Hopefully, we’re all aiming to live our lives in a way that leads to self-improvement. This includes getting enough sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, as well as engaging in personal interests that make us feel fulfilled. For many, spending time outdoors is a vital component. Whether engaging in high-intensity workouts, hiking trails, or simply exploring, there are plenty of ways to involve yourself.
Geocaching is a relatively new, yet somewhat classic trend that re-configures the way we experience the outdoors. It combines traditional elements of hiking, urban exploration, and other activities with the thrill of a treasure hunt.
A Hypothetical Discovery
Picture this: You’re going out on your favorite trail and decide to change up your habits by going off the path. You are seeing the same area through a vastly changed lens. As you walk, you suddenly notice something out of the ordinary. It appears to be a large can, almost like what you’d find coffee grounds in.
On closer inspection, it’s definitely a coffee grounds can. Unlike regular cans, it’s been disguised so that it won’t be easily seen. For a moment, you wonder who could have left it here. Did someone litter, or was it put here on purpose?
Something jingles in the can when you move it. Out of curiosity, but expecting nothing, you open it. Inside, you see a variety of trinkets — an action figure, a necklace, a crystal, some photographs, and assorted, seemingly random items. You also find a pocket notebook.
Inside the front page of the notebook, writ large, it says, “Take something. Leave something too.” Across countless pages of the journal is writing, in different hands and inks. Some are messages of encouragement, others simply initials and dates. It must be important.
You decide to leave an old two-dollar bill in the can. It brought you luck, and now it can bring someone else luck. You take the action figure and sign the logbook in black ink. You take care to place the can where you found it, nestled against a tree.
You have been initiated into the ways of geocaching.
What Is Geocaching?
Geocaching is, at its core, a type of treasure hunting. The initial “geocacher” hides an item in a public place. This should be a location where an item can be found without arousing suspicion.
This makes natural environments of all kinds, as well as city streets, ideal for placing the item. The item needs to be a secure container, as small as a tin or as big as a tackle box. The goal is to have the item be small enough that it can be hidden but large enough to fit personal items. Items may be disguised or simply placed well, but they are never to be buried.
Once the box is in place, the real fun begins. Geocaching relies on GPS coordinates to serve as a “treasure map” to continue the metaphor. Users are first provided with coordinates to the geocache before they set out on their journey. This can be done on apps that track geocache locations, and they are also sometimes released on social media.
Geocaches may have a variety of items but almost always have a logbook. This is the most essential item, as it allows “players” to leave each other messages and read older messages. It can be exciting to come back to a geocache months or years later to see what new developments have occurred.
The fundamentals of geocaching come together to create an asynchronous sense of community. It can also serve as a fun group activity to bring your friends along on.
The above are the absolute basics when it comes to geocaching. The growth of the activity and essentials in starting yourself are both further points of interest.
Where Did It Start?
Geocaching started formally in 2000 but has a history that may date back to the 19th century. In England, letterboxing was a trend that itself was inspired by classic letter-in-a-bottle methods.
In letterboxing, a box is placed in a secure location along with a personalized stamp. Without the use of GPS, letterboxes were instead located thanks to an exchange of clues and hints. When a “letterboxer” found a box, they would stamp their own book with the stamp of the letterbox. Some letterboxers even had their own personal stamps, which they would use to mark logbooks found in the hidden boxes.
Letterboxing started in the 1800s, near Dartmoor National Park in England. After an article about it was published in the U.S. in 1998, letterboxing entered the public sphere in America. The fact that geocaching started a mere two years later can hardly be called a coincidence.
The first geocache was hidden in Oregon by Dave Ulmer. He hid a five-gallon bucket filled with videotapes, books, software, some cash, and even a slingshot. In it, he placed a message saying, “Take some stuff, leave some stuff.” He sent out the coordinates of the cache to a close group of friends, suggesting they record elements in the logbook.
Geocaching started out in either rural or greenery-infused public spaces and largely continues to remain that way. Today, geocaches can be found in countless environments, including urban ones.
How Geocachers Get Started
After understanding the fundamentals behind a geocache, people are usually tempted to begin some exploration of their own. Some people prefer hunting for pre-established geocaches, and others marvel at starting their own. Beginning the hunt for geocaches can be easy to do with the right equipment.
The first step is to find coordinates. Many geocache tracking sites exist to provide users with updated lists of present geocache locations. This makes it easy to find caches that are nearby. You may even find yourself wanting to incorporate a hunt on your next road trip.
The second step is to gear up. This includes comfortable apparel for the location and weather expected but also includes other pieces. It is recommended to invest in a GPS tracker. Cell phones can track GPS coordinates, but this uses up battery and may be tricky in some locations.
The third step is to gather friends and gather specific items. Explorers should bring something to put in to match any items they may take out. A pen can also be useful if the box doesn’t have one inside it.
The final step is to explore the area where the geocache should be and have fun with it. These hidden troves are fundamentally about redefining our relationship with the world around us. A scavenger hunt can provide competition or collaboration, depending on how the group feels.
Creating Your Own Geocache
Once someone has found a few caches, they will have a better idea of how to design their own. They’ll need a box, a few assorted items, a pen, and a logbook to make their geocache. Some may want to paint or otherwise mark the box to make it less visible.
Once this is done, it’s time to choose the location. Experts know that the ideal location is somewhere people wouldn’t naturally run across it, but also that it’s nowhere dangerous. It’s wise to avoid anywhere that potentially dangerous wildlife may be tempted to set up roosts.
The last step is to publish the location of the geocache using as precise geographic coordinates as possible. Individuals can post them on social media, find geocache groups to relay the information to, or send it to friends. The important thing is to enjoy the journey.
After all of this is done, many find it to be fulfilling to return after a significant amount of time has passed. You may find something remarkable waiting for you.
Warnings While Engaging in Geocaching
There are a few concerns when it comes to geocaching. These primarily relate to safety and environmentalism.
Caches should be positioned safely and only use materials that won’t disturb the natural ecosystem. Avoid caches around federal buildings or landmarks, as this may cause public distress. Private property and historic buildings should also be avoided, as these may encourage trespassing.
Safety is also an essential concern, especially when exploring. The bonds formed between geocachers can help people feel connected to their community. However, dangerous weather and rough terrain can pose a threat to the unprepared.
Geocaching should be about fun and community, foremost. Take care to protect these by staying safe and environmentally ethical.
The Next Step
Geocaching won’t replace the sort of workout you’d get in a gym, but it has plenty of benefits. Your periodic outdoor excursion can be vastly improved by adding an element of the unknown to the mix. Continue exploring, for hidden treasures or new activities, and know that Olivers will be there to back you.