Spring for me brings on a sense of wanderlust – defined as a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about. One way I satisfy my urge to discover new things is by playing a worldwide game called geocaching. “Geo…what?” you might ask. The simple definition is that it is a game where latitude and longitude coordinates for a specific place are downloaded into a GPS from a website. These coordinates are used to find a container that has been hidden.
Geocaching began in the year 2000. Prior to this time, GPS devices were used for military purposes, but around this time they were opened up to civilian use. The first container was hidden to celebrate this new public use of satellite coordinates. Soon the game caught on. Today there are millions of geocaches hidden throughout the world. They are found on every continent, including Antarctica, and there is even one located on the International Space Station.
Why should you geocache?
- Geocaching will get you outside in all seasons. It is so easy to hibernate inside, especially when the weather isn’t friendly. Geocaching has advantages and disadvantages at all times of the year. When I first started geocaching, I asked a veteran if they did most of their caching when it was summer. They pointed out that there were reasons to choose each season as a favorite. For example, in winter there are no bugs and heavy clothing protects arms and legs from scratchy branches. Also, a solidly frozen lake or pond may allow you to walk to a cache that you didn’t have a boat to access in the summer.
- Geocaching can be tailored to a long hike or a quick stop. Many times, even in nice weather, I am guilty of sitting for long periods of time. My paying job has me stationary for most of the work day and blogging keeps me sitting in front of a computer monitor for lengthy periods. To inspire myself to ‘get some steps’, I look for geocaches that are located in a park. My husband and I plot our trek to make some finds as we are walking the trails. We get to see nature, get some exercise, and have rest breaks built in. Sometimes long hikes are not practical. When I don’t have time or ability, I can look for quick P&G’s. P&G is geo-speak for ‘park and grab’. Generally, you can drive almost up to the cache. Last year, after foot surgery, these kind of geocaches allowed me to get out of the house, but not jeopardize the healing process, like a longer hike would have done.
- Geocaching helps you discover new places. My first geocache find taught me that I don’t have to go far to find places I didn’t previously know existed. This geocache was located only a few miles from my house. I had played golf at the course bordering the location and had driven past it for years and yet, I never knew this place was here. When we went to look for it, we discovered the container was located in an all-but-forgotten cemetery. There were a dozen or so very old tombstones, the kind with the letters mostly worn off, that were enclosed by overgrown trees and bushes. The biggest excitement came when I found out that many of the stones had the surname that some of my relatives share. It was like finding a secret door to the past.
- Geocaching can teach you about history. Another geocache I looked for in the first year connected me to something that happened in the past in my community. In the description it said that the container was hidden in the vicinity of an elephant burial. I immediately was skeptical. I mean, I live in Michigan! We have deer in abundance and maybe a stray wild turkey or coyote, but elephants? Come on! As I read further, I found that there had been a circus in the area and while it was in town, an elephant had died. Permission had been obtained from the health department to bury the pachyderm before leaving the vicinity. When I questioned my parents, they recalled that this had happened. I doubt I would have even known this fact if it hadn’t been for geocaching.
- Geocaching makes you look beyond the surface. My laziness extends beyond my body – my brain is lazy too! When I first started geocaching, it was easy to find the plastic containers hidden behind the trunks of trees. But if I didn’t find one placed there, I presumed it was missing. A easy way to spot a novice cacher is when someone conclusively states “It’s not there!”, especially when the geocache has been newly placed.
Just because one person can’t find it doesn’t mean that it is gone. Experienced geocachers know that instead of a box at the base of a tree, it may be a cylinder hanging from a branch of a tree, inside a pine cone that blends in with the others produced by the tree, or even in a fake rock next to the tree. I have had times when I’ve returned a half dozen times and finally noticed something that I looked past all the previous times. I think geocaching has taught me to look at the beauty around me more deeply, even when I’m not playing.
- Geocaching makes you find new friends. There is nothing like being in a situation to bind people together. Although most of the time my husband and I don’t run into other people while we are geocaching, we have met others on the trails. One time when I was geocaching solo, I saw a couple intently looking all around the pier I was heading toward. I wondered if they were there for some other reason, but after watching them for awhile, I finally mustered the courage to ask them. They were indeed looking for the same thing I was and we banded together to ‘pool our resources’. My husband and I have remained in contact with them since that day and have even attempted a few together.
- Geocaching can be a family game. Children tend to have eyes that are more open to possibilities. Many kids pick up on clues that we dismiss. The fact that some geocaches contain trinkets that can be traded for can boost interest in finding geocaches. Children are born discoverers.
- Geocaching can be enjoyed by the home-bound. Do you have a disability that prevents you from leaving your house? Although there are some geocaches that are accessible from wheelchairs, there are people who are not able to leave the confines of a bed. For instance, a risky pregnancy may have you on bed rest or an illness or injury may leave you feeling trapped in a hospital. Although to actually claim a geocache, you would need to work in tandem with someone who could physically sign the paper in the geocache, you can still be an integral part of the process. There are mystery or puzzle geocaches. These require you to solve a puzzle to get the real coordinates for where the cache is hidden. Some may have you going out to a physical location and looking at a sign to gather information. However, others can be done just by using your computer. One of the first I encountered in the puzzle area involved Morse Code. I have no knowledge of this code, but was able to solve it by using online resources. Many puzzle caches aren’t obvious to their solution, but you may be able to crack the code by employing various ideas to the information you’ve been given.
Now that I’ve given you some reasons to consider geocaching, next week I will elaborate and discuss some of the rules of geocaching and also the kinds of geocaches you may find (hint: the puzzle cache listed above is one kind). I hope through these articles I can inspire you to give this game a try.