The problems with paperless geocaching

Those with GPS receivers know the problems of their devices all too well.

It’s frustrating when your unit claims that you’re just a few feet from ground zero just to have the GPS suddenly jump and say you’re 20 feet away in the opposite direction… then you walk to the new coordinates to have it jump again saying your now 50 feet away in a different direction altogether.

This dance involves staring down at the GPS while blindly walking in circles that could include stepping into piles of excrement or into oncoming traffic. The problem could be blamed on signal echos or signal obstruction, both which make sense in areas with dense trees or tall buildings, but the root of the issue is too much dependence on the electronic device.

Such was my fate last weekend. It’s okay now … the gummy fecal canine deposits have been kicked, scraped and walked off … but as a result I’ve decided to review the rudimentary way I work the caches.

I know a couple of geocachers who worked almost solely off of printed maps. The maps had handwritten scribbles and notes to suppliment the printed Geocache codes and pins. We drove or walked about locating the next item on the list, but navigated solely off printed maps. This has me thinking about the printed map advantages:

  1. Better planning
    By planning what you plan to do, you’ll be better prepared. Are there caches in the woods? Bring hiking gear. Are they in the city? Wear walking shoes.
  2. Less chance of overzealous hunting
    Knowing that there are ten other caches on the map, hunters are less likely to spend an hour on one difficult to find cache.
  3. More attention to the environment and surroundings
    Instead of going strictly off of coordinates, there was more observation work going on.
  4. No accidental puzzle caches
    Some cache owners accidentally put the wrong category icon for the cache. Going off of the iPhone app, the result is spending time to get to a location then, after ten minutes of searching around, reading the details to find out it’s a puzzle cache. However, if you prepared the trip through a printed map, you don’t depend on instant information so you have to print all that information out at the time, meaning you likely noticed this snafu beforehand and either solve the puzzle before heading out, or don’t waste your time going to the original coordinates… either way makes a happier outing.

On our next outing we’ll try the other extreme and put away our GPS receivers, using a purely printed approach and report what happens. Stay tuned.

What A Day Out Geocaching Is Like

Most people who would have interest in reading this blogpost are already geocachers. Some might be new to the activity, from which they’ll peer into it like a voyeur or a student. This is just a description of what a day out geocaching is like for me and my family.

First we prepare. It usually starts when I get up and my wife asks what I want to do today. I answer “Geocache” almost as instantly as a teen girl from the 80’s would say “Go to the Mall”. Then the scrambling begins.

Children and adults get dressed and help others get dressed, then eat breakfast.

I usually grab a flashlight, pocket knife, iPhone and wallet. Then we get our swag box. It’s a child’s toy fishing tackle box filled with trinkets we swap for those we like in caches we find. I usually stuff a few trinkets in my pockets because we inevitably come across a tough terrain where nobody wants to carry around a tackle box.

Usually without much planning we decide on an area of town to try as we gather in the family minivan. There are no printed maps. There are no goals other than finding a few caches with trinkets for the kids to trade and having fun. So the iPhone is pulled out since it’s our only GPS and we travel around to an area and start hunting for caches.

My ratio of finds, with or without my family, is about four out of five. When we hit those 80%, the kids are excited and having fun. Usually my wife or I find them first and we encourage the kids to look for signs… “do you see something that doesn’t look like it belongs?” we usually say. Then when the kids find it they’re cheering and shouting even if it’s a microcache. My wife and I feed off the energy and can’t help but smile. Some caches are cleverly hidden and disguised, but most are not. We then sign the log and leave talking about it, peaked enough by the excitement to motivate us to the next cache no matter how tired and hungry we are.

When we hit upon that 20% that is usually not found, I search it out hard. If I’m with others (namely children), they find their patience pushed to the limit while I stumble through juniper bushes (I hate juniper bushes – nasty bushessessess), wade through mud and get my face poked by tree branches. If someone posted a note or comment that the cache was easy to find that only adds to everyone’s frustration and my deliberation of dragging them through the junipers (nasty busshessessess), mud and trees with me.

It’s usually at this point that I realize it’s past noon, the family is tired, hungry and irritated and I reluctantly herd them home, leaving the DNF behind.

We log our finds and non-finds (DNFs) along the way. Sometimes if the network is sketchy we keep them in queue and sync up our logs when we get into a location with WiFi. On that note, we’re pretty good about logging DNFs. It’s embarrassing at times, but on that same 80/20 rule, 20% of our DNFs occur because the cache was removed (taken/destroyed/muggled/etc) and our part in logging the DNF helps the cache owner make that determination.

Only once were we the first to find a cache and it was our youngest, the four-year-old, who pointed out where it was. Finding a cache for the first time is like exploring through virgin territory. You don’t know what you’ll find there but you know it will be great. Nicer swag, bragging rights, but more importantly, an unadulterated theme that the cache owner wanted to present. Some caches are filled with theme based swag. Over time that personality becomes erased with the homogenization of cachers’ individual interests as they trade swag.

Eventually only the happier memories remain. I spent time with my kids. They learned something new. My wife and I had some bonding time. But late at night … in the buzzing stillness that sometimes tickles the mind and keeps me awake … that DNF in the junipers continues to haunt me back to restless sleep.

Geocacher Spotlight: Britton of the KALEB Crew

Today we head north into Canada where geocaching is alive and well. A lady named Britton offers a blog on book reviews and writes articles about geocaching for the examiner. She claims to be green in the geocaching sport, with only 100 finds, but that doesn’t stop her from producing great stories about caching in the north.

Paurian: What got you interested in geocaching?

Britton: My husband. He’s a huge tekkie. He convinced me that geocaching was the perfect marriage of his love for technology and my love for hiking. My Magellan Explorist was an anniversary present, complete with one puzzle cache pre-loaded, GC53C2 – Calgary History Tour: Olympics. Since we were pretty new to Calgary at the time, as well, it fueled my need to learn more about my new town.

Britton with her daughter, Emma, standing on a large geocache which is a glacier erratic

Paurian: In your examiner profile, you admit that your geocaching handle is derived such that each initial represents a family member. Do you always geoecache as a family?

Britton: In my perfect geocaching utopia, I would geocache with my entire family all the time. In my geocaching reality, I usually go alone because I’m really horrible at finding even the simplest ones and my children are not patient at all. My husband tries to attend with me at least one a weekend…if I bribe him with slushy drinks.

Paurian: What is the most unusual geocache container you’ve ever found?

Britton: I was extremely fortunate to have an artist of cache-makers living in my neighbourhood, KinderKen. For some, geocaching is a game of quantity, for him it is a game of quality. My favourite find of his was an electrical switchplate that was held by a strong magnet on the side of a lamp post. It blended so well that it stumped my in-laws for almost 10 minutes (we introduced them to geocaching in 2010). I am constantly tickled by the “secret society” of geocaching I belong to – where muggles are oblivious to caches right in front of their noses.

A wild rose, the symbol of Alberta

Paurian: What, if anything, do you find different in your experiences of geocaching between the United States and Canada?

Britton: Geocaching in the USA, for me, is usually more of an urban experience, so I tend to look up the puzzle caches that are represented by a landmark or statue of some sort. It’s always a good way to see the city and discover what the locals think is important. In Calgary, there was enough green space to hide bodies, never mind caches, in heavily wooded areas. In Regina, where I’ve just moved to, geocaching is more difficult because of the lack of greenery. Many times, the hide will depend on knowing your headings.

Paurian: What is the most helpful non GPSr geocaching tool that you take into the field?

Britton: My son. I think that geocaching is a sport where there are people that are naturally gifted at finding the cache. He seems to be one of them. Also, my camera. I love capturing the hidden beauty of the cache site because they are usually placed at very unique or scenic locations.

Paurian: What does geocaching mean to you – what would be its purpose for you (and your family if it applies)?

Britton: For my family, I think it means Mom is out of the house, thank goodness. For me, it is discovering peace with a destination. Even if the cache is a DNF (and I’ve had a LOT of those), the experience isn’t wasted. I find that there isn’t any internal conflict that an hour tooling about outdoors won’t cure.

A skull found while geocaching at Saskatoon berry farm

Paurian: You’ve written some vary interesting stories on the examiner. For example, you’ve published news on a geocacher finding World War II Bombs and on city grants that promote geocaching. You’ve also written some nice commentaries on geocaching in general, such as knowing when to quit, and what to do when the cache is missing. Where and how do you get information to these great stories?

Britton: Thanks for the compliment! I was fortunate to be part of a group of extraordinary geocachers in Calgary, some of which include people like KinderKen, Sleepy Hollow, Peanutbutterbreadandjam and Kophy Kupp. Every month or so, they would hold informal gatherings at a local restaurant where everyone would get together and chat about their passion: geocaching. For some, like Sleepy Hollow with over 10,000 cache finds, geocaching is what defines them. Also, most mid-to-large sized cities will have their own cacher’s website or online bulletin board where a person can keep up on the latest news. It’s a great way to take your solitary hunts to a more social and interactive setting. There is never a shortage to talk about. So, to answer your question, I wrote about what seemed to be relevant and happening at the moment. As I did that, I was alerted to new stories by other cachers “in the know.”

Paurian: What type of cache is your current favorite to find?

Britton: My favourite type of cache to find has sadly been retired. I was a huge fan of Virtual Caches because I have a propensity toward historical places. Now, my favourite cache to find is an easy one with a good view.

Paurian: What excellent feature / element / idea … thing would you like added to the geocaching experience?

Britton: I think anything that makes geocaching more of a social game is a good idea. I highly encourage geocachers to make a deal with themselves or their group to attend at least one gathering or function per year just to get to know the people behind the nicknames. I’ve met some incredibly smart and kind people along the way.

Paurian: You do a ton of reading, as the bio on your site explains. You’ve also done a good deal of blogging on the topic of Geocaching, as shown in The Examiner. Have you ever thought of merging the two passions and writing a book on geocaching?

Britton: I was asked to put together a book for an event upcoming in the Alberta Badlands this spring (sorry, I can’t find the event information). Unfortunately, I moved to Saskatchewan during the time I would need to be researching so I had to excuse myself from the project. So, like many a writer before me, I answer, “Maybe someday. When I have the time.”

Thanks again, Britty! This has been great.

A side note to readers, the image of the flower is that of a wild rose, the symbol of Alberta while the image of the skull was at Saskatoon berry farm where Britton spent a wonderful day with Kophy Kupp and Prairie Swan while collecting caches and berries.