It’s always surprising to me the amount of passion that geocachers can have. This is, after all, a game. But like any game, there are people who have a passing interest and people who become obsessed.
Caching was a near instant hit with me and my family. It was a reason to drive backroads and a reason to jump out of the truck. It was a way to connect with mysterious strangers. Geocaching, is after all, the closest thing to a secret society most of us will ever experience.
Like any secret society, there are rules. And there are people who love to enforce those rules – or at least their version of them. They can put even more time and energy into their love of making sure everybody does it THEIR way than into the game itself.
And I think I might have been a rule breaker.
My dad and I were business partners in a website called EatStayPlay.com. And when we discovered geocaching we both realized that this was an activity that really SHOULD be added to our website. (We provided free information about outdoor recreation across 12 states.) Geocaching was absolutely awesome and something that needed to be shared!
The challenge with EatStayPlay always was that it was a great idea but it just wasn’t easy to monetize or advertise. Or even explain, some days!
Somehow dad came up with an idea to have geocachers help us spread the word about our website. It came in the form of a free geocoin that you could earn by placing little plastic geotokens into caches. To keep things fair (and to keep caches from being stuffed full of the things) we created rules of our own. And I’m the first to admit, the whole thing was to run on the honor system. But let’s face it – all of GEOCACHING really runs on the honor system.
A few posts on the geocaching forum and we were off and running.
And then the hate mail started to pour in.
This was trash. It was spam. It was commercializing geocaching. And those were just the “nice” ones. I honestly think they thought that the website was a giant corporation and not just a father-daughter team.
People seemed to hate the promotion, they hated me, they hated the website – they even hated my logo!
Yet, requests for tokens kept pouring in.
Now let me tell you something about this promotion – it was free. And by free, I mean I didn’t charge anybody anything to participate. I had “rules” in place to keep things moving but didn’t become a rule Nazi about them.
But what people don’t realize is the cost… Geocoins, especially trackable geocoins, aren’t cheap. Plus there were the tokens to buy, count, and mail. The envelopes. Postage. And time. Oh so much time. I was spending upwards of 20-30 hours a WEEK to manage it. All while holding down a full-time job. And I spent between $15 and $20 THOUSAND dollars on just this promotion. From my own pocket. With zero drive to revenue.
And they certainly didn’t realize that this business was my dream. This promotion was a last-ditch effort to save a business that we’d sunk a lifetime of love (and money) into. They didn’t care that I sent out each package of tokens with a prayer that they would bring fun and joy into lives. They didn’t care that my family spent HOURS working to create and mail the packages.
And the hate mail poured in.
They lashed out on the forums. They lashed out on cache comments. I got hate emails. I got nasty emails from people who WERE participating who thought I wasn’t doing it fast enough. I got emails because people were mad that they only got 49 tokens instead of fifty. They didn’t like it when the post office tore the envelope. They were mad that I only shipped when I had 200 or more packages to go out (for bulk mail permits) which was still about twice a month.
Every which way people could express their disapproval, it happened.
But here’s the part that nobody realized…
It was with the permission, if not blessing, of geocaching.com. Because the very first step to it all was to get the coin approved. The coin that said: get a FREE geocoin! Go to this website. (And the page that it pointed to HAD been set up prior to the coin’s approval.)
And the OTHER side is that this opened up other promotions that people loved. However “poorly” executed, it opened the door for other companies to offer free geocoins. And it was ALL in exchange for something – even if only your email address.
Through it all, I had to deal with buckets of angry emails. People who requested tokens and then were mad at ME when they put in a wrong address so they didn’t arrive. People who were angry that they had to follow the rules of dropping and reporting them. People who couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t remember THEIR 5 caches when I was trying to manage the efforts of three thousand people.
Yes, over three thousand people were involved in this promotion.
And I was doing it all by myself.
Kind of hard to want to continue geocaching when everywhere I turned there was another geocacher spouting off that I was the cause of the evils in the world. Somehow I became a faceless, invisible entity that people could blame. I wasn’t a person – just a hated BUSINESS.
I think the nail on the coffin came at an event I was asked to hold in conjunction with Arizona’s Centennial. Chino Valley needed a contribution to the county’s efforts and somehow geocaching came up. Because regardless of what the online community thought of me at the time, I was still a respected member of the local “real world”.
The challenge was working with the Yavapai County Centennial Committee – a bunch of retired civic leaders who had no clue what geocaching was. All they knew was that this 20-something woman could bring in people from across the state to participate. It was good enough for them!
My event – and an epic puzzle cache I was planning – was quickly “adopted” by the committee. And by adopted I mean that my name was stripped from the efforts and it was put forth to the state under the committee’s name. (They needed a legacy project and were coming up short on ideas and manpower.) I tried to tell myself that I didn’t care but it was really hurtful and demeaning to my personal efforts.
My dad, my wonderful caring father who had been through the whole geocoin promotion with me (insulated from a lot of the hate mail because I just flat-out didn’t show him) gave up a month’s worth of weekends to help me prepare the caches, find the locations, hide them, and set up the three-day event. Not to mention the hundred or so dollars spent on cache containers, swag, spray paint, and notebooks. Or the $150 dollars in gas to drive all over creation to HIDE the things!
The event was, for the most part, a success. Notwithstanding the in-person encounters with geocachers who were upset that:
- There were 30 new caches and YES you have to load them to your GPS by hand.
- Yes, there was a TIME LIMIT to log your FTF and get back to the park for prizes.
- The poker run had a $5 ante. Of course, there was ALSO a cash prize, but certainly that should come from my own pocket.
- The geocachers I caught cheating on the poker run and when I disqualified them tried to argue that because “no cheating” wasn’t stated in the rules, they should win anyway.
- That the trackable coin I had minted was $10 per coin and no, you really only COULD buy one. (Only 48 were minted because Arizona was the 48th state.)
At the end of the event there was still this epic puzzle cache to plan. But by this time, the committee was pretty much hijacking all my ideas and time. This was no longer MY project (with my dad) but it was THEIR project. My name wasn’t on it but my credit card certainly was!
So I walked away.
I walked away from the puzzle cache.
I walked away from sending geocoins or tokens.
I walked away from blogging about geocaching.
I walked away from geocaching all together.
I pulled the batteries from the GPS and stuck it on a shelf. I closed the email account where people were STILL sending me nasty emails, never went back to the geocaching forum, and unsubscribed from geocaching.com’s emails. I turned off notifications from all the geocaching groups I was in on Facebook.
I still had some true gentlemen who encouraged me to come back to geocaching. Friendly Facebook messages genuinely reaching out. Inviting me to geocache. (Gentlemen, you know who you are – and I appreciate all the support and kindness over the years. It WAS and still is noticed!)
I pretty much tried to forget that geocaching even existed.
And then two things happened…
In December 2014 I was contacted by one of the geocaching retailers to do some ghostwriting. (Not naming names; I don’t kiss and tell!) In speaking with my client, I remembered how cool geocaching could be. I remembered how responsive the geocaching community was. Not kind, but responsive. When you’re blogging to geocachers, they TALK to you.
And as I was working on these projects, my grandmother was in the hospital, dying. There’s that whole “life is short thing” probably going through your head right now. That’s not my point. The point was that this work for the client brought up all those emotions related to geocaching. And frankly, I probably didn’t do a GREAT job writing for them since I was trying to do it from my Aunt’s kitchen table while thinking all the time of my grandmother.
I wondered if maybe… geocaching wasn’t worth a second look.
The second thing that happened was that I was in Maryland for Christmas to visit my man’s family. We took the dog to a park and as I was looking around I had that feeling: I’ll bet there’s a geocache here. I loaded the geocaching app to my phone to check. And there WAS a cache.
After we found it, I looked around at the park. I was holding a wet, disgusting cache filled with trash and a moldy logbook. But all I could think about was the secret society to which I was still a member. I remembered what it was like to place a cache – that hope that it would be safe. That it would bring fun and joy to finders. That muggles would leave it alone and that cachers would take care in finding it. That kind hearted people who take care of it when they found it and pay it forward.
I cleaned out the trash, gently coaxed my name into the logbook, and recorded it into the app. This was my first find east of the Mississippi. It was my first find in three years. It was my first “urban” find. And it reminded me of all the reasons I loved caching in the first place.
All these thoughts and emotions had been rolling around in my head. Geocachers aren’t all bad, right? They aren’t all filled with hate and anger and fear. Not everybody is out to play geocaching police. Right?
I wanted to collect the happy stories. The inspirational stories. The stories of love, of courage, of connection and friendship. Lord knows I didn’t have many of my OWN related to the game. (Okay, that’s not ACTUALLY true – it just feels like the negative outweighs the positive.)
Which is why I’m back for geocaching. I’ve dusted off the blog and put fresh batteries in the GPS.
And it’s why I’m collecting these stories for the anthology. Because you see, I’m not a 20-something any more. And I don’t really give a flying fig about the Trolls, the cyberbullies, and the geocaching police. I realized that they are full of hate and anger and fear – and I’m still a convenient target.
And just for the record, it’s still taking a lot of courage to move forward with ANYTHING related to geocaching. I did change my caching name – both to give me just a shred of insulation from those trolls and because I wanted a fresh start.
But what I also realized is that I’m on the right track. Because the good parts of geocaching aren’t the ones told. People in this community aren’t quick to help each other – but it does still happen. People don’t always form real connections – but it does happen. People aren’t always welcoming to the newbies and gently helping them learn the rules — but it does happen.
And I want to connect with the GOOD people out there. Like my group of friends who always reminded me that they WERE friends and supported me the person – regardless of what they thought about geotokens.
Beyond it all, there’s a PERSON behind that computer – just like me. We have hopes and fears and dreams.
Because I’m tired of when you post on the forum and get “This is spam!” when you asked a legitimate question about how to connect with the RIGHT geocachers.
And it’s knowing that while some geocachers think that EVERYTHING should be free – and heaven help anyone who actually likes and uses money – there are folks who make donations to the dream.
So all you folks, remember that you’re aren’t anonymous because you’re hiding behind your computer screen and your geocaching name. You’re not talking to an entity or another computer – you’re talking to me. A person.
I’d love to say that I’m “over” all the negativity that seems to pour my way. I recognize that you’re a real person too – and only a person filled with anger, fear, and hate would spout out such nastiness.
But here’s the real truth of the matter: You’re on the wrong side of the Golden Rule. And Karma’s a bitch.
‘Cause honey, I don’t need to sink to your level. But I DO need to prove to myself and to the geocaching community that the good outweighs the bad. That the virtue outweighs the seeming power of hiding behind your computer screen spouting hate. There is real connection and friendship and courage in this game.
It’s time to bring it to light.
So if you wouldn’t say it to YOUR grandma, then for heaven’s sake, DON’T tell it to me! I’m not listening. I’ll let your mean words pass over me without letting them sink into my heart. Because you trolls and cyberbullies and geocaching police – you don’t matter. You’re just a geocaching name but you’re not a person.
Only people matter.