Have you ever heard of “Geocaching”? Not long into the 2008-2009 Great Recession, after John and I began full-timing, I left our fifth-wheel trailer with my dogs to go out for a walk. The wind was blowing gustily off the Pacific Ocean at fifteen to twenty miles per hour which made it pretty chilly even at a sunny sixty degrees. As I struggled to keep the dogs from wrapping their leashes around my legs, I spotted a middle-aged woman dressed in sweater and jeans examining our campground’s water meter cage.
After five minutes of getting wind lashed and picking up dog eliminations, I hurried back towards the bridge and noticed that the woman was then standing in a patch of dense ice plants. She pushed cascading succulents growing on a grayed wooden fence post to the side then peered into the space underneath. This is too odd I thought. I couldn’t help speaking.
“Nice afternoon?” I asked.
I must have looked confused as she immediately said, “Oh. Hi. I’m geocaching. It’s where you use GPS to go to a location to find something that’s been hidden.”
“Oh,” is all I could muster.
“People think it looks weird when they see you looking around.”
“What did you call it?” I asked.
“Geo. Like the world. Caching.” She spelled it out. “C-A-C-H-I-N-G.”
“Oh…” I said again as fascination began to take hold. “Well have fun.” I smiled and walked quickly away with Gingee and Dakota as I spelled caching quietly to myself.
After returning to The Jazz (our trailer), I sat down at my laptop and googled the new word. The first result was http://www.geocaching.com/ which turned out to be what was described as The Official Global GPS Cache Hunt Site. I clicked on the link and read:
“Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.”
Luckily for me, the woman, having found her geocache, stopped by The Jazz to show it to me. She introduced herself as “Oreo Pony” which was her geocaching name. She showed me what looked like a common industrial-sized metal bolt. But this bolt’s head screwed off to reveal a tiny scroll inside a hollowed-out cavity that had already been signed by numerous geocachers before Oreo Pony.
I was impressed with what obviously went into this treasure hunting game but I still did not see the connection to the environment. “How’s it connected to community?”
With that question, Oreo Pony walked me through the steps on the website. To narrow down to our specific location, out of the more than one million active geocaches around the world, I was directed to type in the Morro Bay postal code. To my amazement, we found that there were over six hundred active geocaches in the area. (This activity has been building for ten years according to Oreo Pony.)
This particular geocache was named “Beach Bum with a View” and was initially hidden in November of 2008 and had been last found twelve days earlier. I remained fascinated but still was not sure why this activity appealed to people with a strong sense of community and support for the environment. So I asked again.“But what’s the connection to the environment?”
“I’ve made over four hundred finds.” Oreo Pony went on to explain that the hunt had taken her to locations that she, as a life-long resident of Atascadero, would never have experienced otherwise. It forced her to look more in-depth at a place. “I’ve hidden seventy five myself.”
Oreo Pony directed me back to the computer. On the geocaching website, I clicked on Beach Bum with a View, it read:
“This Beach Bum has a great view of the Pacific Ocean, Morro Rock, and one more local Icon. Can you guess what it is?
“This has one of the best views up here. Plus, like a cache located in SLO (San Luis Obispo), if you come up here in the morning or in the evening, or anytime there is fog, you can hear some very interesting sounds nearby. Please share the view up here with some pictures and/or a description of what you see.
“Please rehide this cache in the same place you found it.”
By the end of our conversation, I was not sure that I wanted to geocache, but I had learned about a new activity that propelled people out into their environment. All they needed was a handheld GPS device, a treasure-seeking personality and access to the Geocache website. It is amazing what you can see if you stop long enough to really look. And it is amazing what you can learn if you stop long enough to listen.