SPRING HILL — Geocaching. It's like hide-and-seek, digitalized. Like orienteering, but with a prize at the end. And a store bearing the name — the only outlet of its kind in the Tampa Bay area — is celebrating one year in Hernando County in July.
The pursuit — that's what it's all about — offers "a sense of adventure, getting with nature, going to new places you never knew were there," said Geocaching Store owner Elaine Erickson, a devotee of the hobby sport since 2008.
Her pursuit of caches hidden in the woods, in parks, at roadside rests, near beaches and elsewhere has taken her to 23 states and as far as New Mexico. The 55-year-old Spring Hill resident, bringing up her geocaching app on the Internet, reads, "I've got 1,634 finds."
One creates a free account at geocaching.com to get started, Erickson explained, the app downloaded to a smartphone or other handheld device.
"The app brings up a map and shows you all the places there are caches to find," she said. "It's kind of like orienteering, but instead of flags you're finding containers."
Geocachers hide waterproof containers, from pill vials to ammo boxes, containing little trinkets or toys or coins, and register the cache location on the app. Following map coordinates, searchers seek out the sites. Each container, in addition to the loot, holds a log for the finder to sign. The finder may take an item as a memento and leave another trifle in its place.
"Anybody can do a cache," Erickson said, noting "a couple hundred" are listed in Hernando County, probably eight or nine of them at the Chinsegut Conservation Center north of Brooksville.
At the Geocaching Store, Erickson sells various-sized containers; such "treasures" as finder's tokens, path tags, patches and pink plastic flamingos, and hiking gear, including hats, signatory T-shirts and tote bags. Also available are branded tokens often exchanged at geocache rallies, as well as patches and coins to mark a cacher's finds, from 100 to 55,000.
Yes, 55,000, insists Erickson, noting some caches have been in place for years since the hobby was founded in 2000 in Beavercreek, Ore.
"Millions of caches are hidden around the world," according to the hobby's website.
A big part of that world has traipsed to Erickson's storefront at Kass Circle. A cache is stashed there. A world map studded with stickpins marking the origin of visiting searchers at her doorstep notes people from Europe, Canada and the Caribbean.
Erickson's cache is contained in a sturdy box sign on the front sidewalk. Almost as an afterthought, she said, "Some caches, you have to figure out how to get inside it." So it is with her wooden box, the paint bearing fingernail scratches and shoe scuffs. She offers a hint, telling three places the entry is not. She'll tell no more. It's part of the adventure.
"Kids, mom and daughter, senior citizens, retirees — they're the whole gamut," Erickson said of cache followers. "A lot of teachers use it for geography. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can earn merit badges. It makes a good family activity with kids. Now that school's out, it gets kids out of the house."
Contact Beth Gray at email@example.com.