It feels strange walking through an open field in a small village in the English countryside. There is no one else – only four of us: me, my husband, my 12 year old son and my adult niece. The day is spectacular, especially for England. The sun is shining and temperatures are in the 70s.
After breakfast with tea and scones aboard the canal boat we rented for a week, we set out this morning to explore the surrounding Oxford Canal. After filling our backpacks with things we might need (water, a few snacks, a pen, and of course our phones), we put on our baseball caps, lace up our sneakers, and get on our way.
Through the field, a handmade wooden sign points the way to the trail that leads through a secluded farm. We are on vacation and doing what we like to do: Geocaching.
Instead of visiting museums or shopping, we charged our phones and spent the day exploring areas we would never normally find. That's the beauty of geocaching – you'll discover parks, monuments, trails, buildings and towns that the locals know, but not the guidebooks.
Today we enter a century-old church to find a church middle cache, about the size of a small shoe box. We all have iPhones (my husband has a 7, my niece and I each have a 6S and my son has an SE.) The geocaching app we use (Android | iOS) gives us the coordinates where we have to go to describe the Caches (its size, all relevant information) and optional hints that help us find it.
We walk about half a mile; The lonely bell tower stands out against the blue sky. When we get to the church, we go through a gate in the old iron fence in the yard. Centuries-old tombstones surround the small church, which unfortunately is closed today. We would like to have seen the glass windows from the inside.
But no matter. We have a cache to find.
The GPS leads us to a distance of less than 20 meters to the place where it is hidden. Now it is up to us to find out exactly where. It becomes quiet when we stop talking and focus on finding something that looks unusual. My son turns stones while my niece looks up and under the fence. I find a long stick and brush aside leaves that have accumulated in heaps around the grass. My husband walks along the church and runs his hand against the stone wall. Once he hits a stone that is not flush with the rest. He shakes it and pushes it out. "Found it!" he shouts.
When he pulls out the loose stone, a plastic box is revealed. My niece gets a pen so we can sign the protocol. My son walks over to see what's inside. There is a cloverleaf keychain, a mini rubber chicken and a smiley magnet. He exchanges American coins for the chicken, and my husband marks the cache as "found" in the app.
Enthusiasts refer to geocaching as the largest Treasure hunt in the world. At this moment, no matter what state, state, or continent you are in, there are hidden containers, called caches, just waiting to be found. There are 3.1 million active geocaches worldwide. Some are tiny (these are called "micros") and are only a few millimeters in size. Others are tall and tall enough to go through. Regardless of size, they all have one thing in common: a log that you sign when you find it. The microphones contain only a firmly scrolled sheet of paper, which is required for rolling nimble fingers. The larger caches contain notebooks and pencils as well as toys or jewelry called "Geoswag".
All this excitement would not be possible without the technology of GPS. It's hard to remember what life was like in front of the GPS when it's now available with our cars and cell phones. Before the year 2000, the US military kept the GPS close to the vest by deliberately lowering the signal to prevent civilian use. In May 2000, however, the situation changed when the government ended this "selective availability" and made GPS essentially a public commodity. Nobody could have guessed at the time that this availability would lead to a game of global treasure hunt.
However, some forward-thinking people decided to test the new navigation tools by placing objects in the forest and listing the coordinates on the Internet. In September of this year, three friends founded Groundspeak Inc. (as a geocaching headquarters).
The geocacher author Selena Hoy, who has been enthusiastic since 2008, remembers her first geocaching trip in Guam GPS device "At that time you could not do it on your mobile phone," she said. "It was totally different, you had to choose which caches you wanted, plan a route and enter coordinates into your GPS … it was a much more deliberate activity."
Chris Ronan, Community Relations Manager for Geocaching HQ and active cacher himself, who found caches in all 50 states and 14 countries, said GPS devices might be expensive at first, which limited the number of participants.
As the use of GPS and the ownership of smartphones increased, the hobby began. and the cache numbers started to grow exponentially. In the first week after launching the geocaching app, 75 caches were listed. In 2018, there were 71,602,898 "Found It" logs on Geocaching.com worldwide, and enthusiasts participated in over 43,000 geocaching events worldwide.
I did not discover geocaching until 2010, when I came across an article in a parent magazine. When a friend mentioned tasting it with her children, I knew I had to try it out. I downloaded the geocaching app to my phone and was surprised that there were about a dozen caches in my city. Since GPS was integrated into my phone, it was easy to immerse in the hobby.
Geocaching is an affordable, easily accessible hobby, thanks to the creation of apps and the widespread expansion of GPS. Groundspeak's most popular app Geocaching is available for both Android and iOS with free and paid versions. With the paid version ($ 9.99 for three months or $ 29.99 for a year), you can only find premium member caches, use offline maps, create lists, and assign favorite points to the best caches.
A similar app, Cachly, is available for iOS only and costs $ 4.99. With this app, you can save caches in offline lists, translate tips and logs from any language and choose from various card types. Each app tells you which caches are in your area and navigates to them.
As you might expect, the geocaching community is huge and online forums are a great place to get information, share stories and ask questions. Beginners will be wise to read the geocaching website. There you will learn how to navigate to a cache and what to do once you find it. In the Geocaching Forum, topics range from different locations to technology talks. Beginners can find help, and experienced cachers can discuss their findings. Of course, Reddit's Geocaching Forum offers all sorts of discussions and pictures, and there are tons of YouTube videos from cachers around the world. If the weather does not play along, it's easy to become a geocacher and read or observe everything about other people's travels.
Of course there are certain rules for caching. You should always obtain permission from the landlord before setting up a cache. Seekers should therefore never be privately owned, unless specifically stated in the description. Of course, local laws apply, and seekers must follow common sense. If the terrain feels dangerous or uncomfortable, you should switch to another cache. It's especially important that you pay attention to your surroundings while caching while on vacation. The last thing you want is to get lost.
As with any new hobby, there is a learning curve at the beginning. In our first attempts, we had to walk in circles, tramp on muddy paths and try to be inconspicuous in public places.
A cache in a grocery store was frustrating for newbies. After my son had looked up and down for almost half an hour, he became tired and moody. We just wanted to record it as "DNF" when I thought about pressing a metal electrical cover plate. It turned out to be a decoy, and the cache was hidden inside. With over 400 caches under the belts, we now have a better idea of what to look for. It only takes a little practice to train your eye to look for things that seem out of place.
Susie Henderson, her husband (a geography teacher at a high school), and her two sons, now 10 and 8 years old, first tried geocaching while camping in Vancouver Island. The Parks Canada Visitors Center at Wickaninnish Beach rents free GPS devices. "I would not say it was an overwhelming success," she said. "We were trying to find the first geocache that was pretty close to the Visitor Center, to no avail, we were going around in circles and found it nowhere." She was not deterred, however. Since then they have been geocaching on other holidays and their husband has taken his students for geocaching.