My outdoor life changed two years ago. Daylight savings time had just started but March in New Jersey is often bleak. Spring with its warmth and new life still felt a long way off so it was the perfect time to plan a summer vacation. I was looking at a tourism website of a possible location when I saw a section about geocaching. I had read about the activity in the past but never paid much attention, but this time I decided to do some research. I went to a geocaching website and what I learned got me more and more excited.
My kids have been hiking literally their entire lives. They have all started at just a few days old in a front carrier, graduated to a backpack around six months, and as soon as they got too heavy were kicked out to keep up on their own two feet. Those on their feet would start a hike running and dancing, hiding behind trees, exploring puddles, and fighting over who would be the leader. But soon the hike would become a repeat of the car ride to the trail head; fighting, how-much-longers, and, my personal favorite, the I’m hungry/thirsty whine every ten steps (really, this isn’t much of an exaggeration!). The end result of the hike- a mountain top or body of water- would bolster spirits for awhile, but then came the return hike to the car! We have collected leaves in bags, sang songs, looked for animals along the trail; anything to entertain. That day two years ago, though, I felt that I finally had my answer to “trail entertainment.” And, you know what, I did!
Geocaching, as described on the website, geocaching.com, is a real-world outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online. Basically you log onto the website or app, view hidden caches, upload the cache information to a GPS-enabled device (hand held GPS, smart phone, etc.) and search for the cache. There are all different sized caches, but larger ones contain stuff…treasure! Once the cache is discovered, the treasure can be taken as long as you leave something of equal or greater value in its place. Each cache contains a log book that is signed with your chosen geocaching name. We are Chubby Buffalo. A name only an eight year old boy would choose. We even have our own theme song! And now hikes are an adventure, a treasure hunt. The kids love the search for each cache and love to open the larger ones to see what treasure they can trade.
I started out our geocaching by looking for caches on the hike or location that we were going to for the day. But I soon realized something that has truly changed our search for adventure. When people hide a cache, (anyone can hide one as long as certain rules are followed) they hide it in a favorite location. These hides are often little known areas that the person wants others to see. So, I reversed my adventure planning. I now use the goggle maps page to see where caches are hidden and read the description to decide if this is a location we would like to visit. As a result we now have new favorite hikes, have crawled through caves, discovered homestead ruins, hung out in an Indian shelter, hiked mountains to secret lookouts, and swam in hidden swimming holes. We have been chased by a bear after hiking through an abandoned train tunnel, spent the day on a hidden beach, discovered a really unique tree down the road from our house, and stood at the exact point where three states intersect. Geocaching has allowed us to discover the out of the way, little known places. Let’s face it, we are not always going to get to go to those far off places that make it onto Top 10 lists. Most days we are among the local and ordinary. But really, it’s exploring the local that can give us the most insight into ourselves, our town, our land and history. I love to dig deep because I learn so much more and am able to teach my kids so much more. And when we do go far, rather than a tourist’s overview with stops at each photo op spot, we can use geocaches to learn about the area from a local’s viewpoint. Okay, and find some more “treasure” too!
finding a geocache in Canada