Sweet, Sweet Cache

The thrill of GPS treasure-hunting



Around any corner, tucked under a park table, beneath a bus stop bench or nestled in trees and bushes there could be hidden treasure, free for the trading to anyone who knows where to look. Welcome to the phenomenon of Geocaching, a global game of GPS treasure-hunting in which more than six million users have participated in the thrill of not only searching for but finding real-life hidden treasure.

Imagine having a digital map of hidden treasure all over the world — that’s Geocaching. Simply download the app, make an account, and let the adventures begin.

Developed by Groundspeak Inc., the popular treasure-hunting app allows GPS-enabled devices to guide cachers, those hunting for treasure, to a specific set of GPS coordinates. Once in the general region, treasure-hunters must solve clues and use powers of observation to find the hidden container and reveal the treasure.

“Cache” hidden on the underside of a table

As a family-friendly concept, the treasures are supposed to be all-age inclusive and contain nothing illegal. The hidden treasures could be anything, ranging from inexpensive craft projects to jewelry and pricey “trackable” items. The caches or hidden treasure packs can be smaller than a deck of cards to the size of a small child or bigger, with camouflage designs as limitless as the human imagination.

The guiding rule allowing this global game to continue is those who take a treasure must leave a treasure of equal or greater value behind, so that there is always something for the next adventurer to find.

Timeless Adventures: Two Personal Stories Geocaching

Thrill of the Cache: Sadies’ Adventure

My car’s tires bumped the curb near a grassy residential area leaving behind the telltale sign of parallel parking with poor depth perception. Holding my white Galaxy S5, I stepped out of my car and checked that my GPS icon was on track to follow the line to my destination: hidden treasure somewhere in the residential woods.

I was close. I surveyed the residential area, a quiet block, on an unfamiliar street I’d never have known about without the Geocaching app. The orange-yellow sun began to sneak behind the redbrick roof of a house across the street to the right. I’d better hurry before it gets too dark, I thought.

Green blades of grass were flattened under my black Uggs. The grass rounded into what looked to be a smooth hill from the distance, but up close, it was the kind of steep hill that I didn’t want to fess up to being a tiny bit afraid of falling down.

Hesitant to descend the slope, I dashed back to my car to grab my sweater, reassuring myself that the goosebumps on my arms were entirely because of the slight autumn breeze.

Sitting back in the warmth of the driver’s seat, I contemplated whether or not to go home or to go into the wooded area the steep hill led to.

The GPS blinked on my phone, taunting me that I was so close to the cache location. It was known to be a good spot to get a geo-coin, a collectable item with a built-in tracking code, showcasing the various parts of the world that it traveled. And I wanted one. I’m too close to chicken out now, I told myself. I slid on my sweater, tucked my trade item — a fancy Hawaiian keychain that I had found on a previous hunt — and slid off of my leather driver’s seat. With the door closed and locked, I stared back down at the drop.

It’ll be best to go at it from an angle, I decided. Hands in front of me, I made my way down the slope with the slowness and tension of a tightrope walker. The scent of wet earth and pine accompanied my descent. After a few steps, my boots began to slide in the mud, the grass became more sparse and soon the slope was all brown. Unable to maintain the slow pace, I quickened my steps, kicking up mud like an unstable horse. With each elongated stride, I pushed down the slope.

I reached the bottom. The impact of the hard bank vibrated from the bottom of my feet up to my knees. I gave each leg a quick shake to make sure everything was still in working order and I was still in one piece.

Surprised that I hadn’t tumbled and broken my neck, I paused at the flat layer of mud at the base of the hill, a few steps from the opening to the woods, to survey my surroundings. Looking back up the slope, I couldn’t see my car. I couldn’t see the sun anymore. My phone buzzed: Low battery, 11 percent. GPS indicated that I was even closer to the cache than before, but I would have to go into the woods to get it.

Undeterred by the looming threats of a setting sun and dying cellphone battery, I entered the woods excited by the prospect of being the first to find a geocoin in my group of Sherlock Holmes wannabees.

The air was filled with the sound of my footsteps snapping fallen twigs and crisp leaves as I maneuvered past stubborn branches Indiana Jones’ style.

I hurdled my muddied boots over fallen logs, bobbed-and-weaved to avoid sharp low-hanging branches and raced against the approaching night and my dying phone in search of my last clue: a Ninja Turtle doll somewhere among the trees. The blinking GPS icon indicated that I was right on top of the cache. Tilting my head backwards, I looked to the twig branches with parts of the darkening sky shining between the thinning leaves.

All of my searching was to no avail. With the departing sun casting the majority of the woods into darkness and creepy sounds of possible animals stirring, I decided I better abandon the search and return home.

My phone buzzed. I had 3-percent battery as I made my way back up the muddy slope. Standing atop the flat grassy area, I looked down at the woods and saw a dark blur with a vague outline of trees. Then I looked down to my muddied feet and considered whether or not they were suitable to enter my car. That’s when I noticed jagged tears in my black leggings.

So I got my treasure after all: Battle-scar leggings. The torn proof of my adventurous spirit made me smile.

After wiping my shoes on the grass, sliding back into the driver’s seat and turning my colorful bundle of keys in the engine, I headed home. It was not a failed quest, just an opportunity to keep looking. With each little bush, swaying tree and park bench I passed on my way home, curiosity asked me, “What treasures could be hidden there?”

“This bug was left at a small unassuming park just a few miles from my home. I came to find that this trackable has gone as far as Australia to raise awareness for Alpha-1, a genetic lung disease. Travel Bugs sometimes have a more sentimental goal,” said Tamika Adams.

“Inner Goonie” and Tiny Trackable Treasures:
Tamika’s Adventure

Tamika indicating where the “Cache” is located

I rediscovered my all-time favorite kid-centric movie, The Goonies, in the beginning of summer after a weekend of lazing away and indulging in my favorite 1980s adventure-film classics. After washing off the shame and grime of binge watching, I was inspired to be the most bad-ass Mary Poppins possible for a few kids that I was nannying for. Instead of boring the hell out of them with multiplication tables and toilet-roll crafts, I decided to share these moments of nostalgia and bring them into the world of scallywag-snooping, known as Geocaching.

After a cute screening of the film, the kids argued over which one of them was most-like their favorite Goonie. Then they were given a quick briefing of what we were about to do on our first hunt and were raring to begin.

One-Eyed Willy morphed into our own version of a summer Easter Bunny.

It became a daily adventure of chauffeuring tiny Sherlocks around the suburbs in search of a clue. With my rag-tag group of kids, we found a bevy of caches.

The “Rag-Tag” Group of Kids on an Adventure