The Winter of My Discontent

 

My enthusiasm for geocaching usually bottoms out in late winter or early spring.  Some of this is likely weather-related:  February and March are season of heavy snows that turn quickly to mud in the foothills of the Rockies.  Conditions that make most hikes unattractive, and most caches unavailable.

My favorite winter caching activity is geocaching while skiing (ski-o-caching).  But the same deep snows that bury caches in the foothills also contribute to the best and deepest powder skiing of the season.  The old saying goes:  there are no friends on a powder day.  For me, there are no cache-hunts either.

This year, my enthusiasm is also dimmed by the repeated butting of my head against the wall of Geocaching.com volunteer administrators.  I admire that they volunteer many hours to the endeavor of reviewing proposed geocaches and making sure they play within the rules.  Sometimes, I think, their interpretations go to extremes.  Or maybe a few of the rules can get a bit ridiculous.  You be the judge.

These examples relate to geocaches I tried to place far from my home.  Volunteer administrators discourage people from placing geocaches in places they do not regularly visit.  However, I explained that I was travelling regularly to these areas for family reasons, and that was not the reason they were rejected.

No No NoVa

I was visiting Northern Virginia, for instance, an average of once every other month for the last 3 years.  While visiting the area, I spent whatever time I could scouring the nearby parks (and plucking ticks off me).  While thus engaged, I had a Eureka! moment about a favorite old water-hole, where I whiled away many a lazy summer hour as a teenager, swimming, sunning and doing the things teenagers do.

My Eureka was a tricky geocache hiding place, one I thought worthy of at least a 4.5 terrain rating.  It was a cave under a waterfall that could only be accessed by wading through a second cave and then emerging into the thundering waters themselves, and pushing, pulling and heaving yourself through the hydraulic curtain to enter the relative calm, drippy sanctuary of the hiding place under the water.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  So I assembled a water-proof container and filled it with good swag, some of which I brought with me from Colorado.  In May of that year, on a visit with my two sons, we visited the spot – it is called Difficult Run.  We barreled through the high spring flow (it was a rainy period) and jammed it into a rock crevice in the wet cave, before plunging back into the crisp waters and floating downstream.

Pleased with myself, I submitted the geocache to Geocaching.com, with a 4.5/4.5 difficulty/terrain rating (I wanted it to be even more unusual than a 5/5 rating).  I was dismayed when I got the response:  the geocache was located within Great Falls National Park.  This was news to me.  My water hole was in a county park when I was in my teens and twenties.  Now it was gobbled up by a National Park.

difficult effects

Getting Busted at Difficult Run

So one year later, I retrieved it.  Yes, it was still there, it hadn’t been dislodged by high flow and drifted away to the Potomac River.  Is spite of it not being published, it was visited by at least one teenager, who left his Bowie (MD) High School ID card behind.

Upon climbing from the water, we were reprimanded by a park ranger (left), who was probably more interested in the activities of the twenty-somethings who were lying about.  So, we were breaking park rules, of course, by swimming in the stream.  The beautiful, cooling waters are now only there to be viewed – from a distance.

I attempted to find a new place for the recovered geocache.  I checked the map on the website to make sure it was at least 1/10th of a mile from other geocaches (another placement rule).  I found a really cool shack that was erected by somebody on the fringe of a county park.  It was dedicated to someone who had passed, honored with a poem painted on the side of the structure titled “Namaste.”  Perfect!  It was secluded, unusual and on public land (from what I could tell) and far enough from other geocaches.  It checked all the boxes.

The Rescued Geocache

The Rescued Geocache

 

Unfortunately, the volunteer reviewer notified me, it was within 1/10th of a mile of the final location of a puzzle cache.  The initial (usually fake) location of a puzzle cache is publically-viewable, while the final location, which can be as close as 100 feet, or as far as 10 miles or more, can only be seen by the volunteer reviewers.  Great, how am I supposed to know the final stage is close to my proposed placement?  “You have to solve the puzzle cache yourself,” was the reviewer’s reply.  So apparently it is the geocacher’s responsibility to do all of the puzzle or multi-caches within a ten-mile radius before he/she can be sure the location for a new geocache is clear.

No Yellow Brick Road

Down but not out, we travelled west to Kansas, where my ma-in-law lives.  We stayed in a downtown Topeka hotel.  While eating breakfast, we were approached by an elderly, decorated gent. He was Ted Mize, a veteran of two foreign wars, who had served in two different branches of the service. Ted wanted us know there was a military museum just a few feet away, on the first floor of the hotel.  We stopped by his 5-room museum and followed him as he gave us a personal tour.

Ted Mize

Ted Mize of the Holley Museum of Military History in Topeka, Kansas

I didn’t occur to us immediately.  But later, while talking about how passionate Ted was about his small, tucked-away attraction, we thought about how could he attract more visitors.  Ta-da!  We realized that geocaching was the answer.  We mentioned that idea of a geocache to Ted and he loved the idea, though he didn’t completely understand it.  He even said we could place the final geocache on his front porch.  We spent the rest of a drizzly day devising clues and codes for an elaborate puzzle cache that would introduce a wave of geocachers to his little museum.  The idea was that you would need to visit the free, publicly-accessible museum to get clues that would point you to a physical geocache located near the sidewalk outside.

Hold on!  The volunteer reviewer replied when I tried to publish it.  This geocache is commercial because it is located in a business.  Geocaching.com does not allow for geocaches that promote commercial businesses (sometimes interpreted very loosely to encompass most nonprofit enterprises as well).  “But,” I replied, “You can enter without paying a cent – it is free and open to the public, not just hotel guests.”

In the past, I have found that the reviewers’ objections were either that (1) a geocache is not allowed whenever there is an entrance fee, or a required financial transaction with either a profit or non-profit enterprise, or (2) a geocache may not promote an enterprise (again, either profit or nonprofit) by including its’ name in the cache title or description.  I assured the reviewer that this cache did not violate either, but to no avail – it was deemed commercial.

Too bad for Ted and his museum – truly a small-scale nonprofit enterprise if there ever was one.  Too bad for geocachers who like intriguing and unique puzzle caches.  I did keep the final location as a geocache – I renamed it from “History Hotel” to “Coulda Been a Great Puzzle” to note its lost promise as a much more interesting cache.

So that is my tale of woe.  Two attempts at excellent geocaches that would enrich the geocaching community (in my humble opinion) and two times rebuffed.  While I understand you cannot place geocaches in National Parks, I don’t agree that geocaches should be blocked by hidden (from the public) stages.  I also think the guidelines governing what is a “commercial” cache can be taken to a ridiculous extreme by some volunteer reviewers and are unevenly applied by different reviewers (I don’t know how many series I’ve seen that celebrate Wal-Marts or Home Depot locations:  such as: “I love Wal #25” or “HD #10” etc.).

I’d just to see less crap and more quality, that’s all.

OK, I’m done with my first annual crabby late-winter rant.  Thanks for listening!