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Geocaching: The Best Work Out for Your Hippocampus or is it?

Haven’t you always dreamed of a bulging hippocampus? Another question at this point, might be: what’s a hippocampus?

The hippocampus is the portion of the brain believed to store maps of our surroundings.  It allows us to navigate around this crazy mixed-up world.  It’s your inner GPS.  If you’re going to the grocery store, your parents’ house or the place by that Thai restaurant your friend told you about? Yeah, your hippocampus gets you there.

A famous study into the inner wiring of London taxi drivers’ brains discovered something, well, unexpected.  The late 1990’s  research found the drivers hippocampi were much larger than normal, non-taxi-driver, hippocampi.

Taxi drivers navigating with their hippocampus.

The more the taxi drivers navigated the complex web of London streets, blind alleys and winding lanes, the larger their hippocampi grew.

The oyster-sized and colored portion of our mind also plays a role in long-term memory.  And I believe geocaching flexes your hippocampus.

Now there’s no study for what’s next (yet), but geocaching must be an amazing work out for your hippocampus.  You’re continuously navigating and building maps of your surroundings.  You’re challenging your ability to move from A to B. Finding a geocache pumps up your awareness of your location.  The concept sounds fairly simple.

But some fear we rely on our GPS devices and mapping sites far too much.

Last year a Los Angeles woman, Lauren Rosenberg, was struck by a car while crossing a highway in Utah.  In May, she filed a lawsuit against Google. According to The Washington Post, Rosenberg’s lawyer claims Google Maps provided walking directions that sent Rosenberg into harm’s way.  She ended up on a busy road with no sidewalks. She followed the directions sent to her Blackberry – which Rosenberg claims did not come with a warning about missing sidewalks.

She got hit by a car. She accumulated massive medical bills.  She sued.  There was clearly a loss of “situational awareness.”

So, which is it? Do we rely on maps and GPS devices too much? Or does the act of geocaching and navigating help grow the awareness of our surroundings?

VOTE in the Geocaching.com Poll in the sidebar to your right.

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Celebrating 10 Years in Germany

Mega-Event Cache Das Ulmer Fort GC20002

In an area next to Ulm University, a short drive away from Stuttgart, Germany, is a 130 year old abandoned fort occupied by a few sheep, some goats and a donkey named Paul.

Paul the Donkey

It was here on June 19th that local geocachers hosted Das Ulmer FORT – the Mega Event in Germany for 2010 (GC20002).

Six months ago the local geocaching community started preparations for the event. The fort had been neglected for 30 years, so an army of volunteers had to dig out the, err, deposits left by the local residents. The electricity had to be rewired, sharp protrusions had to be cut down and sanded, repairs had to be made, rooms had to be swept out, and trash had to be removed. This was necessary to make the location capable of holding over 300 campers who resided in the walls of the fort for the weekend.

Elias, Bryan and I, the three founders of Geocaching.com, had the privilege of attending the event this year.

The founders of Geocaching.com posing with geocaching attendees. Jeremy Irish (second from left), Bryan Roth (second from right) and Elias Alvord (far right)
Bryan Roth and Elias Alvord with the Queen of Fort Ulm

In the course of four hours we were able to mingle with the local geocachers, visit the various rooms and corridors in the Fort, meet the lovely Queen of Fort Ulm and celebrate a successful day with the organizers by eating a delicious Signal cake.

Signal was not harmed and
Signal was not harmed and was, in fact, also in attendance

It’s not often that we can visit geocachers in Europe, so we used this opportunity to listen to feedback about the web site. High on the list was having better ways to rate and search for geocaches by their ratings, which has been a common theme in the US. As geocaches increase in numbers it gets harder and harder to find the best ones.

Although geocachers in the world have far more similarities than differences, there were also some notable observations in how Germans play the game.

Signal waves to a fan

1. Many German geocachers enjoy finding terrain level 5 caches, or what are locally called “T5” caches. Many of these caches are located in trees, requiring special climbing gear. The event even had FORTgeschrittene, a T5 event for finding these extreme geocaches. In addition to a ropes course, you could dive into a freezing pool to find a cache. Fortunately you could enter a portable sauna to warm up afterward. Sadly I didn’t pack a bathing suit.

Bryan Roth (almost) diving into pool to retrieve a geocache.

2. According to the “Flashlight Pope” at the event, there are quite a few caches that require a black light. This is so you can see writing that takes you to the next location. As a gift he gave each of us a black light to use on our next geocaching adventure.

3. Multi-Caches are far more popular in Germany (and in Europe) than in the United States. Many more geocachers seem to be willing to spend days on one puzzle cache there. There may be a lot of multi-cache fans in the U.S. but the ratios of multis in Germany to U.S. caches are significantly higher.

Aside from the event we were able to locate unique geocaches in Germany, such as a cache in the center of Berlin with over 3,000 finds (GCTA4W), and a cache in the spire of the world’s tallest church (GCJ7E0), located in the city of Ulm.

If the locals plan on having a FORTsetzung (sequel) next year you don’t want to miss it. Thanks to everyone who planned one of the best geocaching events that we have ever attended. I hope to see you again next year!

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Geocachers Guard Nature as Citizen Scientists – Geocaching.com’s Lost & Found Video

Your next geocaching adventure can help save the environment from a multi-billion dollar scourge, invasive species.  Scientists at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado created a website called, CitSci.org.  They’re calling all geocachers to help track the spread of species which damage the natural environment. It’s a global project, that begins just outside your front door.

You can find more information on Citizen Science by clicking the image below.

Citsci.org

There are many more geocaching adventures. Take a look at all the Lost & Found videos here.

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“As North As It Gets” GC5803 GEOCACHE OF THE WEEK – June 25th, 2010

A local resident near GC5803

Just in time for the beginning of the best weather to travel north, is our Geocache of the Week GC5803.  The geocache titled, “As North As It Gets!” takes you up to N. 82 degrees.

Besides the wolf above, cachers who’ve logged GC5803 say you’ll also be walking among foxes, lemmings and even polar bears.  The cache is just outside what’s reported to be the northernmost permanently inhabited place on earth: Alert, Canada. The Canadian Air Force staffs a station there. Temperatures in Alert average about -30 degrees Celsius most of the year.

Geocacher finding GC5803. At last report, the cache thankfully contained gloves and hand warmers.

Now is the perfect opportunity to plan your northern caching adventure.  July is typically the warmest month.  The snow melts to reveal a rocky terrain of jagged shale.  Temperatures average a scorching six degrees Celsius (42 Fahrenheit).  You could be among the nearly two dozen geocachers to earn a smiley for logging this cache and take away memories of a rarely visited northern landscape.

View from near the GC5803

What to explore more geocaching adventures? Take a look at all the Geocaches of the Week here.

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Geocaching Caption Contest 6 – Win a Barely Coveted Prize

Your Caption HereWinning Caption Entry – “Congratulations! You have found stage 2 of a 4 part multi cache!” – roro

This is the sixth installment of our Geocaching Caption Contest. Here’s a little background to help mold your hilarious captions.  According to the geocacher pictured, kiwiwings, this photo was taken at a former Russian residential home in Latvia.  The home was left empty after the USSR dissolved. If you’re in the neighborhood hang out at GCVBHE for a bit.

What caption would you write for this photo?  “Wait… I can see my house from here and I live in Wisconsin.”  You can do better.  The winner receives these (recycled*) barely coveted Cache In Trash Out stickers. Please include your geocaching username in all entries.

The winner will be chosen by an ad hoc committee of Lackeys.

21 Lackeys voted to crown the winner of the fifth Geocaching Caption Contest.  Take a look at the post to see who won.  Explore the wit and wisdom of geocachers by checking out all the Geocaching Caption Contests.

Good luck!

Barely Coveted Prize

*The Cache In Trash Out stickers went unclaimed in the 4th Geocaching Caption Contest