Once, years ago, I was doing a Google search for something else entirely and stumbled across a mention that there was a geocache hidden in a local park. Of course, I couldn't resist bringing the kids over to look for it. I didn't own a GPS device at the time, but knowing the geography of the park well, I had a pretty good idea where it would be. We found it readily, a plastic box half-buried in the dirt in the middle of a clump of trees encircled by the park's walking trail, and opened it to add our names to the list of finders inside. Petunia might not even have been born yet; my recollection is that Thing One (who actually found the box) was three or four at the time.
That was my one and only experience with geocaching until yesterday. I have no idea where the thought came from, but on a whim I opened up the official geocaching website and did a quick search to see if there were any caches hidden near our house. To my great surprise, there are dozens, including a group of five in the very small town nearest to our house. Once I realized that you have to collect a clue at each of the first four of those in order to find the mystery fifth cache and complete the series, there was no turning back (who could resist??) I immediately downloaded the app onto my iPhone and told the kids that we were going on a "treasure hunt" that day. The GPS coordinates bring you to within a certain number of feet of a cache, but then you actually have to look around (sometimes quite a bit; they can be very well hidden) to find it.
We had a few other things to do first, and then Thing One had an afternoon playdate that went later than expected. As it happened, the first attempts at finding caches were undertaken by just me and the two younger kids before we picked Thing One up from his playdate. And these unfortunately turned into an exercise in "How many things can Mom possibly do wrong because she is clueless about geocaching?"
The first cache we tried to find had an icon that looked like a ghost next to it on the listing. Subsequently, I discovered that this indicates a "virtual" cache, meaning that there is something significant at that location (in this case, a historical sign) but no actual cache. The kids and I looked for a box there for some time before giving up and moving on to the first cache in the mystery clue series. This was supposed to be in the parking lot of a local restaurant. It being dinnertime, the lot was full, and it didn't seem like a very safe place to be wandering around with two small kids at the time. After a cursory and unsuccessful search for a box there, we picked up Thing One and went and looked for clue cache #2, failing to find a box anywhere in the vicinity of that site after an extensive search either. The younger kids were getting frustrated, and it was clearly time to regroup. We went home for dinner.
While the kids ate, I figured out my "virtual cache" error. I also figured out that not all caches are in boxes (you know what they say about assuming...I'd only ever seen the one box, so I thought they were all like that!) Turned out that for clue cache #2 we were supposed to be looking for a film canister hanging in a tree. It is possible to find that info on the geocaching site; I just hadn't known where to look. Armed with that info, Thing One and I went back by ourselves on a sneak recon mission after dinner, with the idea that we'd find cache #2 and then "help" the other two find it again later.
The first entertaining part was trying to explain to Thing One what a film canister looks like! (Yes, I feel old.) Took us a long time to find it, too, even knowing what we were looking for. And I'm sure we didn't look suspicious or anything, either...loitering in the back of the firehouse parking lot, wandering repeatedly in and out of the treeline. Yikes. I'm amazed that nobody called the cops on us or at least came over to see what we were doing.
Emboldened by our eventual success in finding #2, we decided to try for a couple of the other clue caches. We headed back to the restaurant parking lot, which was slightly less full by then. I was arm-deep in trees again (this was another hanging cache) when the owner of the restaurant came out to his car, which was of course right by where I was standing. Lovely. At least I know him...he just shook his head, said "hi" and kept going. Maybe he's used to random people poking around the trees in his parking lot by now, but I was glad not to be a stranger when he came out and 'caught' us!
Clues 2 and 3 found, we went for #4 next. It had become clear that the younger kids weren't going to be able to find these particular caches anyway--too small and too high up--so it was a better activity for just me and Thing One anyway. Putting the nail in the "box" assumptions, this one was in an Eppendorf tube under a rock in a wall, for Pete's sake. We used these things in lab all the time; they are about an inch long, max.
But we did find it, at least, and are now in possession of clues 2, 3 and 4. We have one more to find, and then we can figure out where the final cache is. Thing One seemed to enjoy the hunt, but even if he hadn't, I'm now hooked! I am finding this blessed thing, come hell or high water.
As long as I don't get arrested while looking for it, anyway.