After a few minutes enjoying their victory, it's on to the next hunt. They find one in a water meter box in the front yard of a nearby house called 'Travel Treasures.' In it, they find a Chicago magnet, Statue of Liberty eraser tops, a bag of golf tees, and a signature item left by a regular geocacher - a silver pencil with 'Papa and Oma, Oregon Geocachers' engraved in gold. They also find a metal dog tag with an engraved bar-code bug, the words 'The Travel Bug' along the side, and a tracking number across the bottom. This is something they take.

Finding a travel bug is another aspect of the game. They are track-able tags that are attached to an item then tracked through geocaching.com. Once found, finders log onto the website, enter the tracking number and record information concerning their role in its journey, such as where they found it. They also find instructions about what to do next. One bug's goal may be to reach a certain part of the country, or to travel to a number of different countries.

Laurie opens her backpack and takes out an assortment of goodies. She leaves a bag of shells in 'Travel Treasures.'

'The etiquette seems to be very important,' she says. 'Being complementary of the cache when you post the find, helping the cache owner if you find a problem, trading fairly or leaving more than you take. These are things that good cachers do.'

A geocaching phrase is 'cache in, trash out.' Mickie and Laurie say that, in their experience, most geocachers are environmentally conscious and mindful of other people who might visit the cache.

'Many cachers try to pick up the odd piece of trash they see along the way,' Laurie says.

It's then back onto the Springwater Trail in search of a geocache called 'Fabulous Fob Exchange.' Like the first one, it's located near the shoreline of Johnson Creek.

As they walk along the Springwater Trail, their GPS units tell them they are getting closer, but this time they don't notice the small beaten-down footpath most likely created by other geocachers in the tall grass. They keep going and finally find the cache the hard way: through thick brush, a swamp, and over a small muddy stream.

'There was one where I had to swim to get a cache,' Laurie says. 'There was another one where I had to climb a tree.'

When the day is done Mickie and Laurie have logged four new finds and picked up two travel bugs.

'(Geocaching) is a hobby that has lots of elements,' Laurie says, 'exercise, problem solving, and tenacity. Nothing is better than finding a well-hidden cache.'