On a recent day out for a bit of cross-country biking I was initiated into the ever-growing and worldwide phenomenon that is Geocaching. Setting off with a bit of sport in mind and intentions of enjoying the Samoëns mountain environment, I soon found myself involved in an exciting treasure hunt.
For those of you who may not know, Geocaching is just that – a treasure hunt. Participants use GPS enabled devices to locate hidden containers (caches). Inside the containers are tiny logbooks that are signed by the finder of the cache. The cache is then returned to its hiding place and details of the find logged onto the geocaching website. If the cache isn’t found, details of the search must still be logged online. As well as allowing participants to share their geocaching experiences, this helps keep track of the caches, of which there are literally millions worldwide. I am proud to say, that with the help of visitor to Samoëns, Steve Hollingdale, I found my cache.
It was a Tuesday, 9.30am, and Steve and I, along with his nephew, Grant, set out for our cross-country biking tour. I had been charged with deciding where to go and had chosen a relatively easy route from Samoëns to Lac des Vernays near Taninges. It’s “relatively easy” because the 10kms or so of terrain down to Lac des Vernays is flat. It does get a little technical at times, especially after Morillon where sections of the trail has roots, however; it’s nothing a bike with suspension can’t handle. Steve rode without suspension and managed just fine, although I think a bike with suspension is better - your arms (and bottom!) will thank you. You can do this biking tour in a couple of hours or, if you want to make a morning of it, make some stops along the way. Either Lac Bleu (about halfway) or Lac des Vernays itself are perfect picnic destinations. Be sure to take your bathers too. A dip in the lake with the mountains as a backdrop is a great way to refresh before tackling the cycle home.
Steve, Grant and I decided to ride direct to Lac des Vernays. Having made it to the lake in good time, I was enjoying the view and a rest when I noticed Steve rummaging in his backpack. Excited at the prospect of a snack, I moseyed on over only to discover nothing edible was on offer. What Steve produced from his bag was a Garmin GPS. He hastily began pressing the little gadget’s buttons whilst studying the information sign for the lake. And that was when it happened – my Geocaching education. Steve’s been a serious geocacher for about a year now, and during this visit to Samoëns he’d been ticking off a number of caches in the area. It seemed he was about to tick off another; his Garmin was telling us there was a cache within approximately a mile of where we stood. It only took a moment’s explanation and I was intrigued. How cool, I thought - an international online community of outdoor treasure hunting enthusiasts. I wanted in.
So off we went following our GPS’s lead. It was great. Not only did we have a laugh finding the cache, but Steve’s interest in geocaching led me to discover a whole new motivation for getting outdoors – finding treasure! The cache we found was a simple affair. It was a white and blue container, not much bigger than a film canister, inside which was the log to be signed and a tiny vile of perfume. That’s right – perfume. Steve explained that often little items are left inside the caches. These may be prizes for the first person to ever find the cache or sometimes something another participant has left, to be exchanged for a thing of equal value. Steve also told me you sometimes find what’s called a travel bug or geocoin inside a cache. These are portable, traceable objects, personally registered to one geocacher, that when found by another geocacher may be taken and placed in a different cache elsewhere. Travel bugs and geocoins can travel across continents, picking up all sorts of stories along the way.
Geocaching really is a fascinating sport. I set off that morning with ideas of keeping fit and enjoying my mountain surrounds, which I certainly did, but I got so much more out of my day. I’m proud to say I’m now a registered geocacher who can’t wait to get started locating the 61 individual caches that are hidden in and around Samoëns. You heard it right – 61. It seems our little village is just one of many hidden gems in this valley!
* For the full history of how geocaching began as well as all the information you need to get involved in the sport, check out the following link: http://www.geocaching.com/about/history.aspx