Getting There Is Half the Fun

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This will come as no surprise to those who know me, but I have an obsessive personality. When I find something new to like, I like it with the mad, passionate intensity of a bullet train on a no-stop run across the Iowa flatlands. Everything else becomes scenery, a passing blur on the sidelines of a single-minded pursuit. Scrapbooking, computer gaming, blogging (not to mention a rather embarrassing brief love affair with X-Files fanfiction which I will not go into here)—in every case, a casual toe dipped into the water gave way to a full body plunge of thought and resources.

I haven’t been around for a while. You see, a new obsession has me in its grip. It has me scrambling over muddy embankments and poking my fingers into places I wouldn’t normally think to poke them. It has me climbing trees, scaling fences, peering under park benches, and digging around under fallen logs in search of elusive treasure. It has drawn me out from behind my computer and into explorations of unfamiliar woodlands and countryside, eyes open—as if for the first time—to all the amazing detail of the world around me.

The obsession?: Geocaching.

And it all started with a new toy.

On Christmas morning, we opened our big present from my mom and dad: a new GPS receiver and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Geocaching.

Simply stated, geocaching is a sport that marries technology and nature. Individuals and organizations hide caches all over the world and share the locations of these caches on the internet. GPS owners can then use the latitude and longitude coordinates to find the caches. A cache is a weather-resistant container that holds, at the very least, a logbook for successful seekers to sign. Often it also contains small trinkets and prizes, known as swag, for geocachers to trade. If you take something from the cache, caching courtesy dictates that you put in something of equal or greater value. Common “treasures” include small toys, decks of cards, magnets, keychains, and dollar store finds, to name a few things. Many geocachers trade signature items, such as poker chips or buttons emblazoned with their geocaching nickname, which make great collectibles for the hardcore geocaching crowd.

I first read about geocaching in an online technical article and thought immediately of my dad, who had traveled across the country on his motorcycle using his GPSr to navigate. I emailed him a link for the website and forgot about it until he called me one Saturday a few weeks later.

“Guess what your mom and I are doing!” he challenged when I answered the phone. “I’m scared to guess,” I joked. “We’re geocaching!” he exclaimed, the excitement in his voice carrying easily across the phone lines. It was clear that they were hooked. And, as any obsessive personality can tell you, phase two of a growing obsession is all about spreading the fever to others.

A few days after Christmas, new toy in hand, we accompanied my dad on a hunt and he inducted us into the ranks of official geocachers. We found six caches that day, several of which required considerable hiking to discover. I can’t describe the elation and accomplishment I felt when we spotted our very first cache, a camoflaged army surplus ammo box, stuffed into a hollow amidst the roots of an overturned tree. We posed for proud photos of us holding the cache and sifting through the prizes inside. One surprising find that day was on the back side of a fence encircling the parking lot of a convenience store. It was a “microcache”, a tiny cache (in this case, an Altoids tin with a magnet on the back, although we’ve found other micros in 35mm film canisters or prescription pill bottles) with only a log to sign and no goodies to trade. Microcaches are common in urban areas, where concealing a larger cache would be impossible. Other cache types are multi-caches, which require you to go from cache to cache getting clues for the coordinates of the final big geocache, and puzzle caches, which ask the seeker to solve a riddle or puzzle in order to figure out the location of the cache.

The anticipation of the hunt, the exhilaration of discovery–it’s a heady brew. By the time I stepped off the plane back in Spokane, I was fully infected with the geocaching bug. It has rained every day since we returned, but neither rain, nor sleet, nor dead of night can stop a truly obsessed geocacher. I feel like I’m aware of my surroundings on a whole new level, and my appreciation for the beautiful places all around me has intensified. Also, I have to confess, there’s a certain exciting Mission: Impossible feel to all the sneaking around and deciphering clues to find the treasure. Geocachers try hard to be discreet when on the hunt, to avoid arousing the suspicions of nearby “muggles” (a name borrowed from Harry Potter books and used to refer to non-geocachers.) Part of the fun is making sure that the fun can continue for other people.

So there you have it. Geocaching is good exercise, it stretches your brain, and—once you’ve made the initial investment on the GPS unit—it’s practically free fun for one person, a couple, or the whole family.

Just don’t get arrested.

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27 responses »

  1. Well, this doesn’t sound like anything that I would enjoy. I’m not an out-doorsy kind of girl, so treking around God-knows where to find trinkets just doesn’t exactly ring my bell! But, at least you got a Christmas present you can enjoy with your family 🙂

    Glad you’re back! I was going to post a comment on ‘Flying the Whiny Skies’ to see if you had died…

  2. Thanks so much for explaining this! It looks like so much fun. I can’t believe how many cache’s there are all over the world. I need to check some out in Scotland. Now where’s that GPS…?

  3. I read about this on someone else’s blog and asked what it was but they never answered. I knew it involved GPS, but that was about it. I SO want to do this, but I don’t have GPS. Hmmm…my hubby hasn’t bought me my Xmas present yet. I’ve been waiting for just the right thing. This is something that the whole family could do. How fun!

  4. There you go, Katrina, spreading the bug to everyone you come in contact with. Please warn me when you catch a cold, you could be deadly!

  5. It is a ton of fun, I like the way you described what it is. All I can ever really think of is treasure hunting…and high tech goonies. So..there you go. I have the coordinates for a multi cache waiting for me in our van….waiting for this coming Saturday when the world (or at least the local parks) are ours!!

  6. Kassi! Sorry! I’m a sad, bad girl. lol. I SO want to do this now! I’m checking online for a GPS and I went to geocaching.com and checked my area and there is alot of stuff right around here. My husband is interested now, too. See what you and Kassi started?? lol

  7. omgosh that sounds awesome! My son would love that! I might have to look into it, but I’m like you…looking into something leads to obsession!! Thanks for sharing this, I had never heard of it before!

  8. Cantre–Only five seasons? There are nine, you know. 😉 And a post about Narnia is a good idea–I’m a huge fan of the books and enjoyed the movie immensely.

  9. Okay. You and Kassi have done it. I won an auction for a magellan portable GPS so I can start geocaching. My kids are so excited. I haven’t even started yet and I’m hooked! lol

  10. IN SING-SONG FORMAT: Oh where, Oh where, has Katrina gone? Oh where, Oh where can she beeeeee????

    I still don’t understand the new obsession, but to each his own 🙂 I guess I shouldn’t knock it until I try it. But, at your prodding, I DID try to play WOW a few months back and just didn’t get into it the way you (and the rest of the world) did. Michael, on the other hand, hit level 60 today, so he’s really excited.

    I just made the mistake of mentioning this new craze to Michael, who immediately started prattling on about how cool it sounds and how he’d love to try it! He heard something about it on his favorite show “Call for Help” and said he wanted to investigate it further. Looks like I’ll be trying this before long…against my will, I’m sure 🙂

  11. Chris–Yay! Glad to hear that you, too, are joining the hunt. We are heading out tomorrow to investigate a few farther north of us. Should be fun for the kids, who love crawling through the underbrush–we should probably buy orange vests for them so we don’t lose them!

    Jennifer–Yes, I’ve stepped into another time warp. This time it’s sickness, not obsession, that’s kept me away from the computer. I’m finally on the tail end of it, though, so I’ll be around. Now, go buy a GPS, join the dark side, and together we will rule the galaxy…

  12. totaly weird. if i start doing that i will dissapear i could never stop searching. i feel sick. i feel that i must start geocaching. bye harvey.

    GARSH you could start a blog just for your geocaching exploits! DO IT PLEASE

  13. Heehee! Join us, Natalie! Join the GPS side! Yesterday I found a cache in a very public place and was afraid the whole time I was logging it that some official-type person would come by and ask me what I was doing. It was a rush, I tell you! (I had to talk Paul into believing it really was where I thought it was before he would start dismantling public property with a screwdriver…)

    Thanks for the reference on myspace–very sweet! 🙂

  14. I think everyone has said this but man this looks amazing!! haha.. next time you travel somewhere exotic like Africa or Asia or something you should leave something THERE with the location and find out whoEVER would get it.

  15. Sri–That would be cool, wouldn’t it? I’m not sure if I could do it, though, since one of the requirements of placing a cache is being able to maintain it. Of course, that might give me just the excuse I need to jet off to some exotic location every few months or so! (“Sorry, honey–I have to restock my cache again!”)

  16. Katrina.. that is just what I was thinking. I looked up the areas in my city (Toronto) and was astounded by how many geocachers we have! Now if only I had a GPS thingie.. haha

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