Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Keeping eager feet moving

The last time I talked about a new hobby, it was kayaking. I had gone with some family and really enjoyed it. Fast forward a couple years, and while I've been kayaking a few more times I'd hesitate to call it a new hobby of mine.

Well, these eager feet have found a new way to get moving -- geocaching. I've always thought of geocaching as a pretty niche hobby, for the subset of people who are both hardcore geeks and hardcore hikers. But it's gotten insanely popular over the past few years, and it's easy to be a casual geocacher these days. The price for introductory hiking GPS receivers is pretty reasonable, too.

So, again, after hearing a ton about it from family, my wife and I decided to give it a try. This time, we ended up buying the equipment ourselves and getting more into it.

I'll tell you pieces of three geocaching stories to introduce the various faces of the hobby.
  1. At a state park, with the baby in a stroller and the sun beating down on us, my wife and I searched for a metallic container the size of the eraser at the tip of the pencil. We were pretty sure it was magnetically attached to a guardrail, and after a lengthy sweaty search I finally found it.
  2. We drove through a town, on a two-step journey. The first brought us to a small monument we had never seen before, where we found a piece of wood with coordinates carved into it. We went to those coordinates, and found ourselves at a small park we had never visited, though we had seen it from afar. We explored the park, found a trail, zeroed in on the coordinates, and found a container hidden at the base of a tree.
  3. My brother-in-law asked for my help in solving a puzzle cache, the only clue to which was the name of the cache, a passage from a fantasy novel, and an image of an item from those books. After days of struggling down dead-ends, I ended up figuring out that the clue was hidden inside the image via a simple Steganography technique. I did all this without leaving my desk. He will go to those coordinates and hopefully find the cache (and hopefully give me credit for solving the puzzle!).
I love exploring, I love trails, and I love the geeky roots of the geocaching hobby. Want to do nothing but hit tiny caches people have left in parking lots and roadsides? You can do it. Prefer to do 20-mile deep hikes to find caches only a handful of people have discovered? That option is there too. Want to find something in the middle?

I think this one might be one for the long haul.