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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

Tech geeks find fun with cache of new gear

Our shoes, fighting the mud, made thwuck-thwuck sounds as we drew closer.

At my feet, I spied abundant poison ivy; at eye level, the thorny, grasping branches of wild roses. Not even yet noon, we were sweating like pigs in the day's muggy embrace.

"This is why it's fun!" said Joe Thielen. "Adventure! This is not your normal walk in the park, is it?"

No, this is geocaching. Think high-tech scavenger hunt; pronounce it geocashing.

It's what brought Joe and me together yesterday. We met at N 41 degrees 41.319 and W 083 degrees 24.718 - or, in lay terms, Oregon's South Shore Veterans Park.

"It's easy to find," Joe promised. "If you go too far, you'll be in Lake Erie."

We were tracking a cache Joe placed in the park almost three years ago. Recent reports from other geocachers pointed to trouble.

"Cache is in bad condition, dry for now but falling apart," Princess and Jester reported in April to www.geocaching.com.

OK, your primer: First, buy a GPS (global positioning system) unit, which could run anywhere from a hundred to a few thousand dollars. This handheld device relies on satellites to fix its location, reported in longitude and latitude.

Geocachers then track down caches - usually a collection of offbeat little treasures, squirreled away in waterproof boxes - using the reported longitude and latitude.

Everyone keeps track of everything on the Internet, where caches and visits are faithfully logged.

This is the way Joe knows he was the first person in Toledo to place a cache, a box off Front Street in East Toledo.

Simple but highly civilized rules govern geocaching.

Take an item. Leave something in its place. Sign the cache log book. Post an Internet update.

"People typically put in kids' stuff, so when you bring the kids along, they get all excited. Batteries are also great, for when your GPS needs some. Some people put in CDs, or magnets. Stuff like that."

For Joe's Veterans Park cache - rediscovered in a dense clump of trees and vegetation ringed with mud and water - we opened the box to find a Lion King figure, a toy plastic soldier, a packet of flower seeds, a pencil sharpener, and a golf ball.

"I like to think of it as 21st century hide-and-seek," said Joe, a 24-year-old who drives a Toyota Prius hybrid and works in the computer world.

When he started in early 2001, "I was going to school and living in my mom's basement, like a good geek would."

Geocaching, he maintained, is the perfect hobby for a guy like him, who spends night and day noodling with technology: "At the time, I wasn't doing anything physical, and this gets me outside moving around."

Since Joe adopted his hobby several years ago, geocaching "has virtually exploded around here. It's pretty active here now."

His most challenging find? A well-hidden cache on Kelleys Island.

"I probably spent four hours looking for that one! And, what happened was - well, I don't want to go ruin the surprise for you."



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