What’s Out There?
Geodashing – an Alternative GPS Game
By Kelly Markwell, aka Markwell

Mr. Johnson’s Corn“Hi Mr. Johnson. You might not remember me, but my mom used to deliver your mail.”
“Oh yea, the Markwell boy. What’s up?”
“I’m playing an internet game with my GPS. Each month, I’m given a set of mostly random coordinates. The idea is to try to get as close as possible (hopefully within 100 meters) of the coordinates.”
“Sounds kinda strange, but OK...”
“Well it seems that one of the locations is in the middle of your cornfield. Do you mind if I take a walk?”
“What’s out there?”
“Just your corn.”
“Why do you want to go out there again?”
“To report what’s out there.”
“But there’s nothing there but corn...”

So goes a conversation I’ve had a couple of times with landowners when I’m pursuing one of my favorite GPS hobbies: Geodashing. Each month, the GPS Enthusiast Scout – the brains and talent behind the games found on GPSGames.org – distributes a list of some 31,000 mostly random points on the globe. There are nuances of scoring and team scores to make the game more fun, but the basic objective is to reach within 100 meters of the actual coordinates, and hopefully to be the first one to do it.

Geodashing took roots from the Degree Confluence Project, where people around the globe try to reach coordinates like N 41° 00.000 W 087° 00.000 and report what’s there. The problem is that there are only a finite number of confluences, and many of those are unreachable in polar regions or out to sea – thus leaving only a short list of locations to visit. In fact, as of August 16, it appears that only three confluences in the continental U.S. that are on land haven’t been visited yet: N34° W116° in the middle of a bombing range; N43° W109° in the middle of an Indian Reservation and N39° W083° in the middle of a US Government installation that used to do Uranium enrichment. Visiting a Degree Confluence after someone has already reported on it can leave the joy of discovery and the unknown behind.

GeodashingWith this in mind, Scout has developed a program that has evolved since the first publication of “dashpoints” in June of 2001. The first points were far apart (only 6 in Illinois), and only covered the US. Over the next few months of games, the density of dashpoints increased, as did the coverage of the earth’s surface. Scout also added specialized programming to eliminate points more than 500 meters from shore on any large bodies of water. It is assumed that someone, sometime, may actually use some form of water transportation to get a dashpoint off shore, so those aren’t completely eliminated.

There are a couple of obvious benefits of this game over traditional geocaching. By changing the dashpoint list each month, it keeps the interest of the players over a long period of time. Also, since these are all virtual points and nothing is deposited there, permission for placement is not necessary, although the game insists that adequate permission is obtained for visiting the points (as in my story at the beginning of the article). Lastly, volunteer trails aren’t likely, as the most frequently visited dashpoint ever only received six visitors.

As with any game, rules are inevitable. On my first attempt at a dashpoint (the first attempt ever of any dashpoint), I failed to read the 100-meter proximity rule, and erroneously claimed a score at 0.15 miles (241 meters). The team concept has also evolved in the game, allowing up to five players to pool their points against other teams, thus prodding extra effort into the players to go out and grab points. There are many rules governing what happens when two people on the same team visit the point on the same day, what happens when two people on different teams visit the point on the same day, what happens when someone visits a point, but doesn’t report it for a week – and someone else visits after them and reports before them, etc., etc., etc., but it can boggle the mind. However, the basic idea of the game is the same: pick a dashpoint for the month, visit it within 100 meters (or as close as possible), and report back to the Yahoo group with what you saw.

“But, What’s Out There?” That’s the question answered by each dashpoint report. Two people can visit the same dashpoint and come away with very differing stories and perspectives, especially if their approach was different. Sometimes reports have nothing more than, “I visited the point, and it was exactly as Buxley described.” But other reports are much more eloquent and descriptive. Reading these online logs through the Yahoo Group, you learn history and get a sense of locality that tour groups would never give you. And, since the game is international, you get these messages and stories from all over the globe.

Me and the boysIn any particular region, a list of Geodashers might read like the list of people that are likely to come to your local geocaching picnic. To date, there have been 237 different people that have logged at least one dashpoint since the game has begun. In 2004 alone, there have been 71 individual dashers. While the game is not for everyone, we’ve definitely seen slow and steady growth since the inception.

Recently, I visited a point that took me to an inaccessible location at the Joliet Arsenal, southwest of Chicago. Without a military pass, I could not get onto the historic government property to actually visit the dashpoint, but the story surrounding the area rivaled some of my favorite geocaching logs.

Early on in my geodashing adventures, I was taken to the entrance of a State Park only 40 miles away that I had no idea existed. Since then, I’ve taken my son’s Cub Scout pack camping there twice and visited there a couple of times for geocaching adventures.

I’ve visited more cornfields and bean fields than I’d care to remember, but I’ve also visited the parking lot of the corporate headquarters of McDonald’s in Oakbrook. I’ve been to Dollywood, Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, and the quaint little town of Paw Paw, Illinois. All of these were little slices of the wonders of Illinois and beyond – places that I might not have investigated had it not been for this wonderful hobby.

More often than not, the stereotypes of a region hold true with dashpoint reports. Think of Illinois and you think either Chicago or cornfields. That’s pretty much what I’ve seen. Think of New Mexico and you think wide-open land with no fences and no vegetation. That’s pretty much what the reports from New Mexico said, as well.

Markwell, Drew and Ryan the PilotMost recently, I’ve talked a private pilot friend into taking me up to go Geodashing in a Piper Cherokee. The rules are interpreted that a dashpoint is a point on the earth’s surface, and that to score, players need to be within 100 meters vertically and horizontally. The debate is still out as to whether the representation of the scoring region is a hemisphere around the center point, or a cylinder rising 100 meters in the air with a radius of 100 meters, but regardless, I made sure that when we swooped the Illinois farm fields, we were within the required 100 meters.

When I started geocaching, there weren’t many caches around - only about ten in a 20-30 mile radius. I took on Geodashing as something to do when I couldn’t get out and cache, or something to do on the way to a cache. Now with over 1,000 caches in the Chicago region, I find that I could spend all my time caching within the immediate area of my home, and never venture far to explore new territories. So, I find that I’ve reversed my philosophy of caching and dashing: I try to score around four dashpoint hunts each month, and if the dashpoints happen to be near caches, I’ll hit those as well. In doing this, I’m pushed to go beyond just the local caches.

Geodashing’s future is wide open. I don’t think Scout expected it to go on as long as it has (September 2004 will be the 39th publication of dashpoints). Along the way, MinuteWar, GeoPoker and Geodashing Golf have evolved to satiate the desires of Geodashers to be competitive or to visit a more localized cluster of random coordinates. How long this wonderful game and its brethren can continue is known only by Scout.

Getting started with Geodashing is easy. Pick a point on Geodashing.GPSGames.org and visit it (remembering that Geodashing uses decimal degrees and meters as the standards), and report back to the Yahoo Group your find (or use the form on the website). Most likely, you’ll find that there’s a dashpoint within about 20-25 miles of your location. Whether or not you can get within 100 meters is something you’ll have to tell us.

written for Today's Cacher
September 2004