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TRAVERSE CITY, MI In the world of geocaching, it’s easy to be an old-timer.




The quirky high-tech treasure-hunting game has only been around since 2000, when Oregon computer consultant Dave Ulmer used his portable GPS navigational receiver to hide a bucketful of prizes in the woods and left clues on the Internet that allowed other GPS users to find it.


So when Ray Ruediger says that his six-year-old TC Winter Convergence is the world’s longest-running geocaching event, he’s probably right. Each year since 2002, enthusiasts from all over the Upper Midwest have gathered in the woods near Ruediger’s hometown of Traverse City, Mich. on the third Saturday in January for a midwinter party and a day of frantic treasure-hunting.


“We could only find one other get-together, someplace out on the West Coast, that goes back to the same year,” he says. “But ours is several months older.”


Geocaching’s growth as a pastime has been explosive over the past eight years. Today there are more than 440,000 registered geocaches --- hidden containers that typically contain a logbook and other items of "treasure" -- in 222 countries around the world and on all seven continents, including Antarctica. (In the Traverse City area alone, there are more than 1,300 registered caches.) No one knows precisely how many people consider themselves geocachers, but some estimates range as high as 4 to 5 million.


The game’s rules are fairly simple. Anyone can set up and conceal a cache, recording the GPS coordinates and posting them on the international geocaching web site, Other players then use the coordinates to find the cache, which sometimes contains rewards – perhaps a trinket or postcard. (Generally, if you take something out of a cache, you’re expected to leave something else in its place.) Winning players then sign the log book, conceal the cache again and contact the web site to tell the story of how they found it.


Because of its high-tech origins, geocaching isn’t necessarily a sociable pastime; many of the game’s aficionados are more comfortable talking with each other on Internet forums than meeting face to face. But Ruediger wasn’t one of them. Once he started playing the game and reading the entries other players left on the Internet, he wanted to meet some of his fellow competitors.


“There are some real personalities out there, and I thought it would be great to get together with them,” he said.


Thirteen players responded to his original Internet posting by showing up for the 2002 convergence, but attendance has grown steadily each year. When the 2008 event takes place on Jan. 18, over 100 participants from places as far as Ohio, Indiana and Missouri are expected to attend -- bringing folding chairs, firewood, snowshoes and an array of what Ruediger calls “dead animal hats.”


Almost immediately after the first Winter Convergence, other geocaching events began popping up around the globe. Today there are hundreds, from the Steinburger Geocacher-Treffen in Germany to the Combat Cachers Meet and Greet organized by U.S. troops in Iraq. Some have grown huge –the traveling GeoWoodstock meet, also in its sixth year, is expected to draw 3,000 participants to its May event in Sacramento, CA – but Traverse City lays claim to the very first.


Past TC Winter Convergences have been held at several locations around Traverse City, from the nearby Pere Marquette State Forest to the 370-acre Grand Traverse Nature Education Reserve in the Boardman River valley, and the weather has been predictably wintry. (One year’s observance featured a blizzard in which eight inches of snow fell while the players searched the woods for the hidden caches.)


Between bouts of treasure-hunting, players gather around a big campfire to eat warm food, enjoy each other’s company and swap stories of caches they’ve unearthed in other parts of the world. And no one seems to mind the frequent snowfalls; it’s all part of what Ruediger calls “geocaching Up North style.”


For information on the 2008 Winter Convergence, log on to and search for “TC Winter Convergence.” (The site also gives a good basic introduction to the game for those who’ve never played before.)  And to learn about
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