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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Russo

The Joy of Geocaching: It's Time for You to Start

My journey, like most, started with a TikTok video. On April second, in 2023, I watched a come-cache-with-me video by the TikTtok creator @rigde.x (Video linked here). Within two and half minutes I had the app downloaded and another 45 seconds later I made an account (Download the app here and add me as a friend @zell_42). After my first fire-ant covered find in Hilo, I was hooked (If you want to find the same cache it's called “wainaku view point,” and it was placed by dadandryan).

My first geocache at Wainaku Viewpoint (Photo taken by Isabella Russo).

Geocaching is a typically outdoor activity where participants both hide and seek containers (aka caches) using hints and clues. All geocaches have a log where geocachers write their name and the date they found it. Depending on the size of the cache, other items can be found in addition to the log. Geocache locations and coordinates can be found on the app or website, though I strongly recommend using the app as it is significantly more user-friendly.

On May 3, 2000, Dave Ulmer, a GPS super fan, placed the first geocache in Beavercreek, Oregon, and posted the coordinates online. A couple days later, people replied to the post with their experience of hunting for the cache. Later that year in September Jeremy Irish published for people to post their caches. Next month, he and some friends also launched Groundspeak Inc. (aka Geocaching HQ) to further support the new game of geocaching (Fun Fact: The revenue to fund Groundspeak came from selling 144 Geocaching t-shirts). From there, Geocaching took off. While the first geocache was fatally destroyed by a lawnmower (currently a memorial stone stands in commemoration), there are now 3.1 million active geocaches worldwide (and spacewide; there is a cache in the International Space Station).

I geocache because it allows me to be a part of something bigger. When I geocache, I am taking part in a global game. I join a community of people who just want to share the outdoors with each other and make it exciting. When someone places a cache, there is absolutely no personal gain. It's just a person who wants to leave clues and treasures for other people. It's kind of a beautiful cycle. The average person doesn't make any money by geocaching, they do it solely in the spirit of adventure. So, I urge you to geocache when you feel the worst about the world, to remind yourself that there are a whole lotta genuinely wholesome people digging holes for others who love to look for holes.

To find a cache, you open the app and look at the map for caches near you. I was thoroughly surprised by the volume of caches on the Big Island, and even more surprised by the amount in Waimea! Each cache will have a ‘page’ of information. At the top it allows you to navigate to the cache with GPS. On a 5-point scale, the app indicates the difficulty of the cache (meaning how hard it is to find) and the difficulty of terrain. It also lets you know the size of the cache, the smallest being “micro” and the biggest being “large.” The scale size is unclear; I have found caches marked as “regular sized” that are pretty clearly “micro.” So as you geocache, take the indicated size with a grain of salt.

Here is a helpful size guide:

Geocaching size guide (posted by user darknep on the geocaching subreddit).

Once you have a better grasp on what size you are looking for, the cache page should have a hint button to help you find it once you get closer to the site. The cache page also has a description section where the cache hider often writes why they chose the location or provide some history of the area. The description is a great way to get to learn about the location more and sometimes it’s an extra hint, so I highly recommend reading it!

The final place on the cache page to learn about the geocache and get further hints is the activity section. This is where you can see past geocachers’ logs for the specific cache. While many just comment on the weather or the difficulty of the cache, there are also helpful tips and photos. Seven out of ten times checking the activity page for a cache is the most helpful way to find it quickly.

Once you look at the specifics of the cache, you put the phone down and search. This may require some bush-wacking, tree-climbing, wall tearing, or faith that the hole you are sticking your hand into is uninhabited. In my opinion, this is the best part of geocaching. It's fun (and sometimes frustrating) to see how creative people are with their hints and hiding spots.

Once you have successfully found the geocache, open it up, sign the log, and see what else is in there. Often geocachers will leave SWAG. SWAG stands for Something We All Get. Inside most caches, geocachers can leave items and trinkets (SWAG) for others to find and trade by replacing the item with another item.

The cache ‘page’ of my favorite Big Island Cache located at the Papa’aloa Country store

Whenever I go geocaching, I bring a sack of gems, rocks, and bracelets to leave in caches and another sack for the things that I have found in caches. While my pursuit to find money in a cache continues, some of my favorite SWAG that I have found are a 2017 Lewis & Clarke student ID, a dinosaur figurine,

a bag of salt with a mummified centipede, and a tea cup. While some may argue finding SWAG is the best part of geocaching, I beg to differ. I think it's the scariest part.

Anatomy of a geocache (Photo by Isabella Russo).

Once you have written in the log, traded out some SWAG, make sure to close the cache up tightly and put it back exactly as you found it. The final step is to digitally log it on the app. While you don't have to do this, I prefer to because it helps me keep track of what geocaches I have found. When you digitally log the cache, you have to leave a note. Some people will type out their whole life story, profusely thank the cache owner, leave a picture, or just say thanks. Personally, I’m in the last group of people. Those who want to keep it simple will write TFTC(thanks for the cache), throw a couple of emojis on it and call it a day.

Ultimately, the geocaching community has a lot to offer and I sincerely hope that you download the app and start geocaching. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Happy Geocaching!

P. S: Here is some useful geocaching slang defined

A muggle is someone who is not very cool and doesn't geocache. Often cache descriptions will say something like “Lots of muggles around, beware” or “Watch for muggles!” as a warning to be stealthy as you turn over rocks and climb up trees looking for geocaches in areas with high foot traffic.

B.Y.O.P stands for Bring Your Own Pen/Pencil. Cachers who hide geocaches will put this in the description to let you know if you want to sign the log, you need to use your own writing utensil. While this is kinda an inconvenience, it's a hint to the size of the cache, because it usually means the cache is too small to harbor a pencil.

Travel Bugs are essentially dog tags (often attached to an item like a rubber duck for example) issued by Groundspeak Inc. They are meant to be moved from cache to cache and have a unique tracking number, allowing its journey to be tracked online. Travel bugs have no real point except to get as many miles on them as possible. It's cool to find one and look at its history to discover that it has been to Sri Lanka.

There are the terms I find most helpful and common but if you really want to be hardcore, here is a list of official geocaching terms (It's alphabetized, don’t worry).

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Melinda Mizuno
Melinda Mizuno
22 janv.


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