By Linda Kast
Depending on the weather, there are two things at the cabin I can’t get enough of: Being outside and solving a good puzzle. So when I was asked to write an article about geocaching and found out that it’s essentially a numbers-based outdoor hide-and-seek game (geographical coordinates point to hidden treasure), I was all in. I mean, this has cabin adventure written all over it. Even with a late-spring snow on the ground, no one heads to the cabin to spend time cooped up inside. Give me a pencil, a pad of paper, and a puzzle to solve, and I’m on the trail.
What you need to know about GeocachingBut first, a little background. The whole idea of geocaching is to ferret out the hiding spot someone has used to squirrel away a stash. That stash is generally a container of some kind and can be small, medium or large depending on the originator. Inside the container is a log book or sheet of paper to identify yourself once you find the goods. In some cases, larger caches include items to trade – dice, finger puppets, coins, etc. – or possibly, what are called trackables, items coded to log their movement from cache to cache. Finding the hiding spot requires syncing a GPS-enabled device to locate the correct north and south coordinates.
Most of what I learned about geocaching came from the website geocaching.com. Once logged in with a username, I found the site filled with friendly tips and tales, plus instructional videos to help newbies like me get over any fear of failure or fatality. Believe me, this was all new, and getting some background helped put both my spouse, Ray, and me at ease before embarking on an outing into the cold, wet and wild.
I also discovered that this sport is huge. People all over the globe are hiding, searching for, and finding all sorts of caches. Poking around on the site, I was introduced to the rules, the etiquette, and the awareness of a holistic camaraderie threading each cache to something bigger – to a group that had purpose, drive and a sense of humor. Some of these stashes are found in parks, along bike trails, or on paths less travelled; some have names such as “Malfunction Junction,” “You’ll be walking the plank!” and “Cache Register.” This was really sparking my curiosity.
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Out on the trail we goSo, following the website’s prescribed method under the “Geocaching 101” tab, I downloaded the free Geocaching Intro app to my smart phone, allowing me access to geocaches both near and far. For our first adventure, Ray and I chose a nearby cache called, “One Degree of Separation: Black Belt,” because I liked the name, and because it claimed to be easy to find. On the map, it appeared to be somewhere in the park close to the lake; the clue was “small pine tree closest to the water.” Outfitted with phone, pencil, water bottles and snacks (Okay, this was getting even more exciting), off we trekked to find our booty.
Initially, I had difficulty comprehending where to go. Red arrows and a thin orange line superimposed on a map just weren’t making sense. It soon became obvious that I needed to switch the phone app setting to compass mode. Now, I could track both the direction we needed to go to find the stash, as well as how close to it we were. That’s when it hit me. The stash was near water, but not lake water.
“Quick,” I told Ray, “turn here; it’s by the river, across the bridge in the cemetery!” Sure enough, traipsing across the bridge and turning a hard left, we found two pine trees. In the upper branches of the one closest to the river, we discovered a small green tube about the size of an elongated film canister. It was hooked on a branch, so we could remove it and unscrew the lid.
Inside, a folded stack of papers showed us how many others had been right where we were standing and signed their names to prove it. Success! The app even allowed us to log our victory online and rewarded us by changing the map icon to a smiley face! I was hooked. Off to the next cache. This one was up on Nature Hill. Unfortunately, this particular find was labeled a multi-cache. I later concluded that it was probably not a good choice for our second effort.
You see, the multi-cache option poses more layers to solving the puzzle. And in this instance, with snow on the ground, we found ourselves wandering on a trail that included several signs with arrows pointing in different directions. Eek, not found! How could I face my editor?! There I was at my weakest point, and the app was asking for feedback on whether we had found the goods. Dejected, I was forced to check, “Not found.” But in the nicest way possible, I was sent a comforting digital message telling me not to feel bad. “It happens to everyone,” the app told me. Phew! I’m not a failure! I can get back out there when the snow clears and save my family’s reputation. I will find that hoard – and earn another smiley face. Then, on to bigger and better things! Forrest Fenn’s multimillion dollar Rocky Mountain treasure, here we come! Possibly a swashbuckler in a previous life, Linda Kast found a new pastime in tracking, ferreting and finding treasure.
What's Hiding in the WoodsTraditional geocaches include a weatherproof container with some type of logbook. Larger caches may also include items for trade and/or trackables – coded items such as coins, tags, or Travel Bugs available at shop.geocaching.com. Mystery or puzzle caches require the finder to first complete a puzzle in order to determine the coordinates for finding the cache. Multi-caches involve more then one location with a series of clues that lead to the final destination where the cache is stashed. Sometimes, caches are created for specific reasons. Some use the game as an effort to support environmental initiatives – at a Cache In Trash Out Event, geocachers gather in an effort to clear natural spaces of litter, while cleaning up hiking trails and removing invasive species. Others use the game to illuminate fellow geocachers about geological phenomena or historically significant people, places, or events. Geocaching headquarters is in Seattle, Wash. Geocachers interested in visiting, and logging the stop as one of their finds, are asked to make appointments 48 hours in advance. For more information about getting started, finding maps, or learning about other types of geocaches, go to geocaching.com.
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8 Steps to Get Started Geocaching
- Register for a free basic membership at geocaching.com.
- Visit the “Finding your first Geocache” page on the site.
- Then, go to the “Hide & Seek” page, enter your address or postal code and click on the “Go” button.
- Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.
- Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS device. Alternately, you can download a geocaching app onto your smart phone and start your search there.
- Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden cache.
- Sign the logbook contained in the cache and return the geocache to its original location.
- Share your quest and your photos online.