A few years back, gosh it’s got to be six at least now, a cousin visited and left my family a legacy of sorts, not to mention a valuable lesson regarding first impressions. At the time these visits were fairly commonplace. His work, though mostly conducted from his home, was headquartered here in Calgary and he regularly commuted to the city for meetings and whatnot. During those trips he would visit us, often stay with us, and always bring much joy to my kids.
During one such trip, early Fall if I recall, he arrived bearing news of and excitement for a new hobby he had discovered and he wished to share it with us. It was called geocaching and involved using a GPS device to find small treasures strangers had hidden around our neighbourhood. I was skeptical. My wife was indifferent. The kids were confused. My cousin was resolute. Like his father, my uncle, my cousin is someone for whom an answer of “no” is rarely even an option, so we all donned our jackets and made our way outside to seek what others had hid.
Somewhat to my surprise, or ignorance, one such treasure had been secreted away in a clump of spruce trees along the berm bordering our subdivision. We shuffled along the berm for about 500m, staring at the black and white screen of the GPS unit, watching as our distance to the promised prize diminished with each step, or in the case of my children, joyful skip. When the GPS indicated we were within a couple meters of the prize, we all immediately began searching for … something. We had no idea what, having never done this before, but my cousin explained the various possibilities and after several minutes of growing anticipation and frustration a small container reminiscent of a vintage 35mm film canister was spotted in one of the trees.
Inside this nostalgic reminder of a time when taking pictures was a costly and wait-filled mystery, was a small pencil the likes of which you find at mini-golf courses, and a small, rolled-up pad of paper. Apparently our geocaching reward was the right to print our names on a pad of paper, along with the date, alongside the dozens of other treasure hunters who’d previously discovered this hidden bootie and done likewise. Needless to say my skepticism didn’t bleed away at that moment.
And therein lies the first impressions lesson. In the years since that inauspicious first geocache attempt, we, with more than a little reservation, decided to try geocaching ourselves. It was a moment of weakness, or desperation, when we saddled up the kids for another treasure hunt while camping using a cheap GPS unit we had “purchased” with our Air Miles. Second, third, fourth, and fifth times were the charm. It turns out geocaching is a lot of fun. Or can be. For one, it makes a fantastic excuse to get outside and do some walking or hiking. You can’t imagine how quickly you lose track of time and distance as you seek riches while gazing at that tiny GPS screen. Furthermore, it turns out geocache discoveries contain all sorts of delightful trophies well beyond the aforementioned paper and pencil. Like toys, for starters. And the lure of toys, even ridiculously simple toys, is too much for any kid to resist.
So my cousin’s legacy is that we now own our own handheld GPS machine which religiously accompanies us on all our camping trips. We’re members of geocaching.com and carefully download caches before each trip from the literally thousands to be found wherever we go. We’ve even made a few, though maddeningly unsuccessful, attempts at hiding caches of our own. It’s truly become one of our favourite pastimes during our summer camping adventures and we’ve shared it with friends and family as much as we can. In fact, my wife’s team at work even had me organize a geocaching team-building afternoon here in the city last summer.
But all is not rosy in our geocaching world. Things changed this summer, or at least became more noticeable. It’s starting to affect our enjoyment of this wonderful, simple, outdoor pleasure. The kids are starting to lose interest and that is worrisome. You might think that this activity has just played itself out but I don’t think that’s the issue. There is a noticeable cause and effect in our personal experience. As far as I’m concerned, it all boils down to one glaring problem. The quality of the treasures is really starting to suck!
Now, that might be a rather bemusing assertion considering that the during our first time geocaching ever we found a paper and pencil. Not exactly the drug that’ll hook a nation. Again, first impressions. But many, if not most, caches actually contain toys or knickknacks. They aren’t terribly elaborate trinkets, nor are they typically new or even imaginative. They are, however, very much treasure in the hearts and minds of children and they love to find such things. We have innumerable ridiculous little toys in our house all found, and cherished, during various geocache hunts. They’re not unlike the doo-dads found in movie theatre, coin-operated dispensers and as any parent knows, kids love that crap.
The cardinal rule of geocaching is that you take a treasure and you leave a treasure. We’ve stocked up on dozens of similar baubles that accompany us on our hunts. Everything from stickers to markers to Kinder Surprise type toys find their way into our stash of potential geocache replacements. I find that the perfect treasures to buy are the same things you pick up for birthday party loot bags.
This past summer, though, we routinely encountered less than stellar treasures in the geocaches we found. Geocachers are getting lazy. A dog poop bag (unused, thankfully) is not an acceptable geocache treasure. Nor are broken toys, Nothing will ruin a kid’s interest faster than finding a cool toy that is busted. Coins, yes even the beloved, discontinued penny, are uninspired options. Golf tees? A single playing card? Seriously? You’re killing the wonder of the find for the kids. Me too, frankly. Nobody is asking you to spend a fortune on these treasures. Like I said above, loot bag junk is perfectly fine. It’s cheap, available everywhere, and kids are thrilled to find such bootie after I’ve “made” them hike a couple kilometers through the wilderness. Give them a worthy reward for their efforts.
So here I am, a once skeptical geogaching tag along turned cheerleader imploring geocachers across this nation to please, PLEASE, pick up your game with the treasures, people. You’re going to ruin a great outdoor activity through utter apathy towards the very thing that interests people in it to begin with. Put better shit in geocaches! I’m begging you and my kids will thank you. TFTC.
Mary Youngblut says
I had to laugh because my husband and I don’t have kids, but we like geo caching when we are off to our beach front winter vacations….. and we think the treasures are getting kind of pathetic, too. So it’s not just a Canadian phenomenon, it’s American as well. I especially love finding the little plastic soldiers or cowboys and Indians that were a favorite of my childhood.
It’s a global pandemic!
Mud Shark says
“Loot bag junk” used to be the *junk* in caches. Where do you think the junk comes from? Sometimes it is the cache owner, more often in our experience, its what is left in trade for higher quality swag. We used to pack our caches with nice stuff. However, when you do maintenance and find the cache with just a few business cards, broken toys and crumpled stickers rattling around in the bottom it’s really discouraging. When you like placing caches and own a bunch (over 100) you can’t afford to keep taking out the junk and filling caches with quality swag. And what’s the point?
I’m not sure I stated or implied it was solely the cache owners’ fault. I certainly didn’t intend to anyway. I have no doubt it’s entirely visitors to any given cache that are at the root of this problem. Perhaps simply saying “geocachers” was not specific enough but my intended target for this guilt trip was those who leave crap in caches. I had no idea it was expected (by some) of cache owners to keep these caches updated with quality swag. I surely don’t. Which is why I think the poor geocachers, or lazy as I called them, need to up their game.
R Schmidt says
Geocache owners have become lazy.
Many use to check on their caches regularly and clean out the junk. Add a few more clean trinkets. Maybe even add a pen/pencil. But that was before power trail style caching became the norm.
Now I doubt any cache owners go back to check their caches (at least not in my part of Ontario, Canada and the places in Ontario that I’ve geocached).
I believe the decline of geocache contents and lack of cache maintenance, has put a big dent in the appeal of geocaching. When the main point to geocaching is smiley points, the point of geocaching becomes less interesting, maybe even boring for many.
Mud Shark says
Whoa down! It’s not just the cache owners’ fault that their caches are less than well stocked. Lots of parents with kids don’t pay attention what their kids are doing while mom/dad sign the log or look the other way while the kids pillage the cache and leave no trades. Even adults don’t always trade fair. There are many cache owners in our area (Alberta) who look after their caches regularly and others who respond quickly when a problem is reported.
There are much bigger problems with geocaching than bad swag. The app has brought a plethora of problems…like killing logging. One of the most gratifying things about owning geocaches is reading logs, but the ability to log as you go (while standing in the heat, cold, biting bugs, wind, rain or in your vehicle) has reduced logs to meaningless acronyms, emoticons, punctuation marks, etc. Did you have fun, are there any problems with the cache or the area, is the log full, did you pick up or drop off a trackable, did something interesting happen or was seen? Cache owners depend on news of their cache to know if maintenance is needed. A little appreciation for the people who place caches for you to find goes a long way to encouraging more and better caches, too.
Another problem that’s come with the app is that people download it and use it without really understanding the game. They lose trackables because they don’t know that they are, they take or move caches, don’t realize the etiquette around swag (sometimes leaving cache destroying items) or realize the purpose or importance of logging, never say “thank you” or do give spoilers in their logs. Then, after finding 10 – 20 caches they hide one–often in a container that is not waterproof (sometimes paper), don’t put swag in at all even when the cache is large enough, hide it poorly or inappropriately, provide coordinates that are dozens of metres off…and then leave the game completely. The cache is abandoned by the time of publishing and quickly becomes garbage.
So it’s not just the cache owners who are at fault for this great game losing its quality and I’m not saying that it’s all because of the app, either. If you don’t trade fairly, familiarize yourself with the rules and etiquette of the game, treat trackables and caches with respect, show some appreciation with a decent log for the effort and cost the owner put into a cache for you to find, make minor repairs to caches when you can, CITO, etc, then you are part of the problem.
Mud Shark says
Agreed. My longer comment below should have been in reply to R Schmidt, “Geocache owners have become lazy.”
Rambling Rose says
“I’m not saying that it’s all because of the app, either. If you don’t … familiarize yourself with the rules and etiquette of the game,… then you are part of the problem.”
As cache owners, we should familiarize ourselves with the maintenance guidelines as outlined in the Geocaching Help Centre. We agree to the following when posting a cache on the GC site:
7.4. Maintenance expectations
To make sure your geocache is in good health, monitor the logs and visit the cache site periodically. Unmaintained caches may be archived.
Here is a list of your responsibilities as a cache owner:
Choose an appropriate container that is watertight.
Replace broken or missing containers.
Clean out your cache if contents become wet.
Replace full or wet logbooks.
Temporarily disable your cache if it’s not accessible due to weather or seasonal changes.
Mark trackables as missing if they are listed in the inventory but no longer are in the cache.
Delete inappropriate logs.
Update coordinates if cache location has changed.
After you maintain your cache, make sure to remove the “Needs Maintenance” icon.
If you no longer want to maintain your cache, retrieve the container and archive your cache page.
Heidi Bergeron says
I have started geocaching with a 5 year old as a way to teach him English and spend time with him. Our first 2 geocaches were no where to be found. I even went back to look again after, the 3rd one of the day was disgusting and smelled bad. My remark on the log was for the owner to fix it. Then I got smart. I did not want my little guy to lose out on something can could be fun. The next expedition we were to go on, I went first to find the caches. One was ok, the next two weren’t great so I created two caches with at least one thing I knew he would like and I hid the caches near the ones we were looking for. I did leave one cache not so great so that he learned that they are not all good ones. That sparked the enthusiasm. The next time, I did not hide any extra but again we found crappy ones, although one did have car in it for him. We will go again next week and I know the two we are looking for are not great so I will hide another for him. He has learnt fast that micro ones are no good!!, small are ok, but the big ones are the best!!! I always stock up some replacement things from the dollar store, whether it is Caribeener Clips, small magnify glass, hand wipes (when walking you may need them), small toys (rubber/plastic dinos, zoo animals always put in little bags). I let him choose what he takes and what he wants to put back. We go with the saying, “you take something out and you put something back of equal or greater value.” It is a great experience but some owners do have to do some maintenance on some especially after the winter! Many I find I don’t even want to touch what is inside and the logs are full. Oh ya, I also always carry a pencil or pen, many don’t have them in.
My kids were quick to decide that micros aren’t “fun”. The thrill of the chase only lasts so long when the catch is nothing more than singing a small piece of paper! LOL.