16 June, 2011

The thrill of the chase!

I have often considered the number of different sporting activities which take place along or beside the Barwon. Some are fairly obvious, such as swimming, water skiing, rowing, kayaking, dragon boating and canoeing which all take place in the water. Fishing generally happens from the bank whilst running, walking and riding take place on the trails beside the river. At a little more of a remove, golf, cricket, football and athletics are all played at venues located alongside the river whilst the children's playground and gym equipment at Barwon Valley Fun Park (currently undergoing renovations) provide further opportunities for exercise.However, I have discovered another sport - I guess you'd call it that - which is played along the length of the river and beyond. This is not a spectator sport with cheering crowds of supporters, referees or timekeepers. In fact no-one is supposed to see it happen at all and once finished, the participants are required to leave no trace of their passing. Those who are not playing are not to know the game is afoot and yet anyone can participate.
It is secretive, cryptic and often complex to play. It requires mental acuity and in some cases physical dexterity and endurance. All levels of fitness can be accommodated. Participants may not always reach their goal but withdrawal through injury is unlikely. Whilst there is no time limit - minutes, hours, days, months, even years are acceptable - it can none-the-less be quite competitive. There may be a prize for finishing first, or none at all. There are rules, but no-one will be present to ensure they are enforced.
 It is an international sport, played across all continents by more than 5 million participants, but it is not an Olympic sport. It can be played individually or in teams and at any hour of the day or night. Participants may have no idea how many others - if any - are playing and there are no age or gender requirements. There is no limit to the number of people who can play at any one time.
There are no uniform requirements, but protective clothing is sometimes advisable. Specialist equipment is a virtual necessity and a variety of tools can be helpful.
Of course, in any sport, there are terms and phrases which allow players to communicate. This sport is no different:
GZ = Ground Zero.
Muggles = those uninitiated who are not aware of the game.
BYOP = bring your own pen or pencil.
D/T = a rating of difficulty and terrain 1 = easy 5 = hard.
TNLN = Took nothing. Left nothing.
FTF = First to find.
These are only a few examples. There are many more.
So what is this sport?
It is known to initiates as "geocaching". Wikipedia gives a good description here but in short, it is the 21st century's version of hide and seek.
There's a geocache here somewhere!
Using clues, coded messages and a GPS device, players locate hidden "caches". A cache is generally a container with a logbook inside which is signed by the player to indicate that they found the cache. Players also report their "finds" online, keeping tallies and letting others know what they thought of that particular cache. Caches may also contain items which can be moved from one cache to another by players or traded for other items of similar value. In this way, some items have travelled across the world.
There are currently more than 1.4 million active caches for players to find. Anyone can hide and maintain a geocache but a certain amount of experience is probably necessary to know what constitutes a "good hide". Various websites like www.geocaching.com list caches making it relatively simple to determine which are nearest to you.
Which brings us back to the Barwon. There are several currently active geocaches located along the river at various points from West Barwon Dam to Barwon Heads and no doubt beyond and most seem to have been active quite recently. A quick search of my own postcode revealed 361 geocaches within that region alone - not all on the river of course, but several are.
Some players like to search at night, no doubt the extra degree of difficulty adds to the challenge. So, it would appear that on any given day - or night - there may be an undisclosed number of individuals marauding along the banks of the river hunting for treasure.
Amazing what goes on while you're not looking!

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