A few years back, gosh it’s got to be six at least now, a cousin visited and left my family a legacy of sorts, not to mention a valuable lesson regarding first impressions. At the time these visits were fairly commonplace. His work, though mostly conducted from his home, was headquartered here in Calgary and he regularly commuted to the city for meetings and whatnot. During those trips he would visit us, often stay with us, and always bring much joy to my kids.
During one such trip, early Fall if I recall, he arrived bearing news of and excitement for a new hobby he had discovered and he wished to share it with us. It was called geocaching and involved using a GPS device to find small treasures strangers had hidden around our neighbourhood. I was skeptical. My wife was indifferent. The kids were confused. My cousin was resolute. Like his father, my uncle, my cousin is someone for whom an answer of “no” is rarely even an option, so we all donned our jackets and made our way outside to seek what others had hid.
Somewhat to my surprise, or ignorance, one such treasure had been secreted away in a clump of spruce trees along the berm bordering our subdivision. We shuffled along the berm for about 500m, staring at the black and white screen of the GPS unit, watching as our distance to the promised prize diminished with each step, or in the case of my children, joyful skip. When the GPS indicated we were within a couple meters of the prize, we all immediately began searching for … something. We had no idea what, having never done this before, but my cousin explained the various possibilities and after several minutes of growing anticipation and frustration a small container reminiscent of a vintage 35mm film canister was spotted in one of the trees.
Inside this nostalgic reminder of a time when taking pictures was a costly and wait-filled mystery, was a small pencil the likes of which you find at mini-golf courses, and a small, rolled-up pad of paper. Apparently our geocaching reward was the right to print our names on a pad of paper, along with the date, alongside the dozens of other treasure hunters who’d previously discovered this hidden bootie and done likewise. Needless to say my skepticism didn’t bleed away at that moment.
And therein lies the first impressions lesson. In the years since that inauspicious first geocache attempt, we, with more than a little reservation, decided to try geocaching ourselves. It was a moment of weakness, or desperation, when we saddled up the kids for another treasure hunt while camping using a cheap GPS unit we had “purchased” with our Air Miles. Second, third, fourth, and fifth times were the charm. It turns out geocaching is a lot of fun. Or can be. For one, it makes a fantastic excuse to get outside and do some walking or hiking. You can’t imagine how quickly you lose track of time and distance as you seek riches while gazing at that tiny GPS screen. Furthermore, it turns out geocache discoveries contain all sorts of delightful trophies well beyond the aforementioned paper and pencil. Like toys, for starters. And the lure of toys, even ridiculously simple toys, is too much for any kid to resist.
So my cousin’s legacy is that we now own our own handheld GPS machine which religiously accompanies us on all our camping trips. We’re members of geocaching.com and carefully download caches before each trip from the literally thousands to be found wherever we go. We’ve even made a few, though maddeningly unsuccessful, attempts at hiding caches of our own. It’s truly become one of our favourite pastimes during our summer camping adventures and we’ve shared it with friends and family as much as we can. In fact, my wife’s team at work even had me organize a geocaching team-building afternoon here in the city last summer.
But all is not rosy in our geocaching world. Things changed this summer, or at least became more noticeable. It’s starting to affect our enjoyment of this wonderful, simple, outdoor pleasure. The kids are starting to lose interest and that is worrisome. You might think that this activity has just played itself out but I don’t think that’s the issue. There is a noticeable cause and effect in our personal experience. As far as I’m concerned, it all boils down to one glaring problem. The quality of the treasures is really starting to suck!
Now, that might be a rather bemusing assertion considering that the during our first time geocaching ever we found a paper and pencil. Not exactly the drug that’ll hook a nation. Again, first impressions. But many, if not most, caches actually contain toys or knickknacks. They aren’t terribly elaborate trinkets, nor are they typically new or even imaginative. They are, however, very much treasure in the hearts and minds of children and they love to find such things. We have innumerable ridiculous little toys in our house all found, and cherished, during various geocache hunts. They’re not unlike the doo-dads found in movie theatre, coin-operated dispensers and as any parent knows, kids love that crap.
The cardinal rule of geocaching is that you take a treasure and you leave a treasure. We’ve stocked up on dozens of similar baubles that accompany us on our hunts. Everything from stickers to markers to Kinder Surprise type toys find their way into our stash of potential geocache replacements. I find that the perfect treasures to buy are the same things you pick up for birthday party loot bags.
This past summer, though, we routinely encountered less than stellar treasures in the geocaches we found. Geocachers are getting lazy. A dog poop bag (unused, thankfully) is not an acceptable geocache treasure. Nor are broken toys, Nothing will ruin a kid’s interest faster than finding a cool toy that is busted. Coins, yes even the beloved, discontinued penny, are uninspired options. Golf tees? A single playing card? Seriously? You’re killing the wonder of the find for the kids. Me too, frankly. Nobody is asking you to spend a fortune on these treasures. Like I said above, loot bag junk is perfectly fine. It’s cheap, available everywhere, and kids are thrilled to find such bootie after I’ve “made” them hike a couple kilometers through the wilderness. Give them a worthy reward for their efforts.
So here I am, a once skeptical geogaching tag along turned cheerleader imploring geocachers across this nation to please, PLEASE, pick up your game with the treasures, people. You’re going to ruin a great outdoor activity through utter apathy towards the very thing that interests people in it to begin with. Put better shit in geocaches! I’m begging you and my kids will thank you. TFTC.