Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Is Geocaching?

Geocaching is a game that started in the USA in the year 2000. It's very similar to Letterboxing, except that GPS coordinates are used instead of hints, and real objects are swapped instead of stamp impressions. I've been Geocaching since 2002 and it's one of my favorite things to do outdoors.

Yeah But What Is It?

It's a sport, it's a game, it's how geeks experience nature :) It's a treasure hunt that's taking place all over the world. Even where you live! -And you probably didn't even know it.

Here's How Geocaching Works:

All over the world, people have hidden "caches." A cache is basically a small collection of objects, usually small inexpensive things like keychains, refrigerator magnets, or small toys. These are usually hidden in small waterproof containers like Tupperware, or small plastic Ziploc bags. Once a cache has been hidden, its coordinates (latitude and longitude) are uploaded to the Geocaching website.

Later, another individual (let's say YOU) logs onto the Geocaching website and types in their postal code or city and country. When they do so, a list of caches in their area pops up on the screen with coordinates and occasionally some additional clues. You copy down all the relevant information, grab your GPS unit and go!

What's A "GPS Unit?"

GPS stands for "Global Positioning System." You've probably heard about them being used in cars to help people navigate to where they're going, but there are also smaller handheld versions that hikers use. That's the kind you'll need. You can pick up a small GPS unit for $100 or so and even cheaper if you find a used one. There are also modules that snap onto Palm Pilots and convert them into GPS units. That's what I use.

Once you have your GPS unit in hand, you type in the coordinates for the cache you're seeking, your GPS unit makese a few calculations, then it shows you how far you are from the cache. It will also display an arrow indicating which direction you need to walk to get closer. As you walk, the GPS unit will continuously update this information. Just walk in the direction of the arrow and make sure your distance from the cache keeps decreasing (if it's increasing you're walking the wrong way!)

Here's the thing though... your GPS unit will get you close, VERY close, but will rarely lead you to the exact spot. When you're really close, the unit's readings will often start jumping around a lot. At that point you're probably within 10 to 20 feet of the cache location. 10-20 feet in all directions can be a lot of ground to cover when you're looking for a small container. And many of them are very well hidden! They have to be so that Non-Geocachers (Sometimes called "Muggles") won't stumble across them by accident. It takes me anywhere from about 5 minutes to one hour to find a cache once I reach the correct location. Once in a rare while, I won't be able to find it at all.

About "Reaching The Correct Location..."

Reaching the correct location is not always as easy as it may seem. To get to the cache coordinates, you'll probably be led on some interesting walks and discover nature paths you never even knew existed. Sometimes mountain climbing skills are in order. Once I needed a boat. Generally the cache description page will give you an idea of how easy or difficult it should be to reach the cache location and will let you know if you'll need any special skills or equipment. Most are quite easy though. Well.... easy to get to, but maybe not always so easy to find once you're there!

What Do You Do Once You Find The Cache?

First make sure nobody else is around. This all has to be done without Non-Cachers seeing what you're doing. Then, when nobody's looking, take the cache container a bit away from where you found it, so as not to give away its location, and have a seat. Open the cache and take a look at what's inside. Next, take one of the objects to keep for yourself, and swap in one of your own (-another magnet, keychain, action figure...). Then sign the "log book" that's usually enclosed in the container and take a moment to read the entries of all the other geeks very nice people that came before you. Then, when nobody's looking, put everything back exactly the way you found it. Then go home, log onto the Geocaching website and say "I FOUND IT!" :) and go look for more!

Geocaching is fun, and it's a really a great way to get outdoors and discover new and beautiful places. I know... You're thinking there's nothing like that where YOU live right? You're wrong! There are caches near you. Don't believe me? Take a look!

The Groundspeak Geocaching Logo is a registered trademark of Groundspeak, Inc.
Used with permission.



Hillary said...

I've heard of this before - I have a few friends who do it - but your explanation is so great! You really make it sound like fun!

Now about finding one of those add-ons for my plam....

Melissa said...

It IS fun! You should totally do it! :) -And then write and tell me about it!

Check ebay for good prices on GPS units (Palm or stand-alone.) There's also a link for 2nd hand ones at the Geocaching website.

I think you'd like this. Especially considering how much you love the outdoors :)