To a kid, taking a tour to view the “Muskoka Sights” is about as much fun as watching paint peel off a front porch — the concept seems appealing at first, but the fun deflates after about 10 minutes. Unless… unless you add in promise of adventure.
High-Tech Treasure Hunting
Geocaching — a.k.a. high-tech treasure hunting — is one adventurous way to keep kids connected during long car rides and sightseeing tours. Pronounced JEE-O-cashing, the game emerged about 12 years ago as a way to use global positioning systems (GPS) to locate treasures buried in obscure spots.
Experienced geocache enthusiasts, or cachers, hide small finds under rocks, inside trees, behind bushes… then mark the spot with a GPS device. Along come novice cachers — families, friends, hikers, bikers — armed with GPS-enabled smart phones that are loaded with a simple geocaching app. To locate the treasure, they follow the path indicated by the app — usually a red line and a flashing dot. The process is about as easy as watching paint peel off a porch, but a whole lot more fun.
According to the site Geocaching.com, there are at least four million people worldwide taking part in the pastime, and thousands of geocaches have been planted in nearly every country in the world.
I tried geocaching first on a rainy Sunday in August and found it to be a thrilling, Indiana-Jones-like adventure for my kids aged six and nine. We passed an entire day in a small section of Muskoka travelling from one cache (treasure) to another — there were nine hidden along one country road alone, plus one at a nearby town dock and another intriguing cache on a deserted island.
Here’s How it Works:
First, I visited the site www.geocaching.com and found its link to the smart-phone-friendly “Geocaching” app. Its $9.99 price tag seemed hefty considering most of my apps top out at 99 cents… but with the promise of good times for me and my kids, I laid down the cash. Turns out it was well worth it. I signed on as a “basic” member. My iPhone magically fed the app my location (example: N25 13.906’, W81 5556’). I clicked on “Find Nearby Geocaches” and we were off.
I was astounded to find there were 20 geocaches within an eight-kilometre radius of my Muskoka location, all with adventurous names like “Big Stump,” “Lakeside View,” “Rock On!” and “You’ve Got Mail.” Each cache is rated by size and level of difficulty — we stuck to those with one- and two-star ratings of toughness — and each listing includes a description of terrain, clues, and tips (“logs”) from cachers who’ve found it in the past.
I packed water and snacks and trinkets, armed my kids with my iPhone, clicked on “Navigate to Geocache” and off we went on our day’s high-tech treasure-hunting adventure. Some caches proved harder to find than others, and at times we were frustrated by the inaccuracy of my iPhone’s GPS technology, but in each case we were able to make the find.
According to Geocaching.com, every cache contains a logbook, and almost every cache contains both a logbook and a treasure. “The logbook contains information from the owner of the cache, and notes from visitors,” states the site. “Larger geocaches may also contain any number of more or less valuable items. These items turn the cache into a true treasure hunt. A geocacher never knows what the owner or other visitors of the cache may have left there to enjoy.”
The caches we located were small, water-tight containers containing miniature trinkets that, despite their size, still managed to thrill our children: hand-made bracelets, pencils, pretty rocks, etc.
Mind Your Geocache Ps & Qs!
Geocaching etiquette states that if you take a treasure, you’re required to replace it with another so that there’s always something inside to discover. Some more sophisticated caches contain what’s called a “trackable” or a “geocoin” — items with a trackable tag. These trinkets are to be moved from cache to cache so that their owners can follow their progress via computer. It’s common for geocoins to make it from coast to coast, country to country, or even continent to continent.
After a day of geocaching, it’s fun to follow up by adding notes and logs to your treasure’s online link on Geocaching.com. “When geocachers return from an adventure,” states the site, “they can log their finds on an online cache page, creating a dynamic community and social network.”
It’s not hard for a family to get hooked on geocaching. Since discovering the sport, I’ve met families who, while on roadtrips — or even just a jaunt to the hockey rink — can’t resist pulling off the road to uncover a cache. Even if you’re not that jazzed by geocaching, most kids will be… and it’s one way to keep them engaged while gazing at “Muskoka Sights.”