Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Geocaching explained

I've been getting some interesting questions about this sport of geocaching and I'll try to explain the process a bit.

Geocaching is searching for a hidden item by using coordinates.  Your success or failure is logged electronically.

You can use a handheld GPS unit or a smartphone to find these hidden treasures, but first you must register your name with Geocaching.com to be able to play.

Using the website you locate caches in your area to hunt for.  We have the premium membership which opens up more possibilities for us.  What we are looking for is a cache hidden by someone who monitors and maintains their hide.  

There are several kinds of caches, from teeny tiny ones to large ones, some are virtual and others have multiple stages before you can locate the final one. 

 All will have a paper log on which to sign your geocaching name, although it may be very tiny.  You still need to show your find online before it officially records your success.  We've now found about 86, which is not many for having done this a couple of years.  For each 10 you find you allowed to cast one "favorite" vote.  Many have found thousands but we just don't take it that seriously.  It's just something to do in a new area for fun and help us learn more about where we are staying.

It can be anything from the tiniest container where tweezers are needed to extract the log.  These can be magnetic and appear to be a screw in a sign - very tricky to locate.

Larger ones are often camouflaged snap lock plastic containers or military ammo boxes.  These will often hold what is call SWAG, which stands for Stuff We All Get.  

It's just little trinkets and junk usually, but sometimes people will include Pathtags, which are special collectible coins you have made up special with your name on them. 

You are welcome to take any items you desire, but good etiquette dictates that if you take something you leave something in exchange.

The bigger caches are where you find travel bugs.  These are a coded dog tag thing that is again registered online.  When you find one you register the fact online and then carry it to another area and register where you dropped it off.  The owner of the travel bug gets an email at each activity and can track how many miles it has traveled. 

I have a special love for these because it's something I can play with.  Since we are always on the move I cannot set up a cache as there would be no way to maintain it or make repairs.

Travel bugs can be found in caches to take and move, or just to discover.  We have one on the back of our car.

  They can be worn by pets such as the "log my dog" ones.  Hmmm....I wonder if the kids would allow us to buy one for our granddog, Zeke.  I'll need to ask them next time we see them.

They can be worn as a shirt and act as a moving travel bug.  Why don't I have this shirt...I love this kind of thing?  Must remedy this at once!

When a brand new cache is sent out into the world there is often a first time finders reward, often a silver dollar or an item of more value than usually found.

 Serious geocachers will have alerts set up to notify them of any that show up in their area and go to hunt for them immediately...often in the dark of night.  I've had friends that have run out in their pajamas in the middle of the night trying to score these and have had to explain to the nice policeman why they are manhandling the newspaper rack.

The caches will never hold food items or anything with a scent since that would attract animals that would destroy them.  They can be hidden in remote areas where you have to climb up hills or even swim and dive to access them.  These are at a level we don't even bother with. 

Some are hidden in plain sight in high traffic areas.  In this case there will be a warning to avoid muggles.  Muggles are those who don't have a clue what we are doing and if they locate the cache are likely to throw it away or destroy it.  I can't help but smile at the Harry Potter reference.

The caches have a name, description, log book activity and sometimes hints to assist in their location.  Sometimes the name is a hint as well.  Often times you can glean some info from those who have left logs as to how they found it.  No direct information or photos are allowed and those are called spoilers.

Occasionally you will hunt for long periods of time and not find anything.  If those before you have also shown they were not able to locate the cache, you can give it a status of "needs repair".  This alerts the owner that perhaps they need to visit it again and see if it's still there.  It may have been destroyed by Muggles or animals. 

When starting our search we use filters to locate ones we are interested in.  For instance, in addition to showing what difficulty level we desire we can add things like "those that have been found in the last 7 days", this makes it more likely that the cache is still viable.  You can also search for those with travel bugs to narrow it further.  This is something I've done recently as I picked up a travel bug in Indiana that I've had waaaay to long.  You are supposed to drop them within a week to 10 days and I'm way over the time limit.

this is a sample of a travel bug we launched earlier

It's a fun game in it's own right and the side benefit is that you get to know an area and often locate places you would never have known existed without having played along.  It's also a good excuse to stop for lunch or get ice cream for a break.

So, I hope that this has answered a few of those questions for those who want to know.  It's a fun sport and I highly recommend it.

Long Live the Queen of Travel Bugs


  1. the travel bug is a unique concept. :)

  2. It sounds like a lot of work for me, but such fun for a lot of folks. I think my brother would have really enjoyed this hobby.

    We are having flash flood alerts in our area, and I am patiently waiting for some much needed rain to cool things down. It started to get dark gray outside, but now it's getting lighter so maybe the rain will pass us by again.

    You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Too bad truckers can't do something like this. That would be fun! Maybe they could leave some interesting things of value. No further comment. (Hug.)