Navigating the wilds

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

By the time late autumn rolls around, thoughts for many of us turn to hibernation; weekend afternoons tend to be lazy affairs, perfect for curling up with a favourite book, DVD or video game. Physical exercise, alas, become limited to a hike to the kitchen for a refill on that cup of tea. Some of us definitely need some kind of added incentive to leave our cozy lairs and venture into the great outdoors.

So when a recent press release from the Royal Botanical Gardens crossed my desk, I didn't pay too much attention. Geocaching? Never heard of it, I thought. Sounds complicated. And it's outside - in October.

After a quick call from the RBG's Geocaching Program Co-ordinator, Amy Rutgers-Kelly, however, the bait was cast.

The RBG, she explained, has launched a training program - the only one of its kind in Ontario, in fact - for members of the public who want to learn more about a growing craze that blends high-tech gadgetry, deciphering codes and hunting for hidden treasure. Perfect for singles, couples and families (with kids over age 5), an afternoon of GEO Quest would be great fun, she promised.

On the day of the event, I rounded up two enthusiastic explorers - my nine-year-old daughter, Lisa and her friend, Jennifer. It was a wise choice of assistants for the afternoon.

After we arrived at the RBG Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, we were ushered into the conference room for a half-hour crash course in Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Once the sole domain of the armed forces (first widely used in the Gulf War), GPS is now used for a number of recreational activities, including geocaching.

Jennifer, whose wardrobe accessories for our adventure included several beeping Tamagotchi pets draped around her neck, was the first to master the various scrolling and entering options on the bright yellow GPS units, which are about the size and weight of a cellphone and sell anywhere from about $100 to $1,000 at electronics stores. (After entering a few co-ordinates I soon caught on to the system - even if my thumbs remained woefully slow.)

For the RBG program, five "caches" are actually clues hidden in various information signs throughout the trail system. Once all five are collected, participants will then have the co-ordinates for the last cache, which contains the secret treasure. This format, in geocaching lingo, is a "multi-cache."

After an initial misstep - our trio automatically followed along behind another group, even though our GPS units stubbornly pointed the opposite direction - Kelly appeared and set us on the right path. We were off.

GPS technology relies on a network of 24 satellites, and as long as the user is outdoors, the units will work.

They aren't, Kelly warned, 100 percent accurate and users have to rely, ultimately, on visual indicators. (For the most part, our units got us to within a few metres of each cache.)

After successfully finding our first clue, my pre-teen crew was hooked. Rushing from one stop to the next, we read about local flora and fauna, paused to accommodate a group of denizens at the chipmunk feeding grounds, marveled at the clouds of ladybugs flitting around in the unseasonably warm sun, enjoyed a view of Cootes Paradise from the boathouse and tasted the tartness of clover growing along the edge of the trails.

More than an hour after we set out, we were at last ready to collect our treasure. Kelly met us as we searched for our last cache (we had somehow missed a turn in the trail) and she informed us that we had covered about four kilometers on our hunt.

"I'm thirsty," announced one of my assistants.

"I'm tired. I'm not really used to walking this much," noted the other.

As we headed back to turn in our GPS units, my own legs were tired, my cheeks were rosy and my jeans were a little looser. And I was about ready for that cup of tea.

Overall feedback comments on the afternoon from my little group included "awesome" and "cool." One fellow geocacher especially liked the technology, while the other favoured playing detective and decoding the clues. GEO Quest was definitely a hit with the under-10 crowd.

The RBG's next GEO Quest public workshop is on Sunday, November 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, Dundas.

The cost for the RBG program is $12 per person ($10 for RBG members); a $35 family rate is available for parents with dependent children ($30 for members). Participants must register to reserve their GPS units by November 21 online at www.rbg.ca or by calling 905-527-7962. Additional GEO Quest workshops will also be held at the centre between December 28-30.

* * *

GEOCOACHING: FAST FACTS

The official global web site for Geocaching is www.geocaching.com

There are several variations of the game, including traditional, multi-cache, puzzle, virtual and offset versions

It is free to participate in a cache, but the rules are simple: if you take something from the cache (anything from stickers and cards to CDs and cash), leave something for the next geocacher and write you name in the log book

There are currently 206,813 caches in 218 countries; the number of caches within driving distance of the Hamilton/Burlington area has grown from 12 just three years ago to about 3,000.

Navigating the wilds

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

By the time late autumn rolls around, thoughts for many of us turn to hibernation; weekend afternoons tend to be lazy affairs, perfect for curling up with a favourite book, DVD or video game. Physical exercise, alas, become limited to a hike to the kitchen for a refill on that cup of tea. Some of us definitely need some kind of added incentive to leave our cozy lairs and venture into the great outdoors.

So when a recent press release from the Royal Botanical Gardens crossed my desk, I didn't pay too much attention. Geocaching? Never heard of it, I thought. Sounds complicated. And it's outside - in October.

After a quick call from the RBG's Geocaching Program Co-ordinator, Amy Rutgers-Kelly, however, the bait was cast.

The RBG, she explained, has launched a training program - the only one of its kind in Ontario, in fact - for members of the public who want to learn more about a growing craze that blends high-tech gadgetry, deciphering codes and hunting for hidden treasure. Perfect for singles, couples and families (with kids over age 5), an afternoon of GEO Quest would be great fun, she promised.

On the day of the event, I rounded up two enthusiastic explorers - my nine-year-old daughter, Lisa and her friend, Jennifer. It was a wise choice of assistants for the afternoon.

After we arrived at the RBG Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, we were ushered into the conference room for a half-hour crash course in Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Once the sole domain of the armed forces (first widely used in the Gulf War), GPS is now used for a number of recreational activities, including geocaching.

Jennifer, whose wardrobe accessories for our adventure included several beeping Tamagotchi pets draped around her neck, was the first to master the various scrolling and entering options on the bright yellow GPS units, which are about the size and weight of a cellphone and sell anywhere from about $100 to $1,000 at electronics stores. (After entering a few co-ordinates I soon caught on to the system - even if my thumbs remained woefully slow.)

For the RBG program, five "caches" are actually clues hidden in various information signs throughout the trail system. Once all five are collected, participants will then have the co-ordinates for the last cache, which contains the secret treasure. This format, in geocaching lingo, is a "multi-cache."

After an initial misstep - our trio automatically followed along behind another group, even though our GPS units stubbornly pointed the opposite direction - Kelly appeared and set us on the right path. We were off.

GPS technology relies on a network of 24 satellites, and as long as the user is outdoors, the units will work.

They aren't, Kelly warned, 100 percent accurate and users have to rely, ultimately, on visual indicators. (For the most part, our units got us to within a few metres of each cache.)

After successfully finding our first clue, my pre-teen crew was hooked. Rushing from one stop to the next, we read about local flora and fauna, paused to accommodate a group of denizens at the chipmunk feeding grounds, marveled at the clouds of ladybugs flitting around in the unseasonably warm sun, enjoyed a view of Cootes Paradise from the boathouse and tasted the tartness of clover growing along the edge of the trails.

More than an hour after we set out, we were at last ready to collect our treasure. Kelly met us as we searched for our last cache (we had somehow missed a turn in the trail) and she informed us that we had covered about four kilometers on our hunt.

"I'm thirsty," announced one of my assistants.

"I'm tired. I'm not really used to walking this much," noted the other.

As we headed back to turn in our GPS units, my own legs were tired, my cheeks were rosy and my jeans were a little looser. And I was about ready for that cup of tea.

Overall feedback comments on the afternoon from my little group included "awesome" and "cool." One fellow geocacher especially liked the technology, while the other favoured playing detective and decoding the clues. GEO Quest was definitely a hit with the under-10 crowd.

The RBG's next GEO Quest public workshop is on Sunday, November 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, Dundas.

The cost for the RBG program is $12 per person ($10 for RBG members); a $35 family rate is available for parents with dependent children ($30 for members). Participants must register to reserve their GPS units by November 21 online at www.rbg.ca or by calling 905-527-7962. Additional GEO Quest workshops will also be held at the centre between December 28-30.

* * *

GEOCOACHING: FAST FACTS

The official global web site for Geocaching is www.geocaching.com

There are several variations of the game, including traditional, multi-cache, puzzle, virtual and offset versions

It is free to participate in a cache, but the rules are simple: if you take something from the cache (anything from stickers and cards to CDs and cash), leave something for the next geocacher and write you name in the log book

There are currently 206,813 caches in 218 countries; the number of caches within driving distance of the Hamilton/Burlington area has grown from 12 just three years ago to about 3,000.

Navigating the wilds

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

By the time late autumn rolls around, thoughts for many of us turn to hibernation; weekend afternoons tend to be lazy affairs, perfect for curling up with a favourite book, DVD or video game. Physical exercise, alas, become limited to a hike to the kitchen for a refill on that cup of tea. Some of us definitely need some kind of added incentive to leave our cozy lairs and venture into the great outdoors.

So when a recent press release from the Royal Botanical Gardens crossed my desk, I didn't pay too much attention. Geocaching? Never heard of it, I thought. Sounds complicated. And it's outside - in October.

After a quick call from the RBG's Geocaching Program Co-ordinator, Amy Rutgers-Kelly, however, the bait was cast.

The RBG, she explained, has launched a training program - the only one of its kind in Ontario, in fact - for members of the public who want to learn more about a growing craze that blends high-tech gadgetry, deciphering codes and hunting for hidden treasure. Perfect for singles, couples and families (with kids over age 5), an afternoon of GEO Quest would be great fun, she promised.

On the day of the event, I rounded up two enthusiastic explorers - my nine-year-old daughter, Lisa and her friend, Jennifer. It was a wise choice of assistants for the afternoon.

After we arrived at the RBG Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, we were ushered into the conference room for a half-hour crash course in Global Positioning System (GPS) technology. Once the sole domain of the armed forces (first widely used in the Gulf War), GPS is now used for a number of recreational activities, including geocaching.

Jennifer, whose wardrobe accessories for our adventure included several beeping Tamagotchi pets draped around her neck, was the first to master the various scrolling and entering options on the bright yellow GPS units, which are about the size and weight of a cellphone and sell anywhere from about $100 to $1,000 at electronics stores. (After entering a few co-ordinates I soon caught on to the system - even if my thumbs remained woefully slow.)

For the RBG program, five "caches" are actually clues hidden in various information signs throughout the trail system. Once all five are collected, participants will then have the co-ordinates for the last cache, which contains the secret treasure. This format, in geocaching lingo, is a "multi-cache."

After an initial misstep - our trio automatically followed along behind another group, even though our GPS units stubbornly pointed the opposite direction - Kelly appeared and set us on the right path. We were off.

GPS technology relies on a network of 24 satellites, and as long as the user is outdoors, the units will work.

They aren't, Kelly warned, 100 percent accurate and users have to rely, ultimately, on visual indicators. (For the most part, our units got us to within a few metres of each cache.)

After successfully finding our first clue, my pre-teen crew was hooked. Rushing from one stop to the next, we read about local flora and fauna, paused to accommodate a group of denizens at the chipmunk feeding grounds, marveled at the clouds of ladybugs flitting around in the unseasonably warm sun, enjoyed a view of Cootes Paradise from the boathouse and tasted the tartness of clover growing along the edge of the trails.

More than an hour after we set out, we were at last ready to collect our treasure. Kelly met us as we searched for our last cache (we had somehow missed a turn in the trail) and she informed us that we had covered about four kilometers on our hunt.

"I'm thirsty," announced one of my assistants.

"I'm tired. I'm not really used to walking this much," noted the other.

As we headed back to turn in our GPS units, my own legs were tired, my cheeks were rosy and my jeans were a little looser. And I was about ready for that cup of tea.

Overall feedback comments on the afternoon from my little group included "awesome" and "cool." One fellow geocacher especially liked the technology, while the other favoured playing detective and decoding the clues. GEO Quest was definitely a hit with the under-10 crowd.

The RBG's next GEO Quest public workshop is on Sunday, November 27 at 1:30 p.m. at the Nature Centre on Old Guelph Road, Dundas.

The cost for the RBG program is $12 per person ($10 for RBG members); a $35 family rate is available for parents with dependent children ($30 for members). Participants must register to reserve their GPS units by November 21 online at www.rbg.ca or by calling 905-527-7962. Additional GEO Quest workshops will also be held at the centre between December 28-30.

* * *

GEOCOACHING: FAST FACTS

The official global web site for Geocaching is www.geocaching.com

There are several variations of the game, including traditional, multi-cache, puzzle, virtual and offset versions

It is free to participate in a cache, but the rules are simple: if you take something from the cache (anything from stickers and cards to CDs and cash), leave something for the next geocacher and write you name in the log book

There are currently 206,813 caches in 218 countries; the number of caches within driving distance of the Hamilton/Burlington area has grown from 12 just three years ago to about 3,000.