Now that I’m shifting my focus from triathlon to adventure sports it’s time for me to start honing my navigation skills. I will need these skills both for adventure racing and bushwalking, as well as some of the other adventures I get myself into. I’m reading everything about navigation that I can get my hands on and am trying to get my hands on some topographic maps of my local area (though it’s proving difficult because the most recent maps were made in the late 1970s and a lot has changed since then).
One of the other ways I’m working on my navigation is through geocaching. Geocaching is an international game in which people use GPS (or map and compass) to locate caches that have been hidden in various locations.
Caches range in size from micro to large. Micros can be as small as film canisters (Eclipse mint containers seem to be popular in my local area). Small, regular and large caches in my local area are commonly Sistema lunch box containers or old military ammunition tins. But there’s no real rule about what the cache has to be so long as it’s waterproof.
Caches are hidden in cities, towns, bushlands, coasts or anywhere else that geocachers might think to hide them. While a person’s imagination is the only real limit to where and how they hide a cache, there are some common techniques that are used because they are tried and tested. Hiding caches in stumps, under logs or in hollow trunks is common. Caches hidden like this are often painted green or black to make them more difficult to spot (the cache in the photo above is an orange Gatorade container painted black and hidden in a tree stump). Other common hiding places are caches that have been magnetically stuck to metal guard rails on roads or metal road signs. But as I said, there’s no real limit. Over time you will become more confident in identifying likely hiding places.
To find a geocache you set up a free (or premium if you prefer) account on the official Geocaching website. Use the website to find the location of a geocache you are interested in finding and load the coordinates into your GPS. Then get outdoors with your GPS and find the cache. You can get GPS devices that are specifically designed for geocaching but really any GPS that has sufficient accuracy will do. I have a Garmin Edge 800 that I won in a lucky door prize. It’s a cycling computer with built-in GPS. Most days it’s accurate to within <1m of the GZ (the location of the cache) and the worst I’ve experienced it was within <3m of the GZ under a thick canopy of trees in a deep gully. My personal navigation skills goal is to be able to find at least one geocache with a map and compass but for now I’m enjoying the practice using my GPS. My GPS has 1:25,000 topographic maps loaded in it so I can use them to navigate to caches that are hidden hundreds of metres or kilometres from roads / tracks without having to walk in a straight line – I can use ridges, spurs and gullies to avoid difficult terrain.
Once you find a cache you can either swap a small item for one in the cache or you can just sign the log book to say you visited. Make sure you return the cache to it’s hiding place too. You don’t need much to successfully geocache. I like to take my hydro pack because I get a bit carried away and often end up out for hours (or a whole day) at a time, walking between 1km and 15km in a day. I also bring a hat or beanie (depending on the weather) and snacks. My most important geocaching tools, however, seem to be my motorbike gear. When I have to walk more than 500m I tend to wear joggers or hiking shoes but for shorter walks to caches my motorbike boots are great because they save me having to worry about snakes and other nasties in long grass. My motorbike boots are leather with hard plastic shin, ankle and achilles protectors. I often wear my motorbike gloves too when I have to feel around in long grass or tree stumps, both because they protect my hands from nasties but also from prickles or gross surfaces. My motorbike gloves are full leather with kevlar reinforcements. For really nasty caches that involve searching through thorns or prickles I often leave my motorbike jacket on to protect my arms.
I’m only a geocaching novice. I found four caches in September 2010 but then lost that GPS on a motorobike ride. Then I got my Garmin Edge 800 GPS in August 2011. I went geocaching a lot in the first two weeks that I had the GPS but I got really caught up in triathlon training so didn’t have time to practice my geocaching. I’ve now found 25 caches in the past 3 days. I can see the purpose of geocaching in my fitness and outdoor training so I hope to break the 100 cache mark by the end of May.