Technology – When I was young it seemed to me that technology brought the family closer together. I remember when my dad brought home our first VCR, I thought it was so cool how we could watch movies together. Then came the camcorder. It was huge and seemed to be the same size as those used for major motion pictures. My parents were at every school play and basketball game with the camera rolling. Then in the evenings we would all sit together, eat popcorn and laugh at ourselves.
As technology has progressed over my years it has become more than a luxury. Today, technology feels more like a necessity and in some cases, an annoyance. I’m thinking specifically about the cell phone in my ten-year-old son’s hands.
I don’t think I am alone here. At my house the girls (18 and 16) are always scrolling through Instagram, making funny poses for SnapChat and my little guy, Luke, is obsessed with building in the world of Minecraft. Sound familiar?
I wished there was an app that would bring us all together. Something we could all enjoy as a family. Well, I found it – geocaching!
Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity (the older reader may relate it to Letter Boxing) in which you download the Geocache App to your smart phone to find hidden containers called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world. The app utilizes your phone’s GPS to help navigate you to the hidden treasure.
A basic cache is a small waterproof container containing a log book and a pen or pencil. The geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it either with their name or a code name. After signing the log, the cache is placed back exactly where the person found it for the next geocacher to find. A cache can be as small as a pill bottle while larger containers can be as big as an ammunition box to contain items for trading, such as toys or trinkets.
What’s great about geocaching is that it is a great free activity that you can do with your family wherever you find yourselves in the world. At any time, I can simply open the app and dozens of nearby geocaches light up on my phone. While the basic app is free, I chose to upgrade and paid the $10 a year fee to have the advanced app which allows me access 100% of the geocaches and allows me to create my own cache, communicate with other cachers and to follow trackables.
Trackables are items (usually coins) with a unique number on them that you can track through the App to see where the item has been. If you find a trackable, you can go to the geocache website, log in your coin’s number and see where and when your coin has traveled. Then you can move your coin to another cache and log the new location into the app for another family to find.
So how do you get started? First, simply go to your App Store on your phone and download the free App. Then, decide where you want to go. Public parks are great, as there are usual many caches in close proximity. One afternoon last summer I took Luke to Bluff Point in Groton.
When planning for the trip I had a back pack with the essentials – water, granola bars, extra pens and pencils, as some caches have them missing, bug spray , suntan lotion and a bunch of little trinkets. Trinkets are little items that you can swap inside the cache, from little figurines, to erasers, buttons, and coins to little plastic toys.
I pulled up the app and pressed the “Find Nearest Geocaches” button.
All of a sudden dozens of little green icons starting popping up on my screen. I pressed the closest one to our location, read the description and pressed the “Navigate to Geocache” button and started to pedal my bike with my son. The Geocache App has a compass on the screen to guide you to the cache.
As Luke and I peddled we saw that we were getting closer and closer. As we neared the cache, we pulled are bikes off the path, took off our helmets and started to hunt for our first cache of the day. The GPS on the App gets you close but usually within only 20 feet. We searched around, and suddenly I heard Luke yell, ”I found it.”
The cache was a square Tupperware container covered with camouflage duct tape. It was hidden under a few rocks next to a rock wall – a common location in New England. We opened the box and saw a bunch of charms as well as a log book and pen. We logged our names and then on the app pressed the “Found It” button which allowed us to comment on finding it. These comments will also help other cachers as they look for the same cache. As always, we took a selfie of us with the cache and then we carefully put the cache back in its original location.
We continued to search and find cache after cache. Some were really easy to find while some were very hard. In fact, once we made it to the tip of the bluff we looked for over 20 minutes for one particularly hard cache. As we were crawling up and down the rocks, several nearby fishermen were glancing up at us like we were crazy. Just when I was about giving up Luke crawled down below a large boulder and struggled to pull out a large metal ammo box. As we were pulling it out the fishermen were locked into what we were doing. A few of them actually came over to peak to see what was in the box. As Luke opened it there were action figures, erasers, and the standard log and a Geocaching Coin (Trackable!). Luke was thrilled excited as he took the coin and replaced it with a charm that he brought. (According to the app, this Trackable originated in upstate New York, went to Ohio, Massacheussets, Maine and eventually to Bluff point. Luke and I plan to bring it to Florida when we visit his grandparents and place it in a cache down there to be found by others.)
After we put the box away we walked up the hill and took a well-deserved break. After hydrating and having a snack, Luke urged me to continue on. We went from the open brightness of sun overlooking the water to a narrow shaded path going deep into the woods. As we neared the next cache we parked our bikes as usual, but this time it was a bit different than the ones previous. Instead of the cache being near the path it was deep through the brush. So Luke and I walked and pretended we were in the jungles of Africa. At first Luke was hesitant but held my hand as we worked through the undergrowth. After about 400 feet we came to a clearing. The app told us we were close, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Then Luke found a tree in which one side was hollow. Sure enough – success!
The final cache was the most difficult. We were biking on the path and the app said we were close but we were coming up empty. After a few minutes we decided to use the “hint” button on the app. The hint on this cache was “Pink Floyd”. Luke wondered, “What does this mean?” and I told him that we would probably find the cache by “The Wall”. And sure enough we found the cache hiding in one of New England’s infamous rock walls.
As we were signing the log I noticed someone had signed it as Purple Cat Paws stamp and I noted that this was the fifth time we saw this signature just above our own names in five other logs that day. Sure enough as we neared the next cache we met Purple Cat Paws, a nice woman in her mid-40’s out geocaching by herself. We talked to her for a while as we all tried to find the cache called “Bluff at the Bluff”. What we discovered is that when we found the cache it says that it was a bluff and that we needed to find the real cache and gave us a hint as to its location. She said each year she tries to find it but has been unsuccessful. We gave it a good effort but finally called it quits.
There are times when you simply cannot find the cache. Sometimes it’s really well hidden and other times people have unfortunately moved or taken it. A good way to see its history is to click on “Recent Logs” on the App. There you will see messages from fellow Geocaches. Sometimes they say they couldn’t find it, or the log book was wet, or simply thanks for the cache (TFC).
Which leads us to the vocabulary of Geocaching. It has its own language, from the word ‘muggle’ who is a bystander that knows nothing about Geocaching to ‘plasma bandits’ which are mosquitos. Then the abbreviations are even crazier from FTF, “first to find” to TNLNSL, “took nothing, left nothing, signed log book.”
That August day Luke and I ended up finding ten geocaches. It was fun and brought us closer together. Since then we have gone geocaching several times. A lot of times we may be running an errand and Luke will say, ”Hey Dad, any caches around?” and nine times out of ten there are.
Whether we are vacationing on the Jersey Shore or vising relatives in Florida there are geocaches to be found. So the next time your child wants to play a game on their phone, introduce them to the great world of geocaching and together you can share great memories that will last a life time.