Adrian Northrup

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my first UW-Eau Claire Parent’s Weekend – minus my parents. My boyfriend’s parents (and his little sister) made a long three hour journey to Eau Claire just for the occasion.

Now, my boyfriend isn’t the most creative guy (he knows he isn’t). When we were brainstorming ideas of things to do with his parents, the only thing he came up with was the farmers’ market (a good one, but one can only circle vegetables for so long).

Unfortunately, my creative juices were not flowing either, and the best I could come up with was Action City or a movie (generic, I know).

So eventually it was 15 minutes before his family’s arrival and we had absolutely nothing to do. Needless to say, I was freaking out.

His father solved the situation within five minutes of arrival. He asked if we wanted to go “Geocaching.” Now I, being the very girly, not outdoorsy type at all, had no idea what this was. But my boyfriend and I agreed.

Once we were seated in the car his dad started on about what we actually were going to do.

Apparently we were going to turn on this little GPS thing and it was going to tell us how many miles or feet we were away from the “cache.”

Honestly, I was a little skeptical.

Especially when we went into a park and I was given the GPS Tracker.

But it was a lot cooler than I thought it was going to be. I got a rush of excitement when the GPS started counting down from 50 to 40 to 30 to 20..

And there I was, standing off trail in a park by the Chippewa River. And you know what? I couldn’t find the thing. Of course, my boyfriend and most of his family saw it right away, but that isn’t the point.

The point is, it caught my attention. And I think people should know about it. So here is what Geocaching is all about.

What the heck is Geocaching?
Officially, Geocaching (pronounced geo-cashing) is a treasure-hunting game played by hundreds of thousands of people in 222 countries, according to Web site representative Shauna Maggs.

To participate, a person must first join After they have become a member and no longer are a “geomuggle” (I am not joking, Harry Potter fans), they can search for caches.

A cache is a container that is hidden somewhere in a public area. The caches are often hidden outdoors, in trees or hollowed out tree stumps. Most of them are blind to us “geomuggles.”

They can contain a variety of things, including random objects (the one I saw had a doll in it) and a logbook.

The logbook is quite important. Each person who finds the cache is supposed to record the date they found it.

A person can also take something from the cache, but only if they put something in as well.

There is also a rule about what can be put into the caches. The list prohibits tobacco, alcohol or any other drug substance.

To find a cache, a person usually searches the Web site’s database and enters the coordinates into their GPS device.

They can use the tracker to pinpoint where the location is and go there to find the cache.

Who the bleep thought of this?
The craze started in May of 2000, days after the U.S. government flipped the “blue switch,” and improved personal GPS pinpointers tenfold, according to the Web site.

Computer consultant Dave Ulmer is credited with thinking up the idea of hiding a container and putting the coordinates online the day after the technology was available.

The cache (then just known as a stash) was found within three days. The concept of Geocaching then took off running.

Geocacher Mike Teague began posting coordinates of caches on his personal Web site within days of its beginning. At first only GPS-gadget-savvy users participated in the activity, using Teague’s Web site to access information.

Web Developer Jeremy Irish found Teague’s personal site in July 2000. He began participating in Geocaching soon thereafter. After one cache hunt, Irish decided to create a web site for the hobby.

In September 2000, with input from fellow geocacher Teague, Irish launched Irish then gained full control of the site. At the time of its opening, the Web site listed only 75 caches worldwide.

Today, there are more than 550 caches hidden in the Eau Claire area alone!

Who are these Geocachers?
According to Maggs, over 1 million people actively hunt for over 320,000 caches worldwide.

A variety of different groups participate in mostly outdoor activity.

Often families with small children, college students, adults and retirees can be seen scouting with GPS systems.

The more serious Geocachers (often adults and retirees) have a language all their own.

They use codes in their log books and online message boards like “TFTC” (Thanks for the cache) and “TNLNSL” (Took nothing, left nothing, signed logbook). For those of you who are merely “geomuggles,” you may have to check the Web site to decode the messages.

So there you have it. Geocaching is literally occurring in front of you. And I bet most people didn’t even know it existed.

So if you’re bored, or even if you’re not, check out You never know if you like something until you try.