Is it a hobby, a sport, or activity? Is it hide and seek, a treasure hunt, or a high-tech form of letter dropping? Armed with a GPS and a backpack full of trinkets I pick up at garage sales, thrift shops, and when feeling very generous, classic toys from all the regular cast of fast-food joints.
Geocaching has its official start around 2000, but many of us in the military teaching land navigation and GPS (PLGR) technology were into it well before that time. Our first cache sites were usually food, ammo, and water drops for troops in training exercises, but to increase interest, make it fun, and add a challenge to it- we would fill ammo cans with anything from movie tickets to the base threater, unit patches for trading or collecting, or some small trinket that would only have meaning for those on the search. (I once left a bag full of toy compasses for one of my squads signifying their completing of the night navigation scenario—some of those soldiers still carry it to this day).
Geocaching uses GPS coordinates found on sites such as geocaching.com to find a specific location containing a cache. By registering on the website you can gain access to the location of cache sites- many of which are within a short distance from your home or office. You also have the ability to see the level of difficulty, specific facts and hints, and of course what kind of cache it is.
Cache types can vary. The most common is the Traditional Cache– which is a waterproof container with a pen, a log book, and items to trade. The rule is that you sign and date the log book and trade for one of the items in the cache. Good Geocachers will trade items in their pack of equal or greater value. The slackers of the Geocaching world leave the crappy stuff, bits of change, or nothing. They are the usually the same people in life that live off of the rest of us… At the end of your adventures you go home (or from your mobile device) and log whether you found the cache or not.
Micro and Nano Caches are tiny caches that create a great challenge. Micros are about the size of a film canister and Nanos are about the size of a pen cap. Normally, these only contain logs to sign. These are common in highly congested areas.
Virtual Caches are normally sites of historical significance. This is one of my favorites because it gets us into areas where we can learn about a place we might have never traveled to. Early in our geo-adventuring days we often traveled a few hours to such places. With virtual caches you not only have to find the location- but also answer some obscure questions about the site. This last weekend we learned about mayors and county clerks in our town during significant periods of growth and change, while standing in a pavilion that was once city hall. You email the answers to the cache owner who determines if you completed the find. There has been a moratorium on new caches like this because of the perceived increase in traffic. Not sure here—but if people are learning about these obscure pieces of history- I would think more traffic is better.
We have been learning to love Earth Caches- party due to the Virtual Cache going away. These are sites such as river confluences, petrified trees, rock formations, cracks in the earth, caves, etc. These combine science, geology, and GPS navigation. I have learned allot since I started doing these and they are a great way to teach science to the kiddo.
There are a few other types of caches we won’t go into detail on- mainly because I don’t do them. These include the multi-cache, the mobile cache, and event caches. I loved webcam caches but no sense going into that since most have been removed.
Something we are just getting into – that requires some steeper etiquette is the Travel Bug. The Travel Bug is not a cache, rather an item that goes into a cache. The purpose of the Travel Bug (TB) is to be transported from one location to the other and be logged. The actual (TB) looks like a GI dog tag and normally has “hitchhiker” attached to it. The hitchhiker is usually some type of toy, coin, etc.
Each Travel Bug has a goal set by its owner. Goals are typically travel-related, such as to visit a specific region or country in Europe or travel from state to state. I am about to launch TBs into Asia with the goal of making it back to the US. Travel Bug trackables move from cache to cache with the help of Geocachers find it in a cache, move it to a new cache, and log it. TBs should not be kept for more than a week. If you are not willing to log it and move it- leave it where it is. TBs have a monetary and emotional investment from the owner and depend on good Geocachers (not the ones living off the rest of us) to move these along. Often it is requested to have pictures taken of places or scenery with the hitchhiker. If you do this DO NOT PHOTOGRAPH THE TRACKING NUMBER. Those same slackers that are not good Geocaches will see the number and log it. I have seen TBs in California on Wednesday morning and in Aberdeen, Scotland the same afternoon. There is a special section on geocaching.com that explains what to do with these as well as other trackable items. I have a video posted showing a Travel Bug.
The last has been “Challenges”. This is a new one for us. Challenges are close to virtual caches in that it gets you close to some cool areas, but usually you are posting a picture, though in some cases it might have a question to answer.
We love Geocaching and its an opportunity to get out. I especially like it when I travel for work. It gets me out exploring my surroundings. It also gives us an excuse to really explore an area. We often pick an area of the map, load our GPS with Geocaches, and head out for a day of adventure.