What Will You Find? The Thrill of Grown-Up Treasure Hunting

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Open Treasure Chest Containing Gold Bars

Remember all those cool books from childhood which started with a treasure map that sent the character on a grand adventure? X marks the spot isn't just pirate lore anymore -- treasure hunting has stepped out of the pages of books and into international hands-on adventure in the form of geocaching, letterboxing, or waymarking.

Do I sound too geeked-out excited?

Well, I'm not going to apologize because I am geeked-out excited and I've chosen our first bout of formal geocaching to take place as my birthday activity in a few weeks. I have already gotten a note book (so I can also write about our experience geocaching) and written the common geocaching decryption key on the first page.

When we told the twins about it, it was as if their imaginations exploded. We started talking about the idea of geocaching after school in the area, going on geocaching road trips on the weekend, and hiding the third cache ever on remote Smith Island this summer (believe me, I was both bummed and excited to see there were already two on the island -- excited to go find them, but damn, if they're on Smith Island, they truly must be everywhere).

So first and foremost, what are geocaching, letterboxing, and waymarking?

Geocaching is "a worldwide game of hiding and seeking treasure. A geocacher can place a geocache in the world, pinpoint its location using GPS technology and then share the geocache’s existence and location online. Anyone with a GPS unit can then try to locate the geocache."

In other words, there are millions of geocaches hidden all over the world by fellow geocachers and the location of these caches are posted on the geocaching site along with a few clues to help you find the cache once you reach the location. Some caches may contain only a logbook and others contain a small treasure.

This video best explains how to get started with geocaching.

Talk like a Geocacher

Just as all good pirates know what "ahoy matey" and "shiver me timbers" means, geocachers have their own language.

  • BYOP: bring your own pencil/pen (caches usually have a log book so you'll want a way to sign it and say you've found the cache).
  • CITO: cache in /trash out (most cachers also try to clean up areas as they go along. It's a great way to give back to the environment that you're enjoying).
  • DNF: did not find (a cache that was too well-hidden).
  • FTF: first to find (when you're the first one to find a new cache).
  • Geomuggle: someone who isn't a geocacher (just like Harry Potter! Do you see why I am so geeked-out excited? You need to be careful of looking for caches in front of geomuggles since they won't really understand what you're doing).
  • TFTC: thanks for the cache (signed in geocaching logbooks to let the cacher know you appreciate their work).

Lots of bloggers write about their geocaching experiences and all do it for a plethora of reasons. Rookie Mom suggests geocaching with your baby, My Bit of Earth and What Meg Makes search with their dogs in tow, and Blogging MoRe combines exercise with seeing beautiful sites.

Thinkstock Single Image Set

But what if you don't have a GPS? Can you still participate in geocaching? The answer is -- thankfully -- absolutely. Wired magazine and Adventures in Geocaching both have directions on how to geocache without a GPS.

What is Letterboxing?

Letterboxing started in England, and it's very similar to geocaching.

Someone hides a waterproof box somewhere (in a beautiful, interesting, or remote location) containing at least a logbook and a carved rubber stamp, and perhaps other goodies. The hider then usually writes directions to the box (called "clues" or "the map"), which can be straightforward, cryptic, or any degree in between ... Hunters in possession of the clues attempt to find the box. In addition to the clue and any maps or tools needed to solve it, the hunter should carry at least a pencil, his personal rubber stamp, an inkpad, and his personal logbook. When the hunter successfully deciphers the clue and finds the box, he stamps the logbook in the box with his personal stamp, and stamps his personal logbook with the box's stamp. The box's logbook keeps a record of all its visitors, and the hunters keep a record of all the boxes they have found, in their personal logbooks.

Whereas geocaching relies on the use of a GPS device, letterboxing relies on well-designed clues to point the person in the correct direction. Since the twins and I aren't picky, I decided to combine geocaching with letterboxing and make it all one big activity. I looked up where letterboxes were hidden in central Maryland, and found one near where I need to run errands. Why not combine an errand with a fun side-adventure and get some great behaviour from the twins out of the fun experience? I soon found out that there was another one close to that, with equally fun games created in order to participate. Errands be damned, we're going letterboxing instead tomorrow!

What is Waymarking?

Again, similar to geocaching and letterboxing, waymarking is another groundspeak invention. The point is to mark interesting places in the world and to invite other people to find them. For example, I put in a trail close to home and got back a photograph and coordinates of an interesting tree I could trek out to see. I found out about a cool fountain in the area, a mural, and a train car.

Waymarking is like going on an enormous scavenger hunt, with the thrill being that you're seeing the world through another person's eyes and noticing the same things that he/she noticed. I put in places we often visit and smiled as I saw landmarks we've noticed ourselves as well as marked others than I never knew existed.

All three activities are meant to get you outside and enjoying nature while appealing to your innate sense of adventure. And what better way to spend the summer than to go on small adventures once a week? This summer, we've decided not to do camp and this is the perfect activity to do with friends once a week to incorporate everything the twins would miss from camp.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

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