Bryan Campbell was on his first tour of Iraq, walking through the desert, when he noticed something shiny hidden deep inside an underground well in Talil.
The U.S. Army Reserves chief warrant officer had used his GPS to find his prize, but he didn’t pull up his phone to catch a Sandshrew or a Magikarp. He wasn’t worried about Pokemon at all.
It was 2003, just when the war in Iraq began, and “Pokemon Go” hadn’t yet been released to the masses. Campbell was geocaching ― participating in a worldwide, outdoor scavenger hunt of sorts that allows you to use GPS coordinates to find a cache of knickknacks left by a real human being before you.
Geocaching has been around since 2000 and is essentially the same thing as “Pokemon Go.” But instead of catching Pokemon on your phone, spending your money on in-app purchases or getting robbed at a Pokestop, you’re trading real-world objects and stories with other hikers and adventurers from across the globe.
On that day in 2003, Campbell used coordinates to find a tin container dropped down a well, and he knew there was treasure inside.
(Full disclosure: Campbell is my dad, and our resident military guy who regularly chimes in on nonmilitary things with The Huffington Post.)
“Somebody put an Altoids tin down a well with a note in it in Talil, Iraq,” he said. “The well had bars over it so I had to get a 20-foot pole and put a magnet on it to get it out.”
He added: “The cool thing about geocaching is that you get outside and see things and go to crazy places. Some people leave some pretty neat things behind and there’s a story behind every cache.”
Campbell took the note from his tin and replaced it with a military patch, signed his name on the ledger inside and dropped it back down the well.
This is a way better use of your adventure time than sitting around waiting for a Charmander to show up. With an iPhone ― or, on remote adventures like a hike on a mountain, with a super-accurate GPS location device ― and the geocaching site, you can grab up coordinates near you, read hints about a cache’s location, and then trade a trinket of equal value for the next person who finds that cache.
We get it, “Pokemon Go” is really fun. Even the folks at Geocaching.com are excited about it.
“Geocaching is all about adventure and exploration. People seem to be having a great time getting outside with ‘Pokemon Go,’ so that’s a good thing,” Chris Ronan, a spokesman at the site, told The Huffington Post. “It’s also caused a lot of folks to learn about geocaching, so that’s a good thing, too!”
But the real-world implications here trump the Pokedex ― we all already caught the 151 back in the day, anyway. With geocaching, you’ll find yourself solving riddles in Manhattan, summiting Mount Rainier for a hidden cache, or finding cool new places in your hometown on any number of geocaching sites.
With more than 2.8 million geocaches worldwide, we doubt you’ll be able to catch ‘em all.
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