What is Geocaching

A few days ago as I was driving with my middle son to visit my older son in Nebraska, we discussed what we were going to do while we were there. One of the activities I had planned was going geocaching.

He said, What the (insert word a typical 20 year old male would say) is that?

I said it's hunting for things other people have hidden, like a scavenger hunt and that it's fun. The look he then gave me said, "Why would I want to do that and you have no clue what something fun is."

But after looking for just one hidden cache, he's hooked and says "Hey this is pretty cool."

Yeah, I know.

He got me thinking about geocaching in relation to people who haven't heard of it. I tend to talk to people like they know everything I know and probably don't notice the confused looks as I ramble on about geocaching and how much fun it is. If you've heard the word "geocaching" but don't know what it is and like me, don't like to admit when you don't know what a word means, the best way I can think of to describe it is that it's going on a "high-tech treasure hunt" outside in the (gasp) dirt, bushes, woods, trails, marshes, cemeteries and anyplace else people can think of to hide caches (a container that contains, at a minimum - a logbook or sheet of paper for people to sign, and often contains small trinkets that people can take one of provided they replace it with something else).

Going geocaching reminds me of when I was a kid in the 70's, when parents weren't frightened of letting their kids run around outside at will and didn't immediately think "West Nile Virus" when a child came home covered in mosquito bites or "Lyme Disease" if they managed to get ticks on them. It was back when the only video game around was Pong and parents didn't feel guilty about telling their kids to stop bugging them, go outside and play, and don't come back in the house until it's dinnertime.

With all the talk today about kids getting fatter and that we need to get them outside to play, it's a great time to introduce them to geocaching. Buying the equipment is less expensive than buying a video game system, and although children need to have a parent or other responsible adult with them (but a group of teenagers sent out together go to geocaching is perfectly acceptable), it's a great way to get everyone in the family outside and to get some exercise and spend quality time together.

Okay, the basics.

Like I said earlier, geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt. People search for caches by their coordinates which means to go geocaching you need a GPS unit. Now, you are probably asking how to find out where caches are located. You'll need Internet access. If you don't have it at home, go to your local library and use a computer there. Then go to geocaching.com. You'll have to register on the site to view the location of caches (pronounced like the its money "cash"), but basic registration is free.

Take a pen when heading out to go geocaching because some caches are so small a pen won't fit in them. Also take trinkets such as trackable coins known as geocoins, travel bugs (a tag that is attached to an item so the location of that item can be tracked online - often people who place them hope the item will travel from cache to cache, maybe from state to state, and sometimes from country to country), small toys, keychains, little flashlights, and a multitude of other items. In most cases it's not about finding the item inside the cache (the exception is when some businesses and organizations have contests where prizes are hidden inside - such as Jeep Corporation which has sponsored geocache contests where the prize was a new Jeep).

By now you might be thinking. "How hard can it be to find a cache if I have the coordinates of its location?" Sometimes it's not hard at all. Other times they are so cleverly hidden that it takes patience, sharp eyes, creative "thinking outside the box" that includes looking at your surroundings and figuring out what looks out of place in order to find the cache. Some caches are painted in camouflage or look just like a rock, are hidden inside a hollow tree, or are very small - no bigger than quarter. Lots of times they are hidden in a 35 mm film roll container. Sometimes it might seem like looking for the proverbial "needle in the haystack" but the challenge of finding it is what's fun!

Are you wondering if there are caches in the area you live? I wondered that too when I first heard about it. It sounded fun but I didn't want to spend a lot of money on gas driving to wherever caches are hidden. I live in a rural area, a few miles from a town of 1,700 people - not exactly a bustling metro area. I was amazed to find there are 5 caches within 2 miles of my house. That got me thinking that caches are mostly in the country and not in cities. Wrong. My oldest son, who lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, has 71 caches within a few miles of his house.

There are very few rules for geocaching and they are basic "being considerate" ones. After finding a cache, write in the logbook. If you take something from the cache, put something in the cache. Then put the cache back where you found it. If the cache is gone or has been vandalized go online to geocaching.com and write in the comments because that notifies anyone else who may try to find it that something has happened to it and also lets the owner of it know to either fix, replace, or remove the cache entirely.

Depending on what type of GPS unit you buy, you can plug the unit into your computer and download coordinates for caches directly into it. Otherwise, just jot the coordinates down on a piece of paper.

If you don't want to invest in a GPS unit until you've tried geocaching, ask your friends and family if they have one and borrow it for an afternoon. Otherwise look for a used one. You don't have to spend $500 on a fancy GPS unit for geocaching to be fun. A $100 unit will work just fine.

What's not to like about it? You'll get fresh air, exercise, quality time with family or friends or maybe just with yourself, and you'll get to experience the thrill of finding something that's hidden. What's not fun about that!

So get up off your butt, get outside and enjoy yourself!