Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Geocaching - The Underground Treasure Hunting Network

The Perfect Car Ride
The large, white cargo van moved along, driven by one brave man and packed with 7 kids ranging from 2-14.  That's right, 8 kids vs. one adult.  The children sat quietly.  1 child sat in shotgun, rotating between looking at the road and glancing back down the glowing screen of an iPhone.  The middle of the van had 3 of the kids huddled around a pack of papers.  The rest of the kids listened intently for the next clue.

What is Geocaching?
What has kept them so quiet?  Geocaching.

Geocaching is an underground network based on the website  The site has three purposes.  Two of which are free.  You are either (1) uploading caches, or you are (2) finding caches and sharing information.  The last (3) is merchandise and equipment for geocaching, which is entirely optional.

A "cache" is a treasure chest of sorts with a log book.  Basically, you hide a container and share the coordinates along with other information with the community.  A container is supposed to be water proof.  It should have, at minimum, a log that everyone can sign once they find the cache.  It can also contain little treasures, such as toys, stickers, souvenirs, or geocaching trackable merchandise (can be tracked back to origin).  It can be hidden, camouflaged, or out in the open.  The coolest cache I found was either a fake metal stake found in the cement of a parking lot, or circular case doubling as a reflector attached to a telephone pole.

How Do You Start?
If you are finding the caches, you have multiple options.  You can go to the website, search their map for the geocaches, and use a compass or GPS to find them.  There are also geocaching apps.   I use the standard app, [insert link here].  This allows you to find caches around the area, determine the difficulty level of finding them and where they are, bookmark them, then use the app as a GPS to find the caches.  All of this information is pulled off the website, including pictures and hints if you want to cheat.  Once you find the cache, sign the logbook, and replace any treasures you take with other treasures, you can then check them off the website through the website or the apps.

Lessons Learned
Here are a few of the mistakes I have learned from:
- Public Property Only - Geocaches should not be dangerous or on private property.  If they are, don't even read the reviews.
- Use App Sparingly on Long Hunts - The internet usage and constant GPS will kill your phone fast.  I have found it drains the battery faster then you can charge.  I recommend using your phone to get coordinates, plan multiple caches, and update after the found.  Use a handheld GPS for the search.  
- Don't Scroll Too Far - Many reviews and hints on give it away.  Let the kids (or yourself) look for it for a little before you cheat.
- Be Prepared for Failure.  There us nothing worse then spending 30 min on a cache and then just stopping.  Set a time limit, then move on.
- LEARN TO SHARE!  For the fathers living vicariously through their kids - I know it is cool and you wish you had technology like this when you were a kid, but this is about the kids!  Let them rotate responsibilities so they get a turn in the front seat with the "treasure map" while one writes the post. 

Other Reference:
I only reviewed and the geocaching app [link] because I think they are simple enough.  Here is a article that lists and explains more geocaching apps.

If anyone out there has any experience and would like to share, your comments are welcome!  If you had the ability to take geocaching to the next level - what would you add?


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