Friday, September 07, 2012

A Look Back to the Early Days

The following article was recently reposted in the Wisconsin Geocaching Association website forums. I thought it would be fun to share with you here. It was written by a Wisconsin geocacher, rpaske, after he interviewed me and other geocaching oldtimers. 

Back in February 2001, there was only one geocache around Milwaukee and a total of three in the entire state. After Ken Braband found his first cache, in the Chicago area, he wanted to place his own. He had skied and hiked the trails at Pike Lake State Park for many years and always enjoyed the view from the top of Powder Hill. Pike Powder Hike cache was placed.Ken started to feel guilty that he did not ask for permission from the park manager. He found the manager’s email address and advised him about the geocache. A few days later Ken went to check on the cache and discovered that the park manager had been there and signed the log book. The park manager had hunted and found the cache using only a topographic map. He wrote a message in the cache’s journal. “He didn't write anything bad about the cache and did not confiscate it, so I took that as tacet approval." Even at this time, dialogue between the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Wisconsin Geocaching association continues. Additional information can be found on the Wisconsin Geocaching Association forums.

Everything was going smoothly until one day Ken learned from other geocachers that the plastic container had been chewed open and remnants of a candy bar and a beef stick had been found in the debris field. “It made me realize that this sport was going to attract a broad spectrum of people -- some with outdoor experience and some without.”

Another frustrating experience concerned an email confrontation with an out-of-state geocacher who had logged the cache as a find on even though it was not found. Because the cache was stolen at the time, and had not yet been replaced, “The guy got pretty indignant when I deleted his post. His argument was that he suffered a bad scratch on his face while searching for the cache, so he felt he deserved to log it as a find. He accused me of being some kind of geocaching Nazi. Despite his name-calling, I stuck to my guns.”

Nowadays Ken recommends new geocachers find at least 10 geocaches before a cache is placed. “A geocacher has to have a chance to learn what works and what does not. I didn't have that option because there were no other caches in the area. After you hunt a few dozen caches, you start to build a list in your mind of what you like and don't like to see in a cache hunt. Overall I would say create the kind of geocache that you would enjoy hunting,” reveals Ken. His web page offers tips for finding caches as well as his preferences.

Ken adds “If all caches were like mine, it might get old for people because I tend to favor long hikes in scenic locations. Some people like caches that are very hard to find. Others like to bushwhack or solve puzzles. We have some VERY creative geocachers in Wisconsin. In terms of quality, creativity, and diversity, I would put Wisconsin caches up against any other state or region.”

“Geocaching is a wonderful, relatively inexpensive sport which gets individuals and families outdoors. Geocachers can participate alone, with a loved one, with the family, or even with a group of strangers. It has introduced many people to the outdoors who otherwise would never have purchased a county or state park sticker. It has also resulted in lots of trash getting picked up and properly disposed of as we practice 'Cache In, Trash Out'".

There are two big challenges that Ken sees in the future. “As the sport becomes more popular, there will come a time when geocaching is no longer ‘under the radar.’ That time is already here in many parks. Secondly, to keep our sport from being severely curtailed or outright banned, we need to help develop rules and then make sure we follow them.” Lastly, Ken offers this advice: "As GPS receivers become more common more caches are going to be plundered by vandals. Don't give up in frustration. Replace your cache or create a new one somewhere else."

More than 80 Geocachers have found Pike Powder Hike. A few of the finders expressed their views about geocaching. One of the later geocachers to have located this cache is sullyb007. “Geocaching gave me another reason to turn off the TV and go get some exercise. I thought I knew about most of the parks and nature areas. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Geocaching takes me to new places that, otherwise, I would never have seen.”

JeremyV agrees. “The number one reason I keep geocaching is that it gets me to parts of the state of Wisconsin that I otherwise wouldn't visit. I do a lot of back road driving. So often, when I go looking for a cache, I realize that I've driven by the cache site before. Geocaching gets me to stop the car or motorcycle and go explore some pretty interesting areas on foot. If there wasn't a cache sitting out there to be found, I would simply pass by these places and miss the great experiences that they have to offer.” JeremyV adds, “I would like to thank Ken Braband for hiding the two geocaches ‘Pike Powder Hike’ and ‘New Prospect’ back in March 2001. Unofficially, though I strongly believe this is the case, these two caches have attracted more Wisconsin residents to the sport of geocaching than any other pair of caches in the state. They have also served as good examples of how to create quality caches. This was very important back in the ‘early days’, when people were still trying to get a handle on what exactly this crazy geocaching thing was supposed to be.

Sullyb007 is not the only geocacher to share this view. One of the first ten geocachers to have found Pike Powder Hike cache was Kevin Winter. “Geocaching is a great way to get outside, either by oneself or with friends. I still support it but not in the same manner as others. I usually don’t bother logging my finds. I felt it was developing into a contest of numbers and bragging rights between cachers.” On a recent trip to Oregon, Kevin found three sites and left nothing but footprints. “Nothing wrong with folks that log every find, I just don't want too. I worry about the impact on areas if the caches don't get moved every so often. I tend to avoid some of the more delicate ecosystems or very popular sites.” Kevin adds, “most of the Geocachers that I have met are usually very eco-conscious.”

GrouseTales, also one of the first teams to have found Pike Powder Hike replies, “I love outdoor activities and embrace any chance I can get to be in the woods. Geocaching lures me back into the forest after the hunting seasons are over. I find Geocaching is an activity that brings my family together and gives us a chance to spend quality time together. I don't hear many complaints when I say that we are all going Geocaching. “ Reflecting on finding Pike Powder Hike, GrouseTales continued, “In the winter of 2001, I was considering the purchase of a new GPS and had been surfing the web looking for information. One website I stumbled upon was: Joe Mehaffey & Jack Yeazel's GPS information site (”

“Right around April 1st I discovered a link to on Joe and Jacks' website. I immediately became very excited and couldn't wait to give Geocaching a try. I did a search of Wisconsin and found approximately 8 Geocaches in WI. The nearest caches were ‘Pike Powder Hike’ and ‘New Prospect.’ Both of these caches were placed by Kbraband.”

“So on my next off day, I picked up the kids from school and told them we were going to find some treasure. We drove up to Pike Lake and started hiking. Once we reached the area of the cache, it only took a few minutes for one of my sons to find it. We took our pictures, exchanged items and signed the log.”

“My Son's and I had a really great time. I finally had a use for my GPS besides hunting and fishing. I was now hooked on the sport.”

In the winter of 2001, several other cachers and I formed the Wisconsin Geocaching Association. Being actively involved in the WGA keeps me motivated to keep on caching. Even when the weather isn't conducive to caching, I can still keep involved by participating on the WGA website.

One of the last geocachers to have found Pike Powder Hike is the PharmTeam. “It is a good way to get exercise without it seeming like a chore. We have also met quite a few nice and interesting geocachers either on the trails, at WGA events, or through the online discussion boards, or geocaching email.” When the PharmTeam began to geocache with their son, Geocaching served as a way for the family to get together for a picnic, or a nice view. “One geocache would be found per day. Now, geocaching has turned into trips for the purpose of seeking out as many caches as can be found in one day.

LindaFawn thought that this would be a good way to get out of the house and get some exercise. “I was minding my own business, when my nephew asked if I wanted to go for a walk with him.” Together, they found her first cache. “After that I was hooked.” LindaFawn adds, “the world is full of things to do, this happens to put all the little things I love into one hobby: Going for a walk; puzzles; looking for treasures; relaxing; looking at nature; being with friends or being alone if you so desire. Geocaching takes my mind off the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.”

Lance Newton of team BOOBoys enjoys the opportunity to get outside and discover what Mother Nature has placed there. “Geocaching helps to take one’s mind off the normal grind of life. It sure beats sitting inside watching television or playing videos. Imagine yourself going back in time trudging through the woods with a treasure map looking for that lost fortune. Yes, you could actually be a modern day Indiana Jones looking for that lost cache of small trinkets for trading.”

Like Ken, these geocachers have also shared a few geocaching challenges. Lance continues, “I personally like the challenging caches. We have found quite a few that are just put out for the purpose of getting people outside. There is nothing wrong with that. Certain areas may become over saturated with caches which are less challenging. I also worry about non-geocachers treating the caches properly.”

“I do have some concerns regarding the future of Geocaching,” says Brian Sullivan of team sullyb007. Among them are “People who steal caches for their own kicks. They have been around a long time and have come to be known as Geo-terrorists. It always seems to be someone out there who only finds joy in ruining the fun for others. My second concern is the destruction of parks and nature areas. The more people walking through the woods means more people who might be throwing garbage on the ground or trampling endangered plants and disturbing natural habitats. My third concern is the over abundance of caches in a general area. Eventually, every local and state park will contain multiple caches. This may make it frustrating for new Geocachers to create their own cache and hide it someplace original. One solution might be to set time limits on caches to remain in the same place, one year for example.

“My fear,” says LindaFawn, “is that, the government will step in and require that geocachers have to pay to do this. I also fear that someone will say just how many geocaches can be in one area. My hope for the future is a carefree, fun loving hobby without a lot of rules and regulations, which will ruin the hunt of this hobby.”

The PharmTeam, is amazed that is able to process all of the messages that it does and hopes that it will continue doing so. “There should also be a way to handle caches that seem to be abandoned. Perhaps some more general guidelines or uniformity of restrictions about cache placement need to be developed. It varies quite a bit from state to state.”

JeremyV adds, “Most of the challenges we'll face in the future will have to do with the exponential growth of the sport. We've got the whole issue of regulation of geocaching by government agencies, which is a direct result of the growth of the sport. Back when I found "Pike Powder Hike", the DNR certainly didn't care about the three or four plastic containers sitting on "their" land or the dozen or so people looking for them. The WGA is trying to be proactive in this area and is working with the DNR to come up with a geocaching policy that both parties can live with. Hopefully Wisconsin county and local parks will also adopt this policy if they decide to get into the geocaching regulation business. There are other problems that are caused by the sheer number of caches that are now being placed. When are there too many caches in an area? How close together can two caches be placed? Should caches be forced into retirement after being out in the field for a certain number of years? How to deal with "low quality" caches, etc.”

Continuing with this thought, GrouseTales adds, “I think that as the number of caches increases, the rules are going to become more restrictive. We have already seen many rule changes on the website. These changes have made it more restrictive to place virtual caches and put limits on how close a cache can be to an existing cache. I think these changes have been made because of the high volume of caches being placed in urban areas. Sooner or later the metro areas are going to run out of parks to place a cache”.

“I think that will be forced to set limits on the amount of caches placed. There may be limits on how often a cacher can actually place a cache, or the total number of caches they can place. I think the biggest challenge is going to be working with municipalities to allow caching to continue. I think most cites or counties are still unaware of caches in their parks, or choose to ignore them. Sooner or later these parks will have some problem with a cache and will probably set up some rules to govern them. If a community doesn't have a Geocaching organization in their area to represent their interests, it is likely that some parks may outlaw caches in their systems. As Geocaching continues to grow, I think it will be vital for cachers to form local organizations and be prepared to work with Governments to address problems and fight for the 'rights' of Geocachers.”

Brian Sullivan of team sullyb007 believes that preparation and equipment should be considered when beginning geocaching. “Geocaching sounds pretty easy in theory, but it can get frustrating when you just take a GPS into the woods and find out you should have brought some waders along because you started out on the wrong side of a river. You’ll also learn pretty quickly to carry a can of bug spray with you in the summer; for some reason, people like to hide their caches in mosquito hatcheries! “

“Start out by reading about the possible caches. Decide if the difficulty and terrain match your desires and ability.” advises the PharmTeam. “I would start with nearby ones that are moderate or easy before trying the very difficult ones which people are logging as difficult to find. Difficulty and terrain may also make a difference if you are doing geocaching as a family with young children. Our other son has children under 3. He usually picks the easy ones so that the children can have fun helping with the search.”

“Geocaching is not a competition. The number of finds you have does not matter. You don't have to go geocaching every day, or every week, or even every month and, you certainly don't have to go out at 2am in a blizzard to be the first to find a new cache. The important thing is that you have fun.” JeremyV says.

Finally, the GrouseTales have this to add, “Pick a few caches near your house and take your families along. Geocaching is great family sport. If you have younger children, keep the walks short, and let them find the cache if possible. Young children will quickly become irritable if the walks are too long. If they have a bad experience they will most likely not want to go Geocaching in the future. If I am the one to find the cache, I like to keep quiet and try to steer the kids in the direction of the cache so they can find it.”

The GrouseTales continue, “Try to pace your self. Set a goal to find X amount of caches per week or month. Sit back and enjoy the views. I personally don't exchange cache trinkets very often. My reward for finding the cache is usually to see a new park or to enjoy some beautiful views. It's real easy to get in the mode of going straight to the cache and then hurrying back. It's nice to walk around and take in the surroundings.”

“Don't feel that you need to keep pace with other cachers in the area. A lot of people get competitive when viewing other people's ‘finds number.’”

Still another geocacher says, “My advice to people who are just starting out, is to get off their little butts and get some exercise, the world is full of things to do.”

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