I’m Old School when it comes to navigating. That’s one of the chief reasons I like adventure racing. Geocaching the old school way is a great training tool for adventure racing teams to use to break the monotony of just biking, hiking and paddling together.
Geocaching without a GPS requires a map, a compass, and access to geocaching.com.
Get a map of your area at mytopo.com. In my case, my team trains at a city reservoir outside of town, which is home to about 30 geocaches hidden around it and along nearby roads. Mytopo.com sells small, medium, and large maps that one can request to be gridded with UTM coordinates. In my case, I bought the small size map for about $10.
Next, surf over the geocaching.com, put in the zip code for the area targeted by your map and single out some geocaches. In case you’ve never done geocaching, it works like this:
Someone hides a container somewhere in the landscape. Typical containers range from military surplus ammo boxes to Altoid tins. Large containers are filled with various trinkets for the purpose of trading with the finder (treasure), while smaller ones (microcaches) might have just a strip of paper on which you can sign your name. Using a GPS, the hider notes the location of the cache and uploads it to the geocaching.com website. This results in a page like this:
The coordinates displayed on the page are in latitude and longitude, but you can use the conversion feature on the page to change them to UTM, the form adventure racers expect. The seeker peruses the page, loads the coordinates into his/her GPS and lets the GPS navigate them to the cache. Many carry a few trinkets to trade when seeking a larger cache and certainly a pen to sign the cache log book.
Old School navigators leave the GPS at home. This was easy for me to do. Two weeks ago, I pulled my Garmen Etrex Legend out of my pack, turned it on, and was chagrined to see the vertical blue line of death appear on the screen. That’s the third etrex in about six years that died that way. It will be the last. GPS is fun, but map and compass is by far much more fun.
This past weekend, my team had about two hours of bike training to do. The snow and ice had just melted away and the mountain bike trails were muddy. Not wanting to tear up the trails, we selected six nearby geocaches, pulled the UTM coordinates off the website and headed for the lake. Upon arrival, I pulled out the map, we plotted the coordinates, did some quick route planning, and headed out. The wind was blowing about 2o mph from the north and the temperature hovered at a nice 55 degrees. Needless the say, we enjoyed the fact that our course took us to the south first.
Unlike adventure racing, where the checkpoints are bright orange flags, geocaches are often camoflaged and hidden to prevent “muggles” from finding and displacing them. This makes the challenge that much greater for AR teams going Old School. Unfortunately, the first target cache, entitled “Come and Get Me,” proved unfindable. According the the logs at geocaching.com, it had been found recently, but, in the time alloted, we didn’t. We gave ourselves 15 minutes on each cache before heading to the next one in an effort to get as many as possible in our two hour time limit.
We scored on the next three, “Purple People Eater #4,” “100 Miles to Atoka,” and “Holly’s Treasure Chest.” Purple People Eater and 100 Miles to Atoka were microcaches right along the road. Holly’s Treasure Chest was a traditional cache consisting of a .30 cal ammo box hidden in the woods. This was a great cache. In the races we like best, lots of cp’s are off the trail. Those are more challenging and require real navigation rather than just speeding along known trails (which gives too much advantage to local teams IMHO). This cache required us to ditch our bikes and head into the woods looking for a cammoed box. It took about 10 minutes to find. We signed in and headed out.
Strong head winds on the way back and quick calculation suggested that we needed to head for the cars rather than hunting the last two caches. That OK, they’ll wait for another day. In the end we road two hours, found three geocaches, and remembered several nagivational tricks that we “learned” on previous races. Tricks like: remember to estimate distance to the next cp or waypoint and have someone keep track of distance along the way; take the harder surface, even if its a bit longer, over a mushy one; don’t get beyond sight distance when fanning out to find a cp in dense brush, etc.
Overall, this old school navigation to geocaches proved a refreshing approach AR training.