Friday, April 17, 2015

Earth Day: Geocaching & CITO

I don't think I've shared much here about this, but lately I've become infatuated with Geocaching.  It tapered off a bit during the winter months, so it's safe to say I'm a "fair weather cacher" (much like I'm a fair-weather SCUBA diver--I don't like being cold and I want to be able to SEE!).  But now that it's warming back up, Caching Season is back!

If you're not familiar, geocaching is like a global scavenger hunt.  People hide "caches" (containers of various sizes--VERY various sizes) with a log inside of them so you can sign it when you find it, and then share the GPS coordinates of that cache and perhaps a hint or two for finding it, or a few interesting facts for WHY they chose to hide something there.  Some caches are big enough to leave behind trinkets so you can trade with other cachers, while others can be VERY tiny.
The varying sizes of caches-- watertight Tupperware makes a good container for medium to large caches & trading trinkets, whereas "nano" caches up the difficulty and contain only a log.

And there are various types of caches--some are traditional, some are "mystery" caches so you don't actually know what you're supposed to be looking for, there are EarthCaches & Virtual Caches that don't actually have a log or box hidden anywhere--but you go to a certain location and gather information, then answer questions presented by the author of the cache, which proves that you visited that spot (these are often in state or National parks that don't allow the placing of a physical cache).  There are "multicaches" that require you to find the first clue, and then clues at each stop lead you to the final cache/log location.  Oh...and then there are "puzzle caches" that require a bit of effort to get to the actual log...
Our first puzzle cache, found about half a mile from my house in a tree.  You had to turn the structure to move it through the pipes & get the little log container out.

Geocaching has been around since about 2000, so prior to the days when EVERYBODY had a GPS built into their phone. Back then, the cache locations were shared on a website, and you had to print off the description page and then type in the cache coordinates to your GPS, and off you went.  The advent of the smartphone and apps has made geocaching much more easy & popular, and new caches are added every day. (You can download a free basic version of the app for both Android & iPhone--then there are some "premium" caches that are only visible on the app if you pay for the "member" version.  I recommend trying out the free app first to see if you enjoy it.)

I started geocaching about a year ago, though I had heard about it probably 10 years ago--back then, most caches were off the beaten path.  A friend went to Chicago and talked about all the fun they had finding urban caches and showed me the app.  Until then, it hadn't really occurred to me that there might be caches IN MY TOWN.  But, in fact, there are hundreds.  There are over 2.5 MILLION caches across the globe, so there's probably at least a few near you.  Even my little tiny hometown of 2,500 people has a couple--my husband's hometown has even more than that!  They're EVERYWHERE!  The first one I found was hidden on a guard rail at the auto parts store next door to my office.
This sneaky "log only" cache was hidden at a site I was working at!

Anywho, with Earth Day coming up on April 22, I wanted to share a bit about this super-fun way to spend a little more time outdoors (which is my favorite aspect of it--any excuse to not have to go to the gym for exercise, amiright?), because another big aspect of geocaching is the concept of "CITO": "Cache In, Trash Out".  Essentially, if you're going to be out treasure hunting, bring a bag with you and do a little cleaning up while you're out there.  It's good for the planet, good for your community, and good exercise---win-win-win. And around Earth Day, many areas organize "CITO Events" where you can gather together with other geocachers and join a cleanup effort.  For example, on Earth Day there's a cleanup planned for the shores of Lake Springfield, here in my area.

A super-sneaky cache hidden it what looked to be part of a fence... They even make caches that look like bolts.

If you haven't tried out geocaching, I highly recommend it--especially if you have kids (really, the more eyes the better on some of these).  With kids, the bigger caches that have trinkets are probably the best at first--you can have your kids gather up a small baggie of little items that they wouldn't mind trading from around the house (stickers, small toys, keychains, erasers, etc.) so that when they find a cache, they can leave a trinket in exchange for whatever they take.  Once the "thrill of the hunt" is enough for them, they may enjoy the smaller "log only" caches that don't have room for trinkets.
My trinket stash.

There are also these things called "trackables"--you can get trackable tags from, and attach them to a trinket, and then give the trinket a "mission"--like "I want to make it to Canada!" or "Take pictures of me in all the National forests!"--then register the trackable online and place it in a cache.  You'll get notifications when people pick up your trackable and can follow it virtually as it travels the globe!  
This little car was trying to make his way back to Utah, so I picked it up from a cache in Louisiana & brought it back to Missouri to shorten the trip.

Some of my coworkers and I set up one near our work using one of those fake rock hide-a-keys.  And if you decide you're ready to try hiding your own cache, there are beginner kits that can help you get started.

Have you tried geocaching before?  If so, I'd love to hear about your favorite finds!  And remember to CITO!

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