A global treasure hunt anyone can play

Looking for a reason to get outside to hike other than health benefits and the beauty of nature?

What about hidden treasure?

Right now, all over the globe, containers with cached treasure are waiting to be found, logged and hidden again. Of course, the treasure is not precious metals, stones or gems. It’s a weather-resistant container with a logbook and maybe a little trinket to trade. This is all part of the global game Geocaching.

“It is a scavenger hunt-type game,” said Lee Tolley, aka “Grey Rider” on “People take their GPS out and take coordinates to post online, using any type of weather-resistant container, they leave Tupperware or ammo boxes for people to come along and find them.”

Tolley, 39, is a Jonesborough native who now lives in Greeneville. He has discovered geocaches in the Philippines and other locations through the region. Tolley says the game is for all ages; he regularly sees families with children 6 to 7 years old out, and knows of people who geocache in their 70s.

According the website, the game began in spring of 2000 when the government lifted civilian restrictions to Global Positioning Satellites, making non-military GPS more accurate.

Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant and GPS enthusiast, had the idea to hide a container, log its coordinates and see if a stranger could find it to test how accurate the technology had become.

Two people found this first geocache near Beavercreek, Oregon, within three days and one of them, Mike Teague, began compiling coordinates for caches across the globe within a month.

“GPS Stash Hunt” was born. Within the same month, the term “geocache” was coined.

Matt Stum is credited with coining the term, combing the root geo-, meaning Earth, with cache, a French word from 1797 meaning a temporary hiding place.

It’s more recently been adapted by the technology industry as a temporary location for computers to store frequently used items. Think of the temporary memory cache for internet cookies on a computer.

When Teague passed the task of compiling the coordinates and running the website to Jeremy Irish, he solidified the term in the communities’ vernacular.

The term, game and hunt were up and running, and continue to this day. Things were off to a slow start in 2000 due to a small number of caches. That’s no longer the case, as a quick search of a map will prove.

Tolley said the purpose behind it all for him is “to get out and have a little fun, spend time with the family; to go enjoy a day out on a trail and find a container.”

Admittedly finding a container hidden in what seems like plain sight stirs emotions not felt since childhood. One can find oneself shouting, “I found it, I found it,” louder than they maybe should in a public place.

It is akin to searching for pirate treasure to the child part of one’s mind.

“My wife is from the Philippines and I actually found two geocaches in the Philippines,” said Tolley.

Does that classify as buried treasure on an island? Close enough to any adult that once imagined themselves a Captain Blackbeard on the high seas, flying a Jolly Roger flag from a bedpost, looting and plundering for bounty.

At least, some would say it is close enough.

This is not plundering and looting, though. The website has a link to a video explaining geocaching etiquette. There are five lessons, in order:

• Trade items properly, which means of equal or greater value and safe/legal items.

• Learn about trackable items (more to follow).

• Play it cool. Do not shout, “I found it, I found it.” People not playing the game have natural curiosity too.

• Respect the environment. Cache in, trash out (CITO) is a community motto.

• Use common sense; be safe.

There are other tips available on the website and linked videos:

• Always bring a pen

• Name and description of cache is great place to look for clues

• Difficulty rating tells one how much of a mental challenge the cache can be or difficulty of hiding place.

• Terrain rating indicates level of physicality one can expect.

• GPS coordinates are up to 30 feet within cache; at that point, start looking around.

“(Geocaches) are usually concealed a little bit,” said Tolley, “and in some way, according to the situation they are in. They can be on walking trails, hiking trails, even in a lamppost in a parking lot, but they are usually concealed in some way to kind of keep them out of direct view.”

Tolley has discovered that geocaching has given him motivation to get outside. He enjoys the time with his wife and nature. He also likes to spend time with like-minded individuals and values the exercise he gets.

Geocaching is not just about finding tradeable items and logging finds online. Besides the traditional geocache there are event caches, trackables and Earth caches. Event caches, according to, are gatherings.

The cache is created on the website with a date, time and coordinates for enthusiasts to meet and enjoy the activity together. These can also be CITO days for trail cleanup.

Trackables are items bought from They have serial numbers that provide a description and log the travel of the item.

If someone discovers the trackable, they log that they have it. Then the mileage is recorded as the person finds more geocaches. Eventually, the trackable is left in a cache for another to log more miles. Usually, the items will have a goal by the original person that activated it.

Earth caches are quest for knowledge. They are locations of prominent land features like White Rock overlook or Sand Caves in Virginia.

A geocacher travels to the location, receives a little history or geology lesson and then can ask the original poster some questions about the location online.

Once all parties are satisfied, they take a picture of themselves at the spot and post it to the cache tag.

Tolley recommends asking a friend to accompany you on the first couple of trips. Wear a good pair of walking shoes and take some water.

Make sure that geocaching is something you enjoy before spending a lot of money on a GPS or premium membership to

Remember that more people die from exposure in the woods than anything else. Being prepared is a part of being safe. Still, be curious and let your imagination run wild. After all, being in the wilderness is always about being a little wild.

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