Geocaching is (basically) a scavenger or treasure hunt connected to your phone. You download an app onto your phone that gives you GPS points and hints to find caches hidden in any number of places. Sometimes the caches are teeny tiny containers held into place with a magnet. Sometimes they’re large boxes filled with surprises. Sometimes they’re books in libraries. Sometimes they involve multiple layers and cracking codes. The most surprising I’ve found, for example, included a cache hidden inside of a screw that was placed inside a park bench, or a themed cache that was nestled into a big sculpture, painted to blend right in. Caches are placed (and found) by volunteers, so it’s very much a community activity.
Geocaching has, apparently, been around since about 2000, though I had absolutely no idea what it was until recently. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a popular activity to do while on walks with children, which makes a ton of sense; the caches are rated on levels of difficulty, and community members leave comments adding their own hints or warnings when it comes to how much time you might need to find it. I don’t have kids, so I have no excuse except that I love taking long walks and, apparently, am motivated to find these hidden gems even though there’s no prize involved.
The standard version of the app (which is what I use at the time of writing) is totally free, though there is a premium option that seems to offer more options for caches. There are meetups, though I can’t say I’ve gone to any myself. Still, I love the idea of such a wholesome community, especially for an activity that’s relatively free—you don’t need special equipment or a big buy-in to play, and you can find caches whenever you want. I even found a few while on a small weekend trip down to Portland, Oregon, and found myself at the waterfront with a stunning view of Mount Hood at sunset while trying to find a cache hidden inside a railing. (I was unsuccessful, in full disclosure.)
Cachers who are big into the game recommend bringing your pen (to sign your name on the log inside the cache) as well as a pair of tweezers (yes, some are that tiny), though I haven’t gotten to that level myself. Still, I’ve dragged my partner to more than a few spots and she’s fallen into the charm of the activity too. It’s nice to use your brain without the pressure of capitalism as the driving force if you ask me.
All of that praise said, I do want to say that I have a lot of privilege when it comes to this kind of activity. I’m white, cisgender, and able-bodied. When people see me lurking around a bus stop, for example, they generally don’t pay me any mind. But the same extended presence and er, unique movements (I’ve crawled around on the ground for these things!) could absolutely result in a racist person inserting themselves or even calling the police, which, as we know, can be legitimately life-threatening for people of color.
In fact, whether you check out geocaching or not, I really recommend checking out this interview Marcellus Cadd, a geocache enthusiast, did with NPR this past summer in which he talked about his experiences playing the game while Black. Cadd told the outlet he’s had the police called on him seven times while geocaching … within just six months of playing the game. You can check out his blog with more detail on his experiences here.
It’s also important to recognize that this game is not necessarily feasible if you live with certain disabilities. Many caches have attributes listed, like being wheelchair accessible, for example, but for as many caches as I’ve found that are a fairly quick grab off of a telephone pole, I’ve also found myself wiggling around at the bottom of a fence. You can check out a profile on Ed Manley, a disabled geocacher, on his journey and experiences over at Folks.
Have you done any geocaching? Or similar scavenger hunt activities? I’d love to hear stories, and especially would love to see photos of any cool spots or finds you’ve made or discovered!