“I would see people peering into the holes in the tree, looking for something.” Peter Steinz describes looking out his second-storey window near the Balzac’s café downtown. He began to notice a pattern: People would poke around the tree, the ground, in the flower bed, with some apparent purpose. Some would find a small object and interact with it. Others would leave, evidently frustrated.
Steinz decided to investigate, and was surprised by an impromptu introduction to a popular international hobby.
Geocaching is like a world-wide scavenger hunt, using an app and GPS coordinates to find a wide variety of carefully hidden treasures. Some require complex multi-partite solutions, others feature a small gift exchange, and almost all involve some kind of logbook to track the successful seekers.
Apparently the cached object near Steinz’s apartment is one of dozens in town. A search of the official geocaching site yielded over 400 results within 10 miles of Old Town.
Steinz is rather an extravert, and enjoys helping people find their target. “If I see them out there looking forlorn and frustrated, I go down and help them out. I never show them exactly where it is, but I’ll give them clues like, ‘You’re getting warmer!’”
About two months ago, Steinz became aware the small metal pillbox that had held a long scroll of log-ins had disappeared. “Maybe a squirrel took it? I don’t know,” he says. He decided to replace it, using a small, empty plastic flashlight from the dollar store. He cut a long, narrow strip of paper and wrote at the top, “OMG! You found me! Congratulations. Now tell me where you are from. Good luck finding the rest in Niagara-on-the-Lake.”
The scroll has filled up with names of cachers from all over the world, including Australia, Abu Dhabi and Switzerland — all this just since the beginning of August.
“I didn’t know I’d wind up being the guardian of the geocache,” says Steinz with a chuckle. “Geocaching is really the last thing I would do in the world! When I travel I want to see museums, galleries, restaurants — not run around using my phone to find trinkets. But people seem to enjoy this, and I like helping them.”
Steinz isn’t the only local to have been touched by this unusual pastime: Several years ago, Adam Hawley proposed to his now-wife Brianne via a carefully geocached ring. “I didn't co-opt another site, but I did put my box next to an existing one on Ryyerson beach. I kind of pretended to find it and said, 'Hey, what's that?'” The pair enjoyed geocaching often. “We weren't always successful, but it's a an interesting added layer to a nice hike.”
People say they enjoy the activity for a wide variety of reasons: Exploration, discovery, getting outside; it’s fun for the whole family; you can do it seeing the world or just make discoveries in your own neighbourhood. You can learn more about geocaching and access the coordinates of local and global caches at geocaching.com. If you find yourself struggling with the cache near Balzac’s, maybe Steinz will come to your rescue.