A community of Wilmington explorers is searching for treasures around the city. Geocachers are hunting under bridges, in high tree branches, through parks and along the bottom of the Intracoastal Waterway for log sheets they track online. Wilmington’s geocachers are staying active and seeing the city more intimately, by becoming involved in their surroundings.
Darrin Darazsdi, an avid geocacher known as BigD1976, explained the hobby as a modern-day treasure hunting game in which players use global positioning system-enabled (GPS) devices to navigate to a determined location and then attempt to find a hidden container at that site.
“It has taken me to some truly great places and locations that I would have never visited had I not been hunting for a geocache,” he said during a July 30 interview.
Darazsdi, pavilion manager at the Surf Club and a geocacher for two years, said it is an activity for all ages and experience levels.
“Lots of families, outdoorsy folks and techies seem to be the most into it,” Darazsdi said. “Kids enjoy the treasure hunt and trading trinkets, or swag, which are left behind in the larger containers for trading. The environmentally conscious, the adventurer, it appeals to a variety of personality types.”
Darazsdi spends his time away from Surf Club geocaching with his girlfriend Kelly Bowden, who goes by the geocache handle Sncbb.
“I love getting out with Kelly and exploring, whether by kayak, mountain bike or on foot,” Darazsdi said.
Wilmington geocacher Ressie Cavenaugh explained the activity’s FAQs during a July 30 phone interview.
The only navigation equipment required to find the treasures hidden by other geochachers is a GPS device or GPS-enabled mobile phone. Interested first-time geocachers must register for a free membership at www.geocaching.com and enter a location via zip code or address. The website aggregates the closest caches to that location.
“After you choose which one you want to find, the website will pull up a description about what kind of area you’re going to, and what you’re looking for,” Cavenaugh said. “After you plug in the coordinates to your GPS device, it’ll get you within about 10 or 20 feet from ground zero, which is where the cache is hidden. Once you get there, you have to think as if you were the hider or use clues to see if you can find it.”
Cavenaugh, known as 97Lumina in the geocaching community, is also an engineer at the Wilmington-based Eastern Instruments.
“One of my coworkers read about geocaching online, and told another employee and me about it,” Cavenaugh said. “I created an account, and we found out there were a few close to work. Now we go two or three times a week on our lunch break. It’s great because kids and adults can find caches that fit their experience and interest levels.”
A cache’s complexity is rated on its difficulty to find and terrain on a one- to five-star scale located on the geocache website. One star indicates very easy and five stars indicate very difficult.
“One-star caches are generally wheelchair accessible or right off of a paved path,” Cavenaugh said. “But, if you choose to go after a cache that is a combination of five-star difficulty and five-star terrain, you’ll probably need special equipment like repelling gear, boats or a rocket ship.”
Cavenaugh is not exaggerating. One famous, but rarely logged, double five-star cache is currently traveling about 17,000 mph and orbiting about 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station in locker No. 218 of the Russian Segment. The cache was created on Oct. 12, 2008, by video game developer and entrepreneur Richard Garriott, or LordBritish, during a self-funded space tour to the International Space Station. It has been logged only once, by NASA astronaut Richard Mastracchio.
There are almost 2.5 million caches and more than 6 million geocachers around the globe. Geocaching is also about community, reaching out to others and learning about the area of the caches.
“There are over 1,000 caches within 25 miles of where I stand right now,” Darazsdi said. “Some very interesting ones will lead you to many historic, interesting and beautiful areas of interest in Wilmington.”
Darazsdi created his own cache series in Fort Fisher Recreation Area, taking geocachers down a hike of the scenic Basin Trail, past the former home of Robert Harrill, the Fort Fisher Hermit.
“These caches are somewhat easy to locate if you are looking, but this series is more about the journey it will take you on and the local history that it teaches you about,” Darazsdi said. “I’ve taken my nieces and nephews out with me, and I’ve met some great people.”
Geocaching inadvertently brought Darazsdi and Cavenaugh together.
“We have met several times, racing to get to a new cache first, and yes as a reminder, we are both fully grown adults,” Darazsdi said. “If we didn’t share this interest, I don’t know that we would have met. It’s great exercise for both the mind and body.”
Whitney Garney is research and evaluation associate for Texas A&M University, a master of Public Health and the author of the recent study, “Geocaching for Exercise and Activity Research” (GEAR) funded by the Center for Disease Control. After tracking 1,000 geocachers throughout the United States who cached at least once per week for 12 months, the GEAR study found that participants reported geocaching as a moderate physical activity for 134 minutes per week. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
“Active geocachers were 40 percent more likely to meet CDC recommendations for physical activity compared to non-frequent geocachers and that is phenomenal,” Garney said during a July 30 phone interview. “We also found that geocaching is good for mental health. … Geocaching is one great option for people to have fun and be physically active at the same time without going to the gym and may just be what America needs to get moving.”
Darazsdi agrees that geocaching is not just a game. The hobby can build friendships, help one to stay active and give back to the community.
“‘Cache In Trash Out’ (CITO) is an ongoing environmental initiative supported by the worldwide geocaching community,” Darazsdi said. “Since 2002, geocachers have been dedicated to cleaning up parks, beaches and other cache-friendly places around the world.”