Vermont inn offers high-tech treasure hunt

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When we crossed the planked Cornish-Windsor Bridge, the longest covered bridge in the world, from Vermont into New Hampshire, our yellow, hand-held Global Positioning Satellite unit said we were there. But there was a dusty shoulder off a winding country road in New England, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. All we knew was that within a few feet of us lay a hidden treasure.

Welcome to the addictive, fast-growing game -- or, to some, sport -- of geocaching, invented on May 3, 2000, when someone hid a container of goodies outside Portland, Ore. On May 6, the treasure -- or cache, in the parlance of the game -- was found and a new pastime was born. The game has attracted a growing number of adventure enthusiasts.

One recent weekend, my geocaching partner and I became two of its newest devotees, with our weekend base camp at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville, Vt.

The GPS handset got us within 15 feet of our goal. We had to sleuth out the rest, using common sense and some cryptic clues.

While I stared at the GPS unit, trying to line up its arrow -- which seemed to mock me -- with the coordinates, my partner started to walk toward the river, demonstrating the instincts of a big-game hunter.

She paused. Knelt. Felt around the stones next to a guardrail. And found it.

It was a beat-up plastic container filled with trinkets: toy soldiers, colored marbles, a tiny airplane. Stuff like that.

We took a bright marble and in its place left a ceramic magnet from the Inn at Weathersfield, one of the few hotels in the country that offers a geocaching weekend package.

We were hooked on the game, also known as GPS Stash Hunt or Global Positioning Stash Hunt.

To sum up geocaching, players consult a resource, such as www.geocaching.com, for coordinates to a cache, or stash of goods, hidden (or sometimes in plain sight) in a given location. Caches and hunts usually have interesting names. For example, caches within 25 miles of Perkinsville include Top o the Arrow, Rude Girls, Paradise -- Find It and Hops and Horsetails.

When players track down a cache -- which should contain a logbook and several trinkets, or swag -- they can jot down a record of their visit, take something from the cache, leave something else behind and then set off on a new adventure.

Our second cache of the day was called SpringWeather. Geocaching.com offered the coordinates, so all we had to do was enter the waypoint into our GPS unit, which led us to the beginning of an obscure nature trail.

We saw early-summer flowers and clover-covered valleys but had no idea where our cache was. The coded clue sheet said to look for the large downed tree with big branches. We entered the woods and followed the trail over a rustic, wooden bridge, above a fast-flowing, crystal-clear stream.

We charged up one trail and down the other. An hour later, exhausted and laughing, we admitted failure. No cache.

So, we sat and ate the lunch the inn had prepared for us: Lentil and beet salad with melon and ginger, some of Vermonts best cheeses and fresh bread and fruit. Linen napkins and silverware were included, as well. Defeated but happy, we returned to Weathersfield, where innkeeper David Sandelman took pity on us, and gamely led us back to the site, pointing out our mistakes.

A half hour later, eureka! We found it.

Sandelman and his wife, Jane, are avid geocachers. This is the second year theyve offered a geocaching package, which Jane described as very popular.

Weve turned a lot of people on to geocaching, which is a great reason to get out and take a walk in the woods, with a little prize at the end, she said. Anyone who tries geocaching usually runs right out and buys their own GPS unit.

How to sell geocaching

Geocaching may appeal to clients looking for a novel adventure vacation. Agents can pitch the game as follows:

  • Tell clients that geocaching gives them bragging rights. This game will become mainstream, so do it now and be among the pioneers.

  • Stress the mental and physical fun of the game. Call it an old-time treasure hunt, using modern technology.

  • If youre sending them to Weathersfield, point out that the inn is quintessential Vermont, with lots of nearby small shops, farm stands and terrific foliage in the fall.
  • The Inn at Weathersfields weekend geocaching package includes three nights lodging in a room with king- or queen-size bed and private bath; a gourmet picnic lunch for two with house wine, real china, utensils and linen napkins packed in a backpack; and one dinnertime chefs tasting menu for two at the inn.

    The package also includes use of all geocaching equipment, including a loaner GPS unit, maps, hints, exchange swag and a private lesson with David Sandelman.

    Package prices are $699 per couple for a king-size room or $599 for a queen-size, and are valid through Sept. 15. The inn does not offer any packages from Sept. 15 to Oct. 31. Regular, per-night room rates  are $140 to $225, Mondays to Wednesdays, and $150 to $250, Thursdays to Sundays. Holiday rates range from $175 to $285, double.  The Inn at Weathersfield pays travel agents 5% on room rates and packages.

    The 12 rooms at the inn, which was built in 1792, all have fireplaces, televisions and DVD/stereo systems. In-room amenities include robes, slippers, feather beds, fine linens and a full breakfast served in a glass-walled nook, plus afternoon tea and cool drinks.

    For more on the Inn at Weathersfield, call (802) 263-9217, fax (802) 263-9219, e-mail [email protected] or visit www.weathersfieldinn.com.

    To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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