Editor’s Note: This is part one of two articles about geocaching.
Notebook: check. Pens: check. Hat: check. Phone: check. Water bottle (with water): check. Trail Mix: check. Trinkets for trade: check.
So, it’s not your typical hiking checklist, but this wasn’t going to be a typical trek—I was about to embark on a treasure hunt. Thanks to the unorthodox phenomenon that is geocaching, gone are the days when only pirates could pursue hidden booty. Now, by simply downloading a geocaching app to a smartphone, even land lovers can join in on the adventure.
By using the GPS on your phone, the app detects if there are any geocaches (digital markers for containers of tradable knick-knacks) in close proximity. Click on one, and a compass will point you in the right direction while displaying, in feet, approximately how far away the cache is.
It was a beautiful fall morning, and I was headed to Mt. Hope Cemetery to track down a few(the app showed six on the premises). I decided to start on the southwest end of the cemetery, where there was a single cache, and then work my way north and slightly east, where the rest hid among the older graves.
My adventure pack, a miniature red backpack that would struggle to hold a Merriam-Webster Dictionary, was loaded with the above items and ready for action. It was 11 a.m.
The sun made an appearance for this excursion and greeted me with a balmy 58-degreecaress to the face as I walked out the door. Perfect.
I hopped into my little Toyota Yaris and pulled out my phone. Something urged me to turn on some disco. Good disco, like geocaching, is an underappreciated delight; I shuffled the playlist dedicated to the genre that I have saved on my phone. “Do You Wanna Funk” by Sylvester came on. Dancing and singing along with probably too much vigor for safe driving, I made my way to campus.
It was a Saturday, so it was easy to find a parking spot by Goergen Hall that was close to the cache. I walked towards the brick path that led to the cemetery, opened the app on my phone and bloop! I was instantly notified that I was in close proximity of it.
“Your GPS is only accurate to approximately 30 feet. Start looking around for the geocache,” the app reminded me.
I was looking for a cache named “Mount Hope Secret ZAP!” hidden by the user NancyDrewandJoe. Its description read as follows: “camo-ed pill bottle (original yellow container went missing, if you see it, just throw it out, or contact CO, please) ZAP! No, nothing to do with electricity, this cache is near a Zombie Access Point! If you see a secret passageway through the Mt Hope Cemetery fence, then you know you’re getting close… winter summer or Halloween duck right down and squeeze between the missing bars and do not fear BUT! There might be some zombies near. We can’t be sure, but folks have said through these bars pass, each night, un-dead! so find this cache in daylight hours or you might be next pushing up flowers for sure as cabooses follow trains I hear that Zombies feast on Brains!”
I was already familiar with this passageway; it’s a convenient exit for my morning runs.
A steel bar was missing completely while the two adjacent ones were slightly bent. A body (undead or living) could pass through with ease and the well-trodden earth was evidence that many had.
Just as I snuck through, a voice came from behind.
“Beautiful day for a walk in the graveyard, ay?” A tall man holding a bicycle tire stood on the opposite side of the fence. He seemed to be heading toward campus, though what he was going to do there with a lone bicycle tire was besides me. “Uh, yeah, yeah it is,” I replied, surprised by his address.
He paused to notice my pack, looked at it questioningly for a moment and then went on to lament about how he would have loved to go for a walk, if only he didn’t have to get back to work so soon. And he walked away.
I had thought about telling him what I was actually doing. I’ll admit I looked a little suspicious, carrying more than would be necessary for a stroll through the cemetery. But for some reason, I decided against it.
He’s probably a muggle, I thought to myself, wouldn’t understand if I told him.
There it was: my first inkling that there was an us and a them. In the realm of geocaching, a muggle is a non-geocacher. On various forums, encounters with these clueless others have been described as uncomfortable and awkward, so much so that some geocachers would give up on looking for a cache if there were too many muggles wandering about.
Although my interaction with Bicycle Tire Man was a slightly painful one, it wasn’t enough to justify aborting the mission. However, once I actually started looking for the cache (which was only 15 feet away, according to my phone), I realized how strange I must have looked. There I was, a young girl scrounging around the bushes suspiciously.
It was obvious I was not there to take a walk, nor was I Instagramming photos of the foliage like most other millennials. If I were a passerby, I would have been weary about this crazy girl’s intentions. But, I was having fun and continued to examine my
Surroundings: A tree. Could it be stuck in one of those nooks or crevices? I stood on my tiptoes,jumped, and circled the tree in a complete 360—anything to get a new perspective. To no avail.
A guardrail. Maybe it’s hidden somewhere in there? I bent over the rail to get a good look at its backside. A few years ago I went geocaching with a group of friends and one of the containers we found was secured by a magnet to the inside of a guardrail. I figured it was likely NancyDrewandJoe could have had a similar idea, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
What if it’s just lying on the ground under some leaves? I started kicking the fallen leaves that piled against the fence. Nothing. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled along the length of the fence. After about 40 feet, I was sufficiently frustrated having found nothing. Pulling out my phone, I checked the activity log.
“My friend and I stupidly spent an hour on our hands and knees looking for this one, but we eventually came to our senses and found it haha,” wrote SometimesBianca. Well, that would have been helpful about fifteen minutes ago, I thought.
I put my phone away and eyeballed the fence. A bush had swallowed a small portion of it, creating dark pockets that would perfectly conceal a pill bottle–sized cache. I scanned the bush slowly, and there it was, covered in camo duct tape and zip-tied to the fence.
I eagerly opened the container and took out its contents: a rolled up strip of paper that served as a logbook and a smiley face magnet in a tiny Ziploc bag. I unrolled the logbook and scanned the names and dates of those who had found the cache before me. The first find was made back in May and the last was just two days before. I signed and dated the log and stuck the magnet in my backpack, replacing it with a brown piece of Martha’s Vineyard sea glass. I stuffed the contents back in the pill bottle and secured it once again to the fence.
I walked away, grinning a stupid smile some might have found unsettling if they happened to pass by. Elated in both gait and determination, I felt unstoppable as I headed northward onto my next target, a cache called “Home Sweet Home” located in the older, more hilly, section of the graveyard.