GEOCACHING: VIRTUAL HUNT FOR SOMETHING REAL
by Giselle Cruz
Treasure hunting is no longer strictly for kids (or the kids at heart). In fact, it has just been taken to a whole new level. This may excite the inner youngster in you, but wait—this is quite a far cry from searching for Easter eggs or toys your Grandpa hid beneath your garden fence. Drop the old school style of treasure hunting. You need more than just soft skills here; yes, you need a mobile device and an app that connects you to the “treasure” and other “treasure hunters”. This is more like an outdoor hobby for the techies, only that your scope of search covers the entire world: literally any place on Earth where satellites can detect location. This pushes the internet age we’re living in further; with our world getting smaller and technology affecting our lives more and more. Yes, this is where the virtual world meets the real world.
Welcome to the world of Geocaching, the new playground for the technophiles.
Where It All Started
Geocaching started in May 2000, in Oregon, USA where the first official GPS-located cache was found. A man named Dave Ulmer hid his stash far out in the woods and not too long after, the accuracy of these satellites was confirmed when Ulmer’s cache was tracked down using a GPS-receiving device, which in today’s time can be any simple smartphone. The concept, although now digitalized by use of GPS coordinates, is actually not so new. A similar hobby called letterboxing which originated way back in 1854 involves hiding boxes in public areas. When letterboxing started, the initial goal was to post letters or post cards when you chance upon them, through clues spread around by printed catalogs or by word of mouth. Although letterboxing still exists today, various types have appeared and are no longer limited to letters planted in the wild. Fast forward to 2018, geocaching became the new bigwig in this genre, now gaining so much popularity especially in high-income countries like Europe and the Americas. However, there are now millions of geocaches worldwide, and there has been practically no geographical limits placed so far, except of course for the usual ethical considerations such as respect for private property and prevention of public alarm or danger.
How It Works
Essentially, GPS (or Global Positioning System) communication is used by the players to look for caches’ coordinates anywhere in the world. From a set of coordinates, the geocacher searches for the hidden cache contained usually in a weatherproof box. The creativity of hiding and disguising the cache surely could get creative. Caches come in all shapes and sizes, from a nano that’s smaller than a nickel to as big as a storage box. It is a fun outdoor pursuit of items that are of more sentimental than commercial value. It is great for individuals and families alike, although statistics say that geocachers cater mostly to the middle-aged and young professionals’ population.
Geocaching Fun in Different Forms
Geocaching has evolved into 3 categories: paper log, paperless or event. Caches with paper log come with a logbook where the geocacher who found the cache can log their code as a proof that they found it), whereas paperless caches vary in virtual methods, such as through physically embedded USB ports, QR codes or on-site webcam shots. Event caches, on the other hand, are like invite-only events attended by geocachers who happen to find that specific cache. Furthermore, a wide variety of geocaching methods has been introduced in recent years.
One variation of geocaching is geohashing, an active sport where, in contrast to geocaching, no item is to be found in the location. Rather, the players aim to visit as many “dashpoints” as possible and log what they find within a specific time frame.
The game has been taken to the next level in stratocaching—where objects called “radio seeds” are released into the sky via a module flew up to 30 kilometers high up into the stratosphere and fall back into earthen land for geocachers to find.
Yes, you read that right. Geocaching has been taken beneath the surface. This is very similar to the traditional geocaching, but underwater this time.
Abseiling, or rappelling, is roping down a rock or a vertical surface where the challenge lies on the height and angle of descent. This is definitely not for the faint-hearted, hunting for a cache as if abseiling was not difficult enough.
The Fun and Thrill of Geocaching
As with any other hobby, it is no longer a surprise that people do invest in geocaching. They spend time, effort and money to find geocaches. A few types like ones called puzzle caches and multi-cache are very similar to the style of the popular US TV series Amazing Race, where one clue leads to another. With multi-cache, a geocacher discovers the coordinates for the next cache, as if advancing to the next level, until you reach the final cache where the log book is. So geocaching not only involves walking or driving to the cache but even traveling by air and sea in long distances in some cases. Thousands of online groups have been put up as a way to gather geocachers per city or locality. What keeps this activity fun is the surprise element in what to find and where. If you’ve heard of Pokemon Go, this game reaped millions of dollars in revenue, and its cache merely involved virtual Pokemon characters but with geocaching, players usually get a small tangible prize, besides of course, the credit for your find. In turn, the players are usually expected to contribute a new prize to the cache and keep the game going.
Conversely, geocachers may have different objectives for completing the tasks. Most may be for recreational purposes, but some may be educational, some may be for money (if the game involves money prize), and some are even dedicated for environmental initiatives like Cache-In Trash-Out events where geocachers do activities like cleanups, tree planting, and other environmental activities. Positive reviews of geocaching recognize the hobby to be exciting as it pushes you to explore the outdoors, fulfill a sense of achievement, to improve one’s physical and environmental literacy, to create bonding time among geocachers searching together and simply to create opportunity for real physical activity, as opposed to the increasing occurrence of sedentary lifestyles due to our attachment to technology and the comfort of our own WiFi connection at home.
The Future of Geocaching
It feels amusing to imagine what the future of geocaching would be like, perhaps they may up the hunting to tougher levels and start to incorporate money or use it for other more critical purposes. Whether or not this craze is expected to last, geocaching gives us a glimpse of the kind of activities of the future generation. Non-technological hobbies like reading books, playing sports and musical instruments become less appealing as the world continues to thrive in its digital bubble and bridges the gap between the realms of the real and the virtual world.