It’s a lovely day: brilliant sunshine, green grass, singing birds, and some time on your hands. You want to be out and about in it, but you don’t want to walk down the same old local park trail you use every day and a drive sounds too roady. Or maybe you have kids whose basic refrain, besides “I’m hungry,” is “I’m bored.” And then there’s the dog who just has to be walked every single day. What’s up with that?
Do you have a handheld GPS or a smart phone with a GPS app? Then why not go on a treasure hunt?
Geocaching is fun
There’s this thing called geocaching, maybe you’ve heard of it, where people hide small containers of inexpensive items out in the wide world somewhere and you have to find them using your GPS. It’s easier than it sounds because the locations of all these containers are uploaded onto a website for you to select and download directly into your device.
The first and biggest of these sites is geocaching.com. Make yourself a free account, then zoom in on your area on the map so you can see all the geocaches displayed as little green box symbols. If you click on one, it will bring up a data page that tells you about the site, why it was selected by the cache owner, maybe some pictures and information about parking and facilities, and a log. If you like it and want to find it, download it into your device (which you’ll need to connect to your computer), and off you go.
Don’t forget, if you’re using a smart phone instead of a real GPS, you’ll have to make sure there is cell coverage in the place you want to go. Sounds obvious, but city dwellers make this mistake all the time.
What to do when you find some booty
Caches vary in size and contents. Some are quite large, while others only big enough to hold a log. Ammo boxes are common choices, as are rubbermaid containers and old film canisters. They contain trinkets like coins, polished rocks, small toys, or anything that isn’t food (you don’t want to attract wildlife). Each cache will also contain a paper log of some sort, which you sign with your geocaching user name and date. If you like, you can take a trinket and leave one of your own behind. I like to use dollar coins.
If you find a camera inside, take a picture of your team. The cache owner will eventually retrieve the camera and develop the images. He might upload some of them onto the cache’s data page or simply put the prints back in the cache for you to take later.
Another thing you might find in a cache is a trackable. These are items with codes on them that aren’t designed to be taken and kept. Geocachers move them from cache to cache and log their location on the website so the trackable owner knows where it is. Each trackable has its own data page with a log and a mission. Many missions are simply to visit as many caches as possible, but some are more ambitious and direct the trackable to go somewhere particular. If you decide to take it, your job is to help it along on its mission. It is not necessary to replace the trackable with a trinket; they are their own thing
Don’t forget to log it
Once you’ve found your cache, go to its data page and log it again (there’s a paper log and an online log). This lets the cache owner know the cache is still there and in good shape. If you couldn’t find it, log that, too. If there are several “couldn’t find it” logs in a row, the cache owner will go to the site to see if it’s still there. If it’s been “muggled” (found and taken by a non-geocacher), he’ll replace it. Be careful when opening up caches that no one is observing you. They may become curious and take the cache after you’re gone, not realizing what it is. Hide it carefully in exactly the same place you found it to avoid it being muggled.
When you get back home, take a look at the world map on geocaching.com. There are caches everywhere, even Antarctica, so don’t forget to take your GPS on vacation with you. Who knows? After you’ve found a few of these treasure troves, you may decide to hide a few of your own.