If you've never heard of geocaching, chances are you're not alone, but this international seek-and-ye-shall-find hobby nonetheless is generating a local fan base.
Cheryl Rawson of Toronto is one of them.
The 1976 graduate of Jefferson Union High School has been a geocaching gal since June 8, 2009, an enthusiast of the pastime for the pursuit and the pleasure.
Geocaching - pronounced geo-cashing - is described as a "worldwide game of seeking treasure," according to the official website, www.geocaching.com.
The "geo" is for geography while caching is the process of hiding a cache. In hiking and camping, a cache is a hiding place for concealing and preserving provisions, according to the website.
In its frequently asked questions section, the website defines geocaching as "a worldwide game of seeking treasure. A geocacher can locate a geocache anywhere in the world with the help of a GPS or a GPS-enabled device and GPS coordinates that are listed online."
It says that geocaching is "one of the world's fastest growing live, recreational social media activities."
Rawson thinks of it as a game of modern-day treasure hunting with a hand-held GPS.
"I have found 774 caches to date," said Rawson, who was introduced to the search-and-find-it hobby through her friends, Dale and Karen Martin of Toronto. Dale Martin got hooked through the Rev. Eric Frey, pastor at the First Church of the Nazarene in Toronto.
"The Geocaching website gives a list of the caches that are hidden out there to be found," Rawson said. "A person puts in the area they want to cache in, in the search box, and the list will come up to be downloaded onto the GPS. Caching is all over the world. When you find a cache, you sign the log with your caching name, then log it as found on the caching website," Rawson said.
Rawson's caching name is Shushe.
"Cache sizes are a nano (the size of the valve cover on a tire) containing a very small log," Rawson said. "A small would be the size of a medicine bottle or small lock-n-lock, medium would be a medium lock-n-lock and a large would be the size of an ammo box," she said.
Geocaching is becoming big in the area, according to Rawson.
"Some people think it's crazy to go out and find a container that you sign your name and put it back. That is one of the rules of the game. You track it down with the GPS or App on your cell phone, find it, sign the log and place it back where you found it," Rawson said. "Some caches have a little trinket in them - pins, beads, cards, etc., - The rule is if you take something out of a cache, you leave something of equal or greater value, except a travel bug (a dog tag with tracking number and a mission) or a Geo-coin (a coin with a mission)," she said.
Travel bugs and Geocoins are the most common types of trackables. A Groundspeak Travel Bug, according to the website, is a trackable tag that attaches to an item and which geocachers move from geocache to geocache. Each tag is etched with a unique code, which the finder can use to log its travels on the website. Geocoins, meanwhile, are trackable coins created by geocachers to commemorate special events or as a signature item to leave in geocaches.
To participate, geocachers need a hand-held GPS or a cell phone with a Geocaching app downloaded on it, a pin "and the willpower to get out and have fun," Rawson said.
Geocaching can be a solo hobby, she added, "but I find it more enjoyable and fun to go caching in a group. I am very competitive and really make it a competition to be the first one to find the cache. I do some of the easy caches by myself, but the hiking caching I do with a friend or friends," Rawson said.
"Caching can be done year round. I have dug in the snow to find a cache," Rawson said of the hobby that mostly is done from the spring through the fall.
"I love caching. The caching in the state parks is fun because you are exercising with a goal - to find a cache. You can hike miles and not even know it with the thought of your 'mission' to find the cache," she said.
"I cache because I love a challenge, I'm getting exercise and get a thrill from finding the hidden 'prize.' Even though there is no material prize, the accomplishment of finding the container is rewarding," Rawson said.
"I feel that geocaching is a great form of exercise, and you don't feel like you are exercising, because there is a goal."
Rawson suggests that geocaching skeptics give the hobby a try before they think it's a crazy pursuit.
"It's not what I find - it's the thrill of being able to track it with my hand-held GPS and finding the cache," Rawson said.
Geocachers are quiet about what they find, mainly to not spoil the search for others, according to Karen Martin, who said she's found a lot of unique things since she's taken up the hobby.
She describes caches as "simply containers" that can be any size, hidden anywhere.
"All caches have a log for the cacher to sign their username (from the website) to prove they found the cache. If caches are big enough, there are little trinkets called Swag in them for trading. You can take some Swag if you leave some Swag," Karen said.
Karen said when she first went geocaching with her husband, Dale, she "was hooked."
Though the hobby can be done solo or as a group, Karen prefers not going alone. "I think it's more fun to have someone to share the experience with. We sometimes cache locally, and we sometimes plan a trip farther away. We have traveled all over the Tri-State Area. Also, when I'm in Columbus for conferences, I try to pick up a couple of new ones there. We've also gone north to Mosquito Lake to spend a day caching. Next summer, I will be in Florida and plan to pick up a few down there," Karen said.
Her immediate goal is to find at least one cache in each of Ohio's 88 counties.
Karen's experiences in geocaching have been memorable.
"I have fallen into water, fallen down hills, climbed hills and rocks I never would have dreamed I would climb, uncovered small snakes under rocks and walked miles at a time," she said.
She does it because it's fun and offers exercise, especially when the search involves hiking on trails in parks, but there are other reasons, too.
"As a person who loves to solve puzzles, geocaching provides me a challenge. It's satisfying when you find a well-hidden cache. It is also educational. There are a lot of caches hidden in parks, cemeteries and other places that allow you to learn a lot about that place, about historical landmarks, etc.," Karen said.
Additionally, she has facilitated workshops for teachers through her job at the Jefferson County Educational Service Center in Steubenville. "The goal of the workshops is to allow teachers to see how they can incorporate geocaching into their daily lesson plans. Caching has also allowed us to visit places we never knew existed - some right in our area."
Karen carries a pen or pencil with her to sign the logs. "Some caches are too small to have a writing utensil inside," she said.
Caching is a hobby suited for people of all ages, according to Karen.
"I have seen logs from a couple of preschool children (with parental help, of course). I have also found caches where preschoolers have picked the location. There would be some locations that are not accessible for the too young, too old or handicapped, but there are many that are accessible to everyone," she said.
Follansbee native Christine Robinson Laird of Ridgecrest, Calif., says geocaching is very popular where she lives with her husband, who is retired from the Navy and currently works for the Navy as a civilian contractor.
It draws people "from many areas far and near to hunt for the many caches and cache series hidden in this area," she said.
Introduced to geocaching in August 2011, Laird, a graduate of Brooke High School and Bethany College, found herself to be an instant fan and "immediately became addicted to it."
Home for an extended visit to Follansbee, Laird made it a point to check out caches posted in the area, discovering that while there were some, there weren't as many as she's seen in other areas of the country.
"Geocaching.com will not publish coordinates for caches if there are other caches within 528 feet of the requested new posting," Laird explained. "I have always hunted for caches, but did not place or own any of my own. I was very excited to learn that Follansbee, my hometown, had very few caches, which meant I could easily place and get my caches published," she said.
Laird decided to do a small series of easy level, family oriented caches and attended two Follansbee Council meetings where she explained geocaching and sought approval to place geocaches in Follansbee.
"I did place those caches, and since I was responsible for maintaining the caches, I had to archive or adopt them out when I returned to California," she explained in an e-mail. "While I was in Follansbee, I was able to get a few friends and family members involved in geocaching," she added.
By the time she left Follansbee after a six-month stay, Laird said 21 people had searched for and located her Mahan Park cache and two people had listed-rated it as one of the favorites.
"You could very easily obtain a free geocaching.com account, check the geocaches published in the Follansbee area and read the log entries related to each cache," she pointed out.
"I love geocaching," Laird said.
"I think it is a wonderful family activity. It is fun and can be very educational," Laird said.
(Kiaski can be contacted at email@example.com.)