Healthy Hobby: Geocaching

Adventurers clutching handheld GPS devices head outdoors for a high-tech game called "geocaching."
Joe Rada

They're everywhere. That is what surprised me most. When I first heard about a newfangled treasure-hunting game called "geocaching"―a form of hide-and-seek using a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device―I pictured hiking to remote wilderness areas. I soon learned that dozens of the cleverly placed containers, or caches, lie right near my suburban home.

Stashed Cache
It works like this: At the Web site www.geocaching.com, enter a country, state, or zip code to open long lists of waterproof caches posted by participants called "cachers." Some 300,000 hiding places exist worldwide, with more added every day. I type in my zip code to find plenty nearby. Latitude and longitude coordinates measuring north from the equator and west from the Greenwich meridian identify each within a few feet, and occasionally riddle-like clues spice up the challenge.

Using a battery-powered GPS unit (they sell for $100 to $1,000) and bringing my adventurous 12-year-old daughter along, I begin searching. Soon we're poking around places we've never really noticed. We locate an army surplus ammo box tucked in a hollow tree trunk along a walking trail; it's filled with plastic insects and an essay about nature's marvels. We find a film canister dangling from string inside a fencepost on a landscaped traffic triangle containing a tiny logbook crammed with signatures scribbled by those who preceded us.

Anywhere, Anytime
Geocaching is addictive. Besides exploring close by, when my family travels far by car, we pinpoint caches along the way and stretch our legs finding them.

I spot people walking around with GPS units and now know what they're up to. In a very geeky way I enjoy finding caches, reading logs, leaving notes, and slinking away, unnoticed except perhaps by other cachers. As I've learned, they're everywhere.

"Healthy Outdoors: Hidden Treasures" is from the November 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.