Sunday, June 8, 2014

So, what's this "GEOCACHING" thing I'm always talking about?


The outdoor sport/game/hobby of searching for hidden objects by using Global Positioning System(GPS) coordinates posted on the Internet.

When I tell people I'm into geocaching, I usually get one of two reactions:  1) People look at me like I've grown a second head and then ask me what it is.  2) The more common answer, people will nod and say, "Ah." And try to bluff like they know what I'm talking about. Not getting off that easy gang. I say, "Do you know what that is?" And THEN they say, "I have no idea."  Well, OK then. Let me enlighten you.

First, and most importantly, it is geoCACHE, not geoCASH. Aside from an occasional quarter or a soggy dollar bill, there is almost never any monetary gain, so if that's what you're looking for, get yourself a metal-detector and head for the beach.

Second, I have yet to meet more than five people that have actually tried geocaching and NOT liked it. Most of us were completely addicted within the first few caches. So, if you don't have a lot of time, you may not want to even start. BUT, here are a few pros to this hobby:

a)  It is free. You sign up on GEOCACHING.COM and get started. However, like most free websites, there are upgrades and items that you CAN spend money on, but it's not necessary. I would suggest you try it for about a month and see how committed you are. If you're as committed as we are (i.e. these two train wrecks don't leave the house for an appointment without looking to see what caches are in or around that area), then I recommend upgrading to the 'premium' membership, which is $30 a year. The benefit of this are twofold: There are lots of caches that are hidden from those who aren't premium members, and your geocaching map is way more accurate.

b)  You don't need a bunch of fancy and expensive tools to play. I had about a 3 month head start on mom, but since she was driving with me to most of the caches, I finally got her out of the car to hunt with me. Because a lot of areas in Las Vegas don't get cell reception, mom and I bought a Garmin hand-held for about $300 and we've probably only used it five times and now it's in the closet. There are two FREE phone apps that work way better, and one is directly connected to so all your stats and logs can be done as soon as you find the cache, instead of having to do it all later at home. You can also run cache queries to be used if you have to go somewhere with no cell service.  Our favorite by far is C:Geo (this is the one that works with the official website) and I use GPS Essentials because I like the compass tool better and you can use them both for difficult caches that have coordinates bouncing all over the place.

c)  It is an awesome family activity. In a point of history where your kids stare at their phones or game consoles more than they look at you, this is a way to get some quality family time in the outdoors. What a concept! They can still stare at their phones but their doing it for a healthier reason. As a member or members, you can have your own private account or you can create a team. Some families have both, in case they cache alone and together. For smaller children, there is an easy option just for them in a hand-held GPS unit that is pre-loaded with cache coordinates (I believe it's called Geomate, Jr.).

d)  There are always social events to meet new people. It's not just you out chasing down caches. There are events constantly going on and a lot of them are really cool with really cool people. There's an event list on the website for all over the world.  Any member can create and host an event, but there are also BIG worldwide events like 31-Days of Geocaching, Worldwide Flash Mob Day, Geocaching in Space, etc. For simple local events, attendance counts as a cache. For worldwide events, it also counts as a cache but you also earn souvenirs on your statistics (more on that later). Here is a link to one of my events as a example.

(Two buddies I met at my first event (Gordon Biersch Meet & Greet in Las Vegas), brothers Jimmy and Dean. Together we made "Team 3 Stooges". LOL)

How do you get started?  Well, for me, my mom bought me "Geocaching for Dummies" on the .25 table at the library. She knew what it was about, but I didn't and basically just put on the bookshelf to collect dust. Then, while in Arizona, I accidentally stumbled onto a cache. I was like, WTH? But the little light bulb went off over mom's head and she was like, "Hey! That's the geocaching thingie I was telling you about!" OK, well, having now scene one in action, I decided to delve into it a bit. I literally read the first two chapters of the forgotten book and with the Introduction to Geocaching videos on the website, it's easy to jump right in!

Geocaching can sometimes be a bit competitive. One look at any of our profile statistics, and you can see that. For some of us (mom and I), our priority is our maps and souvenirs. So when we travel (example: We recently went to five islands in the Southern Caribbean), our maps get shaded and we get souvenirs. Thus, we ALWAYS prioritize getting at least one geocache when we travel, before any sightseeing. You can also get souvenirs for worldwide events. For some people, it's all about the numbers. This seems to be more prolific in male geocachers. It's basically a pissing contest. These are the folks that do the "power trails" where you just roll down the road and pick up a cache every tenth of a mile (there must be at least 1/10th of a mile between caches). Mom and I tried this on the Extraterrestrial Highway and were bored after about 30 caches. It wasn't even a challenge. But I've seen guys stay awake for DAYS to finish all 2,000+ caches out there. 

One of the most sought after claims to fame is a "First to Find". I've had four. They even have huge First to Find events. Again, this is mostly the male cachers. They will even have an alarm on their email to go off when a new cache is posted, and they'll get up in the middle of the night to go after it. The thing that baffles mom and I is that there are no statistics maintained for FTFs. So there's nothing on your profile that says you have all these finds, yet I've seen people arguing about who was there first. They even argue on the cache logs. 

(May not look like much, but these are some pretty important milestones to a new cacher! Left: #500 at the FTF event in Ocala April 2013. Rt: #1,000 Feb. 2014, yes it was deliberately planned to be at UF stadium!)

There are many different types of caches. There are almost 2 and 1/2 MILLION caches hidden around the world, and over 5 million cachers. There are traditional caches, stage caches, puzzle caches, Earth caches and virtual caches, and even underwater caches. A cache can be as small as a pencil eraser and as large as a 5 gallon paint bucket. All of these caches are explained on the website, but I will tell you that the single most common caches are "micros". Most prominent in the city, but sometimes out in the boonies, too. They are very small and usually only big enough for a log to sign (you sign the log and log it on the website and then that cache turns into a smiley face), so always take a pen. There is no room for swag in these caches. But beware the EVIL geocaches! To see what I mean by that, visit my "Evil Geocaches" board on Pinterest.

Members are the people who create the caches, although I would say wait until you're comfortable with the hunt, and be sure to read the requirements. Some of the volunteers who approve the hides can be really OCD about it, while others are a bit more cooperative. I've got about 50 hidden in Las Vegas and Arizona. I prefer to make larger caches (regular size), and I have been praised on the goodies I leave in them, although you may have to hike a bit to get to them! The reward is better when you have to work for it, right? 

Swag is what we call any goodies placed in a cache for trade. There's a one-for-one trade rule... so don't take it out if you don't have something of equal or better value to put in (exception is trackables). Swag examples are Mardi Gras beads, little toys, etc. We usually don't even take swag...we're just after the log and credit.

I think that just leaves trackables. There are basically two kinds of trackables: Travel bugs (dog tags you can attach to any little thing you want) and geocoins. Both have numbers and when activated, you set up a home page for it and give it a mission. Then you can see how far it travels. I have several, but I will give a word of advice, if you have geocoins that are hard to acquire (like coins I've bought on Ebay that are no longer made), I suggest making a duplicate coin (take a picture of the front and back of the coin and put cardboard between it) to send out, but keep the original coins. Here is a link to my trackables just as an example. Then I can take the original coins with me to events to show off. Oh and almost anything can be a trackable if you have trackable number associated to it. Geo-dogs can have their own trackable. Your car can be trackable. I've even seen tattooed trackables on one members arm. Now that's commitment! LOL

And now a word about muggles. Yes, we totally stole that from Harry Potter! A muggle is someone who might see you retrieve a cache. Here's the thing that kind of confuses me: You're suppose to be super-stealthy when retrieving an returning a cache to it's hiding place. BUT, we kind of want to get more people interested in geocaching, so how do we choose?  I tend to try to be stealthy, but I've had people asking me what I'm doing and so I tell them. I actually carry 'muggle cards' to pass out when I get busted or just to give to people who might enjoy it.

So, I wish there were a shorter way to explain all of this. It's really not as complicated as I've probably made it seem, but again, there are several SHORT videos on the website that might do it better than me. 

And with that, this concludes Geocaching 101. I have to go out and find a few now!  Good luck and happy hunting!

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