Picture it; Suburbia, 2014. I had managed to design a fabulous schedule where I could get the kids out of daycare and work from home full-time. It was a gift, one that changed my life in a number of ways for which I will be forever grateful. It was also the first summer that my children were home during the day and they thought they would spend it playing the XBOX.
It became clear to me very quickly that we would need to get away from electronics, and seeing as how I didn’t want to blow the whole stay-at-home-mom gig within the first few months, I sought the advice of my friends. I am blessed to have found a tribe of strong, loving, creative, wild women that I am proud to know and who freely share their advice and experience. In no time flat, I was drowning in great ideas, but one in particular stood out from the rest. Geocaching.
I should note right here and now that geocaching entered our lives at a time where we thought the best use of our weekends was to catch up on laundry. We were not what I would call “outdoorsy”. One small suggestion from a friend on Facebook and we went from homebodies who preferred the AC to caching-obsessed Team_N!
Follow us on Instagram to share in our adventures and see what kinds of caches we’re publishing! @team_ngeocaching
What Is Geocaching?
If you boil it down to the very basic gist of the thing, Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt. “Geo” literally means “relating to the Earth” and a “cache” is an item or collection of items hidden from plain sight or in an inaccessible place. Put them together and you’re searching the Earth for hidden treasures. If that doesn’t spark your interest, I implore you to keep reading.
Clever people around the globe create caches and hide them for others to find. Sometimes they’re simple, like hidden in lamp post skirts, and other times they’re miniature containers placed carefully into a knot on the side of a tree. Regardless of their difficulty, all geocaches are published to Geocaching.com, a website run by Groundspeak, Inc. out of Seattle, Washington. The website and app are home to millions of geocaches, including one that orbits Earth on the International Space Station. (Good luck finding it.)
There are several parts to a geocache; the location, container, and cache page.
Location is everything! Caches cannot be located more than 0.1 miles from one another and in spots that are public and/or approved of by the property owner. Caches can be located in areas with historical significance, a point of interest, or even off the beaten path and in the literal middle of the woods.
Once a location is determined, cachers will create a container that they hide in that location. Containers can be SUPERSIZED, and containers can be small enough to fit into unimaginably tiny spaces. One thing they all have in common is a log for finders to sign, and a cache page. Most containers are large enough to hold fun items like small toys and special treasures called “trackables” or “Travel Bugs”. Trackables are game pieces that travel from cache to cache, moved by finders who want to help them along their way. They aren’t to keep (although new cachers don’t always know this). Instead, you log the trackable code and let the owner know it’s been found. When you leave it in another cache, you log that as well. It’s a lot of fun to see where these trackables come from and go!
The cache page includes everything you need to find the container in it’s hiding spot. There are coordinates, descriptions, photos, and more. There are also logs from previous finders and oftentimes hints. Cache pages also tell you how difficult the cache is to get to and to find. For instance, the ISS cache I mentioned above is a level 5 difficulty find and level 5 terrain… because of the whole thing where you need to be an astronaut and physically blast off to get there. Others will be a level 1 difficultly and 1 terrain, and every other combination.
How Do I Get Started?
You’ll need to visit Geocaching.com and create a basic membership user profile with a fun user name, then swing by their Geocaching 101 page for an overview of the game. Click the “Play” link at the top of your screen and click on “View Map”. This will take you to a map of your current location, which will be filled with all kinds of funny little icons… those are geocaches! Next, download the Geocaching app on your device and log-in. The map that opens up should be pretty similar to the one you’re looking at on your computer.
At this point I want you to sit there and think to yourself… “how much free time do I have?” because you are about to become totally obsessed with this game.
When we first started out, my boys were both very young. We found all of the easy caches in our area and started heading into the woods to find more difficult containers when I felt it was time to include my husband. I didn’t want to be in unfamiliar areas with the kids alone, so he reluctantly came along to try his hand at what was, at the time, our favorite find. We’ve now found 2,251 caches, so our “favorite cache” has changed several times.
Once you’re completely hooked, you’ll want to consider updating to a Premium Geocaching.com membership, which reveals additional caches on your map that are even better than your favorite rusty bolt. Speaking of favorites, Geocaching.com gives you “Favorite Points” that you can award to those caches that really made an impression. Use them! Cache owners appreciate it.
At some point you’re going to find a cache that has stumped other cachers, and they’ll let everyone know about it in their logs. Resist the urge to post photos of the container or give hints about its location! Cache owners have put a lot of thought into the information they provide and may exercise their right to remove your log from the cache, which means the smiley goes away as well.
Types of Caches and Lingo
Before you head out in pursuit of your very first cache, you need to know a few things. There are many different types of caches and some fancy lingo that you should familiarize yourself with.
Traditional geocaches are typically containers that can be found in a single stage of searching. They include a log book and sometimes even fun toys and trinkets (swag), and even trackables. You use the GPS coordinates given to you on the cache page to find a traditional cache.
Multi-Cache hides are a variation of the traditional cache, but include several stages of searching. You find the first container but it then provides you with clues for finding a second, and maybe a third or more, before making the final find. These also normally include a log book, swag, and trackables, but sometimes different stages will include containers or devices that are too small to hold anything.
Mystery Cache hides are puzzle caches with pieces that need to be solved in order to get the coordinates to the final puzzle. GPS coordinates might be published to the cache page, but normally they are just a ruse. The containers will contain a log book. Who knows what size the container will be or what it will hold!
Earth Cache hides are virtual caches wherein the finder is sent to GPS coordinates and required to fulfil a request or requirement that teaches them about the location. These won’t include a physical container, but you will still log it on the Geocaching website or app.
Event Caches are exactly what they say they are; events that promote local geocachers to get over their introversion for a little while to meet one another, discuss recently published caches, talk about puzzle solving, and more. You log them as found on the Geocaching website or app. They’re a lot of fun!
When you log a find, you have the choice of writing a note to the cache owner, noting that you “Found It” or noting that you “Didn’t Find It”. Sometimes a cache will require some maintenance, like the log is wet or missing, so you’ll write the cache owner a note explaining to them that there’s a problem. When you find the cache, you choose “Found It” and shoot the owner a fun little message about your experience and the condition of the cache. If you search without luck, you log that you “Didn’t Find It,” which prompts the cache owner to check it out or marks the cache so you can go back and try again another time. Each time you successfully find a cache, your stats will change on your profile page!
Geocachers are a fun group in general! We may be quiet but we’re also fiercely creative and truly enjoy getting to know the minds of the cachers in our communities. Like any good club, it comes with lingo that makes newcomers and outsiders scratch their heads.
A smiley is probably the most important term you’ll need to know. “Getting a smiley” means you found a geocache! Why? When you’ve logged a cache as found using the website or app, it replaces the original cache type icon on your map with a cute little smiley face.
FTF is every cachers favorite acronym. It stands for “First To Find” and is a coveted achievement. It means you were the first to find the cache and sign the log, and sometimes you’ll be rewarded by finding a special prize just for you in the container. Some cache owners even create special graphics celebrating your stealth on the cache page itself.
DNF stands for “Did Not Find”. You might see a cache log where a cacher simply puts “DNF” and marks it as “Didn’t Find It.” Instead of the cute yellow smiley face, a blue sad face appears with their log.
BYOP stands for “bring your own pen” which usually indicates that a cache container is going to be too small to hold one. Consider that a small hint about an even smaller cache.
CITO is for “Cache In, Trash Out,” which is an environmental initiative that takes a cachers propensity for being in the woods and pairs it nicely with picking up litter and cleaning up parks. Sometimes an event cache will be listed as a CITO Event, so bring your gloves!
LPC means “lamp post cache”, which are also often referred to as PAGs, or “park and grabs”. These are easy finds to make as they are almost always right under the metal skirting. Just because the location is easy doesn’t mean the FIND is easy. Why?
Muggles, that’s why! Muggles are non-geocachers. They’re the people who will see you lifting that lamp post skirt and either go behind you to check it out, destroying the cache in the process, or call the police to report shady dealings in the parking lot. Before you make the find, look around and make sure the coast is clear! Remember the wise words of Ron Weasley, and “don’t let the muggles get you down.” Just wait them out and get back to it!
Trackables are cool geocaching game pieces that are left behind so they can be tracked and ultimately travel around from cache to cache. Some have a very specific goal (like our trackable, Bernadette Brown Bear, whose mission is to visit as many State Parks as possible, or our Michelin Man who has now traveled upward of 95,000 miles) and others just want to hitch a ride to the next fun spot. Make sure you’re actually logging these little guys so they don’t get lost, and please don’t keep them!
Swag is all the cool stuff you’ll find inside of a geocache, like stickers or race cars. Caching etiquette says that if you take swag, you leave swag! Don’t let your mini’s clean out a cache, making it a lot less fun for the ones that come after you, and never leave food items in a geocache. First of all, ewe. Second of all, nothing attracts muggles of the creepy crawly kind like a Dum-Dum that was left behind in the summer sun. If you see something yucky that was left behind for swag, be a hero and throw it away.
TFTC is a friendly closing on most geocaching logs. It simply means “thanks for the cache” and is a great way to say thanks to the owner for creating the cache, maintaining it, and making it available for you to find. Another variation is TFTF, meaning “thanks for the find.”
TNLN means “took nothing, left nothing.” Most of the time they’re referring to the swag inside of a cache that are there for the kids, sometimes it means they intentionally left behind the trackables in the cache for the next person.
Geosenses are the Peter Parker tingly feeling you get when you know a cache is nearby. If you’re in a particularly dense part of the woods, you might get what’s called GPS bounce, which just means you won’t be able to rely on your GPS to get you close to your find. You’ll need to rely on your own intuition, a skill you will truly hone in with each cache you find.
Best Places to Find Caches With Your Family
You’ll quickly find that geocaches are pretty much everywhere you can imagine, even in places you visit every single day. When you have a young family, you’ll also find that some cache locations are a little safer than others. For instance, the cache in the sewer drain might not be a hit with the kids, but the ones on the trail at your local park will go over beautifully.
I suggest looking at your local State Parks . Here in Virginia, our State Parks are full of caches, including a new series the VSP’s themselves publish each year. They even offer up a Geocaching Adventure program where cachers (and hikers) can log their visits to each park and earn fun prizes for completing 5, 10, 20, and finally all of the parks in the system. All you have to do is sign-up on the Virginia State Parks Adventures Page. They even host a Get Outdoors! Challenge from mid-May (National Kids to Parks Day) through the end of June (National Get Outdoors Month) where folks that visit and log five different State Parks can earn a free annual Park Passport which covers parking fees for an entire year. It’s a deal you can’t refuse. (I go into depth about my love of our VSP’s in my post “A Mother’s Musings of Westmoreland State Park“.)
How Do I Hide A Geocache?
Well, first you need to ask yourself what kind of cache you want to hide. Most new cachers start off with a traditional cache in a location they know well.
You’ll need to check the Geocaching map to ensure the location you’ve chosen isn’t within .1 miles of another cache. Sometimes this is easy to tell, sometimes you’ll find out there’s a virtual stage of another cache located within .1 of your location that will keep you from getting the green light from the Geocaching reviewers.
Once you’ve found a spot and know what kind of cache you want to hide, you’ll finish your cache page and submit it for official review. This part of the process takes a few days at most, but all the waiting turns into pure excitement when it’s approved and your cache goes live! Now it’s just a matter of time before folks rush out to log a First to Find.
Brief Overview of Containers
One mistake new cachers tend to make is putting out a container that is anything but waterproof. An “Ammo Can In The Woods” is always a favorite because they’re large enough for your log notebook, swag, and trackables, plus they offer protection from the elements. There are a lot of great container options on the web from those ammo cans and match containers, to soda preforms and the elusive nano.
Water tight ammunition canisters and Plastic Lock & Lock food storage containers are the kinds of containers you’ll find used most often. They are great for placing in the woods, hidden by bark or other natural cover. You will also find a lot of Hide-A-Key containers, especially the ones that look like fake rocks. Most cachers taking the time to make and maintain Geoart will use soda preforms pushed down into soft ground, the main downside to these being that the Earth likes to swallow them up sometimes. Some of our trickiest finds were waterproof pill containers hanging in evergreens! Magnetic nano’s are particularly evil and are suited for metal stairwells and other areas where something tiny would be hard to spot.
There are special caches that special cachers build from scratch that require some gadgetry to log. Gadget caches are a blast to find, and around here the very best of the best are owned by WVTim (West Virginia Tim).
What Else Is In A Container?
A container needs a log! If you’re using a larger container, I suggest picking up the Right In The Rain weatherproof logs. Smaller containers, like nano’s, require special logs that will need to be tightly rolled for the container to close properly. In fact, they even make keyring log rollers to help you return those tiny logs quickly and efficiently… cache owners appreciate it when you have one of these in your tool kit. Most cachers carry a pen at all times, but just in case, it’s nice to have one of those in your cache as well. If you’re worried that cachers aren’t going to close your container properly, consider putting everything in a plastic ziplock bag as well.
Don’t forget the outside of your cache! If you’re hiding an ammo can in the woods, chances are good it will be muggled by someone at some point. Consider putting a sticker on the outside of your container that tells anyone who happens upon it what caching is all about. Official Geocache labels / stickers can be purchased directly from Geocaching.com
A Few Of Our Favorites
We’ve found around 2,250 caches since we started out in 2014. Since then we’ve also placed 34 caches! Here are a few of our favorites.
Traditional: The Fort Williams Cache (GC128) is the first Geocache placed in the state of Maine back in 2005. Located in Cape Elizabeth in Fort Williams Park, it has a beautiful view of the Portland Headlight – one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world. It has hundreds of favorite points, including one from us. My favorite of all of our own traditional caches is Save the Goondocks: Prison Break (GC61E7T), a fun Goonies-themed Premium cache that was a total blast to create.
Multi-Cache: Browncoats Episode 4: Shindig (GC5915W) isn’t just a favorite because we were First to Find, it was also a lot of fun to look for. Located in our local treasure, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, it took us on a Firefly themed adventure we won’t forget. My favorite Team_N multi-cache is another in the Goonie’s series; Save the Goondocks: Water Pipes (GC5DXA1) is nothing but fun from start to finish!
Mystery Cache: HI to OI (OBX Ferry Cache) (GCGA78) is full of wonderful memories from one of our family’s best Outer Banks vacations. Riding the ferry is part of the cache find, and landing on Ocracoke Island is always a gift. My all-time favorite mystery cache just happens to belong to us, and the fun we had making it has absolutely NOTHING on the magic of reading all the logs from the finders. Daily Prophet (GC83R9Q) is a Harry Potter delight and a true exercise in helping us to think outside of the box.
Earth Cache: Hands down, Dinosaur Footprints Earthcache (GCNP8D) in Holyoke, Massachusetts, simply can’t be beat. I’ll blog about our trip to Maine, built around finding some of the best caches on the East Coast, in a future post. Better believe this one is at the top of the list!
So… What Are You Waiting For?
When you become a Geocacher, you’re doing more than just becoming a member of this worldwide treasure hunt. You’re becoming an adventurer! You’re finding locations in your own neighborhood you never knew existed. You’re becoming a master navigator (truly, I can’t tell you how often my husband and I say things like “it’s right there next to that cache we found back in June, the one we really loved”). You are also becoming a conservationist, exercising your creativity, and getting to know some truly wonderful like-minded people. You’ll make lifelong friends and strengthen your familial bond. 🙂
Have you tried geocaching? What are your favorite caches? What tips do you have for new cachers?
Suggested Geocaching Items:
- Water tight ammunition canisters
- Official Geocache labels / stickers
- Right In The Rain weatherproof logs
- Plastic Lock & Lock food storage containers
- soda preforms
- waterproof pill containers
- Magnetic nano’s
- keyring log rollers
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