For the purposes of this project I had my first geocaching experience. It sounded vaguely interesting: a game that involves searching for hidden containers, with the help of a hint or clue and a loose location. There are Muggles – people who aren’t geocaching, who need to remain oblivious of what you’re doing – adding an extra element of tension/secrecy/suspense.
So far so so interesting. I was learning about them because some of the Tale of the Towpath episodes are hidden within geocaches around Manchester for people to find and piece together during the festival.
Helen, the geocacher and digital artist of the team, decided the best way for us newbies to really get it was to search for one. I was happy enough to go along with the plan, although I was really anticipating what the piece of print we’d be making would end up being. However, that afternoon we were mucking about with digital aspects.
Through the app we selected one nearest to us in Manchester (there are millions of these things scattered throughout 185 countries) and were directed to a tree with a bird house in a park. Around which we walked and walked, all of us peering into tree branches, behind bushes, scuffing the grass, looking around a statue, poking at mounds, until I spied something that looked not quite right but not quite out of place either.* Found it!
In the thrill of finding the cache we forgot about Muggles and ooo’d and arhhh’d loudly, attracting the attention of the only other park visitor as we unraveled the log slip to add our names to finders list. But it was tremendously exciting. It was code breaking, physical exploration and highly tuned instinct all rolled together.
Suddenly the use of these as part of our story trail became vivid. In the hunt for caches, the canal and various venues in Manchester will rise into our story, into the imaginations of the trail hunters. We could leave items (‘tradeables’) in the cache, offer a three dimensional, physical as well as digital, experience, and hopefully recreate that excitement of discovery, of solving clues in the caches while the story unraveled for people on the trail.
What also appealed to me about the hunt was being sent somewhere I may not know and given a reason to scour it, to explore it with sharp eyes and a hunger. Regardless as to whether there is a tradeable in the cache (which is probably a tiny trinket), the thrill rests on the hunt; the search rather than the find; the process rather than the end. It’s like the best of journeys – the getting there is as important as the eventual end point. Which is, after all, what stories are all about.
*In the interests of geocaching etiquette I can’t tell you any more than this in case I spoil it for someone…