How to geocache


by Angelia Crawford

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Psst. I have a secret. For the past six months, I have been on a treasure hunt. To date, my family and I have found about 50 hidden treasures. And we are just getting started. There are over 700,000 treasures to find throughout the world, 4,500 in my state alone! If we've found these treasures, then why am I writing for a frugal publication? Because the most valuable thing we've found is a quarter.

We have learned how to geocache (pronounced "geo-cash"), a world-wide craze that began in 2000, when the U.S. military allowed public access to the satellites they use for their global positioning system, or GPS. This is the same system that allows us to have a GPS in our car giving us directions. Back in 2000, a man in Oregon with a handheld GPS took a container with some small items, hid it in the forest, put the coordinates out on the Internet and said, "Go find it." Geocaching was born.

If you have a handheld GPS (which you can purchase for as little as $125) and a computer with Internet access, you can geocache. This makes geocaching not only a great way to get outdoors and get some exercise, but also it is extremely frugal.

Once you have your GPS and have familiarized yourself with its features, log on to Sign up for a free account. Then type in your zip code and look up caches in your area. You can download the coordinates directly to your GPS with a USB patch cable. Many handhelds have geocaching software that provides a compass to follow and gives information, such as distance to travel and the estimated time of arrival. But we've found that eventually we need to just follow the coordinates. We've traversed deep woods, navigated around ponds, streams and rivers, and hiked trails. We've cached downtown, in public buildings, and in cemeteries. We've found geocaches under logs, under park benches and stuck to utility poles. We have never had to dig, because you are not allowed to bury a cache.

The largest geocache we've found was a five gallon bucket; the smallest was the size of the tip of your pinkie finger. Typically we find small ammo cans or small plastic storage containers. These contain a logbook and a pencil. We sign and date the logbook. Then, there is the SWAG or "stuff we all get." These consist of small trinkets, like fast-food toys, trading coins, etc. If you take something, you have to leave something of equal or greater value. A special honor is being the "FTF" or the first to find. Oftentimes there is a special trinket waiting for the FTF. The competition with other area cachers for FTF is great fun.

Geocaches need to be hid where they won't accidentally be found. People who don't cache are called "muggles" - i.e. those who aren't in the know. If a non-cacher steals a cache, it has been muggled. Ammo cans need good cover, like in the woods. So caching in more urban places takes special consideration.

For one, the cache has to be small. That is where micro-caches come in handy. Typical micro-caches are film containers or magnetic key holders. These types of caches only have room for a log. Bring your own writing instrument and no need for SWAG. It is also important to be stealthy when going into highly populated areas. We cache in urban areas during off-peak times like weekends when all the business people are home.

Once you've found a cache, go to the website and log your find for other cachers to read. You can also leave clues, which can be helpful for the next cacher. You can also log in when you didn't find it. If several of you recently have had trouble, the cache may have been muggled.

We have learned that a bit of equipment helps. First, we wear clothing fit for outdoor excursions. We also take a backpack with room for the GPS, a writing instrument, our own log to keep track of our finds, some SWAG, bug repellant, sun screen, a first aid kit, a flashlight, batteries, and water. All of these things should be lying around your home. There's nothing expensive to buy. We keep our geocaching backpack always ready so we can grab and go.

From now on, whenever we travel, we will geocache in that area. Our goal is to travel to the very first geocache near Beaver Creek, Oregon. There is now a plaque in the ground where it was located. Our family might not get rich on this hunt, but the treasures are still there. With geocaching we get exercise, excitement, and enjoyment for free.

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