REGION — In our area, it’s fairly obvious that there are dozens of cool places to hike. If you want to add a little reason to your ramble, instead of a mindless amble, try …
REGION — In our area, it’s fairly obvious that there are dozens of cool places to hike. If you want to add a little reason to your ramble, instead of a mindless amble, try geocaching—a fun experience that’s probably not far from your own backyard.
Think of it as a really fun, leisurely treasure hunt (depending on how quickly you trek). Geocaching is following a map to find a specific little “cache,” often just folded notepaper tucked inside a waterproof container, that’s purposely placed by geocachers. It has its origins partially in orienteering, where you have a set of coordinates (longitude, latitude, etc.) you need to follow to reach a predetermined finish line.
Geocaching was born on May 3, 2000. That’s the day after “Blue Switch Day,” otherwise known as the day when the U.S. government made highly accurate GPS available to everyone, according to www.geocaching.com. Computer consultant Dave Ulmer created the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt” by hiding a container in the woods and publicizing its coordinates to an online community on that fateful day in May. Within three days, two readers found the stash and shared their experiences online. A new hobby was born.
How do you get started? If you have a smartphone, download the “Geocaching” app from www.geocaching.com (there’s a free option), and search by location to find nearby geocaches, which will appear as colored icons on a map. Click an icon for information, including difficulty and terrain ratings. (Trust me: Choose a one or two if you’re a novice.) Once you’ve chosen a geocache to find, click “Navigate” and a GPS will guide you to its location.
The geocache can be any kind of container: a film canister, a clean prescription bottle, an old ammo box, even Tupperware. If you’re lucky, there will be a paper logbook (even just notepaper) inside so you can add your name and the date of your find. Sometimes you’ll find a trinket, which you can take if you leave something of equal value.
Bring a pen, pencil, charcoal stick—anything that will reliably write. Most geocaches won’t have a writing instrument inside them.
Geocaching is not as simple as just following a GPS, because these little caches live up to their name (by definition: a collection of items stored in a hidden or inaccessible place). I’ve found them in magnetic boxes attached to the bottom of sign poles, inside a birdhouse high in a tree and other odd places. But that’s the fun of it. The more you seek out geocaches, the more thrilling it becomes to sign that little logbook or tap “Found It!” on the app (the little icon will become a yellow smiley face).
Even if you have to tap “Did Not Find” (uh oh, a blue frowny-face icon), at least you’ve gotten outside and flexed your brain, right? And there’s always next time.