Games offer new outlook to outdoors
By BARB BERGGOETZ
Gannett News Service
Enjoying the outdoors can take on some unusual twists and turns for those willing to venture out of their comfort zones.
By adding a touch of technology, mental game-playing, competition or group play, such physical activity as walking, running, hiking or biking can be more fun and less work.
If you liked scavenger hunts as a kid, then geocaching — a high-tech outdoor treasure-hunting game using GPS devices — may be appealing.
"It can be excellent exercise," said Alicia Anderson of Beech Grove, Ind., who has found 1,200 caches or hidden containers since 2003. She and her husband were already big hikers. "Geocaching is just another element to that hobby. Some are pretty intense, six miles in the woods."
Plus, she says, "It gets the geeks off the computer and out into the fresh air."
Other people get into orienteering in the woods, parks or along city streets. Small teams or individuals walk or run courses to find three-sided flags in trees.
People who want to geocache need to go to the international geocaching Web site, www.geocaching.com, and search for locations of caches (small containers with "treasures" inside) in their area or anywhere they'd like to find them. They download longitude and latitude coordinates on a GPS and then go out and search for the caches in areas such as parks, cemeteries and buildings.
Anyone can hide a cache, and put objects inside, including trinkets, rocks and other inexpensive items, then pinpoint its location using GPS technology and share the cache's existence and location online so others can find it. Grid coordinates get people within 20 feet or so of caches, but they are hidden and can be hard to find.
When you find one, you write your "geocaching name" on the log inside and record your find on the Web site. If it contains trinkets, you can take one, as long as you replace it with something else.
"It's a good reason to get out and stay active and not just sit around," said Josh Spaulding, an Indianapolis resident who has found 165 caches, some with his wife and 2-year-old son. "It's kind of the thrill of the hunt, having a challenge that I like, too."
The Indianapolis area has several thousand hidden caches. Internationally, nearly 900,000 caches are placed in 100 countries on all seven continents, according to the geocaching Web site. The activity started in Germany in 2000 and has grown in popularity since then.
Debbie Wolinsky, a high school math teacher, is engrossed in geocaching. She's found 2,300 caches since 2006 — including a 161-day streak of finding one each day.
"I've done it in the rain and in the snow, and even at night with a flashlight," said Wolinsky. She even assigns her students to find caches to help with math, problem-solving and reading.
The hobby has another benefit — learning about unusual places or sites off the beaten path, said Anderson, as she found a small matchstick container in Crown Hill Cemetery. The cache was in the Hearts Remember Memorial area, where youths from the Children's Guardian Home are buried.
Anyone from competitive runners to casual walkers can participate in local orienteering meets, says Michael Sapper, treasurer of the Indianapolis Crossroads Orienteering Club (www.indyo.org).
The club has a dozen or so meets a year, several in the Indianapolis area. All the events have multiple courses, from kid-friendly, beginners' courses to harder, off-trail courses that can take three hours.
"It's not just a physical test, but a test of your navigational abilities," said Sapper. "You need to choose your route and figure that out while on the run."
Participants are given highly detailed maps ($15 for nonclub members, $5 for members) that show sites of three-sided flags. When they find the flags, they punch plastic cards proving they were at the sites. Free clinics are offered before meets for beginners.
Those who seek a multi-sport challenge with a team of two or three can try adventure racing. Many are put on by Planet Adventure Race (www.planetadventurerace.com).
Adventure races usually combine trail hiking/running, canoeing/kayaking, orienteering, biking and a rope challenge.
Cristal Garrison, director of the No Skirts Allowed race on Oct. 10 in Indianapolis, said this year's event was an urban style on roads and a waterway. Not many women do adventure racing, so this was a good chance to see what it's like, she said.
"It's going to be easier to do if you have some experience, but it's not necessary," she said. "It keeps me fit and healthy and gives me something to do that is out of the ordinary. I feel empowered when I'm done."