Today I left my house.
No, really, it’s true. There wasn’t a computer monitor anywhere near me for hours. Well, okay, except for when we stopped at Best Buy, but other than that I didn’t have anything more advanced than my watch with me for the afternoon.
And yet, I managed to do something completely geek-related while wandering around a park. I found my first geocache.
Geocaching is like field maneuvers for geeks. People hide stuff somewhere in the world and then put the GPS coordinates on a website so other people can go out and find it. That’s the simplest form, anyway. It can get amazingly complex with clues that lead to other clues that are buried inside stories that have you running all over the place to figure out just the first part of a coordinate set that then lead you to more clues… it can get a bit crazy, apparently, but very engrossing. If you want to read more, my Brit-who-thinks-he’s-Australian friend Dan has written a good introduction to geocaching.
I don’t have a GPS, which is traditionally how people find these things (which makes perfect sense), so I had to use Google Maps. Google Maps is great for finding houses, but a little broad for finding something the size of the first section of my pinkie finger. I was looking in a totally wrong (but understandable, given the title of the cache) location until a couple who had apparently found it before – or possibly placed it – happened to wander by and noticed I appeared to be looking for something. They gave my wife a hint to put me in the general vicinity of the thing, which was excellent, because I was about to move on in failure.
If I was smart, I would have had my camera with me and could have shown you this thing. It was smaller than I thought possible. Honestly, this is like something that a spy would have used. (It would have been a spy from the early 1900′s, probably, but still… this thing was small.) It was called a micro-cache. It was hidden inside a pipe that was part of a structure that was holding up a fence. I could only see it from a particular angle, and I had to use a knife to get it out. My finger wouldn’t fit. Luckily it was magnetized and stuck to the knife (though that made it difficult to put back, too).
It was a cylinder about 2cm large. Inside was a long, narrow strip of paper with spaces just large enough for people to leave their initials. I was the 30th one to sign it since it’s placement almost 3 years ago.
Yep, that’s it. I spent a few hours, all told, learning how to do this, finding the Geocaching website and searching for a cache location, going there, and finding the cache. And all I did was put my initials on a piece of paper. And I loved it.
It was a lot of fun. I don’t have any plans to get a GPS anytime soon, so I don’t know that I’ll be doing a lot of these – especially micro-caches – but I’ll probably go snag a couple of the local larger caches, especially if they’re within walking distance. I’m pretty conspicuous while looking for these, so I’ll avoid any in heavily traveled places, too. At least until I start to get more experience.
In the meantime, my girls have got the bug. My family went with me and we spent the evening “geocaching” in our house. Both kids hid something and drew me a map (such as it was) to put me in the right area of the house. Then I hid something for them and led them on a two-stage hunt: first with a rhyme that led them to a map, and then using the map to put them in the vicinity of the ‘cache’. And they loved it. We all had to sign our initials to a paper that was in the cache. As one of them described it “it was like playing ‘warm or cold’ without saying ‘warm’ or ‘cold!’”
I get the feeling we’ll be doing this again. That’s just fine by me.