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 brittybooks.com 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.

Geocacher Spotlight : Mondo, Yoda of Geocaching (Part 2)

In our first part of the Mondo interview, we covered some amazing ground. We talked about world travel and how geocaching has changed over the past decade.

Join us again as we discuss how Mondo got his name, advice on when to stop searching and the story of one of the greatest finds, ever.

Mondo: (MondoU2)

Mondo at the Spa at Cardo Cache, Spain

Paurian: What does “Mondou2” mean? I read in a book that it’s a reference to a coffee shop, but the closest thing I could find (via a Google search) was either the “Mondo Coffee Bar” on RoyalCaribbean cruiseliners or a “Mondo Caffe” in San Francisco. Could it be that it’s really a tribute to Canadian Ice Hockey’s two-time Stanly Cup winner Pierre Mondou?

Mondo: Mondo is indeed a coffee shop in Moab, Utah that sold espresso long before Starbucks. Their motto was “Still Legal in Utah.” Sadly, I heard it is closed. The user name Mondo was incredibly already taken at the time so I added the u2, which is a work reference (UniServ Unit).

Paurian: Side note to readers, the Moab coffee shop used to have geology haiku mic nights on Saturday to rally your inner geek.

Paurian: What’s your favorite type of cache and why?

Mondo: I suppose I enjoy virtuals the most as a cache type because as with most of the early placed caches, they are in interesting spots that I would never otherwise go to.

Paurian: What is the best prize you’ve retrieved from a cache?

Mondo: After a long hike in Spain I found a business card that said that if I brought it to Budapest the owner would put me up for a week so I could enjoy Hungarian caching and home cooking. A year later I contacted him and made the arrangements to travel there. The family was exceptionally hospitable and I had a fantastic week caching there.

Mondo holding up a stand-in GPSr

Paurian: That’s amazing! What did you take back from that experience? Do you still keep in touch?

Mondo: I have lost touch with them but I will always remember their hospitality. I was amazed that they taught themselves English just so they could read computer manuals and how many caches they had in Hungary. As I recall there were 600 of them – far more than in Colorado at that time. I also got to tavel up north and see some old castles and festivals. All in all it was a trip I will always treasure.

Paurian: Is there any place in the world you’d like to travel to, geocaching or not, that you haven’t been to yet?

Mondo: Planning to go cashing in Ireland next year and having some discussion with a few other cachers about going after the APE cache in Brazil. Someday I would love to find the 100 oldest caches…

Paurian: I’ve been told that cache owners and cachers try to leave a part of themselves in geocaching. Is there any particular geocache that really felt personal to you?

Mondo: I leave a whistle as my signature item – not sure I want to know what that means (he grins). I have had some tribute caches that felt personal but otherwise I do not philosophize much about the game.

Mondo at the Florissant Fossil Beds

Paurian: How long do you search for a cache before moving on?

Mondo: It depends. It is a combination of several factors: the difficulty rating, whether the area at GZ is one I care to search (I usually have a low tolerance for rock piles or trashy areas), the weather, time of day, mood, whether I am on a numbers run or on a hike, and so on. On caches around Denver I will usually look until I run out of places to explore and I will return multiple times. I do not have a pre-set limit as I enjoy the hunting as much as the finding. But, on a power run, I *try* to limit my searching time but I am only mildly successful some of the time.

Paurian: What is the most dangerous geocache you’ve gone after?

Mondo: Monseratt GC2D4 in Spain. This one took two trips to Spain to complete and is my most memorable of the *dangerous* caches. I had to walk up a vertical rock formation using a rope for about half the way and then find hand/foot holds the rest. My wife is an experienced rock climber (unlike me that gets scarred going up a ladder) and says it was a Class IV climb.

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

Mondo: I have a lot of fun with the game as it is and I believe that gc.com is very responsive to new ideas that come up. I am exited about their new map system they are developing and the possibility of breaking out of the 500 or 1000 cache limits.

Paurian: If you could go caching with any celebrity, who would it be?

Mondo: Robin Williams

Mondo Stage Exit at the Outback, Australia

Paurian: Is there a top to the learning curve where, after so many caches, they’re all easy to find or solve?

Mondo: I think it is the opposite sometimes. When I get it in my head where a cache *should* be I tend to miss where the cache is. Perhaps that is a learning curve too. I believe that what one has to learn is how to see the world. To be able to spot what belongs and what does not. What is out of place. To *see* the unusual rather than to look for a cache. There are always clues.

Paurian: How would you suggest people learn that skill?

Mondo: Stop looking for containers and start looking for the unsusual.