John and Debbie Sallis parked their cars near Reses Pharmacy in Pomona Plaza in its namesake town, they stepped out of their cars and looked down at their phones.
“It’s right over there,” John said, pointing to a telephone poll.
The two walked over, examining the pole, running their hands up and down the wood.
“It” was a small container – one that couldn’t hold more than two dimes pressed together. Inside of the container was a small roll of paper – even smaller than the ones found in sea-churned bottles usually seen in the movies. A bunch of signatures were scrawled across the long, thin sheet.
The two were geocaching — a worldwide activity that has many treasures hidden, and a following, in South Jersey.
“Want to find another?” John asked Debbie.
Founded in 2000, geocaching is a navigation adventure that involves pinned GPS coordinates and navigating to that certain location. Often these spots will have containers where past finders will leave knickknacks and logged entries.
The Sallis’ love for geocaching began five years ago.
When the couple was out with their friend, they noticed he was holding up a GPS, moving in half circles.
“I asked him what he was doing and he said he was looking for a GPS point,” John said. The couple helped their friend find the container and said they’ve been hooked ever since.
Since then, the two have downloaded an app which will show new and old geocaches located all around the area. When they first started, Debbie would hear a “bing” on her phone for a new location. No matter what the time of night, the two would hop out of bed and head out.
“We don’t do that as much anymore,” she said. Now, they’ll spend a couple hours on Sundays to look for new spots.
Together, the couple has found over 17,000 geocaches. The couple is ranked third in New Jersey in total finds.
They’ve traveled 31 states going as south as Florida and as north as Canada. They’ve traveled west for “power trails” where there were containers one after another. They found 1,100 in one day.
The two have hiked, kayaked and canoed through many different states and parks. Once, they even had to rent a pontoon boat in Georgia, in the middle of February, just to reach a container.
Heading out in John’s Jeep is an adventure for the couple, Debbie said, and it’s one that needs no end.
There are even terms for the activity. “FTF” means first to find, or first to log into a new container. Debbie said that many non-geocachers will be labeled as muggles – a nod to the world of Harry Potter. But if you want to compare what John and Debbie are doing to Pokemon Go, don’t mention it to them.
“Don’t even start. I don’t even know what a Pokemon is,” John said.
“And what they’re doing is all virtual,” Debbie adds. “This is actually physical containers to find.”
While standing on the side of a road near the woods, she tries to find a word to describe it.
“It’s a treasure hunt, really. That’s honestly what it is.”
And that treasure can take many forms. There are small and large containers like an old ammo box John found in the woods. There are micro containers like the one they found on the telephone poll, and there are even custom made containers like the one that John made out of an prosthetic leg. John, alone, has created about 500 containers themselves.
But hanging out in the woods or on the side of roads can draw attention. Cops can get curious, the couple said.
“It depends on who it is. I’ve had cops actually help me look for [the container] and I’ve had others tell me to get back in the car and leave,” he said.
There are 236 members of the South Jersey Geocachers Facebook page. Debbie Sallis said her and John have traveled through Egg Harbor Township, Pomona, Egg Harbor City and all the way down to Cape May. And the networking never stops, the couple said.
Just the weekend prior, the two attended a geocaching Christmas party. The couple hosted monthly bonfires at their home during the summer.
It’s getting late as the two get ready to head back in their vehicles, though Debbie has a flashlight handy in case she and John are ever out late. But for now, they’ll head home. They have more to do on Sunday.
“There is no end to it,” she said with a smile.