A game reserve in South Africa has outfitted some rhinos with GPS in order to deter and/or detect illegal poaching.
I was going to call this post “Geocaching in the age of
cholera power trails,” but I can’t put tags in the title.
Yesterday Taoiseach hid a new puzzle cache. He’s been talking about it, planning, marking coordinates, and doing other research for a few weeks now. It was published this morning, and almost immediately he received a private email from another geocacher complaining that it’s too hard, and *gasp* hardly anybody’s going to be able to find it.
The cache is rated difficulty 5, and this is not the first time this particular geocacher has emailed another geocacher to scold them for hiding another puzzle in this area. And this is the second time in recent memory that Taoiseach has had a complaint about the difficulty of his geocaches.
It’s got me thinking about where this game came from, and where it’s headed.
The Ottawa geocaching scene has been very puzzle-centric since the early days of geocaching. Even before the mystery/unknown geocache type was created, geocachers in this area were taking the concept of a multi-cache to extremes. In the years since, many other local geocachers have let their own imaginations run wild, and Ottawa is one of the richest and most diverse places to go geocaching in the world. Without leaving sight of the Parliament Buildings, a visiting geocacher can find a webcam cache, a virtual, an Earthcache, a Wherigo, several letterbox hybrids, and numerous puzzles, multis, and even a few traditionals (and if you’re here on November 15, you can round that out with an event).
A geocacher’s dream? I’d certainly think so, if I visited a place with so much variety. But in this age of power trails, smart phones, and lamppost skirt lifters, this diversity and creativity in geocaches is decried as being too difficult, unwelcoming even.
Don’t get me wrong – in many ways, I’m thrilled to see this game gaining popularity and legitimacy in the mainstream. It’s great to see new names in the logbooks and new faces at events. New blood often brings with it new ideas, and I can never complain that there aren’t enough caches to find around here. Growth is good.
I’m not here to rant about the inaccuracy of GPS in smart phones (for the record, I think they’re generally good enough for geocaching and accuracy snobs are annoying), or n00bs putting out bad hides (they often do, but we were all n00bs at one point), or the proliferation of nanos (that trend is SOOOOO 2008).
I am worried, though, that the dark side to this growth is a trend towards mediocre homogeneity and a shift away from variety. On geocaching forums, I often see people discussing a new geocache “series.” I’ll ask why they didn’t put out a multi-cache instead of a bunch of traditionals, especially when the goal of the series is to give people a tour of a relatively small area. The answer is usually “Oh, but not as many people will look for it”. Or, worse, “But then the finders only get one smiley.”
More and more, our geocache maps are starting to become bland, uniformly green strings of micro-sized traditional caches. While power trails have their charms, it’s disturbing that geocaching variety is declining, and in some cases creativity is outright discouraged.
I don’t want to be too hard on power-trail owners and lovers. I think there’s room for all of us in this game, and I believe that almost any geocache can be fun under the right circumstances. I’ve had some great times racing from lamppost to lamppost with friends, going to ridiculous lengths to find the cache while staying in the car. Some challenging multi-caches have, honestly, brought me to tears. It all depends on the situation.
Folks, this is why we have terrain and difficulty ratings. If a difficulty 5 puzzle makes your eyes cross and your nose bleed, find another cache. Try it again later. Put it on your ignore list. But writing to the cache owner chiding him/her for having the audacity to create such a difficult cache? That’s unacceptably rude.
I could just say “Not all caches are for all people” and leave it at that, but there’s more to it. If you’re new to geocaching now, but you plan to stick with it, trust me… you’ll eventually start craving a challenge, a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps that desire for challenge will be met by a 100 mile bike ride with a micro cache every 0.10 miles. Perhaps you’ll need a 20 waypoint multi-cache to feel fulfilled. Maybe you’ll be overjoyed to nab your first FTF. Or maybe you just need to crack that nuisance, closest-to-home puzzle that’s been nagging at you since day one.
Whatever the case may be, it’s my hope that this game continues to grow in many directions, so we can all get what we want out of it. There’s a little platitude I keep seeing on bathroom walls and Facebook and inspirational posters: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Are you bored or annoyed by your local geocaching environment? Don’t attack your fellow cachers with criticisms over their hides – hide the kind of caches that you would like to find. With time, others will follow suit. We all have our preferences – sometimes they disagree, sometimes they overlap – but the best geocaching map is one that can accommodate a variety of tastes.
And we’d all do well to remember that the ultimate goal of geocaching is to have FUN.
After logging two Earthcaches in Gatineau Park on Saturday, I noticed I’d reached a little milestone.
I’ve found Earthcaches in seven Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) and eight states in the U.S. (Arizona, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, South Carolina, and Georgia). I hope I can fill in some more states, provinces and/or territories, and maybe even something on a different continent in my next fifty!
Here’s me at Pink Lake, Earthcache #50.
I’ve been geocaching with my son since… before he was born! The first time I met model12, I was about 7 months pregnant and we bumped into each other at a cache.
Here’s the advice I have for others geocaching with small kids:
1. Be selective about the caches you do. Look for “stroller friendly” caches, caches close to parking, and when in doubt, go ahead and ask the owner about the terrain around a cache. Most cache owners are happy to help out. There are many “power trails” along pathways that you could do in small segments with a stroller.
2. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to test your limits here and there. Find a friend to come along, or look for a geocaching buddy on the local forum. You’d be amazed at where a stroller can go when you have two adults to wrangle with it.
3. After a lot of experience with both, I found that the umbrella stroller was much easier to handle in the woods because it’s lightweight, but a larger stroller is best for geocaches along paved or packed gravel pathways.
*The one piece of equipment I really regret not having, and that I will get in a heartbeat when I have a baby again, is one of those backpack carriers.
4. Get the kids involved. Little kids won’t be much help in the hunt (but you never know!), but the search can still be fun for them. Let them hold the container and look through the contents. Bring swag with you so you can make trades when they find something they don’t want to part with. Geocaching parents sometimes decry micros because they don’t have swag, but I’ve found that my little boy is still interested in looking at the container.
5. Most geocaching events are family-friendly, so go ahead and bring the little ones!
6. Don’t forget to bring snacks, drinks, toys, lots of spare diapers, baby wipes, etc. A little preparation can make the difference between a miserable slog and an unforgettable day of family fun.
7. Don’t rush. It’s just not possible to keep up with those 100-finds-a-day geocachers when you have little ones with you, so don’t try. Go at your own pace, let the kids have a romp when you run across a playground, eat regularly, and if the kids are just too tired, call it a day.
8. Save the really simple park-and-grabs for moments when the kids are asleep in the car and you really want a few more finds for the day.
9. As your kids get bigger, challenge them to be more independent on the trails.
10. Take lots of pictures! They don’t stay this small for long.
After a couple of days of furious online chatter about Garmin’s Chirp and its impact on geocaching, Groundspeak has responded to the emergence of this new device by adding a new “Wireless Beacon” attribute.
There’s a comprehensive look at Groundspeak’s response over here at GPSFix.
Wawa, ON is probably best known to highway travellers for its big goose statue – Wawa means “wild goose” in Ojibway. The goose is conveniently situated next to an attractive visitor centre and a geocache. The goose is made out of steel from the Algoma Steel company.
While we were at the Wawa visitor centre, we met a different bird. Jasper wasn’t nearly as big, but he was a little friendlier.
Jasper really took to Taoiseach and didn’t want to go to anybody else. Cute. 🙂 Says Taoiseach enigmatically, “Birds like me.”
In 1903, a small Alberta town called Frank was hit by a massive landslide. At least 70 people lost their lives when Turtle Mountain collapsed in the early morning of April 29, 1903.
More than 100 years later, the Frank Slide is still one of the most notorious and fascinating disasters in Canadian history.
The Frank Slide is featured in an Earthcache. I hope my pictures give you a sense of the scale.
Taoiseach, the wee cacher, and I visited nine out of Canada’s ten provinces over the summer. I’d like to write at length about all of our experiences, but I’m having difficult finding time right now (wee cacher just started JK!). Here’s a photographic summary of our Western Canada trip that I hope you’ll enjoy.
Kelowna, British Columbia
Christian Valley, British Columbia
Greenwood, British Columbia
Christina Lake, British Columbia
Sparwood, British Columbia
Crowsnest Pass, Alberta
Frank Slide, Alberta
Indian Head, Saskatchewan
Kakabeka Falls, Ontario
Thunder Bay, Ontario
North Bay, Ontario