I’m not particularly shy about expressing my healthy dislike for the latest mobile craze gripping our youth and sending our clumsy and unaware to the emergency room, Pokemon Go. It was while I was ranting to a friend about my disdain for the game that she pointed out “it’s not that different from Geocaching.” Needless to say I was appalled, but after weeks of deep introspection I came to the conclusion that she was correct. So while it hurts to say it, I hope this article appeals to Pokemon Go-ers, Harry Potter lovers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Like so many of you, I was sorely disappointed when my eleventh birthday arrived, but my Hogwarts acceptance letter did not. It was when my mother introduced the family to Geocaching and I learned I no longer had to be a muggle, that my spirits were restored.
Almost as old as the Harry Potter books themselves, Geocaching, first introduced in 2000, is a global semi-secretive outdoor scavenger hunt. Geocachers use GPS coordinates to find caches usually hidden in “nature-y” locations. Members of the geocaching community hide caches, camouflaged waterproof containers with a log book and usually a few knick-knacks. They post the cache’s GPS coordinates, along with a few hints on how to locate it onto the website for fellow geocachers to find.
Traditionally, geocachers look up a cache (or several) using the website and print or record the coordinates and any extra instructions on how to find it. Geocachers then use a handheld GPS device (or a GPS app) to get as close to the cache’s location as possible. From there it is a matter of taking in the surroundings. Caches may be located in the crux of a tree, tucked inside a hollowed log, or even partially buried. As a geocacher, one should always be wary of muggles, or non-geocaching folk. A poorly concealed cache or careless geocachers may attracted muggles who then take the cache, not realizing its magical significance. If a muggle becomes too attached to the cache, it begins to possess their soul...okay, the parallel to hunting horcruxes doesn’t exactly go that far, but geocachers should take care to be discreet in their searching in order to protect the caches.
Once a geocacher finds a cache, they write their name (or code name) in the log book. Some caches are large enough to store tokens or knick-knacks for finders to exchange with something they’ve brought. A common item is foreign currencies. Having lived in Thailand, I was especially excited to find a 20 baht note in a recent cache, but any small trinket works… preferably no bits of Voldemort’s soul, though.
Geocaching has come a long way since 2000. There are now dozens of variations on caches, such as webcam caches, virtual caches, multi-caches, traveling caches, puzzle caches, and night caches. Variations on the activity itself include “geodashing” and “geohashing.” (Feel free to check out the geocaching wikipedia page for more details.) And as promised, its appeal to Pokemon Go-ers is its mobile app released in 2013. The app tells users when caches are near and directs them to its location… but instead of a virtual monster on the screen, there’s actually something there. The app is convenient because it cuts out the “homework” of having to research and record coordinates for a cache beforehand. Geocachers can now search on the go. The app’s biggest draw back is that geocachers are limited by the “free” caches available for them to find. Some caches aren’t trackable through the app unless the user has updated to a premium account. But don’t fret, finding caches in the “traditional” way won’t cost a geocacher a thing. Just because you can’t find the cache using the app, doesn’t mean you can’t look for it using it’s GPS coordinates!
Autumn is the ideal time for geocaching. The cooler weather is much more comfortable for hiking, not to mention there are some beautiful colors to see this time of year. And the lack of bugs in the fall makes the occasional “bushwhacking” much less of a nuisance. So grab a friend, pull out your hiking boots, your pokeballs, and wands, and go find a cache!