Geocaching: The fun is in the hunt

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Geocaching: The fun is in the hunt

OU News Bureau

Without peg legs, parrots or a pirate ship, people across the world are taking part in a modern treasure hunt: geocaching.

Armed with a GPS or smart phone, and online clues provided by the hider of the cache, geocachers use coordinates to find caches that range in size from pencil-thin tubes to five-gallon buckets.

Geocachers can take and leave trinkets, called swag, from geocaches such as this one. Labeled “Official Geocache,” this container is one of the more traditional, easy-to-spot caches. Ammo boxes, film canisters and match safes often are used for swag. PHOTO/DANIELLE KOPACKI

Some caches are carefully camouflaged so that even experienced cachers struggle to find them, while others are hidden in plain sight.

“Today an easy cache would take us five minutes to find, but because we were so new to it, it was a gallon jug under a piece of plywood and it took us half an hour to find it,” said Tim Woodcox, recalling his first cache.

Woodcox of Sterling Heights is a member of the executive committee of Michigan Geocaching Organization, or MiGO.

Since Woodcox and his wife, Marie, began geocaching in 2003, they have logged more than 1,200 caches. Woodcox said he is hooked on geocaching half because of the thrill of the hunt, and half because it gives him a purpose to get off the couch and go outside.

“I would never in a million years have, prior to starting geocaching, called my wife an outdoor person, but she’ll go out and geocache and trek through woods, and do all that kind of stuff,” Woodcox said. “Up until we started geocaching, I never saw any interest in that sort of thing at all.”

Take a trinket, leave a trinket

Woodcox said he prefers to hide larger geocaches, rather than nano caches so that he can load them up with items. Geocaches often contain trinkets such as pins, keychains, coins, and toys. The trinkets are known as swag. The idea is to take something and leave something, although Woodcox said that many of the older caches are now nearly empty from people not leaving a replacement item.

Most geocaches, whatever the size, do contain a logbook. It is up to geocachers whether they sign their online username, a nickname, or a real name, and they can write the date they visited.

All caches should be family-friendly and, after being hidden, must be checked by a volunteer moderator before the location is publicly posted.

Then geocachers can begin their hunt.

Geocaches aren’t necessarily only out in the woods, either. They can often be found in parking lots. Woodcox said that many lampposts actually have a part of the base that can be slid up and there’s room for a film canister to stash inside.

In Oakland County, geocaching is available in eight public parks.

Woodcox said that most geocachers he knows like to cache with other people, and that family groups are common. Cachers that want to be part of an even larger geocaching community can join groups such as MiGO.

The Michigan group has no membership fees, and members can participate in events and online forums. It also works with local government to help make caching available to everyone.

“We negotiated with the DNR and paid a flat rate so anybody that’s a member of MiGO can hide and cache on state land without having to pay the permit fee,” Woodcox said.

He said that interacting with land management groups such as the DNR is important to the group’s future as the go-to organization for Michigan geocachers.

A worldwide activity

An even larger community is The website boasts having 5 million geocachers worldwide, gives guides to geocaching, sells gear, and partners with other organizations to bring cachers more opportunities. was founded in 2000. By the end of that year, Groundspeak, Inc. was formed to manage the website. The organization has grown to include more 60 employees and 100-plus volunteers worldwide.

Kelly Ranck, marketing assistant at Groundspeak’s headquarters in Seattle, Wash., said people from around the world come to the lobby of the headquarters to find the cache hidden there.

While Ranck said she does not log all of her caches, she enjoys the activity. Not all cachers choose to publicly log their caches, while others have thousands.

“There’s a variety of geocachers, and people do it for various reasons, depending on the type of person they are,” Ranck said. “But, I think, overall most geocachers would agree it’s the idea of discovery and being in new locations, ones they often wouldn’t have intentionally gone to or known existed even without having found a cache there.”

Enthusiasts expect geocaching to evolve as technology develops. Now, some caches are purely digital and have a QR code for cachers to scan with a smart phone. Others are deep underwater and require scuba gear to find.

As long as people are willing to hunt for them, others will hide caches.

“The more of those you can hide the more there’s going to be,” Woodcox said. “Because, it’s pretty safe to say that you will hide what you find.”

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