My Geocaching World

Wissahickon Creek

So today I read for about 30 minutes and stumbled around in parks and the woods for several hours. I thought I would give you a little sense of what my geocaching world is about so you will know what I’m doing when I could be reading. First a little definition. Geocaching is the “sport” (sometimes an apt term, other times, clearly not, see my discussion further along) in which one uses a gps device to find hidden containers of various sizes–geocaches or just “caches”–which contain at least a logbook and also sometimes little fun trinkets or even “travelbugs” (items with tracking numbers which are meant to be moved from one cache to another and logged so that people can follow the journey–I bought a pirate keychain in St. Thomas, brought it home, added a tracking tag, and put it in a cache in NJ. It went straight to New Zealand, where it bopped around for a year or so, then went to Australia, and is now touring the UK. Needless-to-say, I live vicariously through my travel bugs). Anyhow, you get the coordinates of the cache either by looking online at a listing that describes the location and characteristics of a cache or by using an app on your phone or GPS to get listings in an area. One of the things that is cool about caching is that it turns seemingly innocuous places, like your local stop sign, into little hidden treasure chests, and you muggles (yes, we call you that. Thanks, JK Rowling!) have no idea! Another cool thing is that it provides a great excuse to explore places you would otherwise never find (for instance the retired missile silo about a mile from my daughter’s preschool which is now right next to a set of batting cages in a town park–who knew?!). When it is sport-like, it involves hiking, or kayaking, or rock-climbing to get to a challenging spot. When it is less-so, it can involve looking for a magnetic hide-a-key in a parking lot lightpost base. The hides can be really easy to spot (tupperware in a fallen log somewhere out in the woods, with not much camo), or really tricky to find because of a hard puzzle to solve or something visually tricky to find, like a unique container well camouflaged to blend with its surroundings.

So here is what a typical day-off caching might look like. This morning, while checking email as I got my daughter’s breakfast, I found a message saying that a new cache had been published about 20 minutes away from my house.  I decided to leave the house early to try to be the first one to find this cache in the beautiful Wissahickon Creek area of Philly. The park there is full of trails, both paved and unpaved, and is one of the places I train when I do endurance races with Team in Training. Anyhow, a geocaching friend had just placed a cache, a tiny bison tube

Bison tubes

containing only a log to sign, in a tree just off the trail by the site of the first Baptist baptism in America, in 1723 on Christmas Day (BRRRRR!). The cache is wittily named Polar Bear Club (actually PBC Redux, as there have been prior Polar Bear Club caches in the area, washed away when the river got a bit out of control in severe storms). The members of the Brethren Church–German Baptist–were known as “dunkards” for their immersion baptisms, and I, for one, would not be up for baptism in the Wissahickon on Christmas Day, even with global warming. Geocachers often like to bring each other to historic or geologically interesting spots to fill each other in on local history like this. (Coincidentally, later in the day one of my own caches was published–even smaller, a “magnetic micro,”–which is located near the former site of “Roadside,” the home of Lucretia Mott, who was an amazing Quaker minister, abolitionist, and campaigner for women’s rights. She was also a founder of Swarthmore College. But I digress.) Some geocaches are puzzle caches, which involve solving some sort of riddle or puzzle to get the coordinates, and this was of that type. I needed to look up the numbers of a couple of asteroids to get the final digits in the coordinates.

So anyhow, it is kind of a thing with geocachers to be the first to find a newly published cache. You can set up email alerts to learn when new caches are available in your area, and if you are so motivated, run out and see if you can get there first. I don’t get a lot of FTFs, as they are known, (this is just my 7th in almost 3 years) because I have a day job, a toddler, etc., but it can be fun if it works with my schedule and one is close by. This wasn’t actually all that close, but I had already arranged to meet another cacher friend to find a cache that we had both looked for unsuccessfully recently (where unsuccessfully = didn’t find it and came home with scars from lots of pricker bushes). So I figured I would just head out early and try to grab Polar Bear Club on the way (where on the way = completely out of the way across town). I actually wondered if I would run into said friends there doing the same thing, but I didn’t. Instead, after a lovely conversation with a random poodle-owning stranger in the parking lot at the trailhead about the 26.2 sticker on my car, my status as a rebitizen (I also have a bumper sticker that says “Run, Rebitzen, RUN”), the politics of the Reconstructionist movement, and the joys of dog ownership, I headed down the trail and spent some time blundering around where the GPS on my phone was pointing me. Not seeing the bison tube (which is quite tiny and tends to be hanging sneakily in a tree), I decided to check out some other trees a bit closer to the creek, in case either my GPS or the cache owner’s wasn’t being very precise about the location. A few moments later I saw two people approaching, electronics in hand. I had competition, or in this case, a generous collaborator, in my search.

With caching, you tend to get to know the nicknames of other people in the area through the caches they have placed and the logs they write when they find (or don’t find) caches. I am known as the owner of the Seuss Series–a set of caches I have placed related to titles of Dr. Seuss books. Sometimes there are geocaching events–pot lucks, pizza parties, or just flash mob type things that bring people together, usually in conjunction with a mass publication of a bunch of caches in an area. So sometimes you actually meet the people whose nicknames you recognize, and there is often an exchange of cell numbers or email addresses in case of the need to PAF (phone a friend) on a tough cache. In this case, the guy who converged on the geozone (GZ) with me was someone I’d seen the name of many times, but never met. He spotted the bison quicker than I did but let me share the FTF with him anyhow. I had a great chat with him and with his muggle wife, “I’m along for the bird watching,” and then headed back to my side of the world to tackle the cache I had come to see as my nemesis.

This cache hasn’t been found very much, is in a very pricker-infested section of a wildlife preserve, and had actually been the site of a rogue false cache, which had made the logs misleading for awhile. A week or so ago, not knowing about the false cache issue, I had finally tackled this one, knowing it was  a challenge, spent 30 min to an hour searching in and around an old abandoned shell of a pumping station or something getting grossed out by the refuse from partying teens and not finding what was reputed to be in the building itself. I later learned I had failed because the recent logs were about the false cache, which the cache owner had gone and removed when he learned of it. So that had been totally wasted time. Once I had found all that out, I had tried going back to find the real thing, only to find the GPS bouncing all over but mostly directing me into a serious thicket of prickers. I had, again, given up and moved on to more rewarding searches. Nonetheless, there had been logs that had identified this one as a favorite, and there were suggestions that the cache owner had fashioned something cool and unique to hold the log for this one. Hence I was headed back to meet up with a couple who had also had no luck with this one in the past, to try to “get the smiley”–the little emoticon reward which is placed beside the listing once you find a cache. When I arrived, they sheepishly said, “don’t be mad…” They’d arrived early and gone to start looking without me. I was actually fine with that, since they had found it, NOT in the pricker thicket, and so they spared me the additional pain that one of them had endured hunting where the GPS pointed, while the other had found the cache, in a very cool natural object modified to hold the little scroll of paper that served as the log, which was located slightly off from where the GPS was pointing. Turns out their daughter had actually had the thing in her hand the first time they were there, and hadn’t looked carefully at it, only under it. She’s now in the navy in Michigan and will be pretty frustrated when she hears about this. So anyhow, they kept me out of the thicket, I found the cache, admired the container and left feeling friendly toward my former nemesis. My friends and I parted ways when they headed off to try to be first to find my new cache and I moved on to finish up the caches in a beautiful cemetery nearby that I’d had to abandon a week earlier when I became afraid that if I didn’t leave, I’d be locked in for the night with my car.

The rest of the day was a series of short walks in the woods, some clever containers (like a converted soda bottle that looked like it still contained liquid, a log  with a little hollowed out spot for a small container for the log, a half contact lens case with a magnet attached hidden in a stop sign, and a tupperware neatly tucked under a fairy house in the owner’s yard) and one DNF (Did Not Find). This one was located in a local park that featured an amazing set of birdhouses designed by an artist and a pretty little garden. That cache was probably in a bush in the garden, or under some wildflowers there, but I just didn’t want to damage the landscaping hunting for it too vigorously. I’ll come back to that one when the plants die back or when someone’s log gives me a better idea of where to look. At one of the caches I did find, I traded a little key chain I got one year at a Phillie’s Mothers Day game for a kid’s telescope for my daughter, and I spent a half hour or so in the cemetery looking for someone’s lost dog (she found it). For all of you saying, “this all sounds pretty pointless,” I have to agree, but it’s also a great excuse to be outside exploring new corners of the world on a nice sunny day, and I definitely enjoy every minute (ok, maybe not the pricker minutes).

Geocachers can also get a little silly with the the stats about their finds. There are various sites that will crunch your account statistics in different ways to give you a little sense of your progress. Here’s what one such site does with my history:

Profile created using

So that is what I’m doing when I’m not reading. Of course I did have The Golden Notebook on in the car when I was driving around, and I did read The Angle of Repose when I stopped for lunch, so I did actually get some good reading done, too.

And now I’m blogging and watching the Phils on the West Coast while my much saner husband sleeps. But I’m happy, and Katie really liked the birdhouses when I took her over there after I got her from school. She also wanted to grab a cache on the way home, so we stopped by a great one with the cache camouflaged in one of those outdoor garden lights. She got a bouncy ball from that one (in exchange for a draydel).


About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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One Response to My Geocaching World

  1. biblioglobal says:

    I definitely love that geocaching makes the world around you full of hidden treasure! A friend of mine also described it as “It’s like the whole world is a video game”.

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