As I said in my last blog, I like almost every aspect about caching – puzzles, challenges, events, souvenirs; I listen to podcasts, read blogs and articles, engage in a number of online forums, Facebook groups and Twitter chats. I like to think of myself a bit of a geo-polymath, though those who know me better would probably describe me as a jack of all geo-trades, and a master of none! Although I’ve always been interested in the techy side of the game, I’m certainly not an expert. I taught myself just enough HTML to make my profile page look pretty, can use GSAK reasonably efficiently and have managed to publish a couple of chirp caches. Much else is beyond me without assistance, of which there is plenty out there if you know where to shout!
This last week has marked somewhat of a milestone for me, however. I’ve just had my 9th cache type published – my first ever Wherigo! Unless I become a Mega or Giga committee member one day, this is the most I’m ever going to be able to own, but I am somewhat proud of this achievement. I’ve been reflecting on my experiences of publishing my first of each cache type and the challenges that they brought.
Traditional: Common as Muck (GC10WCH)
When I first started caching, back in 2006, I mostly played the game with my youngest daughter, who cached as Lil Lottie. Lottie was and is a daddy’s girl and loved doing all the things that I loved, just to hang out with me. This naturally included geocaching, and it wasn’t long after we’d started playing before she asked if we could hide our own. We identified a possible hiding place, on Lincoln’s West Common. My role was to work out how to take coordinates and create a cache page, hers was to gather swag and think of a clever hint! We hid our clip top box in a small wooded area that we thought was secluded enough only to be found by people who were actually looking for it. The reviewer was extremely helpful, recognising us as newbies. Remember that back then, there were not thousands of caches nearby to give a range of examples for us to copy and we made a few mistakes. Once we’d simplified the hint so that it was only possible to find with a GPS, and removed the black bin liner we’d wrapped it in, we sat back and awaited the first find on our newly published treasure. The excitement of that first log was visceral. It actually worked! Someone actually found it and sent us a congratulatory email. Lottie made me take her back to the cache that night so she could read what they’d put in the log book and what swag they’d taken and left – we were gripped, and suddenly felt like ‘proper’ geocachers!
Sadly, that original container was muggled and the location was compromised, but we kept the cache alive by replacing it with a much smaller container and moving it a few metres away to a safer position. That cache is still live today and has even been used by some cachers in their efforts to complete their ‘Jasmer’ challenge!
Multi-cache: The Holiday Home (GC14BTK)
A few months later, we had found a few dozen more caches and were thinking about placing our second one. When out for a walk one day in Lincolnshire’s Wolds (that’s the hilly bit that everyone forgets but is my favourite part of the country, having been born in the nearby market town of Louth) we came to an area that I’d taken my children to many times. In fact, this was an area that my own father had taken me and my brothers to when we were children, back in the 60s and 70s, and where he and his brother had holidayed as small boys during the war! A remote building, with no running water or electricity, stood beside one of two fishing lakes, and not far from the single-track Louth-Bardney railway. Many families from the city of Lincoln had enjoyed summers here, fishing and swimming in the lakes, cooking on open fires and watching the steam trains plunge into the tunnel. My girls, like me and my brothers, loved this place, even though the cottage was now semi-derelict, the fishing boats broken and upended to form benches, and the lawn and gardens totally overgrown. The railway, like so many others in the years after the war, is long since closed, the disused line now a footpath which now completed a circular walk around the whole of this area known as Benniworth Haven. It was this walk which Lottie and I were idling along in the summer of 2007 when she said, ‘this would be a great place for a geocache’! She saw the opportunity for geocaching to bring others to this special place and so we created a 2-stage multi, to entice cachers from the nearby village, up the hill and to the Haven. In the ten years since its publication, a mere 50 cachers have logged this as a find, but each of them recognise why we placed the cache here, and have enjoyed the childhood stories of Lottie, her father and her grandfather.
Mystery Cache: The Song Remains the Same (GC1V3PM)
By the summer of 2009, Lottie, now 11, had largely grown out of caching (for now!) while I had become obsessed! By now I had a number of caches in the Lincoln area, including a couple more multis, and a growing series named after tracks by one of my favourite bands, Led Zeppelin. The series included caches named after Good Times, Bad Times, Black Dog, Bring it on Home, Communication Breakdown and, still active after ten years, Houses of the Holy, right beside Lincoln’s fabulous Cathedral. I was trying to think of a way to link them all together and initially thought of creating another multi, where each cache had to be visited in turn before finding the coordinates for a bonus cache. However, as the reviewer pointed out to me, this might mean cachers having to re-visit caches they’d already found and logged just to get the information required to find this multi cache. He suggested instead that I develop a mystery cache which might involve a puzzle that could be solved without visiting the original caches. What I produced was, I thought at the time, quite clever. However, looking at it now, I told cachers exactly how to solve it before giving them the clues! Most puzzles these days start with having to find the clues on the page, work out what the actual puzzle was and only then solving it! I know many cachers who just don’t bother at all with puzzles because they are just too hard for them and often think it’s a shame that there aren’t more simple ones like this, for beginners or young cachers.
Sadly, this cache had to be archived when some of the caches which it related to had also disappeared, but it certainly wasn’t the last puzzle that I’d develop.
Event cache: The Lunchcache According to St Paul (GC3T8P3)
By the autumn of 2012 I’d been caching for over six years but had attended very few events. There just weren’t that many back then, I had almost no caching friends and there certainly no regular events in our area. That started to change when The Imp began to run a couple of events in a local hotel, and The Amasons held the first of their now impressively popular annual events, Hyke Around Hykeham. I was married to a muggle who distrusted caching and had children who took up my time in the evenings as I ferried them to swimming, Brownies, Irish Dancing, Gymnastics etc. I also had a busy job which took up a couple of evenings a week and the occasional weekend. All this meant that getting to events was quite difficult for me and I had the growing feeling that I was missing out. I wished that there were events that I could nip to in my lunch hour and so decided that the best way to make this happen would be to hold my own. I was very experienced in running a wide range of events and so this didn’t faze me at all. The concept of an event also being a cache, however, could be confusing for some people and I even had a message from cachers who couldn’t find my newly published cache and another who didn’t realise that the event was only on one specific day, rather than a continuous drop-in! I was over prepared on the day, and had made sticky name badges for everyone and told the pub nearby exactly how many people would be there. What I now know is that there are always cachers who turn up on the day without having first logged that their ‘Will Attend’, as well as others who did but who didn’t show up! As the time approached, I was worried that no one would come and that I’d be sat like a numpty holding a sign and a box of ‘toys’. However, I was delighted to be joined, one by one, by 11 cachers in total, including names I’d seen on logs in caches and several whom I now count as close friends – what a relief! Fast forward to 2017 and I’ve now held over 50 events in five countries, including camping events, quiz nights, breakfasts, a retirement party for the ‘Classic App’, several World Wide Flash Mobs and three GIFF events! Running and attending events is one of my favourite caching experiences, it forms the backbone of my social life and is how I’ve met so many good friends.
Earthcache: The Stones of Lincoln Cathedral (GC40WH0)
In 2008 I began studying Earthsciences with the Open University. This had been a long time coming as I’d always enjoyed the outdoor life but felt I wanted to know more about why the world was how it was – why were some bits flat while others were mountainous, why some valleys were steep sided and others had gentle slopes, why some rocks contained fossils while others had none. To satisfy my interest still further I joined the Open University’s Geological Society which held occasional meetings and events, including one which was a ‘rock walk’ around my city, looking at the different kinds of building stones which had been used. This included, naturally, a visit to the Cathedral, which dominates the city of Lincoln from its position on the top of the hill. I knew it was made largely of limestone but that day I learned more about the type of limestone used, why it made such a good material and also about many other building stones used within the building on tombstones, columns, memorials and flooring, all for different reasons. By now, my growing understanding of geology had helped me to complete a number of EarthCaches and had, in turn, added to my knowledge and skills. But that day I finally realised that I now knew enough to feel confident about creating my own Earthcache and what better location than this magnificent cathedral church?
A popular area for tourists, my EarthCache soon had regular logs by visiting cachers from all over the world. Hardly a week goes by without it being logged at least once. I’m delighted that so many people have chosen to complete the tasks and always enjoy reading their responses to the tasks as well as their logs. I particularly enjoy it when their log says that they learned something new, which is one of the main points of an EarthCache – to take part in an earth science lesson. I’ve also learned to recognise that the EarthCache is a great way to bring cachers to a location where you cannot hide a physical cache, or one which you might find it hard to maintain. I now have six EarthCaches in total, including one in Hong Kong and another in Malawi!
Lab Cache: I <3 Geocaching
So you thought that only Mega and Giga committees could place labcaches? Well this is largely true, but in February 2014 Groundspeak allowed cachers to develop a single one-off labcache as a gift for a friend, to mark Valentine’s Day. Always being up for trying something different, I created one for my new caching buddy Lilmissgailyc. There was a unique interface for these caches, which only allowed them to be found by the one cacher that you’d selected before being automatically archived upon completion. And so it was that one night I met Gail from work with the promise of a lift home and surprised her with a mini adventure around the streets of Bracebridge Heath. The bison tube that I’d hidden for her contained a note to say that there was gift for her back home, which is where I took her next to discover her first ever trackable!
I love it when Groundspeak try out new things, even if they don’t always work and I often wish that they’d pursued this idea of a ‘gift’ cache that you could give at Christmas, Eid or for birthdays.
In the spring of 2015 I found myself working for a month in the badly polluted city of Boading, a 40 minute train ride from Bejing in China. This was a fantastic opportunity for me but I soon realised that it would dramatically affect my caching, there being none at all in Baoding itself, and no easy way to get to the next nearest ones. In fact, only a day trip to the capital would help in this respect and even Skyping my friends at their events back in the UK just didn’t scratch my itch! I hid a cache near my temporary home, and taught one of my Chinese colleagues about caching so that he could look after it for me when I’d gone. No one had even visited it while I was still there. I tried to develop an EarthCache but the subject was rejected as being an unsuitable topic. The final insult came when I realised that I was missing my chance to earn a virtual souvenir for CITO week, which took place while I was still there. It hadn’t escaped my attention that litter was a huge problem in Chinese cities and this rapidly expanding market was producing more rubbish than it could cope with. The children I was teaching didn’t have the same values of environmental care hard-wired into them as those in the UK and often dropped litter without thinking about it at all. What waste bins were provided in public areas were often Full, rarely emptied and were usually spilling their contents onto the ground nearby.
And so it was that I formed the plan to hold my own CITO right by my home, right by a bin, on a small area of wasteland. I had hoped that maybe others cachers would come out of the woodwork and join me but on the day itself I spend an hour picking up litter on my own, much to the amusement of passers by, and probably adding to my image of an eccentric foreigner! People even walked past me dropping litter on my newly cleared area, oblivious to what I, or indeed they, were doing. However, some children watched me and I’d like to think that maybe I sowed a tiny seed in their minds that day. I did earn myself a souvenir though, and another one exactly a year later when I returned to the same spot to clear it up all over again.
Letterbox: Church Micro 8786… Lincoln – St Katherine
Some parts of the UK have loads of letterbox hybrid caches; Lincolnshire does not! Most of those that I had seen just seemed to be traditionals with an ink stamp included. Although I know that this satisfied Groundspeak’s requirement for a Letterbox Hybrid cache, for me, it never quite captured the original spirit of Letterboxing where players found a box by following instructions, directions and bearings, and where the rubber stamp was just a way of proving you’d visited it and a pre-cursor of online logging. At that point I’d only really completed two such examples, one on the Wirral and another near Nottingham, The Church Micro series was now becoming extremely popular, and CM enthusiasts had begun to add imaginative caches to the series, including CM multis, puzzles and even Earthcaches. I won a cache container in a raffle and thought of using it to expand the series a little further when the idea of a ‘proper’ CM Letterbox Hybrid cache occurred to me. So from a starting point on Lincoln’s South Common, I invited cachers to take a bearing, pass certain street signs and furniture and take turnings until arriving at the cache itself. I’m delighted that so many cachers who have completed this one have commented on this feature of the challenge and that I’ve managed to add a little extra variety into the CM obsession!
Wherigo: Bailgate Pub Crawl (GC7DFPR)
For as long as I’d been doing Wherigo caches I’d dreamed of being able to create my own. For several years I’d had the idea of taking cachers on a virtual pub crawl around the streets that once staggered as a student – the historic area of uphill Lincoln near the Cathedral and castle known as Bailgate.
My initial correspondence with our reviewer steered me in the direction of using the locations of former pubs so as to avoid advertising commercial premises and so I took some time to research the subject, finding out about inns and hostelries long since vanished, some of them having disappeared over a century ago, and their buildings put to other use. I then developed a complicated story, which involved finding pennies, speaking to landlords, losing friends and finding your way home again. Every time I looked into how I could make all of this into a Wherigo adventure I stalked. The coding was beyond me, the tools too complicated for a beginner and, with their being no other Wherigo caches for miles around, no local knowledge to call upon either. Time after time the project got shelved, only to be resurrected a year later and swiftly shelved again; my notes and photos gathered virtual dust in my dropbox. And then one day I heard a podcast (was it Geocache Talk?) which discussed various Wherigo-developing tools, including one called the Wherigo Kit by Ranger Fox. This was a way of producing a Wherigo ‘cartridge’ without having to do any coding at all – a breakthrough! I could now select zones from a map, rather than mark our four corners of a rectangle, upload images as I wrote the story and drag and drop my ‘events’ into any order I wanted. This toolkit, however, couldn’t yet deal with collecting virtual items in an inventory and so a set about simplifying my story line so that it just included multi-choice questions. Gradually, by trial and error and with help and pointers from Ranger Fox and others, I had finished my story and tested it on the emulator. It was time to try it out in the field. I exported the finished cartridge to my smartphone and, just as I had been all those years ago when someone actually found my first cache, was delighted when it popped up in the app’s menu, and astounded when it actually worked perfectly at the first attempt!
Given that I wasn’t lucky enough to be awarded one of the new Virtual Souvenirs, I have now had published as many cache types as I can, nine in total. (My name does appear as a co-owner of such a virtual, but that isn’t actually on my account, so I’m discounting that). Geocaching has come a long way since the days when I had to walk six miles to find three caches, events were things that other people went to and writing a Wherigo seemed like breaking the Enigma code. But I’ve done it, and so can you. Go on, push yourself out of your comfort zone, throw out the film pots and try a new cache type this week – you never know where it might take you!