By Kristen Alberti
Listen Up, Lansing
You’re sitting in a park enjoying a lovely afternoon with some friends. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and a group of people are running around behind you searching through trees and bushes. Your curiosity is piqued when you see them whip out GPS systems, but you never get the guts to ask them what they’re doing.
Meanwhile, Jessica Rehling, a student behavior and conflict resolution administrator at Michigan State University, is leading a group of her friends on a trip through the forest to find a geocache, or as she would say, a hidden treasure.
Geocaching is like a scavenger hunt made by anyone around you, said Rehling. Someone hides a physical thing, like a Tupperware container, and in that box they put a piece of paper, like a logbook, with the expectation that people who find it will write down their name and the date they found it.
They hide it anywhere, like the woods, and then they go online and tell the world, “Hey I’ve hidden this box at these coordinates.”
Then someone like Rehling would like to go find that box. So they plug the coordinates into a GPS system, either on a phone or a separate unit, and go out to find that box and add their name to the list to prove they found it.
There are over 8 million geocaches in the world, Rehling said, and they are located everywhere.
Rehling started geocaching in 2005 when she moved to Colorado as a team building activity to train for a new job.
“I was hooked from the minute I saw the first geocache,” said Rehling. “It was so exciting, because it was at a park I’d been to a hundred times. It was in a tree that I always walked by and it was huge and I just couldn’t believe I’d never seen it.”
Ever since then, Rehling said she continued to geocache with friends, family, and even students she worked with as her job moved her from Colorado to Georgia to Lansing.
Along with making new friends and giving her something to do, Rehling said it’s helped her get in better shape as well.
“I’ve always been a larger person,” said Rehling, “and I would sit home on the weekend going, ‘I should really go out and do something but I don’t know what to do’ or ‘I don’t want to do it alone,’ and geocaching was an excuse to get out and do something without feeling like I was exercising.”
Rehling said she can end up going five miles from one geocache to another without even realizing it, and that’s five more miles than she normally would have gone out walking by herself.
“It’s a fun way to get out of your mindset and away from whatever’s stressing you,” said Rehling.
After moving to Lansing, Rehling knew she wanted to continue geocaching, and she’d heard of the Capitol Area Geocachers Events (CAGE), but she said that group was full of really experienced geocachers, and she was just in it to have fun and make friends.
“I went to one of their meetings and I realized very quickly these weren’t the people I was going to be geocaching with,” said Rehling. “Some of them have 20,000 finds; I couldn’t even fathom that. I’ve been doing it for years and I have a few hundred.”
Rehling then decided it was time to make her own group, the Lansing Geocachers Meetup, in March of 2014, after 1 ½ years in town. She created this group through meetup.com, which is a website that allows neighbors who have something in common to get together and hang out.
“I said fine I’m just gonna plan my own geocaching events and invite the world to come,” said Rehling, “and if I introduce new people that’s great, and if I find other people at my level that’s great, so we essentially became more the beginner to intermediate group in town.”
Nick Swartz, a geographic information systems specialist, said he has been geocaching with Rehling’s group about 10 to 15 times since the group started last year.
“I joined the geocaching meetup because I had tried geocaching a couple times before, I really enjoyed it, and I wanted to learn more about it from more experienced geocachers,” said Swartz.
Kevin Francies decided to start geocaching because some of his friends did it, and then began to do it regularly when he joined Rehling’s group when it started last year.
“It’s a hobby, it’s something to do on the weekends, it’s fun, it lets you explore, it gets you outside, plus it can be competitive if you want it to be,” said Francies.
Francies is from Jackson, but decided to get together with Rehling because he was already on Meetup and wanted to give her group a shot. He said he does not have any goals as to how many finds he wants to reach, because he does it just for fun.
“Being in the group helps me make friends and it makes me geocache more than I would by myself,” Francies said.
Graham Pierce, an outreach specialist at MSU and another member of Rehling’s Meetup group said he joined because had an interest in the activity and even had dedicated GPS equipment for it, but it had been a long time since he’d actually been out doing it.
“The Lansing Geocachers Meetup, like other Meetups, has been a great way to meet people with similar interests and a great way to get out and have fun with others,” said Pierce. “Geocaching has the added benefit of getting me outside and gets me to explore a variety of different parks and natural areas.”
“I’ve met some really good friends through it, it’s helped me connect with people in town, and it’s helped me explore town,” said Rehling. “Who knew that there were over 50 parks in Lansing? Who knew that there were two night caches that take you places where you have to use flashlights so you can only do them at night?”
Rehling said geocaches can be very simple or very elaborate, like one geocache at Lake Lansing Park North called Taste The Rainbow. A tree with 200 branches has small different colored pill bottles on each branch with the log kept in one of those containers. Once you find the log, you’re expected to hide it in a different bottle after you sign it.
Rehling said there are many rules and regulations that come along with hiding geocaches. She has never hidden one herself because the person who hides it is responsible to maintain the cache, and she’d rather be exploring.
To hide a cache, it must have permission to be on that property, 500 feet away from any other geocache, and hidden in an interesting place, according to the Geocaching Listing Guidelines.
There’s a geocaching app that allows you to keep track of your finds and locate coordinates. With the Premium package, according to geocaching.com, you can pay $9.99 for three months or $29.99 for a year to unlock new features like premium-only geocaches and advanced maps.
Rehling said modern-day Geocaching comes from the early 2000s when satellite use became open to the public, as they were restricted for military use prior to that. All of a sudden people could use satellites to find real coordinates that made it an online game accessible for anybody.
However, hundreds of years ago is when geocaching originally started when the military used to hide weapon caches with materials for other soldiers to find in the future when they came through that spot. The hiders would write the coordinates in a telegraph for others to use, said Rehling.
People who are unaware of geocaches are called Muggles, like the people in Harry Potter who are not magic, because the non-geocachers are unaware of all the magic adventures hidden around them.
Rehling has over 140 members in her group with 20 regularly active members. She said many are in their thirties, as is she, but she’s had people ranging from pre-teens to grandparents who join her on her journey. She is always welcoming of more people to join her group.
“It’s a wide range of people and a lot of them came because they liked the meet up concept, not that they knew much about geocaching,” said Rehling. “They just liked meeting new people and forming a social network, and we just happened to geocache.”