published Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Fortune: They're everywhere, and we're apparently going to find them all

By Mary Fortune

My son and I are stomping around in the woods, hunting for clues.

"The coordinates say it's right around here, and the description says 'Gibraltar,'" he says. "What's that mean?"

"A big rock," I say. "Look for a big rock."

We find the rock, but not the treasure. Sometimes you just come up empty.

"It's OK -- the map says there's another one pretty nearby," Jack says, peering at the screen on my phone. So on we walk, hunting geocaches. Add this to the list of things I never, ever would have done if not for my bewildering role as the mother of sons.

I've described geocaching to more than one stranger who asks what we're up to as a global treasure hunt that doesn't involve any actual treasure. It's a far-flung, semi-secret society of hobbyists who carefully hide things, plant coordinates and clues online and record their finds on an app that lets them log their progress and see who's found the caches they've left.

The caches themselves are, well, they're nothing. Just plastic boxes or jugs or even film canisters that contain a scrap of paper (the log) where geocachers sign in, along with the occasional trinket: some loose change, a green toy soldier. If you take a trinket, you're supposed to leave one. My son likes to put gemstones in the geocaches he plants, but the last cache we found at Enterprise South Nature Park contained only a coupon for cigarettes.

"I left it there," he reported, laughing as he walked out of the woods.

"Good call," I grinned.

Rolling out of our neighborhood one recent morning, Jack and his brother spotted a pick-up truck parked by the curb near the entrance to our little suburban enclave.

"Someone is finding your geocache, Jack," I told my son, who leaned over me to wave encouragement at the guy sitting in the truck.

As we made our way toward town, my younger son chirped to his brother from the backseat, "Jack, it's cool that we're learning to do this now, so when we grow up we can show our kids how to do it, too."

Jack, who is about to turn 14, has a rebuttal for everything. (And he and his little brother would both find the word "rebuttal" hilarious.)

"By the time we grow up, it probably won't be a thing anymore, or there will be something different," he said.

I disagree. Because I always have a rebuttal, too. (Ha ha.)

Geocaching is a strategy exercise and an invisible fraternity. It's maps and hiding places and creative thinking about how to keep the secret a secret -- but still help the right people find it. It's the thrill of the hunt, an impetus to go exploring and a reason to keep score.

As long as there are boys, none of that is going away.

The day after my son planted a geocache by our neighborhood pool, he reported gleefully that the first person to discover it was a hardcore geocacher who reported his find at 7:30 a.m.

"He's found like 14,000 geocaches in Tennessee," Jack reported. "He has a YouTube channel about geocaching."

I pondered that aloud.

"So, he's retired, I guess? Or maybe he has a terrible case of obsessive-compulsive disorder?"

"He's retired," Jack said. "He's, like, Dad's age."

Did I say geocaching won't go away as long as there are boys? I'll amend that to include their fathers and grandfathers. Their moms, however, might be willing to settle for a simple walk in the woods.

Contact Mary Fortune at thirtytensomething.blogspot.com.

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