Wednesday March 06, 2013 | 02:30 PM

I am teaching someone how to play the game of geocaching on Saturday so I had to do some prep work this week. This included some geocache maintenance for a couple of geocaches my own family has hidden for players of this outdoor game.

Geocaching is a game that uses GPS coordinates to find a hidden box filled with inexpensive trinkets and a logbook. I used to use a hand-held GPS unit to play, manually downloading coordinates from a website to find the hidden box in the woods. These days I use a free mobile app on my Galaxy phone. There are several smart phone apps available now that has helped the game grow in popularity.

Since it has been a snowy winter – and no big thaw yet – the geocaches my family has hidden are under at least a foot of snow, which is a bit more of a challenge (even for us) to find than usual.

I set off in the early morning before work yesterday to see if one of our traditional caches could be pulled out of its hiding spot to use as a real-life geocache for our newbie game player this weekend. It's in a metal ammo crate that's tough to open on a warm day so I know it closes securely to keep out the snow. The trick was to see if it was stuck in a block of icy snow.

I had hoped I wouldn't have to work too hard to hike to the cache location because there is a snowmobile trail nearby that usually packs down the snow. But sadly, no snowmobiles forged even a partial path for me so I had to hoof it about 1/4 mile in a couple of feet of snow to get there in my regular snow boots. But don't feel badly for me. It was good exercise and a lesson to remind me to better prepare for winter geocaching. I should have brought my snowshoes or xc skis!

I found my geocache and it was not buried too deeply. The layer of icy snow was broken with the aid of a shovel handle so I was able to pull it out. Inside the contents were dry so I dubbed it a winner for the to-find geocache list for the weekend.

Then I was on to my family's next geocache, which I was told via the cache's online listing that it was in need of maintenance. The note said this geocache was wet. This is always a tricky message to interpret because the cache box is made out of natural materials. So by its nature it absorbs moisture. But still, I decided to pick it up and take it offline for the rest of the winter.

This particular geocache is hidden in a high traffic area that includes a library, a town hall and a school. That means whenever I do maintenance on this geocache – like hauling it out of its hiding spot – I call the local police to let them know what I'm doing. If you search the web for stories about people mistaking geocaches for bombs, you'll find a lot. I'd rather explain to the police ahead of time what I'm doing rather than a quick talking on-the-spot explanation.

It turned I had to explain my life story to the police department (and no joke, I also had to give them my date of birth) when I called to tell them I was moving my own geocache. But still, it was nice we avoided any hassles. Start to finish in the dark last night, we had the geocache (a cumbersome, overly heavy item) out of hiding and in our truck in about five minutes.

So as I work out how to explain to someone new to geocaching how to play, I ponder all the people who volunteer to actually hide the geocaches that allow people to play the game. Being a geocache owner myself (by making and hiding the box) I know it is not just a one-time commitment; it's an on-going maintenance job. But since geocaching.com – the website where I list my own geocache finds and hides – just reached a new milestone of 2 million active geocaches (which they hit on Feb. 28, 2013), I can confirm there really are a lot of game enthusiasts. So I do my best to be a good cache owner because I appreciate all the people that have hidden their own geocaches for my family to find.

If you're new to the game – or simply want to learn more about it because you have no idea what I'm talking about in this post – you can read one of my former stories that explains the basics of the game. 

About the Author

Wendy Almeida has been writing about enjoying the outdoors with kids in her monthly Kid Tracks Outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram for 10 years. Her kids have grown up exploring the trails of Maine on foot, skis and bikes as well as through the geocache and EarthCache games. The family has found treasures of all sorts while out on the trail and the journey continues to be as much fun now that the kids are teenagers as it was when they were preschoolers.

On Twitter and Instagram at @wea1021.

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