Not that I need another hobby, but… I’ve belatedly taken my friend Tracey’s suggestion to try geocaching, essentially a treasure hunt. When I started reading about it last month, I was impressed with how many of these things there are. Check out the map of geocaches within a few miles of home:
The first one I found is known as a multi-cache – the little icon that looks like a sort of yellowish file cabinet drawer opened. With these, you have to find one or more intermediate waypoints to end up at the final, “traditional cache” (the shoebox icon) destination nearby. It’s not the best type of cache to try at first, but in this case I lucked out. What made finding it memorable was how much effort its creater put into the ingenious contraption. Externally, it looked like the ubiquitous bird house found in suburbia. When inspected closely – not that you’d ever have any reason to do so – one might notice the bottom pulled out to reveal the Cache of Geo-Joy.
Inside the “cache” is a log to record your visit, usually in a plastic baggie to keep it try. These can be kind of fun to page through because you get a feel for the variety and number of people participating. Sometimes, a cache will have cheap trinkets. Etiquette is one leaves something if they take something. Small marketing swag is great for this, but things like Matchbox cars or plastic/rubber animals also work. Some caches will have trackable items that one can help travel to some destination.
Caches come in a variety of sizes and types. The first one I found was a smallish container about the size of a Noxzema canister. Larger caches are often some form of Tupperware container or, at the high end, an ammunition box (water-tight, sturdy, and large). There are numerous smaller ones — “micros” or “nanos” — that are about the size of a 35mm film canister (for you old farts who remember “film”). Or even smaller. These are often tucked into a crack in a wall, divet in tree bark, or elsehwere. They’re very hard for me to find this early in the game.
For example, last weekend while I was on Orcas Island, I tried finding a multi-cache. The first waypoint was a red container no larger than my pinky tucked into divot in a tree about 35′ from a footpath. Inside the container were the coordinates to the next waypoint that would have a set of coordinates to a larger, final cache. Despite searching for over an hour, I couldn’t find the second waypoint.
I was surfing around and found more examples of insanely challenging ones designed to totally blend in with the environment. For example, Tracey mentioned she placed one that’s a hollowed-out bolt, painted to match its surrounding. There are also some magnetic ones near work that I’ve yet to find. I’m obviously not up to snuff to find these things yet. I’m saving these and the puzzle caches (ones with the question mark icon) for later. There are plenty of them.
So, a month into this, here’s what I’ve observed as the benefits:
- Geocaches are an excellent excuse to introduce people to other areas they might not frequent. I’ve found at least two parks that I never knew existed. For example, today I discovered a small ravine about 1/4 mile from work, wedged in between T-Mobile’s US headquarters, I-90 and another office complex. I’ve passed this spot over 500 times without ever noticing it because the entrance is nondescript.
- It’s livening up my bike commute. I’ve been sprinking in a cache here and there to get me out of the “rut” inherent with a geographically constrained commute. On Monday, this had me visiting a greenbelt in Bellevue.
- My kids have an interest in the secret treasure aspect, though they’re not always willing to part with their swag in exchange for the new shiny. Whereas I am more skilled at triangulation, they have much more patience and a willingness to dig around.