Geocaching: 21st-Century Treasure Hunting The sport that took off in 2000, after the government lifted restrictions on access to satellite signals used by the U.S. military, now has millions of participants worldwide. One avid geocacher in Maine says he doesn't think he's obsessed, but says his wife might disagree.
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Geocaching: 21st-Century Treasure Hunting

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Geocaching: 21st-Century Treasure Hunting

Geocaching: 21st-Century Treasure Hunting

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For our second All Tech Considered story today, we're going on a treasure hunt. And, of course, like everything else, hunting for treasure has gone high-tech. Its 21st-century equivalent is called geocaching.

And our guide on this hunt is Maine Public Radio's Jay Field.

JAY FIELD: Brad Wing and I barely shake hands before we're speeding south in his four-door Jeep Wrangler. A few hours ago, Wing got a message on his phone. Someone had just hidden a new geocache near a stream, a few miles south of Bangor, Maine.

This treasure won't make anyone rich. For geocachers like Wing, it's all about the hunt.

Mr. BRAD WING: I'm actually going to use my smartphone to get us down in the neighborhood, because I haven't even loaded it into my GPS.

FIELD: Wing plugs a series of latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates into his phone.

To play, cachers sign up for a membership on the sport's website, That allows them to search for the coordinates of caches stashed all over the world.

Mr. WING: I'll go out on a weekend, perhaps find 20 or 30 or 50 of them. And I've done as many as 140 in a day.

FIELD: There are more than five million geocachers worldwide, stalking more than a million hidden caches. The sport draws in people of all ages - from older retirees geocaching their way across the country in RVs, to fitness fanatics who hike, kayak and climb mountains in search of caches.

Geocaching took off in the spring of 2000, shortly after the government officially lifted the restrictions on civilian access to the same highly accurate satellite signals being used by the U.S. military.

Mr. WING: The name of the cache is called The Old Trout Hole.

FIELD: Wing checks his GPS device and turns onto a road leading into the woods.

Mr. WING: It's at somebody's favorite fishing spot.

FIELD: We stopped by a stream in front of a culvert.

(Soundbite of water)

FIELD: Wing checks crevices between the rocks on one side of the stream -nothing. Head across the road, where finally he see it hidden between two rocks. Wing unscrews the top of a green canister about the size of a pint of ice cream.

Mr. WING: We're going to open it up and look and see if there's a name on the log sheet yet. Yeah. Oh, somebody has been here. Two people have been here today.

FIELD: Most caches, says Wing, are small- to medium-sized containers like this one with a logbook inside, and sometimes little doodads.

Mr. WING: This one has got a couple of little trinkety things in. It's got a shell and a sticker.

FIELD: Cachers are free to take what's inside, on one condition...

Mr. WING: You're supposed to replace it with something of kind of equal or greater value. You know, don't take out a toy truck and put in a rock.

FIELD: Wing does have other hobbies. He likes to hike, camp, snowshoe and kayak - activities that he admits frequently lead him back to geocaching.

Mr. WING: I don't think I'm totally obsessed with it. Some may disagree, including my wife.

FIELD: When they were first dating, Wing's wife didn't understand why he spent so much time stashing and searching for booty that's a far cry from a sack of gold doubloons. But by the time they married, several years ago, Wing's wife had succumbed herself.

Mr. WING: One of our other friends had placed a cache outside of the reception hall, in a little micro-cache out back. You look at some of the videos that were shot of our wedding and you see the bride, the groom, and then half the reception flying out the back door. It does make for a real interesting conversation.

FIELD: For the record, the bride and groom found the cache first.

For NPR News, I'm Jay Field in Bangor, Maine.

(Soundbite of music)

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