Geocaching in Shoreline and Beyond

Monday, November 8, 2010

by Sonya Reasor

Every kid daydreams about finding hidden treasure: uncovering secret hiding places where pirates or adventurers left behind their plunder, carefully concealed in clever containers. That love of playing hide and seek doesn't end in childhood, which may be why so many people—kids and adults—have fallen in love with geocaching, the modern GPS-powered treasure hunt.
A very typical, weatherproof cache
I was recently introduced to geocaching by a couple of good friends, Steve and Brad, who told me over and over "Try it! This is something you'll really like!" I rolled my eyes and made excuses to try it another time, but they finally dragged me along for my first caching trip. We stuck to the area around my home, and I thought I'd probably just give it a shot and forget it forever. I leashed up my dog, thinking that at the very least we'd be taking her for a nice walk, and the time wouldn't be wasted.

But then we came to the first cache site.

Steve showed me the map on his phone's geocaching app; the cache marker was centered on a clump of trees and bushes just off the Interurban trail. Not knowing what I was looking for, I prodded around in the weedy growth at the base of a tree. The guys just stood back and smiled, letting me find it in my own time. "What am I looking for, here?" I asked. They explained that it was a "micro" cache; a very small container that could be just about anywhere.

As I poked around, they explained that the cache owner—the person who originally hid the container—would have been very careful about placing it somewhere that would be invisible to non-geocachers (or "muggles" in the game's lingo. Yes, geocaching became popular around the same time as the Harry Potter novels, and to much of the same audience). All caches are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 on both difficulty and terrain; this one was rated 1.5 for both. 

A "bison tube" geocache

If it's that easy, I thought, why can't I find it? I continued to examine the greenery, but all I saw was grass and leaves. Finally, in frustration, I turned to my friends. Being the good guys that they are, they gave me a hint: stop, look at the site, and think about where you might hide a small container. Think about places that aren't immediately obvious.

I'm glad that first find was a challenge for me, because when I finally did find a little metal tube in a surprising place, it gave me a pleasant rush of discovery. Sure enough, it was both right in front of me and very cleverly hidden. I extracted it from its hiding place, and unscrewed one end of the tube. Inside was a tiny rolled piece of paper. At the top, a few words explained the idea behind geocaching, and noted that the website would have more information. Below that were written dozens of dates and names.

The guys explained that I would want to sign up on the Geocaching website, choose a short name, and use that to sign logs like the one I'd found. And there I would also be able to see all the caches that were hidden, not just in Washington, but all around the world. We all signed the little log and carefully re-hid it where we'd found it, for the next cacher.

I have to admit it: I was hooked from that moment. We looked up some additional caches on Steve's phone, and used its GPS to navigate to the next one. This was just off a busy road, making part of the challenge the retrieval of another small cache without being too conspicuous. Brad pretended to be on a phone call, I pretended that I was encouraging my dog to "go potty!" while Steve used a stick to poke the little tube out of its hiding place. Inside, another log to sign. I noticed that some of the same people who'd signed the first one were listed here as well.

We found a few more, and that evening I downloaded the caching app for my own phone (I don't have a GPS unit but the phone's built-in GPS has been working quite nicely), and signed up for a free membership. And the next day, I found my first cache on my own.
A cache and its contents, found at Seward Park
Like many caches, my first find was a little bigger than the "bison tubes" we'd found the previous day. It was a locking tupperware container tucked inside a log, in a local park. Inside was the usual logbook, but this time it was a tiny notebook. Also in the cache were a selection of little toys and goodies; nothing really fancy, just fun swag that might appeal to a kid. While adults usually geocache just for the fun of the hunt, kids are enthralled by trading the little treasures that are often found in the caches. The rule is "Trade equal or trade up" — in other words, it's polite to leave something of the same or equal value to what you take from a cache. 
An ammo box cache
And not just toys are traded in the hidden containers; often someone will leave a "trackable" or a "travel bug" — an item with a serial number registered on the website. The finder is encouraged to take the trackable (often a coin or other engraved metal object) and move it to another cache, after noting on the site where it was found. Seeing how far trackables can move is one of the extra perks of geocaching.

Me, I just love it for the fun of finding something hidden. And for the surprising discovery that geocaches are just about everywhere. If you visit the site and search for any location, you'll be surprised to see that there are probably dozens, if not hundreds, of hidden caches within just a few miles. I felt like I'd stumbled onto some kind of Da Vinci Code of hide-and-seek; it was invisible, but always there to the initiated.
Caches come in all sizes, from tiny "nanos" which are about the size of a pencil eraser, to very large (sky's the limit, in fact. There's a cache on the International Space Station!). Many are made from old military ammo boxes; just about anything which can take exposure to dampness will work. There are "puzzle caches" which require you to solve a puzzle to get the actual coordinates, and "multi-caches" which lead you to several locations before you find the final container, and "virtual caches" which are just interesting or historical locations where you have to answer a series of questions to log the cache.  

A very well camouflaged cache!
And caches aren't just found in cities; you can plan a hiking trip around finding geocaches in the woods, and many people do just that. In fact, one of the friends who introduced me to the game attributes his significant weight loss to geocaching: he has a fun reason to get off the couch and go outside for a walk, which he does at every opportunity.

If you'd like to give it a try, just fire up your GPS unit, or download the iPhone or Android app, visit and enter your address. You'll get much more out of the experience if you do sign up for an account (no worries; they don't spam). And if you find that first hidden cache and get that itch to look for more, or just want to ask questions, then drop me an email. I'm "Catpie" on the Geocaching website; look for my name, and my signature cat bead, in local caches. Remember, anyone, of any age, in any physical condition can enjoy geocaching. So get out there and find some hidden treasure!


Aaron Hoard,  November 9, 2010 at 8:52 PM  

Great article!

Jo November 15, 2010 at 3:14 AM  

I lived in Shoreline when I first discovered geocaching in 2005. I'd spent almost a year in a wheelchair after extensive foot surgery and "getting up and out" wasn't an option, it was something I *had* to do - but certainly not something I wanted to do!

My eldest daughter lives in southern California and had just discovered "caching" . . a "Hi Mom, you won't believe the new hobby I've found for you!!" phone call from her, a dip into my savings for a GPSr and I was off and runn . . . er, walking! I'm still walking - albeit slowly - double-knee replacement is in my future - nevertheless, I can't think of a better way to make each and every step fun!

I recently moved to southwest Washington, and geocaching is a wonderful way to learn more about the highways and byways of this beautiful part of the State.

Thanks for the great article!

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