Geocaching. Geo what?

Geocaching is a game. Sport, hobby, recreational activity. Or not. Mostly it’s an outdoor activity. For some it’s done on the couch with a beer in hand — if puzzle solving for example. It’s something you can do on your own. As I often do. In pairs, groups, or at big and small events. Geocaching does have a cultural bias as it’s American born. But it can be played by anyone with an interest in discovery. Want to know more? Here’s my take on geocaching.

First, a spot of history. Back in 2000, a peach-faced President decided the public should be able to access the billion dollar satellites they paid for. A rare bit of insight for a politician. Then along came Dave who hid a geo stash in the woods and told others where to find it. And of course, before I go on, none of this would be possible without the internet. So someone needed to think that up! A lot of high-tech background stuff happened around this time. Dave put a logbook and can of baked beans in a bucket and geostashing came to be. Type geostashing.com into your browser and the magic happens? However stash sounded a bit dodgy and the game got a facelift.

Geocaching is a privately-owned game and, yes, I know that sounds weird, but all of the infrastructure is supplied by a company in the USA called Groundspeak Inc. It’s free to play but I get more value out of it by paying the yearly Premium fee which includes Aussie GST. There are voluntary reviewers scattered around the world to help out with geocache listings. The servers are powered by hamsters and the employees are called lackeys. The admin and costs in running this show must be huge so, if paying to play bothers you, or following a few rules, go and find another hobby.

A few stats at the time of writing: Roughly 3 million active geocaches hidden in 191 countries around the world. Millions of people of all ages play the game ‘tho I’m reluctant to quote a figure here and it changes daily.

Just to intrigue you, if you’re still with me, there are different types of geocache and these are rated by size, difficulty (to solve or find, but overall) and terrain. Attributes help to describe what is involved in logging the geocache. All of this info is added by the cache owner (CO) when the cache is listed online. A geocache can be standalone or part of a series or powertrail. Geocaches must be hidden on public land (or on private property with permission). A geocache cannot be buried — more on that under Bad below.

Finding and signing a logbook is required for all geocaches with a physical container. This is a key part of the game. As is taking a geocacher to a location worthy of the walk, pedal, paddle or drive. But seems nobody reads the Guidelines any more. I started caching in 2012 and, at that time, it was usual to purchase and download data to a handheld GPS receiver before venturing into the field. Not any more, as anyone with a smartphone can download an app (there are many) and charge off on a geocache hunt. No need to know the rules. Which tell us to find and sign the log. It’s almost a different game these days. IMHO 🤷‍♀️ But I still get pleasure out of this quirky pursuit.

Typing an online log has always been optional and some just can’t be bothered. The kicker is an online log counts in your stats — smiley — for the competitive or those trying to reach a target. There are many ways to play the game. I got into the puzzle solving early on and find it satisfying.

Geocaches come in different flavours and we all seem to have our favourite types:

A sample of cache types for the uninitiated…

  • Traditional is just that. A container with a logbook inside. Nothing else is required. Write or stamp and you’re done. Put it back where you found it.
  • Multicache with at least two waypoints, the posted coordinates and location of the geocache container. No distance limit between WPs. Logbook inside.
  • Mystery cache involves solving a puzzle either in advance or onsite. Field puzzles have an Attribute. This is also a physical container with a logbook. Distance between visible coords and the geocache is limited to a bit over two kliks.
  • Challenge caches are mystery caches with a twist. Some are fun, some are a gruel. Challenge listings were suspended for a year while HQ tried to sort out the mess made by (some) over-zealous COs.
  • An Earthcache is (allegedly) a significant geological feature. There is no physical container at the coordinates. Geocachers respond to questions based on observations. There may be more than one waypoint. A selfie can be required as evidence the cacher visited the location.
  • Letterbox hybrid is based partly on the North American letterbox hunt. It’s still a geocache and must have coordinates. ‘Tho it’s fun to add a few clues to up the challenge.
  • Wherigo is played on an app and involves moving from point to point, and answering questions or doing an action. A listing is still created at Geocaching.com. I created a Wherigo at Mt Coot-tha based on survival skills during a zombie apocalypse.
  • Events come in a few types including social, CITO (clean up trash), Mega and Giga. All events were deferred during the 2020 lockdown and are slowly coming back into play as restrictions ease.
  • Adventure Labs is a new game but here’s the kicker, every WP you visit adds a smiley to your overall geocaching point tally. Why, I don’t know? Much debate in the forums about this anomaly. Played on the AL app under your geocaching account name, which makes it easy to get started. Answer a question at WPs.

And of course we have our own language. Here’s a sample of geo-jargon:

  • GZ – ground zero, the actual location of a geocache, whether physical or otherwise. Often denoted by the published coords.
  • CO – cache owner, or account holder who hid the geocache and published the online listing. Usually but not always the name on the listing page.
  • GC – every draft and published geocache or event has a unique GC code. The quickest way to locate a geocache.
  • IPS – my fave hides as this means hidden in plain sight, and can be a clever creation. I recall a fake water tap (faucet) next to a footpath in Sydney, and the geocache was called Tap that!
  • TFTC – added to online logs to thank the cache owner for the hide.
  • SPOR/SPOS – suspicious pile of rocks or sticks, used as a hint.
  • TOTT – tool of the trade, can be anything from tweezers to a 10m ladder.
  • BOT – hidden at base of the tree at GZ. Simples.
  • PAF – phone a friend, just like a game show. Doesn’t have to be someone you know, and the CO can help out. And if you’ve scaled a mountain and can’t locate the cache, it helps to have a mobile signal.
  • Muggle – someone who does not play the game, a term borrowed from the Harry Potter books.
  • Attributes – these icons are your caching friends as they are a visual description of what to expect of a particular hide. A commonly used Attribute is the snake on Aussie geocache listings.
  • DNF – this is Did Not Find, and at the end of a caching day I log these first. Yes, I always log my DNFs. It lets the CO and others know there may be a problem at GZ. Try not to develop an allergy to DNFs as they serve a purpose. My DNF rate is average.
  • FTF – first to find a newly published geocache. Not an official part of the game. But a thrill to open a blank logbook.
  • NUFAS – find a geocache and nude up for a smiley. Also not an official part of the game.
  • The list goes on and on. Check out the online forums for more shortcuts.

The good 🌹

You can do it solo. With caching buddies. Muggle friends. And at events. I was fortunate to have a mentor in guddink (dec. 2018) who showed me the ropes and instilled a sense of responsibility in my caching behaviour. I have made good friends as a geocacher 💕

Want to get fit or lose a bit of Christmas cheer from around the thighs? Walking is the least you can do when looking for geocaches. There are even caches rated for wheelchair ease — Terrain 1. Up the ante and climb a hill, ride a horse, ride a mountain bike, or learn to paddle a kayak or canoe. Lots to see. Lots to do.

Best of all, skip those caches that don’t grab your interest.

I have played in Australia and overseas and been to places I wouldn’t have found without local knowledge. Look for geocaches with favourite points based on a clever cache or spectacular location or experience. Read previous logs when visiting a town or area. Ask other cachers for ideas when compiling your wishlist for a geo-trip.

Stopping for geocaches is also a great way to break up road trips.

The bad 😤

Geocaches hidden in wildlife habitats such as hollow logs and trees in nature reserves. This upsets both the ecosystem and the park rangers. Do not vandalise trees 🌲 No! No! Just say no! Find another place to hide your stuff. The brushtail possum needs that log. You do not. This brings our game into disrepute.

The number of geocaches I’ve found below ground level seems to be on the rise. The rules don’t allow caches to be buried as nobody can find them. It’s not clever. It’s unfair. And the containers get damp. Stop it.

Vandalism! Sure, put a stash note or sticker on your geocache saying it is an official game piece and must not be removed. If the authorities or a member of the public objects to its location, HQ will Archive it. Worse, a finder may trash it for no reason. It’s the risk you take. Some peeps regard our geocaches as litter.

Caches hidden in nature parks, on state land or private property must be approved in writing by the land owner/manager.

The ugly 😱

The guidelines state clearly that geocaches are not to be placed on electrical or high voltage devices. Why do I keep finding them on these devices? There’s no cure for stupidity 🤦‍♀️ Just report it to a Reviewer or HQ. Electrocution is not fun.

Geocachers are people and represent a subset of the general population. Some are now my friends and social contacts. But, and this is a big but, some are mean and nasty, some spread gossip and sexual rumours (I kid you not!). Some have criminal records and are not people you want to be around. And, oh, so much more. Some have nothing better to do and have made this game and everyone in it a part of their life. But I try and avoid the twunts.

People can be seriously hurt. Set your limits and stick to them.

That’s all as I could ramble on for hours. And you need to go out and find a geocache. Or three.

Geocaching. Now you get it, eh?

Want to know more? I’ll be writing up some of my favourite geocaching experiences. Stay tuned for wild days and nights on the hunt for smileys. And a rundown on trackables.

Use your commonsense. Be kind. Stay cool.

Happy trails!

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