If You Hide It, They Will Come

With a Web site and a nod from President Clinton, GPS nuts get a worldwide scavenger hunt to call their own

Jan 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

IT'S NOT TOTALLY true, you know, this notion that geeks never see the sun. Dedicated gearheads just need a few gadgets to make the great outdoors a little less outdoorsy. Take geocaching, a small but growing nerd sport that combines the childhood thrill of the scavenger hunt with the bushwhacking joys of orienteering.

The idea is simple: Participants visit the geocachingWeb page located at www.geocaching.com, and enter their zip codes. The site returns a list of nearby hidden treasure chests—typically, white plastic buckets containing sundries such as a bottle of tequila, a disposable camera, a paperback, some gum—and the booty's latitude and longitude coordinates. The player then punches the cache's location into his handheld GPS unit and sets off to find it—a quest that usually involves a short off-trail hike, but sometimes calls for a bit of boating or rock climbing. Once discovered, the finder takes something from the bucket, replaces it with a trinket of his own, and goes back online to tell the tale.

If it seems like a lot of effort to justify a little fresh air, consider that geocaching was actually invented—well, let's say enabled—by Bill Clinton. Last May, he ordered the Defense Department to shut off a jamming signal that, ostensibly for reasons of national security, had deliberately been fed into the Global Positioning System. With a few keystrokes at Space Command in Colorado Springs, a GPS unit that could previously fix the location of a given object, say, a bucket labeled "GPS CACHE," within 300 feet could now nail it within 30. Presto: The geeks had a new hobby.

More than 110 caches are now hidden in at least 28 states and 13 countries. The question remains, though: Why? Rich Gibson, 39, a computer programmer and GPS cacher from Sebastapol, California, chalks it up to a kind of millennial Calvinism. "Deep down we all know that the journey is the destination, but we recoil from pursuits that lack a destination. I have a friend who calls this 'purposeful purposelessness,'" he says. And you thought it just sounded like fun.


Step Aside, Julia Butterfly—La Tigresa is on the Prowl

The female body is used to hawk everything from booze to Barbados, so Dona Nieto figured her own might aid the cause of saving California's redwoods. In October, the Mendocino-based performance artist, who has dubbed herself La Tigresa, began marching into old-growth forests 120 miles north of San Francisco with her cadre of activists, the "Goddess Squaddess," to strip off her faux-tigerskin sarong and beguile stunned logging crews with her poetry—and her bare-naked chest. —Bill Vaughn

Q: What on earth were you thinking?
A: I'm happy to make jokes, to say my "Striptease to Save the Trees" is an effort to keep the public abreast of the timber industry's greed, but I'm trying to make the point that a naked woman is vulnerable, beautiful, and sacred, and the naked earth is vulnerable, beautiful, and sacred. What's obscene are clear-cuts.

Q: How have loggers reacted?
A: They're befuddled at first. But they've treated me with great respect. They turn off their machines and listen. It's probably changed them for life. I've had loggers refuse to cross my picket line not because I was rabble-rousing but because I was a beautiful woman with tears in my eyes saying, "I am your mother, don't hurt me."

Q: Do you think you've saved any redwoods?
A: Absolutely. For hours every day the crews are talking to me instead of cutting trees.

Q: At the risk of sounding impolite, may we ask your size?
A: Let me recite some other numbers instead. Numbers like 99, which is the percent of the old-growth forests of California that have been logged. Numbers like 1,000, which is the age of some of the trees dragged to the back of the trucks. And let's just say I'm stacked.

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