One of the neat things about being in school is the number of interesting activities I have been exposed to. During an Introduction to GPS lecture, my prof brought up the topic of geocaching. Geocaching is basically an outdoor treasure-hunt. It uses GPS devices to allow participants to navigate to a certain location and find a hidden geocache. The geocache is a container that contains a logbook where successful participants can record the date they found the cache. Some geocaches include small items that can be taken from the container, as long as they are replaced with an item of equal or greater value.
I decided to look into the game more and headed to www.geocaching.com. After signing up for the free, basic registration, I watched a few videos to familiarize myself with the rules and basic procedures, then searched for geocaches in my area. Wow – there are a ton of geocaches hidden around here! In fact, every location I’ve searched so far has turned up many hidden treasures. I wanted to run out right away and start hunting for some geocaches, but I ran into a snag – my handheld GPS is so ancient I can’t download coordinates to it. It pretty much only works as a ‘track where you’ve been’ type of device. I considered upgrading to a newer GPS but faced the reality that it wasn’t in the budget.
A little bummed out, I wondered what to do next. Then I found the Geocaching app available for my iPhone. Perfect! After a quick download I was ready to head out for the first time.
The first time ended up being yesterday. It was a sunny, nearly perfect winter day. The air was crisp and the nippy breeze had me pulling up my hood up as soon as we started down the trail. Darrell and I had chosen to take the dogs to Snyder’s Flats in Bloomingdale, their favorite place for a walk, and a quick search on my app had shown we would have plenty of geocaches to search for.
We picked a trail and spent the first little while watching the dogs run and play. They get outside plenty at home and can run and roughhouse as much as they want, but getting to a new area full of scents, trails, hills, and other dogs, really gets the two of them excited. It makes me smile to see them racing this way and that way. Jack mainly sticks to the trail and pauses as something catches his attention. Molly is a scatterbrain and proves it on walks – trails mean nothing to her, they are merely intersects on her path as she runs from one side to the other, down to the ponds, across to the forest, around the corners, down the hill, and finally back to Jack.
With the dogs having fun and letting off steam, I paused to pull out my phone and select our first geocache location.
Seeing our mark get ever closer to the correct location on the screen, I finally put the phone away and paid closer attention to our surroundings. And there it was, an intriguing tree with holes reminiscent of termite or woodpecker damage. Darrell was the one to actually find the cache, but his fingers were too big to free it from it’s hiding spot so the honor was mine. I unscrewed the capsule, pulled out the piece of paper inside, filled in the log, and replaced everything where we found it. Geocache #1 found!
Finding our first geocache was actually far more fun than I had expected. It was not in a difficult location, but I was still grinning like a fool when the dogs got bored with standing around and encouraged us to get back on the trail.
After letting Jack play a game of chase with an extremely energetic friend he met on the trail, we headed down another path in search of a second geocache. The name of this one – Prickles – was all the information I needed to find the general location. Searching for this one in the winter, while all your extremities are protected by clothing, is a good idea. This one took a few minutes of searching in the general location before Darrell, again, found the cache. Considering that I was the one interested in taking up this game, Darrell seems remarkably adept at finding geocaches.
Having the app on my phone was really handy because I was able to log the find and my notes right away, and get them uploaded to geocaching.com. Of course, keeping the GPS running on an iPhone is an awesome way to kill your battery and I noticed mine was getting low. I should have charged it up before leaving the house, but I still had plenty of battery life left if we had decided to continue on the hunt. After finding two geocaches I was eager to search for all the others listed in the park. This game gets addicting in a hurry. However, it was getting late, the dogs were obviously starting to wonder about dinner, and my legs had become popsicles. It was time to head back to the car.
Our first geocaching outing was an absolute success. Not only did I get to enjoy the game – the search, the thrill of the find, the joy of logging our finds – but I got to spend a few hours outside with my favorite person and our wonderful dogs. The afternoon proved to me that geocaching is an excellent way to spend time with your family, get outside, enjoy what nature has to offer, get some fresh-air, and improve your navigational skills. While I would still like to have a handheld GPS for searching in locations without a 3G cell signal, the iPhone app works great and has the added benefit of allowing you to log your finds instantly.
Geocaching is something everyone can take part in. Log on to geocaching.com today and get started!