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Geocaching: hide-and-seek in the digital age .

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Epiphany Search

Perhaps it’s just me, but “Geocaching” (pronounced geo-cashing) seems to have taken Leeds by storm in recent months. The basic idea of this high-tech treasure hunting game is for ordinary members of the public to locate special containers that are hidden outdoors. To play, participants must be equipped with a Global Positioning System device or so-called “GPS” (increasingly, mobile phones come equipped with this facility), which acts as a new-age map to direct you to the specified location. The approach of summer has no doubt encouraged enthusiastic “geocachers” to embrace the outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, but what else lies behind the popularity of this worldwide phenomenon? The magic of geocaching for me is that it’s going on everywhere around us. In fact, if you weren’t aware of the sensation before reading this, you’d be forgiven for walking past a cache without even realising. I heard about it through a friend – a friend who proudly showed-off the cheap-as-chips plastic bracelet on her wrist (her recent geocache treasure) as if it were a Tiffany exclusive. I want a taste of that child-like enthusiasm, I thought.

Geocaching, also known as Groundspeak, forms its base in its website – – where geocaches are registered and players can share their experiences online. Only when I took a look at the website did I realise just how big its community is. At the time of writing, there are 1,353,666 active geocaches around the world, and more than five million geocaches worldwide. A search facility is available on the site, which enables you to search for the nearest geocache in your location. Alternatively, you can search for a GC Code if you have a specific geocache in mind. There’s a geocache for everyone The first geocache was hidden back in 2000, after the US Department of Defence stopped scrambling signals and permitted members of the general public to pinpoint longitude and latitude locations. It was originally designed for experienced GPS holders with a love of the great outdoors, but has since expanded and is now enjoyed by people of all age groups and interests. Adventure-seekers across the globe can choose from a diverse range of geocache trails, each with its own difficulty and terrain rating. Some can be technical and physically challenging, while others are much easier and are great for kids. Most of us want to keep (or in my case, get…) fit and healthy, and geocaching definitely taps into this. Anyone can get creative and make their own geocache, placing it wherever they like, as long as they register it on the website. Caches come in a range of shapes and sizes, and some contain clues or a puzzle to get to the next one. Through doing a bit of research, I came across some brilliant caches. Some were hidden in home-made rocks, others up trees, while others were so small they could only be accessed using a pair of tweezers. At a minimum, players are expected to write about their experience in the logbook inside the cache, as well as leaving something of equal or greater value of anything they take from the container. A ‘trackable’ Travel Bug® can be attached to an item, which is then transferred from cache to cache by geocachers. The tracker is etched with a unique code which the finder can enter into the website to log its travels. Here’s a little video from the movie Splinterheads to help show you what all the fuss is about: A cult trend? Geocaching offers a refreshing cocktail of the great outdoors mixed with state-of-the-art technology. What makes it particularly unique is its ability to offer members of the public an escape from their computers, televisions and video games, without completely prising them away from their beloved gadgets. But how much staying power does it actually have? In my opinion, geocaching does have scope for development given the type of technology it is based on, and it quite clearly boasts a league of dedicated followers, a cult following of sorts. Despite this, critics claim that this new phenomenon is simply a one-off novelty, rather than the new favourite hobby of most of its player. Bearing all this in mind, it is easy to see where this hype has come from, even if geocaching does end up being relatively short-lived – I fully intend to give it a go myself. Have you discovered any hidden treasures? If so, please leave your comments!