Berkshire Geobash: A little competition among 800 friends

PITTSFIELD — On a muggy Saturday morning, 56-year-old Karen McIntyre turned her back to an unoccupied swimming pool at the base of Bousquet Mountain and pounced on a boulder near the water's perimeter.

After minutes of quizzical looks at the abandoned area surrounding her, McIntyre had spotted a plastic flower next to the rock, and she hadn't wasted any time contemplating whether it marked what she was targeting: a "lab cache," or a temporary type of geocache that is often installed at the activity's "mega" events.

This occasion was the sixth annual Berkshire Geobash, which brought more than 800 people to the ski resort on July 22. The event is New England's only continuous "mega" (or more than 500-attendee) geocaching event and is one of about 30 in the world. For geocachers — or people who find (and set up) waterproof containers in outdoor spaces using coordinates posted on — the Geobash primarily provides an opportunity to meet others who share their obsession and to exchange stories about their favorite caching experiences, according to event organizer Kathy Gwozdz.

"We all come together, and we all tell our tall tales," Gwozdz said while wandering the grounds. "We're like the fishermen. Our tales always get a little bit bigger and better than they were."

Scheduled discussions about planning searches and the most useful apps for geocaching; a "bingo mingle" board requiring people to find cachers with specific backgrounds; and tents displaying memorabilia and promoting future events certainly encouraged such fodder. But the thrill of the hunt still commanded the attention of some attendees.

McIntyre was one of them. She scurried toward the plastic flower and inspected it, juggling her phone and GPS device as she did so. (Phones can provide GPS, too, but many geocachers feel a separate GPS device is much more accurate and reliable.) Instead of containers, the event's lab caches held codes to be entered online at The site would acknowledge the first three people to find each cache, and the top 10 overall finishers would receive prizes at the end of the day.

McIntyre's quickly found the cache's code ("summer fun") written on the stem in black ink and logged the discovery. But there was a problem: she had tipped off a much younger attendee during the process. McIntyre had to settle for second on this cache.

"I shouldn't have let that kid know where it is," McIntyre said afterward.

A Castleton, N.Y., resident, McIntyre began geocaching in September of 2013 and has since logged more than 4,000 finds. She said geocaching has replaced some of her training for triathlons and long-distance bike rides and helps her socialize.

"Sometimes I spend a little bit too much time by myself," she said later.

During the pursuit of the next cache, McIntyre crossed paths with a familiar face.

"K-Tom!" she called to 30-year-old Katelyn Thompson, an Ashland resident who has attended every Geobash. McIntyre was referring to Thompson's username, kTOM413. It was a common way for geocachers to address each other at the event. On attendees' name cards, usernames were printed below legal names and above home states. Thompson also proudly displayed hers on a customized hat. Like many of her fellow geocachers, Thompson discovered geocaching while on a hike during the summer of 2007. After some web searching, the hobby intrigued her, but she didn't log a find until June of 2008, she said. For her, one of the activity's greatest rewards is the unexpected places it takes her. She also enjoys deciphering gadget caches.

At the Geobash, two such caches were set up in a wooded area between two ski paths. One was called "Don't Shock the Goat." It required cachers to maneuver a circular wand around a wire that outlined a goat's head and horns. If they could do so without touching the wire, cachers would unlock a door containing the logbook.

"It's like Operation," Thompson said.

Robin Davis, Isaiah Timlin and Destinee Sharper had traveled from Hatfield, Penn., for the event and tried to complete the challenge. Davis watched 12-year-olds Timlin and Sharper struggle before stepping in, successfully guiding the wand around the wire with a plastic bag.

"We learn tricks of the trade," Davis said euphemistically.

As the door flung open, people came over to sign the logbook despite having never completed the task. One of them was Bill Davies of Auburn, N.Y., who added to his more than 40,000 finds. He has logged one from every state but Alaska, he said. He started in 2002, just two years after the activity began, according to (the authority for all things related to geocaching).

In 2000, the U.S. loosened its restrictions on civil GPS use. A computer consultant named Dave Ulmer subsequently left a black bucket in a wooded area of Beaverton, Ore. The bucket contained a logbook (for signing), a pencil and prizes. Ulmer then posted its coordinates online, leading to multiple discoveries by readers and, ultimately, the coining of the term, "geocaching."

Today, more than 3 million people worldwide actively geocache, including more than 830,000 in the U.S., according to the Users post on the site when they've hidden a cache. Along with information about how to access the logbook, which can sometimes involve different feats of body and mind, the posts contain the cache's coordinates. When users find a cache, they earn a "smiley." More importantly to geocachers, the site tracks these triumphs across a wide variety of different categories. Davies, for example, said he ranked No. 1 in the world at one point for webcam caches.

"It really is about the numbers," he said.

But isn't signing a logbook without following the rules defeat geocaching's purpose?

Davies didn't think so, and neither did Eric Kristoff, who helped build "Don't Shock the Goat," which is permanently installed on the mountain.

"Geocaching is very much a 'you play it the way you want to play it' kind of game," he said while lingering near some of the event's tents.

And for many families, it's a "you have to play it" kind of game. Ralph Schuessele of Toronto watched his 7-year-old daughter, Theresa, attempt to throw a rock into a wood box attached to a tree (the other gadget cache). "She started when she was born," he said.

Schuessele's wife, Lisa, and son, Tylor, were also attending the event. Though they hailed from Canada, they didn't have the longest distance to travel of the attendees; geocachers came from as far as Denmark and France, according to Gwozdz. The event's organizer didn't start geocaching until 2008. A naysayer eventually motivated her to become an ambassador for the activity in 2012.

"I overheard somebody say it will never happen in Massachusetts," she recalled.

After six years, the Geobash has certainly solidified its place in the geocaching community. But, besides the camaraderie and scenery the event offers, what keeps geocachers coming back?

According to McIntyre, who finished 23rd in the lab cache content, the event is another setting for them to fulfill their competitive spirits. "I think every geocacher has some little thing they're working towards," she said.


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