Sunday, August 12, 2012

Finding Treasure in Arlington - A First Geocaching Adventure

This morning's exercise time was supposed to consist of Shira going to the gym, our 7 year old attending childcare at the gym, and me going for a run. As I was dropping the two off, my wife peaked in and confirmed there was child care today. Of course, the website was wrong - there wasn't.

I was just given a free hour with our little one. We could have gone to the park, or kicked around the soccer ball, but instead, I had an activity in mind that I wanted to try. I was hoping we could try our hand at geocaching, and today seemed like the perfect day to do it.

Geoaching is a sort of global hide-and-seek game. You register over at, look up where caches are found, find them, and then contribute back your success. The cache we were after today is located in Arlington Ridge, and apparently contains a coin which has made it way from Finland, and by hopping from cache to cache, needs to make its way back there.

We started off and I didn't try explaining to our 7 year old what we were doing. For one thing, I wasn't sure we'd make it to the park that held the cache, and for another, I wasn't quite sure how to explain what we were doing. About 15 minutes in, when he was starting to drag, and I thought we might actually make it to the park, I informed him of our mission: we were going treasure hunting! This, as you can imagine, boosted his spirits. He was psyched and on board. Of course, I was now worried I had oversold the whole project, for fear we would find nothing.

We made it to the park and I showed him on my phone a map of where we were headed. We walked through park, and followed the instructions which left off into the woods and down a fairly steep hill. By now, our time was up, and I really should have headed back to meet Shira. But, I couldn't resist looking around a bit.

The phone's GPS and c:geo app got us to the general vicinity of the cache. There was even a hint that mentioned something about a bench, which we found too. But, then it was up to us to poke around and see if we could find the actual cache. Having never found a cache, I wasn't actually sure what I was looking for. Was it something super tiny? Buried? In a tree? Our little guy totally got into it and found some suspicious objects, one of which was a mostly buried beer bottle - a clever place to hide a cache, if you ask me. But, it was nothing.

As we were just about to walk away, I noticed something a bit of place wedged in a nook. Sure enough, it was a Tupperware container covered in camo tape. To my sheer amazement, we actually found the treasure!

We cracked it open and found a log book and some random plastic trinkets. I was psyched to fill out the log, and our 7 year old was elated to take home one of the items in the cache. I explained to him that he'd have to put something in its place, and he bravely chose to leave one of his cooler matchbox cars there. It was a perfect exchange.

We took lots of photos, which I won't share here for fear of revealing too much about the cache (go search for it yourself!) and then we packed it up and booked it home.

What a thrill it was to go treasure hunting and actually find something.

Geocaching Hints

In the past, I've casually attempted some geocaching and failed miserably. Here are a few tips I'd suggest to avoid the false starts I had:

  • Pick "traditional caches" rather than the other options, like virtual, micro or unknown. These all have a place, but starting off with the classic style I'd think would be the easiest to find. The ability to pickup and drop off some plastic toy is just perfect for kids.
  • You can choose to "watch" a cache, which essentially e-mails you anytime someone logs some activity with the cache. This is key, as it lets you know you're going after a cache that actually exists, versus one that was there years ago but isn't now. I'm not watching a handful of caches, and when I think I've found one that's been frequented enough, we'll tackle it.
  • Come prepared. We were lucky, we had everything we needed. But you should plan to have: (a) a account, (b) a mobile app, (c) a pen, (d) a plastic item or two to leave in the cache, (e) a camera, (f) plenty of time! On paper, geocaching seems trivial, when you get to the actual site, it feels dang near impossible (until you actually find the cache, that is. Then it's back to easy).
  • Look for caches which are secluded. If a cache is in a high traffic area it's going to be hidden extremely well and it's going to be hard to search for without attracting attention. The area we chose was off the beaten path enough that nobody was there to ask questions of us.

If you've got a GPS, you've got zero excuses for giving this game a try. Heck, I bet there's a cache right by where you live, work or play.

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