An Easter egg hunt for grown-ups.

I'm always late to the party when it comes to updating my phone. It's only been recently I got around to setting myself up with one of the newer models. When, around 2010, those fancy phones with physical keyboards you could slide out supplanted flip-phones, I held out until my flip-phone was no longer supported. When the aforementioned sliding-keyboard phones were made obsolete by smart phones, I resisted change until that phone, too, was no longer supported by the company from which I got service. After the transition from the cool sliding-phone to a smart phone, I discovered one of my favourite uses for that technology: geocaching.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the term, picture the absolute glee any young child exhibits when they embark upon a scavenger hunt or an Easter egg hunt. Geocaching is an opportunity to harness that feeling again, yourself. You download an app, let it tell you how close you are to the prize, and start searching.

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The first app I put on my first smart phone was one specifically meant for geocaching. I tapped into my overpriced data signal, and the app created a small map, which lit up with bullet points with numbers floating over them, indicating how difficult each cache would be to find, and how far away they were. I walked around, watching the numbers quickly increase or decrease, telling me how "hot" or "cold" I was getting.

Simple fun, right? Don't underestimate the the magnetic pull of this game.

The best way to think of the difficulty gradient of geocaching is to compare it to that Forrest Gump Quotation everyone and their dog remembers: "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get."

Some caches are as simple to spot as a small crate under a swing set, or a small film canister wired to a chainlink fence that runs near an old grain elevator, in a Prairie town with, maybe a three-digit population. Those are the leisurely low-hanging fruit of geocaching that you can snatch up during an after-dinner stroll.

Others, not so much. One of those others was a rusty ammunition crate under a felled tree in thick bush, wrapped in camouflage-coloured cloth, in the middle of the boreal forest. That and several others I found were far up north, past the treeline, where (some of the) stereotypes about the Prairies start to disappear. Others are stuffed into a pile of rotting leaves in a gutter you can only get to by scaling an urban pizza place, and getting on its roof. (Don't go around Regina or Saskatoon, looking for that rooftop. I found that one in Ontario.)

Geocaching is very much is a sport in its own right, if you're willing to put in the legwork for the bigger payoffs. The best places to start are recreational areas. Neighbourhood parks in the city, national parks, trail systems and miscellaneous green spaces are always a good start. It usually is the case that the harder it is to find, the more interesting the cache is when you finally find it.

And on the topic of payoffs, I would be remiss not to give an idea of what's in store for the aspiring geocacher upon finding the treasure that is their first cache. The real joy of this scavenger hunt is finding a stash of stuff filled with an encyclopedic list of other people who were there before you. “Sam was here,” I write, usually stuck for anything better at the time.

Sometimes you can find really unique trinkets kicking around, too. I've found all sorts of neat little knick-knacks tucked away in caches, and it's always an interesting diversion to ponder why someone chose to deposit that particular steel ring or that creepy Matryoshka doll painted to look like a skeleton...

It’s warming up again, so the itch to get out and start treasure hunting is back. Geocaching is my classic excuse to get outdoors and just go somewhere. Where? Let me look at that little map app and I'll tell you.

© Copyright Estevan Mercury


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