Geocaching offers the thrill of discovery on your travels and close to home

Geocaching offers the thrill of discovery on your travels and close to home

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Brrr, it is ever cold out there! On blustery winter days, we can all use a little extra motivation to get us out of doors. In our continuing quest to amuse ourselves while not straying far from home and socially distancing, we can turn to an activity that came about thanks to technology developed by and for the U.S. military, some techie computer types, and a love for the great outdoors.

Geocaching first appeared on the scene two decades ago. The hobby was birthed when a computer consultant decided to assess the accuracy of the newly upgraded Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation technology by hiding a container in the woods and posting its coordinates online. This was, of course, long before GPS entered our everyday lives via the smartphone. As technology has marched forward, so has geocaching, and nowadays, it almost goes without saying, there’s an app for that.

A brief introduction to the world of geocaching:

In the spring of 2000, 24 satellites encircling the globe were given new commands that unleashed the power of GPS technology into the hands of civilian users. Dave Ulmer’s genius idea, which he named the “Great American GPS Stash Hunt,” was simple: using only a GPS receiver, members of an online user community were encouraged to go out into the woods and “take some stuff and leave some stuff.” Within a matter of days, the idea began to take hold. The first person to discover the stash, Mike Teague, started to note the coordinates of stashes being left behind and discovered by others. The term “stash,” slyly suggestive of drugs or contraband, was replaced by the newly coined term “geocaching.”

The fledging hobby got a boost when a web developer by the name of Jeremy Irish created the website and crafted tools to enhance the finding and hiding experience. Media coverage, including an article in the New York Times, gave the activity an additional push, and a new wave of players joined the game. Serendipitous discoveries of caches by hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts added yet more players to their ranks.

Irish realized that the bump in traffic coming into his home computer and DSL line would soon overwhelm it, so in partnership with a couple of coworkers, he launched a company by the name of Groundspeak Inc. With start-up funding raised through the sale of geocaching T-shirts, the company’s computers were transferred to a hosted environment in Seattle, Washington. The independent company remains at the heart of the Geocaching experience to date.

While there are other geocaching apps out there, Geocaching, available in basic form for free on Google Play or the App Store, does nicely for those just starting out. There is also a premium version with various bells and whistles enhancing the player experience at a cost of 29.99 euros annually for users in Germany.

Care to join in on the fun? Here are the basic rules of the game and player etiquette:

The point of Geocaching is to find an object hidden by another player. The GPS technology embedded in your smartphone allows you to hone in to within several feet of the item’s exact location and from there, you’ll need to do a bit of searching. Once you have found the cache, you will open it up, sign and date the logbook contained within, and return it to the exact spot in which it was found.

What you are searching for is a small object such as a film canister or a plastic Tupperware box. In addition to the logbook contained within, you may also find a small “treasure” of sorts. You can either leave the trinket within for the next person to discover, or switch it out for another souvenir you’ve brought along for the purpose.

If you’re depositing your own item, don’t leave anything potentially dangerous, such as a knife or explosive, or a type of food, which can attract bugs and vermin. Heavily scented items such as candles or incense, or anything that can melt, such as a crayon, are also unsuitable.

While you can and should cloak your cache so it’s not so easily discovered by a random passerby, you never want to bury it, or hide it so well no one will ever find it again.

Log your find both in the booklet enclosed within, but also online. If your search yielded no results, you should make a note of that online as well. This helps the cache’s owner to know the status of what he or she has put out there and to adjust if necessary.

Respect private property and protected lands such as nature preserves. Avoid any potential hazards. Stay on the trail and don’t “bushwhack” by disturbing the terrain around you.

Bring along a pen to log your finds, and since you’re touching an object that’s destined to pass through many hands, you’ll need some hand sanitizer as well.

For more on geocaching etiquette, visit the forums section of the geocaching website.

Have fun and happy hunting!

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