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pam thor

Thor

Most people who have heard of geocaching, but have never tried it, think that geocaching is an activity just for strong, athletic hikers who are up for long, strenuous hikes into the wilderness.

While that is one aspect of geocaching, the sport is actually so much more. Geocaching is for adults, teenagers, children and even pets. Geocaches can be found in the woods, in public parks, at interstate rest areas, along country roads, in parking lots and along busy urban sidewalks. Finding a geocache can be an all-day adventure or a quick, five-minute stop on your lunch break.

During this time of social distancing, geocaching is a great individual or family activity to enjoy anywhere.

Our family has been geocaching for eight years. We have found almost 6,000 geocaches in 43 states and four countries. Some of our geocaching adventures have indeed included long drives or hikes out into the wilderness. We discovered amazing overlooks in South Dakota, hidden waterfalls in Wyoming, ice caves in Pennsylvania, fossil beds in Ohio and petroglyphs in Utah that were absolutely unforgettable.

However, some of our favorite geocaching adventures were at spots right off of a main road and less than a 100-yard walk from our car.

Many geocachers will hide their caches at local areas that are historic or unique, which most people would not discover on their own. When our family was driving through Nebraska, we took a short detour from the interstate to find a geocache that was hidden on the original Oregon Trail. The path to the geocache followed the original ruts from the wagons that once blazed the trail for westward expansion.

My kids had learned about the Oregon Trail in school, but posing for photos while straddling the massive ruts really brought the stories to life. As an added bonus, we were treated with seeing wild antelopes in the field.

On a trip to Hawaii, a local geocacher hid a container on a small, black sand beach with amazing snorkeling that only the locals knew about. In the online cache description, the hider told us exactly how to navigate to the beach, what to say to successfully get through the guardhouse and where to park to avoid towing or tickets.

The geocache itself was nothing special, but snorkeling and relaxing on that amazing private beach is something our family will never forget.

When my kids were younger, they loved the movie “Cars” and learned about Route 66. While driving to Missouri, another short detour from the interstate took us to a walking bridge over the Mississippi River. The faint Route 66 emblem could still be seen painted on the old, concrete highway that is no longer accessible to vehicle traffic.

Somewhat locally, you can find geocaches that will take you to Hillbilly Hot Dogs, graves of the Hatfields and McCoys, overlooks along New River Gorge, a trail of doughnut shops in Ohio and the home of the West Virginia pepperoni roll.

Unique geocache containers are also fun to find. Many hiders disguise their cache containers as everyday items so they can be hidden in urban areas in plain sight. We have seen fake electrical outlets, sprinkler heads, bird houses, electrical boxes and even entire tree branches that most people walk by every day without realizing they are geocaches to discover.

One of our all-time favorite caches required us to pull a rope so that the cache container, along with hundreds of Ping-Pong balls, came pouring down on our heads!

Some of our best family memories involve geocaching, and getting involved with the local geocaching community has rewarded us with some wonderful friends and amazing adventures.

Consider getting involved with geocaching instead of being stuck inside during this pandemic. Tomorrow you may find yourself on Capitol Street searching for Mortar Man, climbing a tree behind Kohl’s looking for a geocache hidden 12 feet in the air, hiking into a huge drainage culvert in Winfield searching for SirDave’s darkness cache, or dodging rubber snakes and descending into a cave to find Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant.

Pamela Thor lives in Cross Lanes with her husband and two teenage children. She is a founding member of the Kanawha Valley Geocaching Association and owns more than 100 geocaches. She has hosted more than 30 local geocaching events and helped develop a geocache trail in Huntington. A community volunteer and math tutor, Thor is a chemical engineer who is retired from Union Carbide/Dow.