A taste for adventure
CAMP VIRGIL TATE -- The Rinaldi family has trekked through forests, climbed Appalachian mountain ranges, and crossed Alaskan glaciers.
They are modern explorers known as geocachers.
They have relinquished the primitive navigation tools of yore. Instead of the stars or a compass, geocachers use global positioning systems (GPS) to navigate, find trails and go on high tech treasure hunts.
The activity is like a futuristic scavenger hunt that can span the North American continent.
On Saturday, 200 cachers descended on Camp Virgil Tate just outside of Charleston to embark on a new Civil War Geotrail.
The trail includes 75 caches, disguised as fossils and stumps, sprinkled throughout West Virginia. The caches are located on Civil War era battlefields and monuments such as Charleston's Craik-Patton House.
Organizers released the coordinates of the caches Saturday afternoon.
Participants, clutching GPS tracking devices and iPhones equipped with a geocache app, immediately set out from the camp to find the hidden objects.
If participants complete the trail, they can earn a set of collectible geocaching coins that fit together to form a map of West Virginia.
ExploreWV -- a local geocaching group has spearheaded the push to encourage the activity. The organization launched its first initiative -- the WV Geocoin Challenge -- three years ago. It has since launched two other challenges that track Main Streets and famous haunted locations throughout West Virginia.
"We hate to see people leave the state," said Robin Taylor, program director for ExploreWV. "We use geocache as a tool to educate people about what the state offers."
The activity means many things to its participants.
Geocaching, they say, has fostered friendships, imparted historical lessons and given them a taste for adventure.
North Carolinian Diana Freeman, for example, has come to appreciate West Virginia through geocaching.
Freeman said that she used to have somewhat unflattering ideas about West Virginia, but she has retracted the assumptions as she has found caches and explored the natural beauty of the Mountain State.
She now loves returning to West Virginia and Taylor jokes that Freeman ought to become an honorary citizen of West Virginia.
Freeman initially started to geocache because the game taught her about history. She has followed the Trail of Tears - which tracks the forced relocation of American Indians in the South -- through North Carolina, and she now hopes to learn more about the Civil War through geocaching.
Her historical bent is something that program organizers hope to replicate among the thousands who participate in geocache programs annually.
"We want to educate them about the Civil War and our state's significance," Taylor said.
The Rinaldi family agreed.
West Virginia has so much history that remains unknown to many residents, Danielle Rinaldi said.
She comes from Harper's Ferry, an area that boasts plenty of Civil War lore, but knows very little about how Southern West Virginia contributed to the conflict.
For her, geocaching serves as an intellectual stimulant to learn about her state's history.
She and her husband also simply enjoy exploring the West Virginian wilderness.
"We go to places that we would never go otherwise," Danny Rinaldi said. "It gets me off the couch and gets me outdoors."
Those outdoors adventures have included climbing over cliffs to reach precariously placed caches -- activities that, Danny Rinaldi jokes, are life threatening.
"We do crazy things like risk our lives," he said. "I certainly wasn't adventurous until now."
On Saturday, Taylor told a similar story as she struggled to pinpoint why she loves to geocache.
"It's an adrenaline rush for us," she said. "It's just the thrill of the find."
Participants agreed that geocache unites people from all walks of life.
"You'll find a lot of diversity here," Danny Rinaldi said. "It brings a lot of different people together."
As Taylor surveyed the motley crew of cachers who gathered Saturday, she agreed. She highlighted how the activity caters to a variety of demographics.
Yet despite different backgrounds, the cachers have formed close friendships over the years.
Taylor even described the event on Saturday as "a big family reunion." Reach Laura Reston at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5112.