Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Searching for Treasure

Every day, while you are walking around -- going to the grocery store, running to the dry cleaners, living your life -- you are walking by hidden treasures. And I don't mean this in a stop-and-smell-the-roses, Hallmark-y sort of way. I mean that people have literally hidden millions of these tiny boxes all over the world and there is a game being played to find said treasures called geocaching.

Once I found out about this a few years ago, it kicked in my inner skull-and-cross-bones, plundering side, and I desperately wanted to join the hunt and find these treasures, which often are nothing more than a notebook where you sign your name. It's more the joy of the find than the gathering of riches, though we do own several more random plastic figurines due to this experience.

I mean, how insanely cool is it to discover that you've walked by a point in town several billion times without knowing that underneath a stone someone has hidden something and only those in the know are meant to find it?

The twins and I started geocaching several years ago, sans GPS. You may wonder how this works, and in short, it doesn't work very well. What we do is plug the coordinates into Google Maps and look at the topography of the area. We take notes at home and draw our own map. And then we go into the woods and just start walking, trying to find a certain pattern of trees or a natural marker to point us in the right direction. We are rarely successful.

With the remains of our REI money, we bought a Geomate Jr, a GPS meant solely for geocaching and kids. It is preset with 250,000 caches. The idea is that you turn it on, it finds the closest cache to your location, and points you in the direction to walk. Sounds like a much easier way to geocache instead of our ass-backwards way (and uses fewer pieces of paper, and requires fewer stick-figure-like drawings of trees) so we thought we'd have a go at it.

We brought it home, fed it some batteries, turned it on, and within 10 minutes, the thing had died. We gave it two more batteries, turned it on again, and within 20 minutes, the thing had died. After much cursing and very loud sighs, we drove it back to the store where we got to test REI's amazing return policy. The employee took the box out of my hands, asked a few questions, and refunded the entire amount. Just like that.

We had to go to a different REI location to get a second Geomate Jr. Armed once again with the mini-GPS, we headed out to the inner harbour at Baltimore, certain that it was the sort of spot where someone would hide a little treasure.

We exited the aquarium and turned on the device (after feeding it two batteries -- for the love, please don't eat these batteries, tiny machine), and within a few minutes, it told us there was a cache maybe a quarter mile from our current location. We started walking in the direction of the arrow.

The Wolvog held the device because he is into all things gadgety:

Though I had little faith in the product at first, it turned out to be very easy to use:

Following the GPS took us to places around the aquarium that we had never explored despite our constant visits, and we found a cool sculpture during our walk:

The GPS didn't seem concerned that it was telling us to cross the harbour. It took a moment to convince the twins that it didn't really want us to jump into the Bay and swim, so we backtracked and found a bridge so we could continue on our way. It led us to a small park which we began exploring. Within a few minutes, I spotted the cache hidden up on a metal beam.

It seemed insane that it was that easy: just step out of the aquarium, follow the directions on the GPS, and find the cache within a few minutes of looking. But apparently, when you do geocaching the correct way by using a GPS, you actually find caches. We opened it and signed our names to the log, and then returned it to the hiding place. Actually, first we did a happy dance on the rocks, then we all repeated in various ways that we couldn't believe we found it, then we put it back.

The GPS now lives in my purse, in the compartment usually meant for a cell phone. It is programmed with 250,000 caches all across the United States. As we travel about -- both on vacations as well as just moving through errands -- we can turn it on and see if there's a cache in the area. By always having it with us, we leave open the possibility of filling empty minutes with a treasure hunt. Which is pretty freakin' cool.

So that's how we're getting outside this summer (as well as fall, winter, and spring).

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