Cryptic clues. Buried treasure. A hand-held device that contains the secrets to solving the first and locating the second. No wonder we were excited about trying geocaching.
It's the fastest growing adventure activity in the world, according to our instructor, Celes Davar, with an estimated 450,000 caches or treasures hidden by players in more than 200 countries.
Davar runs Earth Rhythms, a Manitoba firm that offers geocaching as one of its learning adventures in Riding Mountain National Park. (Visit www.earthrhythms.ca)
You need a global positioning satellite (GPS) receiver, which can pinpoint a location anywhere in the world to within about five metres. A simple one costs about $150. Davar says most clients can learn to use it in five minutes.
Lots of families are geocaching, he told us. Unlike an MP3 player, which isolates the user, the GPS receiver encourages communication.
You could share a GPS, but Davar has divided us into teams and provided each member with a Garmin Geko 201, which is roughly the size of a cellphone.
Each hidden cache has a waypoint, the longitude and latitude co-ordinates of its location. Davar made our hunt more interesting by plugging in several waypoints and giving us crossword clues to solve at each one.
We walked to the first waypoint -- signals on our receivers told us we'd reached the right spot -- then punched in the next waypoint and used vehicles to reach it.
Information that Earth Rhythms provides on geocaching says it's not a race. "The goal is to make sure everyone gets to each location and shares information.'' But a competitive streak quickly became apparent.
Our find, sorry to say, wasn't quite up to Pirates of the Caribbean standards. It was a typical cache, a plastic food storage container with several trinkets inside -- a keychain flashlight, a toy plane and a disposable camera, among others -- and a logbook in which we were expected to check in.
Geocachers may also contribute something. We used the camera to leave a photo of our group, and mentioned that in the log.
A good place to learn more is the website www.geocaching.com. Fill in your postal code and you'll learn about the caches closest to you.
Geocaching and a trip farther afield could be combined by competing in the Ultimate AsheCache Treasure Hunt taking place in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains May 20 to June 23. More than US$1,000 in prizes is waiting to be discovered.
Caches will be replenished every Tuesday. Follow the clues and solve the puzzle for the chance to find five themed caches. Prizes range from a $50 gift card for a theatrical performance to a $320 gift card for a couples massage at a nearby resort. Visit www.exploreasheville.com for details.