Monday, November 26, 2007

Hidden Treasures

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 clev- erly placed containers, or caches, lie right near my suburban home.

It works like this: At the Web site, 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.

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 benefits

• Learning a new skill such as geocaching gets you moving and helps you stay motivated
to be physically fit.

• Exploring on foot in the fresh air can give you an extra boost of energy.

This article by Joe Rada appeared in the November 2007 issue of Southern Living.