The Case for Geocaching

The global treasure hunt turns up far more than caches

By / November 2015

The purpose of geocaching, the world’s most popular treasure hunt, is to find hidden containers, or caches. They come in a variety of sizes. They hold a variety of contents, at minimum, a piece of paper to sign, but at times you’ll find trinkets, games, toys, and even trackable items inside. Caches can be found in the most unexpected places: at the corner of busy intersections, in stone walls, even inside local libraries. The game started in May of 2000 near Beavercreek, Oregon. The first caches were concealed in forests or remote fields. A small group began playing the game to see if they could locate the caches (first called stashes) using only a handheld GPSr.

In September 2000, the site geocaching.com was launched by Jeremy Irish with the help of Mike Teague. In subsequent years, geocaching grew exponentially. By February 4, 2013, when geocaching celebrated its two-millionth hide, only seven countries worldwide remained without a registered geocache. Today, only two of the 193 UN recognized countries, North Korea and the Solomon Islands, still lack a geocache. The United States has the most, at over a million. Germany has the second most, 350,000. Eight different countries tie for the least, each containing a single geocache. Some 15 years after the original launch, there are now six million cachers on geocaching.com. But geocaching is not just a global game. This technological version of hide and seek turns up far more than caches. — D.S.

 

Herakleia. Photograph by Danley Shackelford

1. Off-Path Exploration

I started caching in the summer of 2010. By January of the next year I had already upgraded from my Garmin watch to a Garmin handheld GPSr. One of my most memorable early caches came while on holiday with my family to the southern Turkish city of Didim. As towns go, Didim was nice enough. There was plenty to see and do. But as I was checking geocaches in the area I noticed one with a lot of positive feedback. And, turns out, it was only 45 minutes from where we were staying. We decided to go. The area was Herakleia near Bafa Lake. As we approached the site, we were greeted by a friendly herder ushering cows down a dirt lane. Makeshift barbed wire fences lined the road. Fields of grass sprinkled with wild flowers draped the edges of toothy mountains. I found my way to the area of the geocache. It was nestled in an old rock wall surrounded by arches. The site offered an incredible view of the lake below. I stopped for a moment and realized that I hadn’t seen a more breathtaking place in all of Turkey. And it was a geocache that brought me there.

 

2. Global Community

Geocaching isn’t just about finding hidden spots. It also introduces you to new people. When you see someone looking under a bench or poking at a tree stump, you’ve probably found a comrade. This is particularly easy to do if you search for newly-published caches. In most communities, there is a strong competition to be “first to find” (FTF) a hide. Just last summer I was working on a puzzle cache in Vancouver. To complete the puzzle I needed to find people all over the world who could help me solve it. One of the cachers that I contacted was in France. He and his friend helped me solve the puzzle. After finding the final solution, I shared it with them. I then learned that they were going to be in Canada several weeks later. They set up an event cache in Vancouver, and I made sure to go. What made it more interesting was that they had been in Istanbul the previous spring where they met several of my good friends.

 

Photograph by Danley Shackelford

3. Environmental Activism

It might seem strange to think that a game which depends on littering the planet with stashes would be environmentally conscious, but it’s true. All over the world geocachers sponsor days to clean up trash, plant trees, and create positive change for the environment. First among those is the popular event known as CITO (Cache In, Trash Out). Each spring the international CITO day brings cachers and geocaching groups together across the globe in an effort to clean up neighborhoods and parks in their communities. In 2015, 17,846 geocachers around the globe participated in International CITO Weekend. But geocachers are encouraged to practice CITO whenever and wherever they geocache, cleaning up as they go. In August of 2013 I helped to organize Turkey’s first ever CITO event. That day 21 geocachers set out to clean-up a track of woods in the Çekmeköy neighborhood strewn with trash. We filled up almost 30 bags of garbage, then crashed my nearby apartment for pizza donated to the event by Domino’s.

 

4. Travel Incentive

I once had a nine-hour layover in Dubai on my way from Kuala Lumpur to Istanbul. I was determined to take advantage of the time to score some new caches. And it turned out to be one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had geocaching. Not for the numbers of caches. Not even for the ingenuity of those I found. But because of the intense heat. It was September, and in a matter of almost five hours I walked 4.5 miles and downed 5.3 liters of water just for four finds. I have no idea how many pounds I lost. But I returned to the airport more than satisfied with my outing, with my new caches. All that sweat was far better than hours on a vinyl chair in an air-conditioned airport. I now always look at geocaching maps before I travel to a new place, whether that’s a small town or a foreign country. Geocaching creates goals for my travel. One of the statistics on the geocaching site is the map on a cacher’s personal profile. Countries, provinces, and states in which I’ve traveled automatically generate on my map. And cachers like myself are always looking for ways to add a new location.

 

Extraterrestrial Trail. Photograph by Danley Shackelford

5. Increased Consciousness

Most people think that geocaching is only done in remote places. But once you get into the game, you begin to realize that caches are hidden in places you pass every day. On the way to work. Near your favorite restaurant. Under that park bench, on that rail, under that pole skirt. Soon after I began geocaching, I returned to my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. I was at the grocery store near my parents’ house, a place I had been numerous times. In the shopping center parkıng lot alone I found three geocaches. One under a lamppost cover. One in a guard rail. One was a magnet on an electrical box. Many caches are simply hidden on the side of the road, too. The Extraterrestrial Highway Power Trail in Nevada is considered to be a Mecca of sorts for geocachers. On this famous stretch of desert road there are 2400 geocaches hidden every .10 miles. Beside the freeway is a complex geoart made up of an extra 101 caches that form an alien head and space ship, designs only visible to the eyes of a satellite, which is only visible to other geocachers. And so it is when you are part of the geocaching community. You experience the world, even your neighborhood, differently.

 

Danley Shackelford is a photographer for EthnoTraveler. Find him on geocaching.com as bulcacher.

 

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