With clues, a trail to follow, a creed, and even some Harry Potter terminology, geocaching is the latest treasure hunting craze. Geocaching started in 2000 as an offshoot of letterboxing, which we will discuss further on in this chapter. This hobby is truly taking the world by storm as more than six million geocachers worldwide have hit the trail in search of the 2,249,535 active geocaches. There is even a geocache in space! So what is all the fuss about and what exactly is geocaching? Anyone who has ever found a cache while holding a handheld GPS unit can speak to the suspense, the thrill, and the treasure awaiting at the end. The word “geo” means earth and the word “cache” (pronounced cash) means a place for hiding things. Which means you will be exploring the earth for hidden containers bearing treasure. Caches are what explorers, gold miners, and pirates have used for centuries to hide their loot. In this case, the cache you will find is hidden on a certain set of coordinates, the set point that locates a position on a map. The cache is filled with cool trinkets and a log book to sign. But how exactly will you find these hidden caches?
The first step to geocaching is registering at one of the many geocache Websites such as geocaching.com. To do this part you will need access to the internet. You will also need a hand held GPS unit. GPS stands for global positioning system which means the unit is able to give you your exact position in longitude and latitude coordinates at all times. Once you register on-line, you will need to choose a special geocaching name for yourself like “Raider of the Lost Cache” or “The Cache Kid” or even “Mad Dog.” Provide your zip code and all of a sudden a list of every geocache located in your area will pop up. You might be surprised that there are caches located in places you go all the time! As you look at the list of nearby geocaches, you will see that they are rated on how difficult they are to find and how challenging the terrain is by a five-star sytem—1 star is the easiest and 5 is the hardest. You will also learn how far away the cache is, the size and type, when it was placed, and when it was last found. And last but not least, you will find a clue. Many geocache clues are in code like this:
(Letter above equals below, and vice versa)
Or the clue might be a riddle. Whatever form the clue comes in, decipher it and write it down. If your parents have a smart phone, you can download a geocaching app that will have all of this information to bring with you on your hike. The app will even guide you to the cache. Note: Do not rely solely on the smart phone app to find the geocache because depending on where you go, cell phone signals get confused or weak, especially in dense forests or on top of high mountains.
Once you’ve chosen the geocache you want to locate, it’s time to get ready for your adventure. Sometimes you will find the geocache quickly and easily while other times it might take all day. Prepare for the second reality. Pack a backpack with water, snacks, an extra layer, sunscreen, bug spray, a map of the area, and most importantly a compass. Even with your GPS, you still might need help heading true north. The last thing to pack is a treasure to leave in the geocache. An important rule in geocaching is if you take a treasure, you must leave something of equal or greater value. As John McKinney, author of Let’s Go Geocaching says, “Remember the golden rule, leave for others what you’d like others to leave for you.” The stuff inside a geocache is called SWAG, which stands for “stuff we all get.” Examples of good geocache swag are small toys, crystals, key chains, bracelets, or outdoor gear like carabineers. Never leave trash, food, things you found on the trail like pinecones or rocks, or broken toys. Another good rule from John McKinney is “if you can’t bring it to school, don’t leave it in a geocache.” No knives or firecrackers!
Once you are packed and armed with your GPS, the coordinates, and your clue, onward! Yet only when you arrive at the coordinates does the hunt truly begin. Think about the clue then look up, down, and around every square foot within about 16-20 feet of the coordinates. Geocaching.com warns that “geocaches are hidden in plain sight and never buried, but they are often very cleverly camouflaged.” This part of the hunt can be tricky and now is when you need all of your observation powers, persistence, and stick-to-it-iv-ness. As one of my young friends said about this stage, “I wanted to give up and not give up at the same time.” Sometimes you feel like you are going in circles and most likely you are. I have circled within five feet of a geocache for more than two hours before screaming, “I found it, I really found it.” In this particularly tricky case, the cache was designed to look like a rock and so it blended in with the other rocks it was wedged under.
After you find the cache and have a “eureka” moment, reign it in and look around. Are there other people nearby casually enjoying their hike and not geocaching? If so, button it up. Those bystanders are known in geocaching circles as geo-muggles. Remember that word “muggles” from Harry Potter, meaning people who are unable to use magic? Try to be discreet so the geo-muggles don’t come over and potentially move the cache from its vital coordinate location.
The reward of a well-found geocache is an actual reward. Dig into the cache and see what goodies await. Don’t forget to put the treasure you brought inside, and make sure you sign the logbook where you can record your name, the date, and any notes that you want to share. Some caches even have a camera so you can take your picture! After you have explored the contents of the cache, put everything back in, seal it and place it exactly where you found it so the next round of geocachers can enjoy it the way you have. In fact, that is one of the guiding principles in the Geocacher’s Creed which follows:
When placing or seeking geocaches, I will:
- Not endanger myself or others.
- Observe all laws and rules of the area.
- Respect property rights and seek permission if needed.
- Avoid causing disruptions.
- Minimize impact on the environment.
- Be considerate of others and animals.
- Preserve and care for other people’s caches.
Another important rule, despite not being in the official creed is “Cache in, Trash Out,” known simply as CITO. This rule pretty much goes without saying but the point is to leave the area where you are geocaching better than how you found it. Keep the scene clean so geocachers don’t get a bad reputation.