Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mainer finds oldest unfound geocache!

Mike Marino shared this story on our mailing list, and I figured there must be a good number of you out there reading the blog itself that would like to hear it too. Read on!

An adventure like no other involving Mainers, treasure and the sea.
Guest post by Mike Marino

Just read the story about Letterboxing and it was good, but if your readers really want to read about an adventure involving Mainers I have got one for you.

As with so many other things I’m not the most interesting part of the adventure. Ask me about the paranormal and even though I’m the Co-Director of the Bangor Ghost Hunters, I’ll tell you to talk to our members, they have some real cool stories. I’m a fireman and an investigator, ask me about fires and I’ll send you to talk to some of your local old timers in that field.

I am also a Geocacher. Geocaching is a world wide sport/adventure involving hidden treasure, riddles, puzzles, and codes that make the *Da Vinci Code*, *National Treasure*, *Indiana Jones* look tame.

It is said that geocaching involves billions of dollars of high tech military equipment orbiting space to find Tupperware out in the woods. What it is really, is an adventure that takes you all over, finding treasure. There are over 4,000 caches hidden in Maine. Sometimes the treasure is history, like caches placed near historic places. The treasure can be the sights seen from hidden bluffs. Some caches are hidden in forgotten abandoned ghost towns in the woods of Maine. Some have gold and others just a log to sign.

Probably in the last month you have been within 50 feet of a hidden cache, and you never even knew. They are placed in the city and at rest areas, turnouts, islands and mountain tops. There are all kinds of different caches too. Some are virtual, where you need to take a picture of you and your party and answer a few questions. Some are mystery caches where you need to figure out a puzzle or riddle to find the container and sign the log. Go to to find out more. Look me up: Ekidokai

On May 2, 2000, at approximately midnight, Eastern Savings Time, the great blue switch controlling selective availability was flipped. Twenty-four satellites around the globe processed their new orders, and instantly the accuracy of GPS technology improved tenfold. Tens of thousands of GPS receivers around the world had an instant upgrade. Now, anyone could precisely pinpoint their location or the location of items (such as this game) left behind for later recovery. How right they were.

On May 3, one such enthusiast, Dave Ulmer, a computer consultant, wanted to test the accuracy by hiding a navigational target in the woods. He called the idea the "Great American GPS Stash Hunt" and posted it in an internet GPS users' group. The idea was simple: Hide a container out in the woods and note the coordinates with a GPS unit.

The finder would then have to locate the container with only the use of his or her GPS receiver. The rules for the finder were simple: "Take some stuff, leave some stuff."

On May 3rd he placed his own container, a black bucket, in the woods near Beaver Creek, Oregon, near Portland. Along with a logbook and pencil, he left various prize items including videos, books, software, and a slingshot.

He shared the waypoint of his "stash" with the online community on sci.geo.satellite-nav:

N 45° 17.460 W 122° 24.800

Within three days, two different readers read about his stash on the Internet, used their own GPS receivers to find the container, and shared their experiences online. Throughout the next week, others excited by the prospect of hiding and finding stashes began hiding their own containers and posting coordinates. Like many new and innovative ideas on the Internet, the concept spread quickly - but this one required *leaving your computer* to participate. The game is now know as geocaching and there are many more caches to find.

Now to tell the story of the oldest unfound cache in the world, which was found by a true life Indiana Jones and fellow Mainer, Stephen Smith. Stephen and his wife Carole are geocachers that have found 600-plus caches. They started making plans for a cruise back in January 2009, not intentionally to find the oldest unfound cache in the world, but when you’re a cacher you tend to look for caches in the general vicinity of where you will be.

They decided to book a cruise that would take them to Belize. Looking around the area he discovered two in or around the port, but then noticed one that was out on an island 20 miles off shore. He had to look again because it had not been found since placed on 1/6/2001. He couldn’t figure out why no one had found it yet and decided to look into it further. Reading the on-line description and logs for the cache he uncovered the reason.

The cache was not really hidden on the island -- it was in the hands of the caretaker of the island. To find the cache you would have to catch up with the caretaker when he wasn’t out on a fishing expedition with clients. He then made many inquires and found out that the caretaker had died. Hopefully the owner of the island had the cache now.

After many more calls to the people that had placed the cache, and the owner of the island, he made plans to meet the owner of the island and set up a time to meet him. On the cruise ship Stephen realized that the ships time did not match up with island time and calls at $9.99 a minute from the ship had to be made to make sure the appointment could be made. He was assured it could, but only felt slightly certain, as Stephen didn’t speak Spanish and the owner didn’t speak English very well. Stephen and his wife arrived in Belize, and he had to make his way to a fishing co-op and charter a boat to the island.

Stephen only had a couple of hours to charter a boat get to the island that was 20 miles off shore and get back. Carole didn’t believe that they could make it out to the island and back in time to catch the ship, so she stayed on board to at least tell everyone what had happened to Stephen if he didn’t make it back in time. He was prepared to have to find a way back to America on his own with a few dollars, a credit card, and his passport.

He managed to find an old man who agreed to take him out to the island. The boat was an aged 20-foot fiberglass skiff, with old fashioned hand-on-the-engine steering. No seat pads, no lifejackets. The fisherman spoke very little English.

First he needed to get gas, which Steve paid for. Off to the docks. Got there and no one was available to get the gas. Time lost. Further down the coast to another fueling station. No one there. Captain off to find someone. Time lost. Finally he comes back with someone to get gas. They start out to sea and the boat stops. The fuel line had come undone from the tank. Watching his watch and wondering what did he get myself into. Fuel line put back on, pulling the rope, still no starting. He thinks his wife had the right idea.

Finally they get going and he heads out to sea, in the wrong direction. Steve tries to explain with his GPS where he needs to go and how little time he has. Between the two of them it is decided that it is easier for the boat to go along the coast and then out to the island. Finally they get going in the right direction and he is satisfied, but still not convinced he’s going to get back on time.

According to the cruise ship's Captain, the swells were 6 feet, but that day as they hit each wave, sending the bow up and then hard down, it seemed like 20 foot. It didn't take long for his butt to feel very bruised and a couple times his neck even took some whiplash damage. Thoughts go through his mind, no one really knows where he is and he might die out there.

They get within a couple miles of the island and there are a couple of big fishing boats anchored, which they head towards. They offload a passenger and all the supplies, and lose more of his precious time. They head out again and he can see the island, all of maybe a quarter mile long, covered with mangroves and not much sand. Then it is discovered that there are many salt water crocodiles. The other passenger even graciously showed off a scare left by one of the crocks as it took a chunk out of him. Now he thinks that they will never even find his body.

Skirting the edge of the mangroves they come into sight of several shacks with a beautiful wooden dock connecting everything, and a more modern cabin boat anchored a couple hundred feet out. When they get to the dock, the camp owner greets him. One of the friendliest people he had ever met, he seemed more anxious for Steve to see the cache than Steve was. As they got to the cabin, the owner interrupted a visiting class of high school students and teachers from California studying marine biology, and asked Steve to explain to them what geocaching was, and why he was there.

After a short class on Geocaching 101, he was lead into the backroom. There it was. A plastic 1-quart container with a locking snap top. The find of a lifetime, the oldest unfound cache in the world. He says he had a smile as big as the world. The old owner insisted Steve look at each item. The owner was excited too, and took pictures of Steve as he took one item, left one item, and signed the log. As he left, not once did he look at his watch, as he thought he would get depressed thinking about the long trip back to the United States and Maine.

The ride back was quicker, but no smoother. The sight of the cruise ship coming into view was a nice sight even thought it was still 10 miles away. He got back to the dock and made it back on board with very little time left over.

What a grand adventure by one of our own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was an amazing accomplishment. Steve may not have found the most caches in the World but he sure had an adventure on this one.