Geocache me outside

About a week ago, I found out someone has made a treasure map of our campus, complete with puzzles and a chest of riches (or … knick-knacks). Even more surprising, there are 2.8 million of these little hidden gems in more than 180 countries, as part of a smartphone app called Geocaching which describes itself as ”a way to explore the world.” Think Pokemon GO, but searching for real-life prizes. As a lover of any type of puzzle, I knew I wanted to learn more from some avid “geocachers” and then try it out for myself.

A screenshot of details for an on-campus cache on the Geocaching app.

Junior film production major Nick Markham and junior creative producing major Hannah Riddle have successfully found treasure troves in Zion National Park, Massachusetts and right here in Orange.  

Once you download the app and select your location, Riddle explains, “The geocaches in your area will pop up, you can click on one and see what other people say about it, how many miles or feet you are away from it. They give you a compass and you can start walking in that direction.”

The map and compass I used to find my first cache.

Geocaches come in varying levels of size, difficulty and terrain. The creator of each cache comes up with a description of how to find it. Once you find the tiny chest, it’s customary that you log your name, and if you choose to take some of the treasure, you have to leave something.

The first step of my geocaching journey was on the App Store, and I had to make a decision of downloading the free basic version or the premium version. Premium is $10 per three months and you get access to special geocaches and a slew of other features like getting a notification when a new cache is added. Basic for now, I decided.

I called on two friends with a mission to find as many geocaches as we could in an hour. The first one, a tidy plastic box, was tucked in a “Little Free Library” hutch, where anyone walking by can exchange a book. The case was barely hidden, and probably only there to encourage more people to swap books in the owner’s library. But the prizes were cool, such as little army patches that could be sewn on clothes.

The first geocache I found was tucked in a “Little Free Library.”

I participated in the tradition of logging my name.

With my confidence boosted, we moved on to the one called “Light the Night” in the Barrera Parking Structure behind the law school. This one was not for the faint of heart. We probably spent 25 minutes of our time walking up and down a staircase mumbling the clues to ourselves like crazy people:

“You’re looking for a camouflaged Altoids gum tin. All drains lead to the ocean … It’s there you just can’t quite get to it from right there.” Finally, my friend spotted the tiny box and we cheered, proudly logged our names and took a key (that we hoped no one needed anymore) and left a guitar pick.

I was so excited to find a particularly well-hidden cache in the Barrera Parking Structure.

A glimpse inside the tiny treasure chest

The log papers have been collecting since 2006, and barely fit in the tin.

Then it was off to the Orange Plaza. We searched for an “advanced” cache near the Orange fountain, but after reading in the comments that you have to be very tall to reach it, we took one look at our short selves and moved on to the next and final one.

Part of a series hidden for Boy Scouts of America training, the last tiny cache in our hour-long quest was cleverly concealed, but I’m lucky enough to have superior faculties of logic and hawk-like perception and my friends who had already found this one and pointed it out.

Emerson Harris, a junior film production major, added his name to the Boy Scouts Cache log.

So there you have it, three out of four, not too bad. The next one I have to try: the scavenger hunt of geocaches all around campus that takes two hours to complete. I loved walking while watching the compass. It made me feel like a kid again, or Sherlock Holmes when “The game is on!”

But don’t expect geocaching to hone your detective work. When asked if geocaching can help people refine their treasure hunting skills, Riddle laughed, “I’m still horrible at looking for things.”

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