My daughter is a geocacher. This is not a computer game. It is a real world treasure hunt using a GPS device. Katie uses her phone in the urban area where she lives, but here in the Northwoods her phone doesn’t work. We borrowed the Garmin from my car to track our position in the woods while we searched for everything from a magnetic key box stuck to the strut of a metal railing to a recycled ammo box hidden behind a fallen tree deep in the woods. The “treasure” we were seeking was more the interesting or scenic places the caches were hidden than the trinkets that may or may not be found in the water-proof containers. My three-year-old grandson traded a few coins for a miniature car in one cache, only to exchange it for a measuring tape at the next. (After that he insisted that his mother carry him out because he couldn’t measure and walk at the same time.)
You can find out more than you probably wanted to know about geocaching at Wikipedia. This techie version of hide-and-seek has an amazing number of devotees for a hobby that only started in 2000 when the government released advanced GPS technology to the private sector. There are already 1.75 million caches hidden around the world, including one at the top of Mt. Everest. The rules specifically state that the game is not limited to Earth. I understand there is a cache on the International Space Station. It is only a matter of time before one is hidden on the moon. Needless to say, Katie and I were not seeking caches at quite this level of difficulty.
Check out the website. Enter your zip code. Whether you live in the city or as far out in the country as we do, I guarantee you will be amazed at the number of caches close to you.
Before we started our outing, Katie noted the information: longitude, latitude, clues and info about what sort of container we were looking for. (She's considering buying an app for her phone that would store all that for her.) Some caches were park and grab—close to the road, accessible even in a wheelchair. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't" was located, not surprisingly, at a small dam with a parking lot for canoers. Others required bushwhacking. After last summer's storm fallen trees made things, uh..., challenging. We programmed the coordinates into the GPS and drove as near as we could get. Then we carried the device into the woods, taking periodic readings until we knew we were close.
That was when the real search began, checking hollow logs, uprooted trees, the nest where several trunks rise together, behind a stump. We never did find one of the caches we were looking for despite two visits on separate days, coming from opposite directions. Maybe it’s not there any more, but according to the computer log it was found last October—after the storm.
Part of the fun is hiding caches in special places you would like to share with others. I found myself thinking more like a photographer than a geocacher, searching for good angles to shoot the scenery while Katie and the kids looked for the cache. (Hence the illustrations on this page.)
Katie has found a hundred and forty caches in seven states in the two months since she registered. Her best day was fourteen caches along a bike trail. This week she planted her own cache called "One if by land, two if by sea." It's near a boat landing, and she's eagerly watching for the first person to register finding it.
I'm not that ambitious, but I did sign up. It's an excuse to explore the Northwoods county where we live and take more pictures. I’m especially interested in solving the literary puzzles an English teacher posted to figure out the coordinates of the caches he hid a half hour north of here. The dozen caches contain clues to the location of the real cache. That is one creative teacher if you ask me. And this sure beats video games.
Have you tried geocaching? I'd love to hear from you if you have. For anyone who decides to try it as a result of this blog, a word to the wise: Take bug spray and check for ticks. And, oh yeah. Have fun.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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