I learned about Geocaching from a friend while we chatted late at night at a Denny’s. She casually mentioned she was going Geocaching the next day.
“What’s Geocaching?” I interrupted.
There came that half smile and the laugh that I didn’t know I would soon imitate when muggles (non-geocachers) ask about this craze. She explained what it was, and I was filled with intrigue mixed with a certain amount of dread and fear.
But first let me explain.
Geocaching is a combination of orienteering and treasure hunting. You plug coordinates into your GPS system and go about the city or area and can find, literally, thousands of small to large objects hidden by an individual. These objects can be easy to find, just dangling from a tree branch, or stuffed under a log. Each “cache” has a difficulty rating and a terrain rating, depending on how well the cache is hidden to how much mud will end up on your shoes. Some caches are super hardcore, making the player trudge through gator-infested swamps. And some are in a nicely-mowed park, or on a street corner. Each cache has a log, where you write down the date you found it and your online username. When you find the cache, you sign your name, go to geocaching.com and log your find. Also, depending on the size of the cache (some are pill-bottles, some are buckets, others are camouflaged pencil cases), sometimes there are little trinkets you can take and exchange. So, why is this so fun?
For me (and maybe others), it takes me back to a childhood where I loved treasure hunting, exploring, and danger. I was obsessed with the TV show ‘Get Smart.’ I was convinced I would be like Agent 99 with her telescope lipstick and imagined every time I stepped into a phone booth (now I’m dating myself) I could transport to a lower level where they’d hand me a new gadget. I loved pretending to be a private eye, and seeking out a hidden thing, being “in the know” taps into that part of me that’s in love with mystery. I wanted to be Indiana Jones, uncovering ancient ruins, running from Nazis, interpreting a battered paper filled with Sanskrit.
Along with intrigue I also felt dread. I hate orienteering. I once had to orienteer on a leadership retreat in college. I was paired with Mark Trail himself who had his own compass and everything. I was simply deadweight, following him and complaining as mud filled up my borrowed sneakers because I didn’t own a pair myself and counted the seconds until I could get out of those God-forsaken woods. Not that I was a stranger to the outdoors, paying my dues plenty as I grew up with parents who dragged me to vacations spent camping and rafting, complete with drippy tents that were not waterproofed.
Mark Trail and I didn’t win the challenge; turns out, we did come in second, but I couldn’t have cared less. I went straight to my dorm and washed my hair, hoping to God I didn’t have ticks or a spider bite, or on the fast track to a lifetime battling malaria. I spent the rest of the day draped over the A/C eating chocolate-covered espresso beans (that last part isn’t true but just added for the sake of drama).
So why would I possibly want to do this again?
I decided to give it a whirl. I was in Gulf Shores when I went for my first Geocaching trial. I picked one in the park, just off the road, and from the map I didn’t see how I would have to encounter too much woods, bugs, or malaria.
I am also not a technological genius, so it took me awhile to figure out coordinates and just what they mean, and how to get your GPS to take you to these coordinates. I hoped it knew where I was supposed to go, because I certainly didn’t. Sure enough, the little convertible on the GPS screen took me to the spot, and it was up to me to find the treasure.
Sure enough, I encountered trees and tree-limbs that liked my hair and wanted contact with it at every turn. For some reason, fire ants just love me, and even a week later, I still have red bite marks on my feet (because, as you know, I don’t own sneakers or other kind of shoe-attire like Mark Trail did for situations like this). After walking around the long grass complaining aloud to nobody at all because I was alone this time, I was just about to give up when I caught sight of something wedged under a bush. Score!
Inside was just what I’d been hearing about on the Geocaching site: a log and funny little toys. I was pumped with adrenaline. During my week-long trip I found ten other caches (none in any swamps, but still challenging, thank you very much).
Returning home to St. Louis, I discovered there were three caches hidden in a park close to my own house. Looking at the map, I realized there were thousands of them, all over town, in places I pass by every day!
True, there are instances where the cache is straight out of ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ whereupon I must either muster the courage to stick my hand into the spidery hole or scream like a girl and run back to my air conditioned car. But soon I just might go for those five-star caches and encounter zombies and caves full of lava. For now, though, I think caterpillars are enough for me.
One step at a time.