“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hidden Items in Public Places

Over lunch today I was visiting the ONE website and decided to read their blog. I was skimming the blogroll to the right and noticed a link to the blog of child star Wil Weaton. You may remember Wil from his days on Star Trek: The Next Generation or, if you're cooler, you remember him from the great coming-of-age movies Stand By Me and Toy Soldiers. I, of course being of the latter group (though I did watch Star Trek I'm not a trekkie) was intrigued and turned my focus away from the serious issue of global poverty and AIDS to examine the life of the now 30yo Ensign Wesley Crusher.

After a little looking around I peaked into his photo gallery and noticed a section called geocaching. I had never heard of it before but he was hiking in the mountains and I like to hike so I decided to learn more. Geocaching is described as a global scavenger hunt for people who use GPS. (It is actually found in 40 Blogger profiles.) When you log in, you can put in your exact position and locate nearby caches - usually hidden in some waterproof container - containing log books and other assorted trinkets of varying value. When you find one, you can feel free to take a trinket as your prize (as long as you leave something in return), jot a note in the book, and fill out your log online. Sometimes, you can find a "Travel Bug" which is an object with a coded tag that often has instructions on what to do with it. Some instruct you to do your part in helping the "TB" get a little closer to its destination - ie: if the TB needs to get to Alaska, you need to drop it off at a cache closer to Alaska than where you found it - and some simply act as vicarious voyagers like the garden gnome in Amelie.

There are even games associated with this sport. It is possible that you could find a cache with clues in it that will lead you on a hunt for either another clue or unpublished cache with a large prize waiting for you (assuming someone else hasn't gotten to it first). I've read that sums of money could be waiting or even a Jeep 4x4 with a contest that's going on. More likely than not - though, you never know what you'll find - you will locate a cache with some small trinkets or supplies for your journey. It's actually pretty fun.

I signed up and am now a geocacher. I even found a cache that lives just down the street from my apartment! It was simply a small magnetic box hidden on the back of a guardrail. The person who placed it meant it to be a small memorial for his friend who killed himself there 20 years ago. The only instructions were to sign your name in the log and say a prayer. It's located in a public place and you are asked to use stealth when finding it. As I searched online for others in the area I was somewhat surprised to find that there are dozens of these caches within a half hour of here.

It is reported on their website that there are 190,146 active caches in 217 countries! Some are hidden in fields, some are buried, some are located on cliff faces and you need to repel down to them, some are in parks or even in busy public places. There are even caches in Kyrgyzstan! There are helpful hints that accompany each listing letting you know how difficult the terrain is, what facilities are available, if there's parking, if it's kid friendly, if there's a view, and so on. They make it as informative as they can (without giving away the location) to help ensure safety and to promote the fun of the hunt. It's easy to take an afternoon to find a cache or two or plan a longer, multi-day trip to search for a number of caches in a more remote area.

I like the idea of having something active to do that's unique and different and combines my enjoyment of hiking and the excitement of the search. (Plus it's kind of fun to be a little covert about it too!) I'm amazed at how common these are and yet how unknown. Apparently, there are over 160 of them withing 10 miles of where I work!

Who knew?