Ever feel like going on a real life treasure hunt? Then you should get into the fascinating world of geocaching, an exciting activity that is part treasure hunt, part brain teaser, and all-around eliminator of boredom. In a nutshell, geocaching is a GPS tracking game, where you use your GPS-enabled mobile device — I use my iPhone 4 — to locate hidden “geocaches” around the globe — there are 1,565,854 of them worldwide to date (even in Antarctica!) as reported by Geocaching.com, the main resource for this activity. While geocaching has been around for years, I have only gotten into it in the past couple of weeks (when assigned to do this article) and it has since become my latest obsessive hobby.
So how do you get into geocaching? First, get a GPS-enabled mobile device; chances are you already have one if you have a smartphone. Then, download the “Geocaching Intro” app. (If you don’t have an app capable GPS device, you can still go on geocache hunts by looking up GPS coordinates and descriptions on the website.) The free introductory app has limited functionality, but it’s enough to walk you through a geocache challenge if you want to get your feet wet into this secretive subculture before fully diving in.
The introductory app will find you the three nearest geocaches based on your current location — may it be in the city or out in the wilderness — and show you their ratings on difficulty and terrain. A target will show up on a map with a line between it and your current location. The closer you physically get to the target destination, the shorter the line. Once you arrive to the vicinity of the hidden geocache, you’ll have to use a hint to figure out where the stash is actually hidden. Geocaches can be tucked away anywhere: behind dumpsters, within hollow parts of trees, or within stone walls — wherever one of the hundreds of voluntary geocache mission creators has decided to put it. (I had to pull away a loose rock from a wall to reveal the geocache in the photo at top.)
In some geocaching challenges, you’ll arrive at a target destination and then have to solve a puzzle or brain teaser (of varied difficulty) from the app based on what you see there, in order to figure out the exact location of the geocache — or the clue to the next location you have to travel to. When you finally find the secret stash, there’s a great feeling of satisfaction — like you’ve found a treasure as a high-tech-enabled Indiana Jones — and then you add your experience to the mission log via the app, with the subject heading, “Found It!” (The only drawback to this satisfaction is the annoyance that your device has drained a lot more battery power than normal, just like when using any app that consistently displays GPS information.)
Geocaches can be anything, from a small film canister to an official shoebox-sized plastic Geocaching.com box. Inside there’s a log to write your user name and arrival date in; depending upon the size of the geocache, it may be a small notebook or a tiny scroll, so make sure you bring a pen with you. In the bigger containers there may be souvenir items to take with you, or “trackables” — items that are meant to travel from secret location to secret location to reach a particular goal — providing a whole new level of the geocaching game experience if you chose to pick one up.
The Geocaching.com intro app is totally fine if you want to go on hunts close enough to wherever you are; they make for good “side missions” to your daily routine if you have a half an hour or so to kill. However, if you enjoy geocaching enough that you want to step up your game, you can pay for the full, more robust version of the app, which can search geocache challenges anywhere in the world. It’s great to be able to search for geocaches beyond the three nearest to your current location; I’ve gone on geocache hunts farther away in order to fill entire afternoons or days of boredom with longer quests. The quests can definitely add a little adventure to your routine life; there’s a disclaimer stating that “Geocaching can be dangerous! You assume all risks arising in conneciton with seeking a Geocache and/or using this Geocaching application.” In fact, I went on one mission that involved climbing a tree, only to stumble down and fall — but all in good fun and the name of adventure.
Perhaps one day I’ll volunteer and create a mind-boggling geocache challenge, but in the meantime, there are plenty more geocaches for me to find. If you too get into the world of geocaching, perhaps I’ll see you on the hunt.