Geocaching a growing sport in Brainerd lakes area
An olive green ammo box is covered by wet pieces of tree bark. It sits about 100 feet off the path near Lougee Lake.
Twigs snap under the weight of Mark Moser’s hiking boots as he bends over and opens the camouflaged container.
To the average passerby, it might be an odd scene. But to a geocacher, it’s an uncovered treasure.
Moser, or Northmark, as he’s known in the online geocaching community, just found a cache.
Geocaching is a recreational treasure hunt where players use GPS coordinates to find caches, or items hidden by others.
It’s a growing trend in the Brainerd lakes area. The Paul Bunyan State Trail is now home to the Minnesota Paul Bunyan GeoTour, which began April 1. The geotour is a power trail of caches, stretching along the 110-mile trail.
“Geocaching is really starting to gain momentum here,” said Richard Polipnick, executive director of Visit Brainerd, one of the many forces behind the geotour.
Caches can be hidden just about anywhere: In the nook of a tree, under a bridge, city infrastructure and, in rare cases, under water.
Some caches hold trinkets, or “swag,” which the finder can take if he or she leaves something behind. Other caches hold just a log book, where the finder can leave their name, proving they’d been there.
To some, the art of geocaching provides an avenue to specialized math coordinates. Others like a more simple version that requires little searching.
But to Moser, it’s all about the hunt.
Each adventure brings something new: a hike through an untouched wooded area, a breathtaking view of a lake, even blowing up his inflatable kayak to reach an island cache.
“It’s that ‘Ah-ha’ moment when you find a cache,” he said. “It’s a child-like joy. ...It brings out the kid in you.”
Moser grips a palm-sized GPS in his right hand, steering the wheel of his worn car with his left.
This cache brings him to the Mission Township Park.
A thin blacktop path winds between towering trees. A light rain beats down on Moser as the GPS leads him to a group of decaying tree stumps.
Moser scans the area, looking for anything out of the ordinary. A branch that seems out of place. A large clump of leaves.
A fallen tree catches his eye, so he lifts up a piece of loose bark. There, wrapped in dark green tape, is an aged coffee Thermos.
A glow fills Moser’s eyes as he twists off the cap and pulls out a miniature notebook from the container. The pages tell a history of those who found it before him.
Geocaching isn’t as popular in central Minnesota as in the metro areas, said Terry Swanson, who also goes by the geocaching name tnthekids. But there’s a certain something that the Brainerd area has to offer that you just can’t find anywhere else.
“When you’re in the metro, you get a lot of micro-cashes, the boring geocache. There’s nothing in them. Up here, out in woods, you get brought to new places. I was born and raised here and I’m taken to places I never knew it existed.”
Moser says geocaching offers an insider’s view into a community.
“It will show you places that no books or travel magazines can,” he said.
Once you find a cache, most people will go online to one of the many geocaching websites to write about it. Those who planted the cache often check the sites to gather feedback, Moser said.
The community has its own lingo.
TFTC: Thanks for the cache.
DNF: Did not find.
TFTH: Thanks for the hunt.
TNLN: Took nothing, left nothing.
SL: Signed log.
Caches can be stored in just about anything: locked food storage containers, ammo cans, peanut butter or mayo jars, most washed in bleach so an animal doesn’t smell the scent of food and get curious. The containers are wrapped in some sort of camouflage, like duct tape, to add that extra challenge.
Moser has found up to 20 in a day, though it’s a small number compared to the hundreds others had clocked.
Picking a favorite, though, is near impossible.
“It’s like asking what’s your favorite kid,” he said. “You can’t pick a particular one.”
As Moser finishes his day off with a final cache, a warning ticket sitting in the car center console serves as a reminder to slow down. It was issued to Moser about a year ago while he was on a geocache hunt. He was going too fast and paying a little too much attention to the GPS.
The car has taken a few beatings in its years of caching, traveling down minimum maintenance roads that probably should have been avoided.
But it’s all worth it.
“It’s a game with guidelines but not real rules,” Moser said. “The first time you play, you’re hooked.”