Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Club Day. The Birds of Prey version.

Today's post could have easily read something like "scavenger hunt gadgetry" or "jackpot denied".  We made the Birds of Prey Club navigation finale all about geocaching.  It seemed like an ideal way to cap off the work we had done on using compasses and understanding latitude and longitude.

Perhaps a definition is in order for those unfamiliar with geocaching.  In my own words, it is like a high-tech, world-wide scavenger hunt.  There are containers, "caches", hidden in various places in neighbourhoods, parks, urban, rural and wilderness locations around the world.  Inside the caches are a logbook and little trinkets - treasure!  Information about the caches, such as coordinates and clues, can be found via a web search.  The coordinates are plugged into a GPS unit, and you use the guidance of the GPS, plus your own smarts, to find the cache.  Once it is found, you sign the logbook and take a trinket, while being sure to leave a trinket for the next person to find the cache.  Oh, and you're supposed to do all this while not arousing the curiosity or suspicions of non-geocachers (known as "muggles" in the geocaching world).

The adventure started this morning, with Nicholas and I navigating our bus system (which currently has numerous detours due to summer construction) to our provincial Parks and Recreation Association to borrow GPS units.  They also provided some easy-to-follow instructions for how to enter coordinates, tips for finding caches, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocaching, and a tag we could place inside a cache once we found one.  All for free.  Sweet!

Nicholas and I discovered soon after that this whole geocaching thing sounded easier than it actually was.  In order to be inconspicuous, many caches are quite small and many are camouflaged and well hidden so they do not become accidentally discovered by "muggles".  The GPS is accurate enough to often get the searchers within 10 feet of the cache, but it can still feel like searching for a needle in a haystack, particularly since the GPS can't tell you whether the cache is hidden on the ground, dangling from a tree branch, or shoved into a tiny crevice somewhere in between (though the cache owner can provide hints or clues).  Many caches are also in quite public places (the ones we tried for a test drive were at a gas station and the library), so it felt impossible not to look a little strange while trying to track down these tiny caches.  Unfortunately, we struck out.

The two caches that were in the park by our house were labelled "micro" caches, which means they were similar in size to a roll of film.  Because we hadn't had any luck finding caches in the morning and I feared the same fate this afternoon, I pondered building a cache and hiding it in the park for the Birds of Prey Club to find.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time.  If I had the chance to do a do-over, I would have a contingency cache ready to go so it would be easier to set up a plan B.

At any rate, once the Clubbers were given a brief introduction to the GPS unit, we entered our coordinates and were off.  Of course, everything was easy until that last 10 feet - it appeared that our location was in between 4 trees.  We had a hint that the cache would be hidden about 3 feet high.  So we started our search by looking around each tree.  The Clubbers had interesting approaches to searching...some climbed trees to "get a better view", while others did a quick scan.  I tried to encourage them to think like the person who hid the cache - if it were them, where would they have hidden it?  We also tried to use other clues, such as areas where it looked like there was foot traffic where there shouldn't have been.  In the end, though, we had to wind up our search and we went home empty-handed.

The thrill of the hunt was definitely fun, though.  I think this thing could get addictive very quickly! 

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