Fall Guide

Think Outside of the Box

Explore RI this fall with the grown-up’s treasure hunt: geocaching and letterboxing

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I had never heard of letterboxing or geocaching before moving to Rhode Island. I’m no trailblazer, but I was intrigued to hear my coworker gush about her family’s successful experience, and after some light Google research, I decided I had to try out this treasure hunt for myself.

Letterboxing can be traced to 19th century England, when hikers would leave postcards or letters in hidden boxes off obscure paths, found via word-of-mouth (today: online) clues. This older form can be considered the precursor to geocaching, for which participants use GPS to hide and seek a “cache,” a weatherproof container. When seekers successfully finds the cache, they get to sign and date a little logbook inside.

On a sunny weekday, I downloaded the Geocaching app on my phone and picked a nearby cache to seek during my lunch break. The app is convenient to use and offers information about each container: its difficulty, its size, the terrain, a short description left by the hider, and of course, its location pinned on a map. Simple enough, right?

I prepared for a brisk walk through a local Providence park, wary only of “minor overgrowth” that the instructions had warned me about. Armed with just my phone and embarrassingly improper footwear, I entered the woods where my coordinates led. After stumbling over a bunch of grabby tree roots, I found myself at the very edge of the park, which was marked by a chain-link fence.

At this point, as I glanced around the leaf-littered ground, I began to realize geocaching was not necessarily a novice activity. I was in the right location, but after 30 determined minutes of searching through the growth and debris, I couldn’t find anything. I returned, scraped and sweaty, to the office. I had no box, but I did have a story.

Geocaching – and letterboxing – is not about an easy find. In fact, it’s not really about the box or cache at all. In my brief experience, it was about connecting – to the global community that both hides and finds the boxes; to the local community where the boxes are hidden; to the family and friends taken along for the adventure; and to yourself, as you channel your energy into something immersive. So, if you find yourself being called outdoors by a crisp fall breeze, I highly recommend you don’t settle for just a walk. Go for an adventure. Find out more and join the community at Geocaching.com and Letterboxing.org