By R.J. Telford
Ten years ago, a new game was born. But it was launched without fanfare, marketing, or publicity. That’s because the game’s creator didn’t devise formal rules and he didn’t expect to profit from it. And, it is because of those founding principles that the game has flourished.
So, what is this game? Well, its name provides two clues: “geo” (for geographic) and “caching” (for cache – “a hiding place especially for concealing and preserving provisions or implements”).
It was Dave Ulmer’s idea to hide a container in the woods and post its geographic location on an Internet chat forum. Then, he waited to see if anyone would seek it out for its treasure that included a book, four $1 bills, a George of the Jungle VHS tape, a slingshot handle, and a can of beans. Dave asked only two things: sign a log book in the container and take only one treasure item. However, if you took something, you were expected to replace it with something else so that the treasure would be continually replenished.
Since the first person found Dave’s cache (or, “stash”, as he called it), its location has become legendary. From that single cache in 2000, the number of sites has grown to over one million worldwide. Now, caches are everywhere – from the depths of the seas, to the peaks of mountains, to the tree in a nearby park.
If you’re wondering who places the caches, the answer is simple – it’s the same people who look for them. And caches are still placed in the same spirit as the original – to see if others will find them. Hiding caches is yet another aspect of the game: to exercise your creativity and to share your favourite locations. But, don’t plan to be the first to hide one in outer space – the International Space Station is already a site (although you could be the first to find the cache hidden there).
Geocaching is best defined as a high-tech treasure hunting game. It’s high tech because you need both a computer to learn about the sites and a Global Positioning System receiver (GPSr) to help guide you to them. It’s a treasure hunt because you search for something hidden, the “cache”, that contains a treasure, commonly called “swag”. But, it’s not the treasure that motivates people to play the game – it’s the thrill of the hunt, especially if there are unsuspecting people nearby. Those people are called “muggles”, from the Harry Potter series where a muggle is a normal person, not possessing magical powers.
And, because caches can be very cleverly disguised, you sometimes need magical powers to find them. You might think that by knowing the coordinates of the cache and having your high-tech GPSr the hunt would be no challenge at all. But, there is one problem with GPS technology – it doesn’t pinpoint an exact location. Typically, it’ll only get you within 10 metres (30 feet) of the cache. Therefore, when experienced geocachers are close to a cache location, they put their GPSr away and rely on their experience and keen observation skills – that pile of sticks that looks unnatural or that hollow stump that looks like a good hiding spot. It’s the challenge of this final part of the hunt that makes the game exciting.
The game appeals to so many people (estimated at over four million) because you can find enjoyment in many different aspects of the game. Gamers like to solve puzzles and challenge themselves, and some of their statistics are truly amazing – such as most caches found by one person (over 40,000) and most caches found in a day (over 400). Hikers like to explore new trails and geocaching gives purpose to their outing and leads them to areas they may have overlooked otherwise. Historians and geographers like to learn about places of special historical or physical significance. Travellers revel in discovering those special gems not advertised in tourist brochures. And the game is great for socializing (“the family that plays together stays together”).
The video below shows how 53 year old Paul Alexander started geocaching and soon involved his 88 year old father, Bruce and 12 year-old daughter, Sara. Since beginning at age 85, Bruce has found 1543 caches.
Want to learn more about the game? Visit the Geocaching.com or check for a book in your public library. The geocaching experience is eloquently summarized in the title of one book: The Joy of Geocaching: How to Find Health, Happiness and Creative Energy Through a Worldwide Treasure Hunt.