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 : College Cacher

Geocachers come from all walks of life from babies stuffed in backpack carriers to people older than your grandma. I think it’s safe to say that of all stages of life, few of our single-years are as active as those in college.

Lia with an ammobox cache

Lia Steinberg is a remarkable student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication (you practically need a degree to put that entire phrase in a conversation). She’s a consistent Dean’s list achiever and is a Barack Obama Scholar, so she’s so busy you wouldn’t think she has time for any extra-extracurricular activities… but she happens to be a geocacher. She even maintains the blog College Cacher where the college-aged geocacher can garner tips and ideas.

Paurian: As a repeating Dean’s list broadcast journalism major, a Barack Obama Scholar, and a very active participant in extracurricular activities, do you consider your experiences with geocaching an augment to your overall life or as more of a relaxing hobby?

Lia: As a busy college student, I rarely have a moment to relax and do the things I truly enjoy. That’s why geocaching is the perfect hobby for me. I can take ten minutes out of my usual routine and do something exciting and adventurous. If I have an hour before my next class, I can whip out my GPS and find the nearest cache without taking too much time out of my day to have fun. It’s a great way for me to unwind and enjoy my surroundings even on the busiest of days.

Lia going geobikeching

Paurian: Your blog is really great for young and first-time cachers, with videos, helpful tips and interesting polls. What prompted you to build it?

Lia: Last semester, I took a class called Online Media that focuses on building an online identity and visual communication. For an assignment, we were required to start a blog about a hobby or interest that we felt we could be an “expert” in. I thought geocaching was the perfect subject to blog about because not many people are familiar with the hobby and thought it would spark some interest. Even though the blog was required for a grade, I did not view it as such. I thoroughly enjoyed blogging and sharing my adventures with people who share the same interest. Now, even though the class is over, I still continue to blog as much as possible.

Paurian: What was your first geocaching experience?

Lia: My first geocaching experience was about a year ago with my boyfriend. I heard about geocaching on another blog I read and it really amazed me how there were so many caches in my area that I never knew existed. I immediately tracked down the nearest one and found it about 15 minutes later. The rest is history.

Paurian: What types of swag do you consider cool … what about lame?

Lia: I really enjoy finding travel bugs because I like to see where they have traveled to. I don’t really find the toys or coins very thrilling, although I still don’t mind if I find them because it gives me an idea of what kind of people have found it before me.

Lia geocaching with friends

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

Lia: The most useful non GPSr geocaching tool would definitely have to be tweezers. They have saved my butt a few times when I simply cannot retrieve the log book if it’s squished inside a micro. Otherwise, just having someone else to help find geocaches is great because they sometimes give you a different perspective that you might not have thought of.

Note: Lia has a helpful list of extras on one of her blogposts titled “Geocaching Essentials” .

Paurian: Do you or your friends have any experiences or thoughts on caching with the non-groundspeak services, such as terracaching.com, navicache.com or Garmin’s opencaching.com?

Lia: I have never heard of those websites before, although now you’ve sparked my interest to check them out!

Paurian: What is the collest geocache hide you’ve ever gone after or heard of?

Lia: The coolest geocache I discovered was just a couple weeks ago when I was visiting family in Tampa, FL. The GPS took me to an old shed located next to a baseball field. The size of the container was not specified the hint was “not a glue.” As I was searching near an electrical box, I noticed a pipe coming from the ground with a gardening hose attached. I pulled the pipe right up from the ground and found the cache inside. So clever!

Paurian: As mentioned before, you’ve got great advice all over your blog for newbies. To date, what one post do you feel has been the most helpful.

Lia: I try to keep my posts interesting for new geocachers as well as for the well-experienced. I think my post labeled “The Thrill of the Hunt” pretty much sums up my entire view on geocaching. It gives my opinion about why geocaching is rewarding and fun, as well as gives special tips on how to have a pleasant experience.

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

Lia: If I plan on geocaching all day, my preferable mode of transportation is a bike. A bike with a geocaching GPS on the handle bars would be amazing because I always get annoyed at having to stop all the time to see where the GPS wants me to go.

Lia signing a log

Paurian: You mention on your blog how you introduced a good friend to geocaching. How many others have you personally introduced to the world of geocaching and which was the most memorable experience?

Lia: I have introduced many of my family and friends to geocaching and it has been such a fulfilling experience for me to enjoy my surroundings with the people I love. Caching (in my opinion) is way more fun with a friend than doing it alone. I have always loved to hike with my family, and now we can have something to hike to besides a beautiful view. Also, through my blog, my fellow classmates and professor were very interested in learning more about geocaching. They couldn’t believe a hobby like this existed and I feel passionate about sharing my new favorite hobby with people who are eager to discover it as well.

You can read more about her geocaching adventures and pick up tips and advice that appeal to any age (you don’t have to be in college) at her College Cacher blog.