There’s a secret society stalking your streets, peering behind bushes and rummaging through parks. They work in the dead of night, or boldly move at high noon. These stealthy denizens are known to leave suspicious packages around public parks and quiet neighborhoods, and yet nobody tries to stop them. Using the latest in GPS and smartphone technology, they track hundreds of locations in nearly ever county of the USA. Their secret stashes are tracked on cryptic websites, and they’ve even made inroads into Canada and Europe. Their nefarious websites include listings for thousands of mobile treasures or “hitchhikers” which are shuffled from location to location.
Nobody tries to stop them because they’re playing “geek hide and seek” or geocaching. This sport/game has been growing rapidly since 2000, when the first cache was placed in Oregon. Way back in the last year of the 20th Century, a GPS generally only gave you a location and a compass reading. Since then, GPS devices have become much more sophisticated, adding color maps and touchscreens. They’re also considerably cheaper and more common, to the point that most readers probably have one in their phone. Oh, yes – there’s an app for that.
So, what does a geocacher do and why does he or she do it? Simply put, the cacher uses a personal GPS (my wife and I love the Garmin Oregon) to find hidden boxes and cans. Then, he adds his name or pseudonym to the logbook in the cache, and optionally trades a personal knicknack for one in the can. Caches vary in size from the “standard” size of an old military ammo can down to pill bottles or ingenious hollowed-out bolts (that was a tricky find). It’s a lot like an old-fashioned scavenger hunt, including cryptic clues but with the added geekery of a nifty gadget to find things and a website (the imaginatively named GeoCaching.com) to track your finds. There’s even the beginnings of some “achievement” system, for those who think the Xbox is the beginning of techdom. To reinforce the geek cred, anyone who is not a cacher is a muggle.
Once you’ve become addicted to finding random tchotchkes left by strangers in weird places, you’ll start thinking about placing one yourself. Unless it’s on your own property, be sure to get permission from the landowner. There are a truly stupendous number of caches hidden around most state and national parks, but it’s perhaps more surprising how many are hidden in urban areas.
Hopefully this has piqued your interest in a goofy and fun hobby, and if nothing else you can justify purchasing a new toy!