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High-tech hide and seek

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Thirty-one-year-old coloReido - that's his geochaching handle - is a self-professed map-and-compass sort of guy. So naturally, he balked when his sister gave him a GPS unit as a gift.

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"Since she already gave it to me for Christmas, I figured I might as well do something with it," he said. "And that's how I found out about geocaching. Ever since then, it's been nonstop."

Geocaching is, in a nutshell, a high-tech treasure hunt. The cacher uses certain coordinates and a GPS device to locate the "cache," usually a small container of sorts containing a log book and, sometimes, little knick-knacks and prizes. The catch with the prizes, however, is that you must leave something of equal or greater value if you choose to take one.

Caches are hidden all over the world, in both urban and rural environments. From mountaintops to Vatican City, they are literally everywhere. ColoReido, while serving overseas in the Army, found caches hidden in Iraq, Kuwait, Romania, and Germany.

"My sister actually regrets getting me the GPS unit now, because that's all I talk about," he said. "Every time I go and visit her I say, 'Let's go geocaching,' and she doesn't want to go."

Dozens of cachers who convened at Soldotna Creek Park for a geocaching event on July 9 told similar stories of getting swept up by the hobby. People from all over the United States came to participate in the competition, hosted by Geocache Alaska!, where temporary caches were hidden all over the park. Cachers earned more points if they were the first to find one of the hidden containers and sign the log book within, and each subsequent cacher received less and less points as more and more people found the cache.

One of the big draws of the Kenai Peninsula is the number of puzzle caches it holds. Puzzle caches involve a bit more time and intellectual effort than regular caches.

"With puzzle caches, you have to solve some sort of puzzle online in order to get the coordinates of the cache before you can go look for it," said Scott Aleckson - geocache handle SSO JOAT - who hosted the Soldotna competition. "Some people like puzzles because it gives you something more to do at home on the poor weather days."

Wes Skinner, aka NorthWes, lives in Anchorage but came down to Soldotna for the Geocache Alaska! competition. Skinner, an avid and experienced cacher, has found more than 60 caches in one day and has created many caches of his own.

One of his most popular caches is the Turnagain Arm Tidal Bore Earthcache - earthcaches are sponsored by the Geophysical Society of America and are the only types of caches allowed in national parks - which requires the cacher to observe the tidal bore, take a photo, and calculate the height and speed of the wave.

Skinner likes earthcaches for their educational value, but also enjoys regular caches as they add extra purpose to what would otherwise be a relatively mundane hike or walk.

"Lots of people hike; lots of people like to take their dogs for a walk," he said. "I call it (geocaching) the best reason for a directed dog walk there is."

Nancy and Ed Irving, aka TheView, couldn't agree more. The two have been geocaching since the summer of 2008 and have already logged more than 3,900 caches. The retired couple is currently traveling the country in their RV and participating in Cache Across America as they go.

Cache Across America is an epic puzzle wherein each state contains one unique cache with a numeric clue attached to it. The 50 clues eventually lead the cacher to the final cache hidden in Washington, D.C. Nancy and Ed have collected 25 so far.

"It's like another layer of interest on our travels," Nancy said. "Sometimes it brings us to things or sights that we would never see otherwise."

One of Nancy's favorite discoveries on her and her husband's journeys was a tremendously large - 200 feet in diameter, she estimates - fig tree that was off the beaten path in Santa Barbara, Calif.

If you're interested in caching at either the beginner or advanced levels, North Peninsula Recreation Service Area is hosting a geocache contest Friday, July 29, at 5 p.m. The competition starts at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center. For more information, call Tammy at 776-8800.

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