The story goes like this; my husband and I got lost walking in our own backyard, so my in-laws bought my husband a hand held GPS for his birthday. While standing in line to pay for said GPS, my mother-in-law spied a book on Geocaching, the book was an impulse buy that launched us on an addictive family activity.
Never heard of geocaching? Oh, are YOU missing out. Geocaching is a high tech treasure hunting game. “Cachers” hide small containers in various locations and post the GPS coordinates (and a hint or two) on a web site geocaching.com. You can search geocaching.com by address, zip code or by state. There are over 5,000 caches in New Hampshire alone. There are 5 within a 1-mile radius of our home and over 400 within a 10-mile radius.
Caches are rated by how difficult they are to find, and the difficulty of the terrain where the cache is located.There is usually a hint included as well (encrypted for those who want the an additional challenge). There are caches everywhere and some of the descriptions and hints can be kind of funny. Like the one in Boston that said “when you reach underneath the bridge for the box, make sure you don’t grab the rat trap”. Icons included in the description, will also note whether the site is handicapped accessible, stroller and or pet friendly.
When you choose a cache you want to find, you download the coordinates to your GPS unit. It is worth noting that may of the newer units meant for cars, can also be used for geocaching. That said, a hand held unit is more rugged and easier to carry.
GPS, in hand, you make your way to the specified location and try to locate the cache. Keep in mind that consumer GPS units are typically only accurate within a few feet of a given location, so there is definitely some searching skills involved. In my opinion, that’s half the fun. Caches can be of various sizes, our first find was a military ammunition box. Others have been camouflaged Tupperware and even peanut containers. Some caches are location caches where the originator wants you to see a great view or even a monument you may have walked by a thousand times.
Inside container caches there is a log book that you sign to confirm your find. More importantly for my kids, there are small “trinkets” to be traded. If you take something, you are supposed to leave something. Parents this is a phenomenal way to get rid of all those fast food toys.
The majority of caches are on public land, if one is on private property, it can only be placed with the owner’s consent and that fact will be noted in the description. As a rule cachers try to be respectful, though there have been some caches that have been viewed as suspicious and investigated by police. Cachers also try to leave things better than they found them, the saying goes “Cache in, Trash Out” and we’ve collected a few trash bags of littler on our adventures.
After you find the cache, you return to the web site, log your find online and leave a comment or a photo about the find.
I love geocaching because it gets us out and moving as a family and it stokes my kids’ sense of adventure and curiosity. At the same time, it gives them opportunities to practice problem-solving skills and be good environmental citizens. Most importantly, we have found locations that we otherwise might not have found. The first day we were out, we found a series of walking trails 2 miles from our house that I had no idea even existed.
In New Hampshire, there are several active caching communities that frequently place new caches and maintain existing caches. The Concord group even meet informally on a regular basis. Information on the events, called event caches, can be found on the geocaching web site.
Membership to geocaching.com is free, but a premium membership ($30 per year) supports the site and gets you added benefits like a listing of geocaches that can be found along a specified route. Also a few rare caches are available only to premium members.
For what it is worth, we didn’t really get LOST lost, in our backyard. We just couldn’t turn around and follow the path from which we came. We ended up making our way to the nearest road and came out about a mile from our house leaving us to walk back the long way. That said, I’m glad it happened as that one journey has launched many more