Geocaching: Get the Geek Outside

This post has been inspired by To Code or not To Code, who made a post about his geeky hobby of model railroads. As we discussed, geeks need hobbies too. This one I’m going to talk about is definitely geeky – it’s called geocaching.

Quick – what’s the overall concept of geocaching?

The overall concept is fairly simple. Think of it as a treasure hunt. You’re given coordinates to where the treasure is, and with a GPS, you go and find that treasure. Sign the physical log that you were there, and then log your find on the website.

What is a geocache?
Someone out there took a bucket, loaded full of goodies, posted the coordinates (latitude and longitude) on the Internet, and waited for someone else to find it. It was here where the sport of geocaching started.

A simple geocache may be something like a 35mm film canister or smaller, with a piece of paper for people to log their visits. Depending on the canister size, most people log their geocaching nickname and the date or sometimes just their initials and the date. Other small log containers include the containers used to hide keys for when someone is locked out of their house.

A small geocache may be a tupperware container or a lock-n-lock container. Those usually contain things called travel bugs – trackable items that usually have a traveling goal, signature pieces – items with people’s geocaching nicknames that they leave as tokens, and the log book. The log book is key to every cache size. It’s for the cache owner to track down who has visited their cache and when.

A large geocache may be an ammo can or one of the cookie tins that you received from your vendors around the holidays. These typically have larger items for trading, and they also have a log book to sign.

Outside of containers, there are other interesting cache types. There are virtual caches – where you have to go to a location and find certain details from there and message the cache owner with those details to get credit for the cache. There are webcam and earth caches, where you have to take a picture of something in particular to prove that you’ve been there.

Sometimes, you are given coordinates directly to the cache. Sometimes, though, the coordinates take you to a step of a multi-step cache. At that step, you may be given more coordinates or you may have to find something to help you calculate coordinates. Some caches are called puzzle caches – you have to solve a puzzle of some sort to get your coordinates. Some puzzles are easy – like a sudoku puzzle or “count how many trees are at these coordinates”. Some though are quite difficult – like here’s a pattern that’s encrypted, now go find the cache.

These caches are located all around you, and you most likely haven’t noticed them. They may be in parking garages, behind stop signs, under lamps, or hidden right in front of your face (or “hidden in plain sight” as we cachers call it). They may be a statue or plaque you’ve read or at a bench you’ve sat on. They are out there, and they almost always go unnoticed.

Why do people geocache?

Some people geocache just to get out of the house. Others cache with a goal of reaching a certain number of caches. Still others cache to see just where they may end up.

Where have you geocached?

I typically cache in the NE Ohio/NW PA/Columbus, OH/Detroit, MI areas. I’ve got family and friends who live in those areas, and we’ve taken many of our friends out with us to see what the adventure is about. When the weather gets nicer, we’ll be introducing at least one more person to the sport. After giving a presentation on geocaching to a bunch of amateur radio guys, we have a few who are interested in going out.

If any of you live in those areas and want to see what it’s like, definitely contact me at sarah at codinggeekette dot com to set something up.

We have also geocached internationally. Caching in Canada was an interesting treat, especially since the cache we did there last summer took us to an old battlefield. It was interesting to read the plaques throughout the field, and at the same time, we were gathering information to calculate the end coordinates. It was a beautiful park, and the cache was definitely tough to find. Caching in Bermuda was nice though too. We were there with friends of ours from college who actually convinced us to get into it. We saw a lot of local fauna and flora while caching there.

What kind of GPS is needed for this?

As long as your GPS can narrow in on coordinates easily, you should be fine. The big name GPS makers are Garmin and Magellan. However, there are plenty of others out there.

Many GPSes out there support the GPX file format – this is the file format the coordinates are available in from the website. Also, the website exports the cache information in a variety of formats, and there are third party applications that are designed specifically for geocaching, like Swiss Army Knife (GSAK).

What if I want to learn more about geocaching?

The people at geocaching.com have put together a great collection of geocaching guides, including their FAQ, how to select a GPS unit, and how to put out a geocache. There are also local groups that have members who are always willing to help a newbie cacher out.

And I’m also willing to try to answer more questions. I can be reached at sarah at codinggeekette dot com.

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