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An Outdoor Hobby that Will Get Your Kids Begging for More Family Time

If your house is anything like mine, too many hours are spent engaged in the use of electronics.

Video games. Check.

 I-pod. Check.

Computer. Check.

And when not plugged in, my husband and I spend our time running the boys between activities. It’s a rare day when we find ourselves with nothing to do, and on these days we are often in separate rooms of the house checking email and playing video games.

But an atypical trip to a local park on a beautiful fall day in October gave us the much needed push towards more family time and introduced us to an exciting hobby, geocaching.

As our kids played at Lemon Creek Park, outside of Baroda, my husband and I observed a couple walking through the nearby woods. They seemed to be searching for something. They walked off the path of the defined nature trail, so their behavior was curious. My husband spoke with the couple as we left. He told me they were geocaching. Geo-what? And so began our family’s education into this fun “sport.”

What is Geocaching?

Geocaching, as defined by the official website geocaching.com, is “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at the location.”

In the year 2000, the geocaching.com site was created. It’s the common meeting ground for those that hide and those that find the caches. To begin, register a username for free on the site. Enter your zip code to locate caches near you. Choose which ones you want to find. They are also rated as to the difficulty of the find and the terrain. Then enter the GPS coordinates into your GPS handheld device or download a free app on your smartphone that lists the coordinates for you. We use our smartphone, so I will speak of that in this article. We use the app, c:geo. The map displays small green boxes where a cache, or container, is hidden.

What Are You Looking For?

The container itself is the cache. It may range in size from micro (film canister or smaller) to large (5 gallon bucket). Occasionally, one may be instructed to find a nano, a subcategory of micro, which is a container so small that tweezers could be needed to pull the logbook out. Within each cache is a logbook that requires the finder to enter his username and date the cache was found. It’s that simple. Some of the more unique containers we have found were the inside of a magnetic bolt stuck to a parking lot pole light box and a tape measure which was both the logbook and the container found in a guardrail along a quiet country road.

If the cache is a large container there may be “treasures” inside for your kids. You now have a use for all of the fast food restaurant and carnival toys that pile up. For every “treasure” you remove, you must add one of equal or higher value to be found by the next geocacher.

When you return home, log in your finds on the geocaching.com website under your username. This entry can also be made from your smartphone. Replacing the green box icons on the map will be smiley faces showing the geocaches you found. Yeah!

What Supplies Do You Need to Geocache?

Other than the GPS unit (or smartphone), we carry a plastic bag with “treasures” to replace the ones our kids may take from a larger cache. We also bring tweezers if we have a logbook in a nano-sized container that needs to be pulled out and a pen to write on the logbook. Sometimes we have to use a permanent marker. One of our favorite geocache finds was not in a container but on the back of a magnetic sign which was the logbook itself. This took us forever to find, and it was right in front of us the whole time.

Who Hides These Things?

As of today, there are 1,627,398 caches hidden around the world with 5 million registered geocachers. Why I didn’t know about this sooner, I really can’t answer, but most of my friends had never heard of it, either.

When logging a cache, you have access to the username of the person hiding it. Through the geocaching.com site, I contacted Punk7242 through email.

Mark Jaske and Sharon Metcalf, the two person Punk team, both of Stevensville, graciously answered my questions. Having found over 1500 caches in 10 different states since 2009, they are geocaching royalty in my book. They began hiding their own caches later that same year.

“We decided to wait until we had found quite a few geocaches and understood the sport well before hiding our first one. It’s amazing how quickly someone will find a geocache once it’s been published on geocaching.com. Most caches are found within 24 hours of being published,” says Jaske.  He continued by explaining how one might choose where to hide a cache: “Many caches are placed in areas where the hider wanted to take you. It is often a place you would have never discovered if not for seeking the cache.”

Philomena Vida, owner of The Hollywood Store and Deli on the corner of John Beers Rd. and Hollywood Rd. in Stevensville, has a geocache hidden on the outside of her business property. “I have seen people keep looking when the cache is right in front of them, and they can’t find it,” says Vida. I can attest to this as my family searched and searched before we found the tiny container attached to a …. Never mind. Find it yourself! It’s called “Hollywood, Michigan!” and was hidden by Jaske and Metcalf, with the permission of Vida, as most geocaches are on public property for obvious reasons. Said Jaske, “Geocaches are not allowed to be commercial in purpose. We wanted to place a geocache there for the historical significance of the store that has stood there since 1870. The listing was reviewed and approved on that basis.”

What Are the Benefits of Geocaching?

We have had some wonderful experiences geocaching. One afternoon, we knocked out five caches while bicycling around town. We visited a cemetery, two small parks, a funeral home parking lot, and a small creek. While on vacation, we turned a boring rest stop along the interstate into a geocache find. Even when my husband was pumping gas in Tennessee, the GPS app showed there was a cache hidden near the Taco Bell next door. Sure enough we found it before he was even back in the car.

We’ve learned new words, too, like “Murophobia,” the title of one of the caches (all caches have titles). Murophobia means fear of mice, and this particular cache was found in the claws of a stuffed animal mouse. This find made me scream. The boys have learned to share mostly, though it helps when my husband and I both bring our phones. We’ve learned patience as the GPS gets us close, but not always precisely to the location we search for.

But most of all, we’ve just really laughed, at ourselves for missing something so obvious like the cache hidden in a sprinkler head at a park or the way “Muggles” (what geocachers refer to as suspicious humans) stare at you like you’re crazy when you’re digging through bushes. Jaske and Metcalf agree. “Geocaching is a great activity and fun for the whole family. You can go geocaching whenever your schedule permits, and because there are over 1.6 million geocaches worldwide, you are always near a geocache and never know what you will discover. We have met so many great people geocaching.”

Geocaching is even great for all those groups your kids belong to. Jaske and Metcalf have received email from Cub Scouts.

It’s free. It’s fun. It gets your family out of the house. It brings you to places never explored. It builds memories. Check out geocaching for yourself, and I just dare you not to become a fan.

For further information, rules, and different types of geocaches, visit geocaching.com.