Since I haven’t done many posts lately I failed to mention a very significant (at least for me) event – the end of geodashing (the site is still there, but the game is finished). Now indulge me, Dear Reader, while I explain.
First, for me I discovered geodashing as a fairly dark time in my life and it provided me some significant relief. Even though my very first geodashing trip included my wife for several years it was just my activity that I usually did solo. It was a very valuable excuse to escape my house and some of the events going on there. A day, sometimes more, of driving, to find these totally random spots on the Earth managed to drain away much of the tension and despair I was feeling. So, in many ways, it saved me.
So what is this crazy recreation that only a few thousands of people tried and a much smaller number of diehard enthusiasts continued for years. Well, a computer program written by an unknown person who went by the handle of Scout, set up 32,000 random coordinates (mostly on land, definitely not in big bodies of water, but sometimes in lakes). So, without trespassing, you go out, each month with a new set of points, to find as many as you can. You can claim the location (“dashpoint”) by writing up a description of it that could be independently verified. Then you received a score and your team, if any, received a score and there were winners in each. I personally got the second most individual points ever and the team I started got the second most points ever. Since the individual leader died during the game I was hoping to someday be #1 and our team was slowly eating away at an early lead of the #1 team.
So this activity took me all sorts of interesting places where I would have never gone (as well as provided that much needed relief I described above) and eventually scoring a point in almost every state. I even hold (later learning what I did was illegal) the one and only claimed dashpoint in China. The mantra of the game was “getting there is all the fun” and this usually turned out to be true, as for me, often, the point was just some farmer’s field, but the trip to get there yielded something unexpected.
So like for such much is happening to me as I definitely am feeling the ravages of age, something I valued has ended for me, forever.
Now it’s interesting in a more abstract way to think about this game as a bit of history. When I first began to drive a car I could never have imagined such an activity as this – sure I “went for a drive”, from time to time, just to see what was out there, but it was unimaginable to do something like this. And when the US government invented GPS so it could be used by nuclear missile subs to be able to accurately target their missiles, none of those engineers could have imagined one day their multimillion device would be reduced in size and cost so it could be used for recreation. And even the first civilian GPS creators could not have imagined this (more on this later).
So a new technology gets invented, that few could have even imagined, say in 1957 when the first manmade satellite was launched, that one day would spawn a game, which in turn would mature and be terminated. All that in less than one lifetime and thus it will be a tiny footnote to history. Once those of us enthusiasts are gone no one will even know it ever existed. So literally, from dust to dust, as the saying goes.
GPS, in many ways, is one of those technologies that seems almost like magic. When geodashing started few people had heard of it, yet today it’s commonplace with literally billions of GPS enabled devices, now so much a mundane part of life almost nobody thinks about how amazing it is. Like so many other technologies, astounding in their infancy, they’re just taken for granted in their maturity.
Since the creator of geodashing never revealed his/her identity (her the pronoun thing is not some woke thing, just the gender of the person was never revealed, even though the hometown (Appleton Wisconsin) did leak out), the exact history may not be known but it was spawned by several events: 1) the invention of GPS itself, as a consumer product, spawned a whole family of “games”, 2) one of the earliest “games” was “confluences”, i.e. finding the spots on the earth where the longitude and latitude are integers, i.e. 42N 97W, the only one I ever found (most are easy to find but on private property and I don’t like to ask for permission from some stranger to tromp to one). Of course most of the easy to find confluences were quickly found and reported and so, kinda by definition, that game came to an end, and, 3) geocaching, which kinda (starting before it was called that) was the first GPS game, but as is typical of any human organization had some internal disputes leading to spinoffs, of which geodashing was one. Unlike confluences, geodashing never ran out of new points to find; unlike geocaching, it never became commercial.
So it was good (at least for some of us, again, thank you Scout) while it lasted, but like so many things the novelty wore off and various factors just led to a shrinking community and eventually, after 20 good years, it was time to call it quits. I find this very sad, because the value of geodashing, to me, at least, had little to do with the novelty of GPS and more to do with an activity that was timeless. geodashing could make as much sense, as something fun to do, one hundred years from now as it did in the first two decades of the 21st century. But our world craves novelty and like so many things its time is limited.
Now, just a bit more anecdote about my personal connection to GPS. While I had nothing to do with developing it I believe I had more “proximity” to its development than any other geodasher.
You see, at one point I was working for a failing startup hitech company and my counterpart, the director of hardware had managed to land a job before our company he failed. He told me the name and I promptly filed it in my unsearchable archive and forgot about it. I did recall it was with some other HP guys (we were all HPs alums) which came in handy later. A few years later, I observed every now and then, while riding by bike to work people walking around with large backpacks with a long pole and a pie-plate looking thing on top. I later learned these were developers at Trimble Navigation building a human portable GPS. I then later learned, Trimble was named for an HP guy who started it, and my colleague had gone to work for that company (since it was successful I assume he finally had stock options that were worth something). Anyway, now knowing GPS existed, although not the affordable personal version yet, future mentions would stick in my mind.
Much later as part of my early difficult days in Omaha I took off just heading south, eventually to kinda randomly arrive at Big Bend National Park. It was the first long driving trip I’d ever made alone so navigating while driving was tricky. I do remember a horrible drive, trying to read a map and road signs and drive while avoiding being run over my crazy Texas pickup drivers, in the rain no less, and saying this as impossible. That trip taught me I had to get out of town as part of my malaise was simple cabin fever (in California, going somewhere fun was an hour drive, here in the “heartland” you can drive nearly all day, in any direction, and it’s still just farms).
So 2+2 (have to go camping, remembering GPS) I did discover the very earliest version of the Delorme digital mapping software AND their, then battery-operated, serial-connected (much better when it became USB) GPS receiver. So that was even my first laptop and I soon discovered the then-hard-to-find inverter to run a laptop while driving and thus have GPS navigation. It was a miracle. I do recall, however, having gone to nowhere (and lots of nasty signs threatening to shoot me) northwest of Chadron Nebraska and realizing that perhaps a laptop computer might not like be bounced around by bumps on a terrible road, with lots of dust from the dirt road, while being over 100F outside, and that perhaps it might fail (it had glitched, something that later happened a lot but then I knew how to correct). I realized, except for this device I have no clue where I am (something that later happened on foot geodashing that might have left my bones in nowhere Wyoming) and I have no map and there are no people, so what if something goes wrong. So when I heard the joke that some people, due to errors in the Apple maps (when they, stupidly, got rid of Google maps) drove into a lake, just following their GPS, I understood.
So over the years I’ve replaced both the computer (several times), the inverter (several times), the GPSr (several times) and gotten updates to the maps, UNTIL, BOOM, now Delorme, like geodashing, ceased to exist. Garmin bought them out and prompted killed their product which now means there is NO good mapping product, esp. for a bigger screen, and one is stuck with addon dashboard GPS (or indash builtins, which are awful) or a phone, which, guess what, doesn’t work out in nowhere in the middle of the country (look at that hole in coverage maps, that’s me!). So if I want to drive on interstates, which any idiot with no tech should be able to do, Apple has me covered. That said, btw, at least with Android phone and Google maps real-time traffic data is a different miracle, so these days I drove with: 1) laptop and dying Delorme for the all-day multipoint route, 2) dashboard Garmin to get to next point, and, 3) phone while in traffic (rare out here) or needing to find something commercial since static lists of POIs (Points of Interest) are nearly useless (in Garmin, which gets updates) and completely useless in Delorme (which is stuck in 2011 version forever).
So while I may not have participated in developing GPS I was an active witness to it, and while I may not have had the first driving GPS system, I had the first generation when almost no one knew about it (even before geodashing started). So, IOW, I’ve lived through the entire history of that technology as well, though, fortunately, unlike geodashing it’s unlikely to disappear.
So I’m really sad much of this (all of geodashing) has come to an end as I’m not past the point where I’d like to and still can do it. But things do end, so at least I got to have fun with it while it lasted.