On the hunt for hidden treasure

Geocaching is a sport enjoyed worldwide and there are more than 800 geocaches in and around Nanaimo.

Allan Wilson

Allan Wilson

Did you know you probably walk past hidden treasure every day?

A treasure hunt can be just the right touch of added motivation for people who need a reason to get out for a hike or bike ride.

Geocaching is a sport enjoyed worldwide and with more than 800 geocaches in and around Nanaimo, there are plenty of trails leading cache hunters to the city’s most beautiful parks and into its more interesting urban nooks and crannies.

“Some people are obsessed with this. They do this 24-7,” said Bob Simpson, a long-time Nanaimo geocacher.

Simpson, an avid cyclist as well, often plans rides around geocache locations. One never knows where on a ride Simpson will hop off his bike, disappear behind a rock or hollow log and come up with a little box filled with odds and ends, such as buttons, pencil stubs and other strange bits together with a small log book and, with a “Eureka” glint in his eye, say something like, “I knew there was a geocache around here.”

Geocaching started in 2000 when hand-held GPS units became widely available. Prior to then, Simpson and his wife, Dorothy, were already into earth caching, the sport geocaching evolved from.

“We do geocaching selfishly,” Simpson said. “We use it to find the cool places because people put geocaches in cool places.”

If a geocaching map shows a string of caches, Simpson knows they’re hidden along a mountain biking or hiking trail. A cluster of caches might indicate a particularly scenic or interesting spot.

“There’s a reason why people put geocaches there,” Simpson said.

One rule of geocaching is that geocachers can only hide caches within a certain distance of where they live, so cache maps that can be downloaded with smart phone apps are a bit like a locals’ guide to must-see locations.

Allan Wilson pulls a plastic waterproof box out of a hollow in a Gary oak tree at Pipers Lagoon Park. Wilson chose the spot for the cache, and named it “Blinky”  for the navigation lights marking dangerous rocks it overlooks.

Wilson, 18, has been geocaching since 2008 and found his first cache near a beach just a couple hundred metres away. He opens the box and finds a geocoin – think of it as a travelling garden gnome – stashed with other goodies.

“It like a travelling coin that travels from geocache to geocache,” Wilson said. “It has a  special tracking number on it and you can log its travels online.”

Sometimes caches are found by “muggles” – non-geocachers – who might steal them or maybe just write off-colour remarks in the log books, but most muggles are respectful of caches they stumble upon.

It doesn’t take much to get into geocaching. Smartphone apps can be downloaded for as little as $8 and are plenty accurate enough to find caches. GPS units precise enough to register cache hiding locations can run upwards of $100.

“That’s how most new geocachers get started, with their smartphones,” Wilson said.

For geocaching information, please visit the website www.migeocaching.org.

photos@nanaimobulletin.com