“Are there any caches in the area?”
That simple question has taken my husband and me to a top of a ridge with spectacular views of the river below, into an old mine shaft in a remote part of a state park and has provided us with history lessons in cities up and down the east coast. Our newfound hobby of geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. With over 1.7 million caches hidden around the world, everyone is playing the game from young families simply seeking a fun, inexpensive adventure to techno-geeks using the latest gadgets. So whether you are taking a hike around your neighborhood, exploring a new town, or cruising the ICW, there is a high likelihood of a cache hidden nearby just waiting to be found.
The game was born in 2000 when Dave Ulmer wanted to test the recent upgraded satellite technology claiming to give his GPS 10x more accuracy. He hid a large container in the woods filled with a logbook and pencil, videos, books, software, and a slingshot. After noting the coordinates with his GPS unit, he shared the waypoint with an online community calling his experiment the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt.” His rules were simple: Locate the container, sign the log book and “if you take something, leave something.” Within three days, two people found the “stash” using their GPS and then wrote about their experience on the site. Over the course of the next few weeks others began hiding their own containers and posting the coordinates. Like most things on the Internet, even back in 2000, the hide and seek game spread like wild fire. Within six months, the game had its own dedicated website and a new name – Geocaching.
I was introduced to geocaching by a new friend Dave, a retired science teacher who recently began caching himself as a way to get some exercise. To save me some embarrassment before our outing, I registered for a free membership on Geocaching.com, downloaded a free app for my iPhone and set out on my own. The caches I selected were within walking distance of my house and provided me some history and local knowledge of my new town. I don’t know what made me laugh more. Walking in circles while clearly not understanding how to use a compass or attempting to make myself “stealth-like” so as not to be spotted by ‘muggles’ (based on a term from the Harry Potter series, meaning non-magical or in this case a ‘non-geocacher’). Even though it took me four hours to find those simple hides, I instantly was hooked by the thrill of the hunt.
Dave chuckled as I relayed the story during our hike along a rail trail where we found eight of the 10 caches on our list. He shared some of his first experiences and gave me some advice I now use on every hunt. “A GPS is accurate but not perfect. It will get you within a few feet of the hide,” explained Dave. He taught me to put down the GPS and use my “geosense” – the ability to notice something out of place or that doesn’t fit into the surroundings. Obviously his geosense is strong with over 1,500 finds to date and he’s now hiding caches of his own for others to enjoy.
Dave’s advice served me well on a recent trip to the Outer Banks. With time to kill before meeting friends I found a nearby cache that stated in the description, “The GPS signal is not that great where the cache is but it’s in a pretty typical spot.” Once in the area I put away the iPhone, roamed the beautifully landscaped park then spotted the cache from the trail. A slight glimpse of the Tupperware container was peeking out from under two 4×4 timbers in the crook of a tree. A typical container in a typical spot (see sidebar).
Caches can be hidden under benches at the town square, hanging from a tree branch, or cleverly disguised in a fake rock along a trail. Players can select a quick “dash and cache” if their time is limited or complete a series created as a part of a puzzle or as a way of exploring a location. The latter was exactly what Joe Myers had in mind when he created a series of four caches along the ICW in Holden Beach, NC. While he explains in the cache description that you can bike, drive or walk to all four caches, Joe encourages the cacher to visit via kayak.
Joe began geocaches with his wife Nicole and six year old son Porter after they watched a PBS kids show detailing a kid-friendly way to “treasure hunt.” Since then Porter has logged 260 finds, many while kayaking with his parents. I asked Joe about this family activity and what it is teaching his son.
“He has learned about tools for nature and exploring (maps, compasses, GPS, hiking, wildlife, boating, etc).” Joe went on to explain, “We found it to be a great family activity because it promotes a healthy, active lifestyle whether it is hiking, kayaking, or climbing.”
Dave echoes the same, adding, “Geocaching is great exercise, makes you think and is an excuse to explore places you have passed by before but had no reason to stop and visit.”
There are so many ways to participate in Geocaching. From moving travel bugs to participating in video finds to solving complex puzzles that build upon previous finds, the sky is the limit to creating exactly what adventure you are seeking. Learn more at geocaching.com.
A TYPICAL CONTAINER IN A TYPICAL SPOT
The original meaning of the word ‘cache’ refers to a hiding place someone would use to temporarily store items. Caches vary greatly in size, which is noted on the cache page using a size graphic.
Micro – Less than 100ml, typically a 35 mm film canister or a tiny storage box. A sub category of nanos have become popular, often less than 10 ml in size and magnetic.
Small – 100ml or larger, but less than 1L, such as a sandwich-sized plastic container.
Regular – 1L or larger, but less than 20L, and is typically a plastic container or ammo box
Large – 20L or larger like a bucket.
Other – See the cache description for information.
Hiding places can be as simple as the base of a tree or as complex as a hollowed out head of a screw. Clues can be found in the name of the cache like “Quack Attack” which was a rubber duck hidden in the weeds behind a post or they can be encrypted under hints on the cache page. Your best clues are at the site itself. Step back and look for a few nicks on neighboring stones, foot prints, sticks aligned in a row, or a rock in a tree hollow. Ask yourself, “Where would I hide a cache in this area?” Most often it is exactly where you would put it.
Terry Boram contributes regularly to All At Sea Southeast. Whether she’s gunkholing with her husband Clint aboard their Contour trimaran, Tri Dreaming or jumping the mast on a race boat, Terry loves life on the water. Recently she began sharing this passion through her writing and photography. Contact Terry at email@example.com.