Excuses to Get Outside – Geocaching (part 1)

The value of spending time outdoors – whether alone or with others – cannot be over-stressed. One of the highlights of living in Reno is the diversity and proximity of a huge range of outdoor recreational opportunities. This little series is designed to help give you excuses to get outside and enjoy all the area has to offer.

NOTE: during this COVID crisis, we have all been asked to practice social distancing and minimize time outside of the home. But balancing public health concerns with our own health is critical. Mental and physical health are important considerations and judicious time outside while restrictions are in place is advised. (Some might argue we should wait until travel restrictions are lifted before venturing outside too much).

Today’s Excuse to Get Outside: Geocaching

Say what? What the hell is geocaching?! Until recently, I had no idea. I’d heard the term and thought it involved people loading up in Jeeps headed for remote desert regions in search of hidden boxes of mysterious items. It had never appealed much to me.

But oh how wrong I was! Perhaps the first geocachers lacked a good PR firm. “Geocaching” sounds lame. Geology is only slightly more exciting than economics – and ‘caching’?! Is that a French word?! A far better term would be TREASURE HUNTING. That’s what geocaching is. Modern day treasure hunting. Admittedly, the treasures are often just a piece of paper to write your name on in some makeshift container, but the QUEST is real. The thrill of the hunt lives on in geocaching as you get closer and closer to finding ‘the cache’ (pronounced ‘cash’). Imagine it as semi-respectable form of the hot-and-cold game you played as a kid.

Getting Started with Geocaching

Officially, geocaching is “an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called “geocaches” or “caches,” at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” For an amateur like me, geocaching is downloading an app (I use the creatively named “Geocaching” app), picking a cache to seek out, getting outside, pulling out your smartphone (the app uses your GPS to help you navigate to your target), and setting off in search of the hidden treasure.

There are geocaches all over. Literally thousands all over Reno and in the surrounding areas (6,000+ according to the aforementioned Geocaching app). The ‘caches’ range from micro sized (typically a tiny container with a piece of paper in it) to large (e.g. a plastic storage container filled with any variety of items). The locations are urban or in the wild. Difficulty varies. Hints are available if the GPS coordinates aren’t precise enough. In some areas there are lots of caches within a relatively small area (for example, on a 5 mile hike with my boys we found 6 caches) while others are remote and difficult to find. There are even ‘mystery caches’ where you have to decipher codes in order to get the GPS coordinates. We recently did one where the coordinates were derived from specific words in a series of poems we then had to plug into the map to find it. For example: “The cache is located at coordinates: N 39०AB.CDE (etc) where A = the first number in Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (FYI it’s “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”), etc. If you want to get more involved, you can start hiding your own caches for others to find.

Not only is it fun, but it’s a great opportunity to learn about maps and geography. I spent a considerable amount of time teaching my boys about latitude and longitude and how map coordinates and GPS work before we went on our first cache hunt. Like almost any time spent in the outdoors, there are nearly endless opportunities to have fun and learn. As a father, it is especially valuable time for bonding with my children.

Geocaching Etiquette

Apparently, the simplest rule in geocaching is to follow the ‘Golden Rule’ and treat other geocachers as you would like to be treated (pretty good life advice, too). Here are some excerpts from fancy geocachers:

  • A geocache should be placed in a way so it’s unnoticeable to passers-by yet can be accessed without harming terrain or vegetation.
  • A geocache box or container should be camouflaged so it fits in with the surroundings and doesn’t accidentally alarm others.
  • Don’t expose the hiding spot to others. When you find a geocache, quickly move it away from the site before examining it.
  • It’s good form to sign the register to let the geocache owner and fellow geocachers know of your visit. Afterwards, you can go online to geocaching.com to record your visit there as well. (Or in most apps, you can log your find and leave comments).
  • Always exchange trinkets (also called “trade items”) with those of equal or greater value. Leave the cache better than you found it.
    Once you’re done with the geocache, return it exactly where you found it. Resist the temptation to find a better or more complicated spot.
  • A time-honored geocaching principle is CITO, or “Cache In, Trash Out.” This refers to geocachers who collect and dispose of litter found along the way. Always strive to leave the environment as pristine as, or better than, you found it. See Cache In, Trash Out for details.

More than anything, geocaching is an excuse to get outside and have fun. Alone, with your spouse, with friends, or with the family, geocaching really is modern day treasure hunting. So bring out your suppressed inner pirate and try geocaching! Download an app, select an area, and get outside.

As always, be safe, be kind, and enjoy. In the end, there really is treasure to be found when spending time outdoors.

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