' Geocaching | Adventures with FitNyx

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Lately, I've been in desperate need of distraction.  Unfortunately the majority of my belongings, including almost every one of my crafting supplies, are stuffed in a storage unit a half hour from home, making it difficult to pursue some of my usual hobbies in my times of need.  I haven't been running as much as I should, but even if I were, I doubt it would be quite enough to keep me properly occupied.  So instead, I've been considering other options for amusement.

Image Source: Explore Outdoor

Way back when I was much younger my father and I participated in orienteering events.  Usually run in local wildlife preserves and Metroparks, orienteering requires map and compass skills to guide participants through the woods to find punchcard markers, creating courses of different challenge levels depending on how difficult it is to reach a particular set of markers.  It's a little like going on a treasure hunt, and I learned vital skills that will stick with me for the rest of my life, thanks to orienteering.

These days, however, the ability to read a map isn't quite necessary.  As GPS devices flood the market, finding directions has become infinitely easier, and the navigational arts have started to decline in the lay person.  Orienteering still occurs (and I'm looking to get back into it, if possible), but a new generation of outdoor adventurers has developed a similar new game: geocaching.

Image Source: Backpacker.com

Geocaching is basically a worldwide treasure hunt, using specific GPS coordinates to find caches or stashed containers all over the globe.  Caches can be as simple as a tiny canister with a strip of paper, on which geocachers can write their name to indicate they'd found the cache, to giant boxes full of trinkets and curios left by cachers.  These larger troves encourage trading of items, and make it possible to send "Trackables" on special missions.  Official Trackables, available for purchase from the Geocaching store, are marked with registration codes that can be entered into the website to pull up the item's goal - often specific types of journeys, such as coast-to-coast or reaching a particular landmark.  Geocachers are urged to help move a Tracker to its destination, one cache at a time.

I'd looked into geocaching a few years ago when I still lived in the South Loop area of Chicago.  In a huge urban playground, caches are hidden around landmarks and at interesting places in the neighborhood, inspiring geocachers to explore every facet of an exciting city.  Alas, I was sidetracked from attempting the hobby with my best friend/roommate when I met the man who would become my husband.  Now that his presence in my life is dwindling to a close, I found it a fitting time to revisit my geocaching intentions.

Image Source: Geocaching.com

Starting out as a geocacher is surprisingly simple.  I downloaded the app (free version to start, of course) to my phone, but any GPS device can be used in conjunction with the Geocaching website, which provides the exact coordinates for each cache.  The app makes it simple: look at the map for your area, select any of the many pins to see more details about that cache, then click "start" to track your specific location relative to the cache coordinates.  Follow the map to your treasure!  Using the website is similar; the biggest difference is that you'll have to load the coordinates into your GPS device manually.  Depending where you are located, you may have a handful of caches near you, or hundreds.  Often times a single cacher will stash an entire series of coordinates for you to find - for example, in my current area, there's a series of dinosaur caches along the same path I raced down last week, designed to be a family nature walk with a lesson about each dinosaur as you find them!

My first find was actually unplanned.  I was with my dad at his office when a coworker of his actually mentioned geocaching while we were reminiscing about orienteering (I'd been talking about geocaching the night previous, but hadn't made a plan to start quite yet), and it prompted me to pull up the app to check that particular area.  Sure enough, the local cemetery had several caches hidden, including one labeled "large", which seemed to be a good first find.  The cemetery also happens to be stunningly gorgeous, and the day was beautiful, so I asked my dad if he'd like to take a quick lunch adventure with me.  Sure enough, he was up for it, and we headed for the treasure!

Woo!  Cool hiding spot!  Can't wait to find some more!

The app was excellent and easy to use.  It didn't take us long before we were on the trail and heading for our first find.  It took a little traipsing through the underbrush (and maybe some poison ivy, but after years of orienteering without any rashes, we figured we were okay) but before long, in a hollowed out log, there was our target!  Since it was a large container, we knew we'd find some trinkets, and even snagged a little item of our own to include.  I ended up not trading anything out of this particular find, but I did immediately sign the logbook and post to the app that I had uncovered my very first cache!  We repacked the bin, tucked it back into its home, and headed for another in the area before heading home.  The second was much smaller, only large enough for a log and maybe some coins, but it was nestled in a neat little spot and had been placed in honor of the cacher's father, who was buried nearby.  The entire trip took maybe 15 minutes, but offered us a peaceful walk in the cemetery and a chance to break out of the office for a while to take a break on a day made for outdoor adventuring.  That, I think, is the key to geocaching's appeal: getting outside, finding surprising and inviting new places, while exploring new areas and connecting in a unique way with people all over the world.

With it's simplicity, I can easily see geocaching becoming a big hobby for me.  You can do it virtually any time, in any place (so long as there's something stashed nearby!), and it can help introduce you to new locations or even give you purpose to share an impromptu adventure with someone meaningful.  I'd love to flex my crafting muscles in conjunction with geocaching, too, by creating a series of small items I can leave behind when I find caches.  A sort of "calling card" as I slowly make my way to caches around the country.  I have some travel opportunities coming up that will take me to interesting new places; it would be so fun to start leaving my mark in such an interesting way!  I'm not sure what might work best, but brainstorming and experimenting will just become part of the fun!

Image Source: Carolina Geocaching

One final note before I wrap up this post: geocaching has led to some controversy.  Many national and local parks, as well as most landmark and historic areas, encourage "leave no trace" practices to protect natural and cultural sites.  Under these principles, hikers and other visitors are expected to take every possible measure to prevent leaving human impacts such as litter or tree carving when they leave the area.  Purposefully inserting a box of toys into a fallen log certainly leaves a trace!  To balance their impact, geocachers have adopted a "cache in, trash out" principle: when placing a cache, they will scour the area for litter and attempt to remove as much of the offending material as possible.  As cache maintenance is also expected of anyone who places one, the principle is extended to also routinely surveying the area to ensure it stays free of additional human impact left by cache finders.  Geocaching is growing more and more popular, with the game expanding to include even the most casual of players versus the hardcore outdoor adventurers who were the originators - as the hobby continues to grow and the conservation practices risk becoming forgotten or ignored by less savvy adventurers, it will be interesting to see how this debate plays out and whether the "cache in, trash out" balance can be maintained.

I'd love some ideas for interesting trinkets!  Share some ideas with me!  Or, weigh in on the debate: do you think geocaching will become a human impact problem in parks or other protected sites?  What can geocachers do better to prevent the hobby from becoming a serious issue?


  1. I love geocaching! It's such a fun way to spend an afternoon. I might have to do some sort of geocoding running route sometime because that would totally make my long runs more fun!

    1. Yeah, it was a great way to break the monotiny of a day and go on a mini adventure! What is geocoding? Is it related to geocaching?

  2. Someone else wrote about geocatching this week...I think it's becoming "a thing". Funny because I was just thinking how it would be fun to go on a running scavenger hunt...

    1. It's been slowly growing for a while, and I can see why. After I've found a few more and gotten a better feel for how it all works, I might try to design a little "course" for runners to try - or maybe mimic those old Par Courses and have each cache instruct the finder to do some kind of workout, like pushups or jumping jacks. I think that kind of thing would be so much fun!