Games People Play
Finding Hidden Treasure by the Bay
By Cheryl Rhodes
Geocaching is a treasure hunt game enjoyed by thousands of people of all ages that is a wonderful excuse to get people to bundle up and get out of the house to discover new places in their community. It’s a noncompetitive game you can enjoy alone or with family and friends. The best part about geocaching is that it’s virtually free. Once a geocacher has purchased a handheld GPS unit or a smart phone with a geocaching app, the only cost is gas to get to your destination. Smart phone users can purchase a $10 geocaching app that can be downloaded and will turn the phone into a GPS unit. The advantage to using a smart phone is spontaneity and that most of the steps using a GPS can be eliminated. If you’re out on the town and have a little time to spare, pull out your phone and check your geocaching app for nearby caches and let your phone’s built-in GPS unit guide you there.
More than just a walk in the park, a global positioning system unit (GPS) is used by the players to search for caches hidden by other geocachers. The information on where caches are hidden is shared on the Internet, with the most popular website to hide and log caches at www.geocaching.com A cache is a small waterproof container that holds a log book and a pen for visitors to record their visit, and may also hold items for trade such as cookie cutters, key chains or small trinkets.
Ready to get started geocaching?
1. Start at www.geocaching.com and create your free account and profile that will identify the nickname you use for caching. Here is where you enter the GPS coordinates of your home address. That’s as easy as stepping outside the house with your GPS unit and locking onto your current location.
2. In your profile, click on the link that says “search for nearest geocaches from your home location.” You’ll get a list of hundreds of caches hidden in your community, starting with the ones closest to your home.
3. Each cache has been given a clever name by the hider, such as The Big Bang Theory or Cousin Bob’s Creepy Hangout. The list shows the distance between your location and each cache. It could be a couple of hundred feet or a few miles. The list of caches shows the difficulty of the terrain. They are rated from one star to five stars, one star being the easiest and five being the most difficult. A one-star cache has terrain that is wheelchair-accessible, possibly a parking lot or paved sidewalk. A cache with one and one-half or two stars might include walking across a field or dirt path with a small incline, something that wouldn’t be too challenging for a fully mobile person. Five stars probably means you need to don scuba gear or rock climbing equipment to reach the cache. The five-star rating is also used to rate how difficult the cache is to find. Most caches are hidden in places like a hollow tree or under a log or rock. Some can be more difficult to spot such as a cache that is painted the same color as the space it’s hidden in.
4. If your GPS came with a patch cord to your computer, you can check off the caches you want to find on the website and download directly to the GPS. If your patch cord is missing, you will have to enter the GPS coordinates by hand. They always have north and west coordinates, showing the degrees of the longitude and latitude and the hours and minutes. The coordinates will look something like this: N 39° 14.307 W 076° 50.033. Fortunately, your GPS will figure it out for you! Most of the caches include a Google street map so you will have a general idea of what direction to head out in and where to park your car when you arrive.
5. Depending on your GPS, you may have been able to download extra information about the cache — the general description, any attributes of the area (parking, washroom, restaurants, accessible 24/7, etc. If not, you might want to print the page and take it with you for assistance. You can also view the logs left by previous geocachers. They might give you subtle hints about how easily they found the cache and the condition of the area around the cache. Recent rain storms and caching in the woods may make for a muddy day.
6. Ready to get in the car? Depending on how close the cache is to your home, you might want to turn on your GPS right away. Otherwise wait until you get closer. No sense wearing down the batteries! The GPS will direct you to the area where the cache is hidden. You will probably have to park and walk the final distance to the cache.
7. Trying to hone in on the cache is where it gets tricky. The GPS depends on 24 satellites circling the world to give you coordinates. The GPS of the person hiding the cache and your GPS might be off by a few feet. Other factors come into play, notably the weather. Nothing messes up those satellites and brings an end to geocaching like rainclouds. The accuracy of the GPS could be off 20 to 40 feet or more. Look for well trampled areas that show other cachers were in the area. Look for good hiding spots. The more caches you find, the more you’ll get used to popular places to hide the containers.
8. When you find the cache, you’ll see a log book inside. Depending on the size of the container, this might be a small notebook or it could be a piece of tightly rolled paper inserted inside a small canister. It’s always a good idea to bring your own pen with you just in case the cache doesn’t have one. Record the date and your geocaching name. If you dropped off a tradable item or took one with you, leave a note about it. Now close the cache and hide it exactly as you found it so no one who is happens by can discover it.
9. When you arrive home, turn on the computer and go to the geocaching website and log your find online. You can leave notes that might be helpful to the next geocacher such mentioning that the area is overgrown with brambles, but try not to give too much away. If you leave too big a hint, the cache owner might email you to ask you to edit your log or they’ll delete it. If you did not find the cache, make sure you log on and say you couldn’t find it. It’s possible the cache has gone missing and the cache owner may want to check it out and replace it if several cachers in a row all say they were unable to find it. The geocaching website automatically keeps track of your finds and you can view them on your profile.
10. Start planning your next geocaching outing and, who knows, the grandkids may want to join you.
In this noncompetitive game, the thrill is finding the hidden cache and logging in your success. Geocaching is more about going out and having fun while getting some exercise and enjoying the day.
Cheryl writes from Cloverdale, British Columbia and often brings her husband and two dogs along on geocaching expeditions. Cheryl can be contacted through her geocaching profile, mermaidude, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org