Created: Thursday, 21 August 2008 Written by Gary Elsbernd Print Email

“Using Billion-Dollar Satellites to Find Tupperware in the Woods”

What do you get when you cross an old Boy Scout with a technogeek who loves toys?  Geocaching.  Geocachers hide treasure boxes in the wild as well as urban settings and post the GPS coordinates online.  Other geocachers load the coordinates into their GPS receivers and hunt for the caches.  You sign the log in the cache and then sign online.  Your online profile tracks the number of finds, hides and types of caches found.

It amazes me that I can’t get my boys to go for a hike with me, or go for one myself for that matter.  Walking for walking’s sake?  No way.  But if there’s a geocache at the end, I’ve walked up to 4 miles each way, and recently completed a cache that required wading through a creek six times each way to find caches.  I used to travel for work quite a bit, and would return to my room in the evenings and work.  Recently, I’ve been to Seattle and Boston and spent evenings walking, up to eight miles a day, to grab caches in a new part of the country.

Geocaching is also a community.  There are socially accepted guidelines governing behavior (for example, if you want to be looked down on, log a cache more than once or “find” one of your own caches) and forums for sharing ideas as well as bitching and moaning.  The community is administered by local reviewers, such as Glen – RattlingCrew – in Salina, and online by a team of moderators.  All of these are responsible to GroundSpeak, the owners of, who set the rules.

Some random thoughts:

  • Log the caches you didn’t find.  A “Did Not Find” (DNF) log lets the owners verify the cache is still in place, and warns future cachers that this may be missing or difficult. I’ve had as much fun on some DNFs as I do on caches, and log the experience, regardless of the outcome.
  • There are different kinds of caches.
    • Traditional caches include a container, from a small magnetic container the size of a pencil eraser up to an ammo can, and a logbook.  To claim a find, the cacher must sign the log.  Period.
    • A multicache takes you to one set of coordinates where you are given the coordinates for another stage.  Most are two stages, but I completed a nine-stage multi in Topeka once (FTF!)
    • A puzzle cache requires the cacher to figure out a code, clue or other puzzle to determine the location of the cache.  Sometimes you can solve the puzzle at home, but sometimes you have to solve the puzzle using clues at the location.  If you have to do something in addition to signing the logbook, for example, hide a cache of your own or sign the logbook in verse, that is also considered a puzzle cache.
    • Virtual caches are no longer allowed to be created, but there are a few out there.  Those take you to a location and require you to send an email to the owner verifiying you were there by answering a question that can be answered by looking around on-site.
    • Earthcaches are a special breed of virtual in that they are educational about some geological formation.  These are still approved by Groundspeak.
    • Webcam Caches require you to go to a location covered by a public webcam and have another person grab a screenshot of you.  These are no longer approved by Groundspeak.
    • A.P.E. Cache – these were a tie-in with the Planet of the Apes movie (not the Charlton Heston one, the Marky Mark one).  Thirteen caches with props from the movie were hidden around the world.  Of those thirteen, only two are left – one in Brazil and one in Seattle (I found that one).
    • Events, CITO Events, Mega Events – these are all gatherings of cachers and are logged as attended.  They do increase your find count, but are usually just fun gatherings.
  • FTF – First to Find.   This is considered an honor by some, and as an early cacher I raced to newly published caches, only to be beaten by Kstatealan most of the time.  I have a few now, so I’m not as competitive about it.  I usually let newcomers and FTF hounds test the coordinates first before trying them out.  I’ll grab one when it’s available, but I don’t reschedule my time to get one.
  • CITO – Cache In, Trash Out – this is motto of geocachers.  We pick up trash along the trails to leave the woods better than we found them.  CITO events gather multiple cachers to clean up an area or park.
  • Log shortcuts – TNLNSL (Took Nothing, Left Nothing, Signed Log), TFTC/TFTH (Thanks For The Cache/Hide), ROOF (Ran Out Of Fun – usually on difficult or unpleasant cache locations).