Geocaching%3a+A+Global+Game+of+Hide-and-Seek


If you are still disappointed that your childhood treasure hunts led to no treasure, you may find solace in geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide network whose participants use GPS technology to hide and seek "treasure" in the form of hidden caches. The bounty is typically a stash of small toys or cheap trinkets, but unlike most treasure hunts, geocaching is more about the search than the reward.

It starts with the cache: a geocacher puts whatever items he or she wants to hide, silly or random or sentimental, a logbook into a waterproof container. With GPS in hand, the geocacher finds a good hiding place for the cache and logs the exact location into a geocache website (geocaching.com is the most popular, though there are other sites and groups on sites like Yahoo, none of which require a membership fee) including the hiding places coordinates and brief clues on how to find the cache itself. A hider can choose to include extra challenges or coded clues. Then it's up to the rest of the geocachers to go find it.

A seeker starts at a geocaching site by searching for caches. Listings are organized by area and degree of difficulty. Newcomers may want to search out listings along their normal walking route or in their own neighborhood. Experience geocachers can choose to seek out sites in tougher terrain or that require extensive travel. Listings also let participants know which cache spots are child and/or pet friendly. Input the coordinates into the GPS, write down the additional clues, and you're on your way. GPS only does a small part of the work. Once the general area is determined, there are often obstacles like trees and trails and most caches are well-hidden. Cachers are advised to watch out for "muggles," the Harry Potter-inspired term for passersby not hip to the geocaching. One more fun twist in the game. Seekers write their names and a bit about their trek in the logbook and can take an item if they leave an item. Geocaching websites have forums for members to discuss their findings.

I had my own first geocaching excursion about a week ago. My cousin and I found a medium size cache in a tree along the riverside rail trail in Vassar. It had been hidden by a mother and son team and already had a few pages of names in the logbook. About half and hour later on our way back past the site, we met up with a couple looking through the content of the cache. Having not had any idea about geocaching until that very morning, I was surprised to see other players so soon. We assured them we weren't muggles and carried on. Hooked after my first find, I searched a geocaching.com for caches closer to home. A search for Saginaw zip code 48602 yielded over 400 results, some in wooded areas like parks and railtrails and some in more urban settings like parking lots and strip malls. I haven't found my first Saginaw cache yet, but the fun is in the searching.

It's easy to get started geocaching. The only equipment needed for simple caches is a GPS. Relatively inexpensive models can be found in retail stores or online and some cell phones or other handheld devices also have tracking software that will work. There is also a geocaching application for iPhones. The thrill of the hunt in this game is simple and addicting and a great way to spend a day exploring a new neighborhood or rediscovering your own.

© Christi Griffis, 2009