Geocaching: High-tech treasure huntingDecember 31, 2008
I’m frequently stunned at how the simplest ideas end up being the most pervasive. Did you ever go on a treasure hunt when you were a child? I’m guessing that your tendency to go on these hunts tailed off as you got older? What if you could combine your geekdom with the childlike wonder of discovering “treasure”?
Geocaching is a GPS-based treasure hunt. You can download coordinates from Geocaching.com to use in any compatible handheld GPS unit, and then away you go to find your goal. iPhone users can make use of a dedicated geocaching application that locates you, and finds any nearby caches whilst also plotting their location on a map or compass.
Caches vary in size from the tiny magnetic micros (usually containing only a rolled up log of people who have found it) to large boxes containing goodies left by previous finders. You can take whatever you like from a cache, but etiquette says you should leave something of equal or greater value behind so as to keep the cache exciting for future finders.
I was asked recently why anyone would bother doing this. For me, Geocaching is a nice, relaxing way to spend time with friends and family whilst getting out and about. My wife and I recently wandered around a town we were visiting finding some of the caches there. We’ll soon be going out for a walk through our hometown to find some of the caches nearby. And whilst our family were together for Christmas we went out for a walk, and found a cache on the way. I’m not the kind of person who would make a strenuous effort to head out and find a particular cache, but if we’re in the mood for a walk anyway why not add a little purpose and interest at the same time?
There’s a bit of childlike excitement too, though, in finding something someone else has hidden. It’s cool to look through the log and see who has previously found the cache, and it’s funny to think that load of people walk or drive past these things every day… but I found it!
The Geocaching site encourages people to visit caches that are already in line with their goals (i.e. if you’re going to be climbing a mountain why not visit a cache whilst you’re up there, but don’t climb a mountain specially!). Sensible advice, but there are so many caches around, even in Fife where I live, that it’s not hard to find one near where you plan to spend a day.
If you want to turn family walks into a game, or just want to find what others have hidden, give Geocaching a go. It’s surprisingly addictive!