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An adventure made for technology lovers

A suspected bomb threat unearths a high-tech scavenger hunting subculture.

By SHEELA RAMAN
Published November 6, 2006


DUNEDIN - The two mysterious visitors huddled around the sign to Dunedin Cemetery, poking and snooping around.

Someone at former Dunedin Mayor John Doglione's funeral saw the couple and called authorities.

Enter the bomb squad.

After an hour of using a robot and firing bullets at a 3-inch-long plastic canister, the squad discovered the contents: a scroll of paper scrawled with friendly greetings.

They had stumbled upon the world of geocaching - a scavenger hunt that combines technology with a love of adventure and a quirky subculture.

"We had no idea it even existed," said Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Jim Bordner.

That can be a problem for geocachers.

They search for hidden caches with their handheld Global Positioning System receivers, leaving triumphant notes for each other to mark their discovery.

More than a million cachers worldwide use the Web site geocaching.com to help find more than 320,000 caches like the one at Dunedin Cemetery.

Most cachers are part adventurer, part computer geek. They register on geocaching.com and use the site to look up the latitude and longitude of the caches that interest them.

Then they're off, with a GPS receiver as their guide. The device uses signals from satellites to determine the gadget's exact position on the planet.

But technology is not enough. Sometimes geocachers swim across rivers or trek deep into thick groves of palmettos to find a cache.

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Ray Reeves, 68, of Largo, planted the cache at Dunedin Cemetery about six months ago.

"It is most unfortunate, most unfortunate," he said of the bomb scare. He said he was merely trying to get people to visit the picturesque cemetery, with its collection of peacocks.

Reeves' caching name is "Rayiam," after Dr. Seuss' character Sam-I-am. A retired avionics designer, he hides caches with names like "Doopy-doo," which is what his granddaughter calls Scooby Doo.

Reeves has hidden about 60 of the 500-plus caches in Pinellas County, mostly in parks.

He once logged 238 miles on his car trekking back and forth to a site in southern St. Petersburg before finding the cache.

Caches can be urban or rugged, Reeves says, pointing to the sign for Greenhouse Shoppes on Ulmerton Road, across from Walsingham Park. What looks exactly like a covering to an electrical outlet is actually a magnetic cache, with notes hidden under the magnet.

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More and more cities are using geocaching as a tourist attraction, said Shauna Maggs, director of marketing for Groundspeak, the parent company of geocaching.com. Part of her job involves convincing police departments how innocent geocaching really is.

After meeting cachers or talking to Maggs, she said some cities have hidden caches in local parks or historic sites for visitors to find.

Yuzawa Kat, or Kathi Burgess in the real world, spends weekends geocaching with Burgi Dad, otherwise known as her husband, Dennis Burgess.

The Burgesses are competing in the North and South Florida Challenge Quests, caching competitions to see who finds the most caches in Florida counties.

They are traveling all weekend, staying with her mom and with "Gator Bruce," who has become a friend.

"Basically anyone who says they are a geocacher I'm friends with," said Kathi Burgress, 51, a self-described computer nut who credits the hobby for getting her outdoors more often.

Fellow cachers refer to each other by their caching names. They have potlucks and even a Geowoodstock, a three-day camping and caching festival held each year at a different location around the country. Maggs said the event draws over 500 people every time.

Interested in joining the fun? Get a GPS and take a closer look at that lamppost at the local supermarket. It may be more than it seems.