Sunday, October 21, 2012

G is for Geocaching

Geo What!?


What in the world is geocatching?

No, it's geo-cash-ing. Its kind of like a high tech treasure hunt. You go online and get GPS coordinates for what is called a geocache, the treasure. You either download the coordinates to a GPS or smartphone, or you manually put them in. Go out and follow the GPS, the map, till you get close. Then start looking for a good spot to hide something. When you find the cache sign the logbook, maybe trade something, then put the cache back where you found it. Go home and log the find online where you got the coords from in the first place.

That sounds like a lot of fun!

Oh, it's a blast, you should try it.

I don't know how many times I have had this conversation with somebody in the past four months. Erika and I had heard of geocaching years ago, but when we looked into it there were not enough caches around to merit the puchase of a GPS unit to try and get into it. We were into the idea before we had kids, but having them adds a whole new aspect of fun. Back in June Erika started to think about it again and thought it would make a good family hobby to get into. When I checked I found nearly 20,000 caches within 100 miles of our house. There are plenty of caches to find but we needed a GPS. We decided it would be our anniversary present to each other and began looking. I did the research online and ended up going into REI to talk to somebody in person. That was a good decision. I ended up walking out with a Garmin eTrex 20. I'm not going to go into a lot of technical detail here, but in the research I did and in a few conversations I've had with GPS knowledgeable people, get a Garmin. Garmin has a patent or something on their antenna technology so their unit update faster and are much more accurate than others. If you do not want to spend the money on an independent unit and you have a smartphone running iOS, Android, or Windows Phone you can download an app for that. This way at a limited cost you can either try or get into geocaching.

Once you have a way of finding coordinates you need to find some coordinates. (Yes, that was intended.) I've already mentioned That's the big one with "all" the caches, but there is also a new kid on the block. was started by Garmin as a free alternative to, but does not have nearly as many caches listed. does have a free option, but it limits use, a lot. I don't know what all is limited since I payed the $10 for the year after our first time out. One thing you don't get from them for free is paperless caching. When you download your coords to your GPS under a free account you will need to print out any details or clues you may need for what you are going to find and take the PAPER with you. (I'm all about going paperless lately with my Kindle and iPad.) With a payed account all those details go on to the GPS with the coords, if your GPS can take them. Let me tell you, being able to see the details on the device is soooo nice. Also, a piece of advice that the guy at REI gave me that makes a lot of sense. If you're planning to go out caching don't go for the caches real close to the house, drive a little bit. Save the real close ones for those spontaneous lets go caching times, or for a task for your older kids to do on their own, once they get the hang of it. As well, if you get into the geocaching game and want to load a lot of caches on your GPS at once, look into pocket queries. This can be a little tricky, so take your time and do it step-by-step. I use GSAK to help get the files on my GPS.

Ok, enough with the technical mumbo, what have we done? The first time we went out I loaded up four or five sets of coords and we went for a drive around the area to some easy caches. Of course with the first go round we were getting used to our GPS as well as the idea of geocaching. Part of geocaching is doing the whole thing somewhat discreetly. If you just go out and show off the cache as you find it someone of the general public, a muggle (a non-cacher), might see it and take it after you leave. This is known as getting muggled. With this thought in mind, there we were, a family of six, driving and walking in circles in a parking lot trying to keep up with a GPS that kept changing its mind as to which direction we needed to go. I finally determined that it might take a little bit more than a few milliseconds for the GPS to register a change in position. As we slowed our movements down we got closer to a pair of trees and viola, about head high in the one we found a plastic container.
In this cache we actually found what is called a travel bug, a type of trackable. It is basically a dog tag with something attached. In this case the originator attached a stick of pc memory. On the tag is a number that you need so that you can go on the site and log that you found it and where you placed it. Just remember if you take something leave something.
After our first find we sought out a cache that was about the size of eight or ten dimes stacked up. Yes they get that small. With those all you do is sign the log roll. Use very small handwriting.

We even had our first DNF, did not find, on that first trip out. After walking around in circles in a field for about twenty minutes or more we gave up. It didn't help that people started showing up at the business next door, remember discreet.

Our last of the day landed us in front of i3 Detroit, a hackerspace in the area. This was just cool! I had heard of them on MAKE Live and at Maker Faire Detroit, but had not ever taken the time to go check them out. We found the cache out front and then went in to take a tour of the space.

All in all our first impression of geocahing was great. The kids loved it and so did we. We have been out multiple times since including when we went on vacation to Virginia and DC. While we were out there I think we may have gotten my sister's family hooked as well. All the caches we found in DC were virtual caches, caches that do not have a container to find. They may be a monument or natural formation of some sort. The poster may ask you to find the answer to a few questions about the location in order to log the find, but they're still fun to find.

I could keep going forever about hiking in the woods off a creek down the road, finding a foam rotten apple with a log slip in it, or hanging out behind KFC looking through trees to find a micro cache. We've had some good times out caching. Now its your turn, go find a cache or two.... maybe three.

Don't forget to stop by Ben & Me and read about more G things.
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  1. We tried geocaching a couple of years ago with no success. We'll have to give it another go-round!

    1. It's one of our favorite activities. We all love it!