Tech Savvy: Giving geocaching a go
As a child, there are few things that sparked my imagination and sense of adventure like a scavenger hunt. Each Easter, my parents (er, I mean the Easter Bunny) hid candy and my sister's and my Easter baskets throughout the house. This ritual alo...
As a child, there are few things that sparked my imagination and sense of adventure like a scavenger hunt.
Each Easter, my parents (er, I mean the Easter Bunny) hid candy and my sister's and my Easter baskets throughout the house. This ritual alone made the holiday my favorite-searching shelves, behind chachkies and in cupboards for the glint of the pastel-colored foil wrapping of seasonal candies.
At least a couple times, one or two of the candies were so well hidden they remained undiscovered for months, only to be found perched atop a decoration. This would renew the search effort, just in case other treats lingered.
The thrill of unearthing a treasure is something nearly everyone has experienced in one way or another. Geocaching is an activity that allows one to experience this thrill over and over, no matter where you are on the planet. Started in 2000, geocaching is a scavenger hunt on a global scale, where participants use GPS technology to find nearly 3 million caches hidden all over the world.
The traditional type of cache is a container hidden at specific coordinates, containing, at minimum, a logbook. Some are larger and contain trinkets that can be tracked or traded. Several other variations have evolved in the 16 years the activity has grown, and the activity now includes puzzles, multiple caches leading to the location of others or even specific geographical locations.
The Mecca of the geocaching world is the website www.geocaching.com , which offers this history of the activity along with logging the user-created locations of caches, discussion forums, videos, a blog, and a shop including specialized cache containers and a whole host of geocaching-related merchandise. What once required a handheld GPS device now can be accomplished from a smartphone, meaning the activity is more accessible to the masses than ever before.
I've heard about geocaching for several years now but have never tried it, despite my piqued interest. Writing for this column seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a go. But first, I wanted to speak to someone with experience to learn more about geocaching and receive tips as a beginner.
I was put in touch with Kari Frisch, a communications/speech instructor at Central Lakes College who also happens to be an enthusiastic geocacher. Frisch began geocaching in 2007 and has logged her finds from the beginning as a member of Geocaching.com. She's found caches all over the world, from less than a mile away from her Brainerd home to more than 9,500 miles away in the Northern Territory of Australia. The most she's found in one day was an impressive 77 caches-a staggering number by my estimation, given how long it took me to find my first one.
The hobby is certainly an affordable one. Frisch said the only tools one really needs to start geocaching is a smartphone and a writing utensil (to sign the logbook). An app-just called Geocaching-is available through both the Apple and Google Play stores and is free, unless a premium membership is desired. A premium membership allows users to access advanced caches, premium-only caches and a number of other features, including new geocache notifications and advanced statistics. A premium membership is $29.99 per year or $9.99 for three months.
There are other things to consider as a first-timer, however. A handheld GPS device might also be desired if one intends to search for caches in the deep woods, where cellphone reception may be less reliable. Frisch said these can run from quite affordable to expensive, depending on the desired features. With exploring the woods comes the typical precautionary measures-mosquito and tick spray along with socks and long pants to prevent poison ivy.
The difficulty of finding a cache is another consideration. Each cache is rated by how difficult it is to find along with how difficult the terrain is to access it. As Frisch pointed out, the fun part about caching is finding them, so she recommends starting with easier ones.
So Thursday, I set out to find my first cache after downloading the app. I went with the free version for now, and was amazed at the sheer number of caches in Brainerd alone. (Note: although some of the advanced caches are unavailable on the phone app, they are accessible on the desktop version with a basic membership.)
I'd be lying if I didn't admit I could not find the first one I tried looking for. I spent a good hour searching for it and finally admitted defeat. Not a great start. But I was determined to find one, so I picked another nearby cache that stated right in the description it was an "easy find."
Lo and behold, after less than 10 minutes of looking once I'd arrived in the vicinity, I found the treasure-a small container camouflaged to blend in with its surroundings.
Inside were a number of small trinkets, including a keychain with a specific set of instructions for Geocaching.com members attached. The instructions encouraged geocachers to take the keychain and place it in the next cache they find, logging this action on the app. I chose to leave it behind-this being my first one and all-but it adds a whole other layer of fun to the activity.
One last piece of advice Frisch offered that I would second after my own experience: "If somebody hasn't gone geocaching before, it might be kind of fun and a little bit more helpful if they go out with somebody they know who is also a geocacher," she said.
This summer, geocaching could be a great way to get screen-addicted kids experiencing the outdoors while exercising their brains and bodies. It's a high-tech spin on a human desire to find what we seek.
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or email@example.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .