By Randy C. Anderson
We have all played hide-and-seek – either as a child growing up, or as adults with our children and grandchildren. We can all enjoy this simple game, but with today’s new technology, the game has gone high-tech. This new high-tech version of hide-and-seek is called “Geocaching” (geographical-cache-ing).
Geocaching is really a treasure hunting game played throughout the world by participants equipped with a global positioning system device. The idea is to find containers, called geocaches, hidden in outdoor locations, and share your experiences online at www.geocaching.com, the official global GPS cache hunting site. According to this website, there are currently 1,381,788 caches as of this writing (this number changes daily) and over 5 million geocachers around the world. Participants can both hide and seek caches.
What is a cache? The original definition of this French word refers to a hiding place, used to store items for short periods of time. Traditionally, caches were used by pioneers and adventurers to hide extra equipment, food and water in secret locations, to be recovered and used in the future. Prominent landmarks and secret markings enabled relocation of these caches. We have all seen old treasure maps where “X” marked the spot. Today’s global positioning systems make this process much simpler and more accurate.
I love the outdoors, I like games and I like puzzles, so Geocaching is a perfect match for me. I received my first GPS unit from my kids for Christmas one year. I was going to mark some of my favorite outdoor locations exactly, on a map. Then I discovered Geocaching … modern-day treasure hunting? Count me in!
What treasure, you ask? Well, besides the satisfaction of finding the cache and signing the log, some of those caches out there have “stuff” in them. Every cache contains, at a minimum, a logbook for cachers to sign when they find the cache. Many contain small items referred to as SWAG (Stuff We All Get). There are trinkets, geocoins, travel bugs®, toys – just about anything you can fit into a waterproof container. One thing to remember about SWAG – if you take a treasure, you must leave a treasure. Originally, caches were made from old ammo cans, Tupperware® containers, pillboxes, matchboxes and just about any container that is waterproof. Today, you can buy cache containers designed specifically for caching. Some of these are camouflaged to look like rocks or even a water sprinkler head. These can be a challenge! My favorite caches are of the homemade variety. You will soon appreciate the creativity some geocachers show for making containers that blend perfectly into their surroundings. I don’t want to be a spoiler, but that innocent looking bolt in the fence post just might turn out to be a geocache.
You don’t want your cache “muggled” by a “muggle.” What is a muggle? Harry Potter fans know them as non-wizards, but here, a muggle is a non-geocacher. Caches are hidden in public places, and since these caches are secret, you have to be careful when placing or retrieving them, lest a nosey “muggle” makes off with the cache. Secrecy is part of the fun.
What do you need to start Geocaching? All you need is a spirit of adventure and a GPS device (or GPS-enabled device). Think of a GPS unit as a compass – a very high-tech compass. You can purchase a GPS unit at camping and sporting goods stores, but you may already have one – your iPhone® (other smart phone Geocaching Live-enabled applications are also available). By adding the geocaching app to your iPhone®, you will be ready to go.
The next step is to visit www.geocaching.com. There you will find all of the information you need to get started. You will have to register for a free basic membership (premium memberships are available, including features such as Pocket Queries, which allow for paperless geocaching, you are notified when new caches become available, and when planning a trip, you can easily download a list of caches to your GPS device for the area you plan to visit). Click on “Hide and Seek a Cache,” enter your zip code and click “Search.” Choose any geocache listed and click on its name, enter the coordinates on your GPS device, then go find it. Enter your name on the logbook when you find it, replace the cache in the location in which you found it, then share your adventure online. It’s a good idea to find a few caches before hiding one of your own (and you will want to hide you own) to familiarize yourself with how the game works.
As with any sport, you need to take some precautions. First, all of the caches on the geocaching website are rated for difficulty. These can range from a quick “park-and-grab” to a long, strenuous hike in the mountains. Your health and physical abilities should always be taken into consideration before attempting any outdoor activity. You should also make sure you have the proper clothing and equipment with you. Shorts and sandals may be okay for a city park, but have no use in rough, mountainous terrain. The season also changes some of these variables – poison ivy can be present from spring to fall, but not a threat in the winter. Mosquitoes and ticks can be managed with proper clothing and repellants. Geocaching is just like any other sport – take the proper precautions before starting out.
“Cache In Trash Out” is an ongoing environmental initiative supported by the worldwide geocaching community. Since 2002, geocachers have been dedicated to cleaning up parks and other cache-friendly places around the world. You can learn more at www.geocaching.com/cito.
Geocaching is a fun outdoor activity for anyone to enjoy, with many family trips planned around caches. There are caches hidden everywhere – you have probably walked right by them and never knew they were there. Sign up and join the millions of global geocachers who are playing the adult version of hide-and-seek.