As the new year unfolds, so do the opportunities for continued adventures in geocaching for two enthusiasts with local connections.
And Bob Marshall and Douglas Manuel resolve in 2013 to keep enjoying those experiences through this worldwide game of seeking hidden treasure while possibly encouraging newcomers to the family-friendly hobby along the way.
Marshall, a Follansbee resident, has been hooked on geocaching since June 2004. Manuel lives outside the Washington, D.C., area with his Steubenville native wife, the former Tammy Noonan, a 1971 graduate of Catholic Central High School. He's been involved with geocaching since it really took off 12 years ago.
Marshall and Manuel connected through geocaching around 2005 through the official website at www.geocaching.com. The website is where people can register for free to find caches - pronounced "cashes"; choose a geocaching name (Marshall's is Skyraider, for example, because he has a pilot's license); and find, log and respond in writing to what seek-and-find adventures they've had.
The website offers caches to search for locally or anywhere in the world - a choice of about 2 million of them - in varying degrees of physical and intellectual difficulty.
According to the official geocaching website, "geo" is for geography while caching is the process of hiding a cache or container. A geocacher can locate one with the help of a GPS or a GPS-enabled device and GPS coordinates.
Marshall and Manuel discovered through the website that in addition to their interest in geocaching, aviation was a common denominator, too, as Manual also has a pilot's license, not to mention a local connection in being a frequent visitor to Steubenville with his wife on their trips to see his mother-in-law, Edith Noonan.
"We hit it off like old buddies," Marshall said, "and whenever he comes to Steubenville to visit his mother-in-law, we get together and have lunch at Naples or somewhere."
The two also independently responded to a previous Valley Life story on geocaching, prompting their follow-up perspective and experiences.
That Marshall and Manuel became friends through geocaching is not surprising, as Marshall said a camaraderie with fellow cachers is one of the hobby's rewards.
"I have met the nicest people through geocaching," Marshall said, citing, for example, a couple from the Monongahela, Pa., area who are in their late 70s, early 80s and who cache every weekend.
"They are out every weekend, hiking in woods," Marshall said of the couple who has joined in local searches and who host an annual summer picnic attended by 50 to 60 caching hobbyists.
"Everybody hangs out and talks about geocaching," said Marshall, who grew up in Weirton and graduated from Weir High School. He works at Custom Hydraulics in Paris, Pa., and also runs a garage in Weirton, working mainly on specialty cars.
Saturdays are for geocaching - year-round no matter what the weather.
Marshall does geocaching alone; with his family, including his wife, Sandy, and sons, Nicholas and Gabriel; and with groups.
"I like caching by myself, but if a group is going to go do something, I'll go with them, too," he said.
"I'm still not sure if it's a sport, a hobby or a game - my wife says it's an obsession," Marshall said with a chuckle.
"We have had some really, really cool experiences with group geocaching," he said, citing how in recent weeks, he participated in a number of more extreme caches in the Pittsburgh area.
"One of them was down over the side of Mount Washington down by the incline called Indian Trail Steps. There used to be steps from the top of Mount Washington all the way down to the river, and now it's just sort of like a trail down there, so we had a group get together to do that one and several other more adventurous kind of caches in the Pittsburgh area," Marshall said.
"We have a group that gets together once a year, and we do a hike called 'Seldom Seen Nooks and Crannies' in Pittsburgh," he said. "It's all these back streets and alleys and all the crazy steps you see going up the side of the hills in Pittsburgh. We spent all day doing these hikes in Pittsburgh."
Marshall describes himself as one of the extreme cachers in the area.
"I have cached in five different countries. I have driven 400 miles to rappel over the side of Buttermilk Falls near Skaneateles, N.Y. I have flown into Put-in-Bay airport and in my inflatable kayak paddled across Lake Erie to Starve Island just to do a cache. I have hiked more than 20 miles just for one cache - (in Raccoon Creek State Park in southern Beaver County, Pa). I have climbed Dunn River Falls in Jamaica to do a cache," Marshall said.
"I also like the caches that take you to a historical location that only the locals know about. I have been to some extremely interesting areas that I would never have known about if it was not for caching," he said.
Closer to home, Marshall estimates there are hundreds of caches in the Jefferson, Harrison, Brooke and Hancock county area.
He has created about 20 caches himself, including several at Tomlinson Run Park in Hancock County.
"I was very selective how I put them out. I try to tie them into some local history thing," Marshall said.
"It's so cool, and it's a great way to get your kids away from the computer screen and get out and mix it up with nature a little bit. Kids love it. It's a high-tech treasure hunt that kids just absolutely love," Marshall said of geocaching.
"It's a great way to enjoy time with your family, away from the computer screen," Marshall said. "You are hiking and having fun. Almost all the local parks around here have caches in them," he added.
"One of the coolest things about geocaching is that it doesn't matter your physical attribute or whatever - there are caches out there you can do. There are caches in a mall parking lot that are no more than 10 feet from your car, and there are other ones that are extreme hikes out in the wilderness," Marshall said.
"It is so diverse that everyone has to figure out the way they like to do it, and there is no right way or wrong way," he continued.
Marshall said a geocache is rated on the website for difficulty and for terrain on a one-to-five-star basis. The more stars, for instance, the harder the find, the more challenging the terrain.
"You can choose any level you want," he said.
Marshall also participates in event caches that are social gatherings where cachers share a meal and trade stories.
Manuel retired from Lockheed-Martin in 2010 and now works "for a three-letter government group, keeping the bad guys at bay." He joined the Marines in 1972 after high school, then accepted a commission in the Navy as a Naval aviator.
"I joined Lockheed in 1985 and have held a variety of jobs. I flew satellites for the USAF. From there I went to the Kennedy Space Center, where I was a shuttle launch controller. From there I went to Kirtland Air Force Base as a supervisor flying developmental classified satellites for government groups. Lockheed promoted me to launch operations manager in 1999 launching commercial satellites, on Russian Proton rockets, from the Russian Cosmodrome at Baikonur Kazakhstan," Manuel explained.
"When problems arose with the Hubble Space Telescope Repair Mission, I was moved over as senior systems engineer. Once the mission was over, I went back to Vandenberg Air Force Base to work classified satellite integration," said Manuel, who spends "lots of time" volunteering, including as a pilot for Pilots-N-Paws, an animal rescue group, and as an EMT with Loudoun County Fire/Rescue.
"I met my wife, Tammy, in California. She kept talking about Steubenville/Jefferson County, and it sounded like a slice of heaven," Manuel said.
"When I first visited in 1987, I fell in love with the place and enjoy every visit," he added.
In explaining how he got interested in geocaching, Manuel responded, "In my job flying satellites, I worked with the group controlling the GPS satellite constellation, so I knew their potential.
"I bought my first handheld GPS in 1995 ($300) to use when hiking, but there were no maps, and the accuracy was pathetic. Once we were directed to turn SA (Selective Availability) off in 2000, GPS civil units became as accurate as those of the military, and geocaching took off. I was there when it was an informal gathering of like-minded geeks. I enjoyed being at the forefront of technology."
Manuel said he has geocached throughout the continental United States, Hawaii, Australia, Mexico, Canada, Europe and Asia. "I have had to cut back on my geocaching because of work and my other volunteer activities, to a few hours a month," he said.
Like Marshall, Manuel has not just searched for caches but has created some himself, including one promoting Steubenville's own Dean Martin.
"When I go on a trip, I go to the geocaching website because caches along the route and at the destination often give you locations of items of interest or historical significance not usually in tour books," Manuel explained.
"Hence, I took it upon myself, in 2002, to add a cache promoting Steubenville's Dean Martin. If one goes to my 'That's Amore' virtual cache and reads the log notes, most folks were unfamiliar with the link between Dean and the city, but were very enthusiastic to visit," he said.
"More than 450 people have visited this cache, becoming familiar with Steubenville in the process. For those cachers wanting more adventure, I put one out called 'The Mother (In-Law) Lode Cache' in homage to my mother-in-law," he said of Edith Noonan, who was a former Herald-Star Community Star honoree.
Caches can be simple or complex, according to Manuel. "Caches range from very easy to extremely difficult, in two categories: intellectual and physical. Physically, very easy would be like my 'That's Amore' cache, which is a drive-by, to ones that require scuba tanks or mountain climbing," Manuel said.
He noted many cachers use cache searches to learn the history of an area or locate caches about which they have a particular interest. He cited a few area history-oriented caches, for example, center on Gen. George Custer's hometown of New Rumley; the world's largest teapot in Chester; and the site just outside Calcutta in Columbiana County where 1930s gangster Pretty Boy Floyd was ambushed and killed.
"On the intellectual side, my most complex one involved calculating a location based on three people hearing a single canon report, using the air density/temperature to figure the speed of sound, time from the canon firing to when they heard it and knowing their location, to work out the location of the canon (cache location). Lots of fun. Some caches involve breaking codes to generate latitude and longitude," he added.
Asked what message he'd like to get across to readers about geocaching, Manuel replied, "What I would like people to know about geocaching is that it is a family activity - a basic handheld GPS can be bought for as little as $50. Everyone gets as much exercise as you want to invest, it can be educational and intellectually stimulating."
Manuel suggests people interested can check out the website at www.geocaching.com and learn what geocaches there are in the local area and elsewhere by latitude/longitude, city/state, map or Zip code.
(Kiaski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)