August 18th is International Geocacher’s Day (who knew, right?) and in honor of this, our local Community Center put on a small presentation covering the introduction of geocaching, followed by a small geocache hunt of our own.
Geocaching is an activity (a game? a sport?) where people hide things all over the United States that people can find using GPS coordinates. Actually there are two parts to the “hunt” — a GPS will get you close, and then you’ll have to do some searching (sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours) to actually find the hidden object. Every geocache has a small paper register that you can sign. Many of them also have things inside them that you can take. If they take something, Geocachers are expected to replace the item with something of equal or more value.
Our day began inside the Community Center. After watching a brief but informative PowerPoint presentation, we moved out into the open area. The people who attended the meeting (about 20 I’d guess) were pretty evenly split between active geocachers, and people who were simply out looking for something to do. Me and mine fell into the latter category.
It’s been 100+ degrees for months now with only a slight break last week. Of course the first time we planned an outdoor activity, rain clouds moved in. Toward the end of the PowerPoint presentation we could hear thunder outside. When it was time to actually go do some geocaching, it was raining, hard. Instead of going out and getting soaked we spent a few minutes inside talking to some of the other more experienced hunters.
On the right there is my old friend Jaime Olvera. Jaime is an experienced Geocacher with over a hundred finds and several “first to finds,” or FTFs. Geocaches get posted to an official site (geocaching.com) where they are vetted to be authentic and findable before they are released to the wild, so to speak. When they do get officially released, people race to be the first one to find them. Sometimes Geocaches contain special prizes for the first people to find them. Jaime said he found $40 in one of his.
Unfortunately rain and adults talking doesn’t inspire wonder in children, and before long my two budding Geocachers were doing this:
Soon the rain let up and we all went outside to do some real geocaching. Each team of newbies was teamed up with a more experienced group. Susan, the kids and I headed out with Jaime and his girls.
The first one on our list was hidden not 10′ from a parking spot I am sure I have parked in at the Community Center. I found that very interesting, to think that not 10′ from a place I am sure I have stood was this hidden container, stuck under/in/near a tree (I don’t want to give too much away!).
Again, the way you find these typically is by using a smartphone app. There are multiple apps for both iPhone and Android, many of them free. The one I was using (the official Geocaching.com app) told me all the surrounding caches within x amount of miles, which direction they were in, how hard to find and how physically challenging they will be to retrieve, and so on.
I can’t stress enough that the app only gets you so far. A phone GPS should get you to within 6-15′ of the target site; after that, it’s a game of hide and seek. I hope it’s because we were just learning the game, but we were overall terrible at finding the hidden objects. One, a darkly-colored ball, I never did see until the kids finally picked it up and showed it to me. The other, a camouflage-covered container hidden in the Community Center Nature Trails, definitely took some poking around to find. This was one misconception I had about the sport; the GPS and apps will only get you so far.
Each cache is rating from 1/1 to 5/5. The first number (I think) rates how difficult the object is to find, while the second number denotes how physical demanding it will be. All of the ones we hunted for were rated 1/1. I heard one of the geocachers talking about one they had to climb into a cave to retrieve. I’m guessing that was a 4 or a 5.
Many of the geocaches contain hints or clues in the form of riddles. This part also intrigued me, and I think that being the hider might be as fun as being the findee. According to Jaime, there are over 25 geocaches hidden just in and around Yukon. I was pretty surprised by that.
Another term I learned was “muggle,” which is apparently a Harry Potter reference (I really need to sit down and watch those movies). When a cache is “muggled” that means a non-geocacher found the cache and either removed or destroyed it. After finding a cache, Geocachers leave feedback on the official Geocaching site. If there are several reviews in a row stating that people couldn’t find the cache, the site may have been muggled. I suppose this is why some of them are hidden so well.
All in all we had a good time geocaching and found four of the caches hidden in and around the Community Center. It seems like an exciting way to have some fun and get a little exercise at the same time, so I’m hoping we go on a few more geocaches in the future!