A month ago I knew nothing about geocaching. But I’m always up for exploring, so when I heard about the Find Your Chesapeake GeoTour I figured I had a great excuse to head out somewhere new.
I quickly learned that geocaching involves using a smartphone app to follow GPS coordinates and hints to caches – small hidden containers full of items left by previous visitors. When you find a cache, you write your name in a logbook inside and can exchange trinkets to add to the “treasure.”
To be honest, I didn’t get it before trying it. I usually leave technology behind when I head outdoors. But to my surprise, the appeal hit me as soon as I gave it a shot. I unwittingly joined a huge movement of people discovering new places around the world.
So what’s so fun about geocaching? It’s an excuse for an adventure – a new-fashioned treasure hunt. It gets you to spots you probably would never have visited otherwise. And it’s a great way to bond with friends and family.
As a kid I dreamed of going to all 50 states or all seven continents. While I still haven’t reached those goals, in the meantime I can make more progress on the Find Your Chesapeake GeoTour – a total of 60 beautiful sites along eight Chesapeake rivers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia.
On my first outing on the tour (and first geocaching experience), I visited two parks with caches not far from my Virginia home. I’ll keep the exact sites a secret so that I don’t unwittingly include spoilers for future visitors.
When I parked near one site, I immediately pulled up the app. It gave me some interesting history about the park and opened a satellite map that beamed a line from my location to a dot about 200 feet away. It was simple. I just followed the line to a clearing in the pine trees, where the cache lay in a plastic watertight box hidden under a log.
I signed the cache’s logbook and added a fluorescent yellow fishing bobber among the trinkets and treasures. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes, but it was a blast. I took the rest of the afternoon to explore cypress-studded waters of a river in a site I had never visited before.
It was a triumphant feeling after what had happened earlier that day at a different site. When I arrived there, I quickly found a signpost that the app noted as a key point. I headed off northwest to a small clearing in the forest. Then I searched and searched. And searched.
I just knew that the cache had to be hidden in that clearing. I stood scanning the ground between silky dogwood trees flecked by tiny white flowers. Leafy vines had grown across the forest floor, making it tough to see if anything was hidden there. I examined tree branches. I honed my senses, traced and retraced my steps. Cicadas buzzed. I found some kind of survey marker that had nothing to do with the geocache. I even spotted a black snake crawling along the forest floor.
And, eventually, I gave up and headed off without finding the cache. I chalked it up to the vines that had covered nearly everything. In all honesty, it probably had more to do with the fact that I was a newbie who hadn’t yet mastered the art. It’s not uncommon for geocachers starting out to log a couple of DNFs (Did Not Find).
While I didn’t uncover the prize, not finding the cache just may have been the most memorable experience of the week. It took me back to the fun I had as a kid exploring the creek in the woods behind our house. The heightened senses, the mystery, the ultra focus on tiny details in nature. That’s something I don’t get enough of anymore in my day-to-day life.
So how do you get started with geocaching? All the info you need is on the GeoTour site. In the warmer months, long pants, boots, and bug spray will guard against poison ivy, ticks, and mosquitos. Bring along some curiosity, energy, and patience. You’ll be surprised where the journey takes you.