Last summer, I took up a new hobby: geocaching.
While it’s been increasing in popularity these past few years, there are still a lot of people who have no idea what, exactly, geocaching is. For the uninitiated, then, I offer this post.
Geocaching is, in the simplest of terms, a “high-tech treasure hunt.” It involves spending $150 (at least) in order to find trinkets that are worth maybe a quarter, at best.
First off, you need a GPS unit. There are several good brands available on the marketplace. I’m partial to Garmin myself, not because it’s technologically superior to the others, or because it rhymes with Charmin, the world’s softest toilet paper. I like the little cars and trucks you can download, actually. I may drive a Santa Fe in real life, but when my GPS is guiding me from Point A to Point B, I am behind the wheel of a groovy VW Bus. And when Halloween rolls around, I’m flying on a broomstick. Eat your heart out, Ron Weasley.
I consider my GPS unit one of the wisest investments I have ever made. First off, she’s more than an electronic thingamajig – she’s an actual member of the family. I have named her Maggie. Lest you think I have lost my mind, you have to realize that she talks to me. Gives me turn-by-turn directions in a sweet, sometimes sassy, (and if I’m being perfectly honest, a little bit sexy) voice. Even when I’m by myself in the car, if Maggie is talking to me, I don’t truly feel alone. She’s my companion, my friend, and my navigator. I never get lost when Maggie is telling me where to go. I’m not saying she’s perfect; if I don’t turn down the street she wants me to, she has this exasperated little “recalculating” thing she says that lets me know she’s preturbed. But I have the upper hand: I can always “mute” her, which is more than I can say for the kids in the backseat.
Let’s face it, though – it’s rare that I’m driving someplace unfamiliar. So, to maximize my investment and get the most use out of my GPS, I took up geocaching last August. Basically, here’s how it works: somebody (read: people with way too much time on their hands) hides a “cache” full of goodies, plots the coordinates with their GPS unit, and then posts the geocache to a website (such as www.geocaching.com). Then, people with other GPS units (and also way too much time on their hands) go out and try to find the caches.
A cache can be any type of container – a film canister (if you’re under the age of 30 you are probably scratching your head and wondering what in the hell one of those is), a Tupperware container, an ammo can. It can be hidden anywhere, from a busy intersection in the city to deep in the woods. Inside, you will find a scroll of paper and a pen so you can log your visit – “proving” to others that you were there – and, some sort of trinket. I have found key chains, green Army men, Hot Wheels cars, stickers, paper money, and occasionally – if you’ve hit the jackpot – a nickel or a dime. That is known in geocaching circles as “the big score.”
This is also why I tell my friends who look at me skeptically that it’s really all about the thrill of the hunt.
And what a thrill it is, too! First off, you have to be stealthy. You can’t let ordinary citizens (the geocaching community calls them “muggles” because JK Rowling’s books are legendary and inspirational tomes to these geeks…of which I am one, apparently) become suspicious of your activities, which is sort of impossible when you are snooping around the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant with an electronic device that is squawking at you to “turn left in 300 yards”, drawing the stares of patrons headed to their cars with doggie bags full of leftover chimichangas. That is why I prefer geocaching in the wilderness: there are fewer people…err, muggles…around to spot you. Of course, there are other trade-offs to contend with when you’re trekking through the forest. Steep, muddy hillsides; thorny bushes and poison oak; and the ever-present danger of stepping onto a yellow jacket’s nest. All this for a Christmas tree magnet that is missing the magnet part.
(See above. Thrill of the hunt).
When you return home, you log back onto the website and brag to the world that you found the cache (and pretend that you never even looked for the six or seven others you could not locate because, even with a dozen satellites buzzing around overhead beaming down your exact coordinates, your hit to miss ratio is going to be distressingly poor). You will discover that geocachers are not only nerds, but elitist ones, at that. They have invented their own acronym-filled language that includes phrases like TFTC (Thanks For The Crap) and SL (Such a Loser).
Actually, that isn’t what they really stand for. But it’s a secret society, you know, and I can’t let any muggles get wind of the behind-the-scenes goings on. I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Wow – I just had an amazing flash of inspiration for a new novel, involving a serial killer who plays a high-stakes geocaching game with the cops by leading them to the bodies of his victims using a GPS unit. Hmm. This is really good stuff.
JK Rowling who?