Do you keep an eye out for muggles on a regular basis? Do you BYOP when you relocate a Travel Bug? If any of that made sense, you are probably already a “cacher.” If not, you are still a muggle, but take heart, that status can change quickly as you learn about the exciting world of geocaching.
With its origins in early GPS technology testing, the “sport” of geocaching has taken off recently among outdoor enthusiasts and families. From the root words “geo,” or Earth, and “cache,” meaning a hiding place, the name geocaching denotes treasure hunts, mystery and adventure. It may be hard to believe that all of that can be found in your local neighborhood.
For muggles, or non-geocachers (from the term for non-magic folk in the “Harry Potter” novels), the rules of geocaching are simple to learn. Basically, a geocache, or cache for short, is hidden by someone. The GPS coordinates of the cache are registered and a name for the cache is created. Cachers use GPS devices or smartphones to track the coordinates and find the cache. Once a cache is found, the cacher will sign a logbook and date the find.
In geocaching’s most basic form, GPS coordinates can be written down and input into a GPS device. When the find is completed, the cacher can log onto her account on the geocaching website to “log” a find or did-not-find (known as a DNF). This process is completely free.
In the newer methods of geocaching, cachers can access a smartphone app that allows them to search via GPS coordinates, map or compass and then upload their find information straight from the app to the website while still on the hunt.
Caches range in size from a microcache, which is the size of a film canister and contains only a sign-in log, to larger caches like buckets or lunchboxes. The larger caches usually contain a sign-in log, pen and numerous small trinkets to trade with people who find the cache.
“We started keeping a Ziploc bag full of little toys and things in our car for when we geocache,” reveals Amy Parsons, a local cacher. “We found a cache once and did not have anything to put in it to trade and the kids were disappointed, so now we are prepared.”
The website www.geocaching.com has a wealth of information for those new to the geocaching world. According to the site’s parent company Groundspeak, there are over 11,932 caches located in the Austin area. Parsons and her family began geocaching several months ago with their first and sixth-grade daughters. “This is something that the girls enjoy and we can do it all together and it doesn’t cost us a penny,” she explains.
While a whole day can be devoted to this modern-day treasure hunting, geocaching lends itself well to quick stops. “We went out to eat and had a forty-five minute wait for a table,” recalls Parsons. “We looked and saw that there were several geocaches near us and found two before our table was ready.”
In a plugged-in society where parents miss out on actual face-time with their kids, geocaching may be one of the best ways to unite the two worlds.
“I like geocaching because it is something fun that the kids and I can do together,” echoes Lisa Whisenhunt, mom of two elementary-age sons.