We had to be careful. There were "Muggles" nearby, and we couldn't let them see the "swag" we found in the "cache."
We were in a nearby park geocaching, the perfect diversion after a hectic work week.I first heard of geocaching from my neighbors Mickey Taylor and Linda Ashley, members of the York County Geocaching Organization.Sitting at the computer, Mickey walked me through getting started with this international adventure.First, I needed to register at geocaching.com (SCYankeeGirl). Once registered, we typed in our zip code and more than 659 caches popped up for our area. We downloaded some "waypoints" coordinates into handheld GPS units. I don't have a GPS of my own, but as Mickey explained, some cell phones, like iPhones and Blackberrys, have navigation capabilities. Plus I could use the nuvi navigation in the car.The Web site provides written clues and logs from others who have found the caches, as well as ratings of terrain, difficulty in finding and the size of the cache itself. There is a vicinity map on the Web site, but it's the coordinates that lead directly to the cache.Working with the Rock Hill Parks Department, and the York County Visitors Bureau, the York County Geocaching Organization has placed caches throughout the parks and other areas in the county, including the Catawba River. Being my first venture into the field, Mickey suggested Manchester Meadows in Rock Hill encompassing more than 70 acres of soccer fields, pavilions, walking trails and a lake with a fountain --a good place for beginning geocachers.At the pavilion, we met up with Seth, Heather and 6-year-old Ben Gregory (gregorygang.) This was their first time geocaching, too.After a quick GPS 101 tutorial, we gave Ben a GPS and set off on our first hunt.We had printed the descriptions, hints and log notations. Ben was intent on following the GPS arrow and not watching where he was going. He took three steps before his father stopped him and said the lake is in the way. This was part of the adventure of course, getting to the destination.One hint supplied by the cache maker was: "I like swinging near here and the fountain and the ducks." OK. I see the chair swing, the gaggle of geese, the flock of ducks and the fountain and then Ben's GPS beeped. We were within 20 feet of "Fountain View," the first of five caches we were hunting. Now, we needed to use our deductive reasoning and our eyes to find the cache.First, were there any Muggles around? Muggles, taken from the popular Harry Potter series, are non-geocaching folk. To protect the cache and preserve the adventure of the hunt, geocachers always need to be on the lookout for Muggles.Second, we needed to look for signs like a 'beaten path in the undergrowth. Also, the written description indicated the possibility of ticks, poison ivy and snakes. Even in a city park there is adventure.Ben, holding tight to the GPS, was excitedly foraging in the brush, while I sneaked a look at another printed hint: "Under a log." Cache's cannot be buried but are hidden with enough showing to be found, at least for newbies like us.Mickey saw it first saying "Hucklebuckle," geospeak for "I see it, but won't tell where it is, so you can find it also." Not sure what to look for, it had to be pointed out to me. There it was, slightly hidden under a log, a clear plastic box with an official geocaching label. How did I miss it?We looked at the swag (Stuff We All Get) inside the box: A "wooden nickel" from a geocacher who hailed from New York, small trinkets, and a pencil and logbook. Heather signed the logbook, and noted we took something and left something of equal or greater value. We put the box back where and how we found it, ready for the next geocacher.Caches provide hints in their names. In this search we also were looking for: "Over the River and through the Woods," "Manchester Privet Patch," "A Walk to Remember" and simply "Manchester." Ben intently watching the GPS screen called out, "Let's go down this way," already searching for the next cache.With help from Mickey and Seth, he found the other caches. I followed, taking in the sites along the way.Caches come in many container sizes. Basic requirements include that it must be waterproof, clear and locking. Swag needs to be rated for all ages, as geocaching is family friendly. Some, like our last find, are no bigger than a pencil eraser.Called a "nano," this particular cache needed a cryptograph (on the Web site, with key) solved to get the coordinates. Mickey already had done it and showed us where it was so we can actually see how small a cache can be. This nano has a compartment that holds a small scroll log for signing.Too quickly, our afternoon hunt was over. The Gregorys were going home to log in with their first five finds, and Mickey and I were heading in different directions.As we said our goodbyes, Mickey said when she travels, she loads waypoints into her GPS. Once at her destination, she steps out, gets her bearings and sets off.For some geocachers it's all about the cache, but for others, like Mickey, it's the journey to the destination that makes a "walk in the park" extra special.
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Susan Doyle of Rock Hill is a freelance writer. Her column appears monthly in the Lake Wylie Pilot. She can be reached at
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The Museum of York County is hosting Quest Camp July 21-24 designed and taught by Kimberly Terry, a teacher at Crowders Creek Middle School in Lake Wylie. The camp "centers on geocaching and orienteering skills for students entering grades 4-7." Contact Rachel Baum by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the York County Geocaching Organization visit yogosc.org.