We did a fun activity this morning with my Girl Scout troop that we will definitely be doing again: geocaching.
If you have never heard of it, it is like a free, worldwide, high-tech scavenger hunt. Once you are clued in to it, you discover there is a whole subculture of people who have been searching for clues and leaving little prizes under bushes and inside light poles, among other crazy places, for others to find.
My friend Germaine has been doing this with her family for years. The official GPS geocaching Web site calls it a “high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices.”
The basic idea, as the Web site explains, is to find hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors, then share your experiences online. There are more than 850,000 geocaches hidden around the world.
Here’s how you get started: go to www.geocaching.com and register (it’s free). When you put in your location (such as your address or zip code), a list will pop up with all the geocaches in a certain-mile radius. You receive the longitude and latitude coordinates, which can be entered into a hand-held GPS device, and follow your GPS to locate the general area of the treasure “box.”
It’s not exactly “X marks the spot” with a GPS device — it will take you to the right area, within a 20-foot radius of the precise location. The rest is up to you, to use the clues provided on the Web site and your own ingenuity to figure out where someone could reasonably hide a cache.
The treasures are hidden by fellow adventure seekers, on public or private property (with permission!), and the coordinates entered onto the Web site. Whomever places the cache is responsible for maintaining it, by checking on it from time to time to make sure it is still where it was placed, and that it is in good condition. In order to be a cache, it must contain a log, on which seekers can record when they found it. The cache is then returned to the original location, where it can be found by future adventure seekers.
We took four eighth-grade Girl Scouts and a handful of siblings on a geocaching adventure this morning. It was my first time doing such a thing, and I was amazed by the number of geocaches that have been placed around Medina! Cemeteries are popular locations, but others are located in parking lots and public parks.
Caches can be anything — from a tiny magnetic container about the size of my fingertip (cleverly concealed near a metal pole) to an empty film canister filled with a soggy paper log, to an old ammunition box stowed beneath pine needles in a park. Sometimes they contain “prizes” to be taken by the seekers, who then leave a marker of their own. My friend Germaine’s family plans to make coins with their ”identity” — “Offwe7go” — that they will leave behind if the container is large enough.
Our treasure hunting began in the Spring Grove Cemetery, then to the old cemetery by the county Administration Building, then we were off to the townsquare. Our fourth destination was a bummer – we couldn’t find the cache that was supposed to be there, and based on entries in the online log we later read, we deduced that it had been removed months earlier. Rats. Our fifth try was at Hubbard Valley Park, and the girls found it after following their GPS arrows through prickers and underbrush — only to discover later that they could have followed a clear path to reach the cache if they hadn’t been so focused on following the GPS signal. But the shortest route between two points is a straight line — path, or no path!
Our family is leaving for vacation in Maryland tomorrow, and we now have the bug! My 13-year-old daughter — who was tired and at first didn’t want to go this morning, but soon was on her belly, crawling under a pine tree in search of a cache — is scouting out caches near our destinations, which we think will be loaded with geocaches. The great thing is that it is an activity that can be equally enjoyed by young and old. It’s high-tech enough to engage the kids, and the puzzle becomes a challenge to exercise the mind and body.
Besides, who doesn’t love a good treasure hunt?