Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hunting Treasure!

What did you do on the day after Thanksgiving? Hit the stores and grab up all those crazy deals alongside all those crazy people? Lay on the couch and rub your belly? Travel back from whence you came?

We still had a few relatives hanging about, so we took advantage of the gorgeous day and went geocaching! Ever heard of it? As my husband likes to point out, it is only a familiar term to the true nerds among us. We’re charter members.

Geocaching is treasure hunting with a GPS. It’s free to sign up at  Once you narrow down your choices to the caches you want to search for, you program your GPS (or download the geocache app) and off you go! The website lists how difficult the cache is to find, how tough the terrain is, what size the cache is, helpful hints and clues, and even notes from others who have found the cache already. Your GPS will get you within 20 feet of the cache, but then it’s all about the hunt. Our kids have become experts at searching out hollow logs, rock crevices, anything that looks a tad bit out of the ordinary, because that’s where you’re most likely to find a cache.

A cache can be anything from a magnetic key holder (a ‘micro cache’) to a plastic Tupperware tub. Inside the cache you will find an explanation as to what geocaching is (just in case a muggle stumbles upon the cache by accident), a log book, and sometimes trinkets. Trinkets are tradable items. You can take one thing out as long as you put one thing back. This is the part the kids really like. Before we leave to go geocaching, they comb their rooms for trinkets to trade – jewelry, matchbox cars, lego figures, plastic animals, key chains, really anything small that someone else might want. The junk drawer is always a good place to find trinkets to trade. On this past geocache, Addie came away with a jar of bubbles, Ian claimed crayons, and one young cousin found a really annoying birthday noise maker which he used to serenade us on our drive to the next cache (the WHOLE drive). On other searches we’ve found chapstick, craft kits, magnifying glass, super balls, sunglasses, hair accessories, and any number of strange plastic creatures that delighted the finder. My favorite find was on a particularly arduous, mosquito infested hike when the cache contained a bug-repellent wet wipe!

Sometimes a cache will have a “travel bug”. This is an object whose sender is trying to move it somewhere. It could be across the country or it could be to another continent. If you are headed that direction, you take the travel bug and place it in another cache closer to its destination. Its original owner can follow the travel bug’s journey online. Each time you find a cache and/or move a travel bug, you log back in to and make a note. If you’re an overachiever your account quickly becomes laden with a long list of finds. We rarely remember or have time to log back in, so most of our caches are recorded in our memory.

There are geocaches on all seven continents. There are geocaches in just about every Cracker Barrel restaurant gift shop. There are “cache and dash” geocaches alongside pretty much any road. If you looked it up right now, odds are you’ll find 50 geocaches within a 25 mile radius of where you’re standing. They are among us. And now you’re not a muggle (non-geocacher), so you know this. When you see a strange group of people traipsing around in a wooded area, you don’t have to wonder if someone’s lost their toddler, you can wonder if it’s a bunch of nerds searching for a cache.

We found four caches last Friday. One cache was a bit of disaster as I didn’t read all the clues provided and two of the kids wandered in to some sucking mud which sucked off my youngest son’s croc, never to be found again. This necessitated a quick trip back home for a change of clothes. Not a problem since this cache was less than a ½ mile from home. The others led us on a pretty hike down the rail trail and then a smelly search behind a crab shack. All caches are rated on a 1-5 scale for difficultly and terrain. We mostly stick with 1’s and 2’s when the kids are with us.

Geocaching is a great way to get your family outside together. No one can resist a treasure hunt. This time of year it’s not always easy to motivate young people to venture in to the great outdoors. But it’s also easier to find geocaches this time of year with no heavy foliage, sticker bushes, or poison ivy to contend with. Geocaching is also a great way to take a break when you’re traveling and need to get the kids out of the car. We’ve seen some beautiful places we would never have encountered had it not been for geocaching.

If you’d like to try it and don’t own a GPS (you need a handheld GPS because you’re car can only get you so far and most caches require at least some hiking), you can download a free app that will lead you to three caches and give you a tutorial along the way. The full-version app is $9.99. On the website you can find information on purchasing a GPS. It also has a cool scrolling banner along the bottom that lists the most recent finds as they come in. Today I watched as several caches were found in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Sweden. The site lists a running tally of how many caches have been logged in during the last 30 days. As I write this there have been 5,152,296. Betcha didn’t know there that many treasure-hunting nerds in the world!

When you look up a cache, many will list clues and sometimes encrypted messages (with the code). This makes it even more fun for the kids. On the website you can also see when the cache was last found and make sure it’s still viable. The person who places a cache (anyone can do this) is responsible for following strict guidelines and making sure the cache stays viable, so it’s rare for a cache to go missing (probably it’s just hard to find). I know, hard to believe there are people in this world with that much time on their hands!

If you own a GPS, you can sign up on the website for free and start seeking your treasure. Even if you download the app, you’ll still want to access the website for the more detailed information and to log in your finds.

Give geocaching a try. It’s got all the ingredients for great family memories – outdoors, treasure, adventure, challenge, and best of all – it’s free! Just beware of muggles and use stealth. Also, remember ‘cache in, trash out’ whenever you are geocaching and do your part.

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