Holidays, milestones, turtles, oh my!

A few weeks ago I posted about how busy this year has been for us in terms of geocaching. Well, it hasn’t gotten any slower!

Earlier in July we spent a week on holidays in Cairns. We had a good time enjoying the warmer weather, and doing some day trips to Green Island, the Daintree, and Kuranda. While we were there we found our first ever Chirp cache, which was pretty cool. Now that we know the Chirp app works on our phones we’ll see if we can track a few more of these down.

Once we got home from Cairns we continued on our Hidden Creatures quest. Along the way, each of the Shoes family reached a milestone. Sensible Shoes reached 800 finds, Shoes Junior made it to 450 finds, and Little Shoes logged his 350th find. It only took us 24 days to go from 700 to 800 finds – our fastest ever 100 finds.

Finally, we ended up discovering the World Turtle in the Hidden Creatures promotion. When we first started on the quest, we would have been happy with getting the Yeti. However, it got to the stage where we were 17 finds away from reaching World Turtle, so we decided to put in one more day of caching to get there. Along the way we got to our 800 milestone, and Shoes Junior and Little Shoes had their best day of caching with 20 finds each.

We’ll probably take it a bit slower now. We’ve filled in July on our calendar, but we’ve got quite a few gaps in August. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to fill it this year, we might need to wait until next year to do that. Our goal (which might be a bit of a stretch) is to see if we can get to 1,000 finds by the end of the year. We’ve got a couple of tools on order which should help us get around a bit faster and find more caches. I’ll talk about them in my next post.

Gimme some lovin’

As well as working on a couple of other challenges, we’ve recently starting focussing on trying to find “unloved” geocaches i.e. ones which haven’t been found for six months or more. Our motivation for doing this is to rescue the caches to keep them active, and in some cases to confirm that the cache is still there. It gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling when we can let a cache owner know that their cache hasn’t gone missing. There’s also the thrill of the hunt, and knowing that we can accrue some more months if we can find the cache.

There are several challenge caches which you can qualify for by finding a certain number of years worth of unloved caches. A few days ago we qualified for a “Five Forgotten Years” challenge cache, and we’re about halfway to the next qualifying level of 15 years. After that, we need to find 50 years worth of unloved caches in order to qualify for the next challenge cache.

Our unloved cache finds

We’re using a couple of well-known online geocaching tools to help track our progress – GSAK and Project GC. GSAK (or Geocaching Swiss Army Knife) is a software program for Windows which lets you create databases of geocaches, such as all your finds or puzzles that you’ve solved. You can then run macros on these databases to calculate all sorts of statistics about your finds. We use the PreviousFind macro to calculate the number of days that our unloved caches have been unfound. GSAK is free to download, but a nag screen appears after 21 days which you can pay to remove if you want to.

Project GC is a website that can produce all sorts of statistics about geocaches. Lots of geocachers use it to produce statistics for their profile, but there are a range of other tools available, such as Days since last found. This feature has been very useful for us to plan which caches to find in order to earn some more unloved months. The basic tools on Project GC are free to use, but if you pay to become a member you have access to a lot more features. If you want to find out more about this great geocaching resource, have a listen to this episode of the Podcacher podcast, which features an interview with Magnus, the developer of Project GC.

Fill ‘er up!

As mentioned in a previous post, this has been a very busy geocaching year for us. We’re working on three challenges that have helped with this.

The first of these started in April, when we began to work on filling our calendar. In order to do this, we need to find a geocache on every day of the year. It doesn’t mean we need to go on a streak and find a cache every day in a row, but checking our finds grid to see the empty days and try and find a cache on those. So far we’re up to 209 days out of 366, and should be able to keep it up for a couple more months.

Our “Finds by found date” calendar

I think we’ll find it more challenging towards the end of the year when the weather starts to warm up – it makes it more uncomfortable for us and also more comfortable for the snakes.

The second challenge we’ve set ourselves is to try and fill in our “Finds by hidden month” chart. This is also known as the Jasmer challenge, and to complete it you need to find a cache that was hidden in every month since geocaching began in May 2000. For some of the older months, there aren’t any caches in Australia that were placed during those months, so the alternative Ausmer challenge has been developed instead. Even though there are fewer months in this version (it’s only from January 2001 onwards), we still probably won’t be completing this challenge. We’ll do our best to fill in as many of the months as we can, though.

Our current Jasmer grid

The third challenge involves finding a special type of geocache. Find out more in an upcoming post.

Wow, it’s been a busy year!

2018 is shaping up to be the biggest geocaching year yet for Sensible Shoes. We started the year on 524 finds, and currently we’re on 762 finds. That’s 238 finds this year alone – over half of all the finds from our previous 10 years! If we keep this up we’ll be at 1,000 finds before we know it (actually, in another 238 finds).

We’ve taken part in the recent promotions that Geocaching HQ have run, which has helped to build our find count. The first was the Planetary Pursuit, which we didn’t complete, but we did get as far as Uranus. We’ve also gotten into the current Hidden Creatures promotion. We recently unlocked the Dragon (which is available after 50 finds), but we’re not sure if we’ll make it all the way to World Turtle (for which you need 100 finds). At the start of the promotion we decided that we’d be happy if we made it to Yeti (35 finds), so we’ve done better than we thought. Maybe the World Turtle isn’t out of the question!

The hidden creatures that we’ve found

As well as a record year for finds, we’ve also set a new record for hiding caches. We’ve put out four new caches, and so far they’ve all been found fairly regularly. Although they’re not a formal series, there is a bit of theme to their names (which also reflects the type of hide or the location) – Hedwig, Umbridge, Aragog, and The Hogwarts Letter.

If you want to keep up with what we’re doing, we’ve got a new Instagram account where we’ll be posting pictures and videos of our caching adventures. Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post about the various date-based geocaching challenges that we’re working on at the moment, and another post about our search for a special type of geocache.

500 finds, finally

As I mentioned earlier this year, we’d set ourselves a goal of reaching 500 geocache finds, ideally by our 10th anniversary of starting geocaching (our cache-a-versary). Well, I’m pleased to announce that we have finally cracked the 500 find milestone, and we managed to do it the day before our cache-a-versary.

The weather forecast wasn’t the best, so we’d decided to knock off the last 10 caches that we needed along a roadside powertrail close to home. It wasn’t the most scenic or memorable location, but it was going to be a quick and easy way to reach the milestone.

The view along the powertrail

As happens so often with us, we changed our minds. Our new plan was to finish the powertrail on 499 finds, and then re-visit a cache that we’d tried to find multiple times in order to make it our 500th find. Armed with a couple of clues, but also having noticed that the cache hadn’t been found since September, we arrived at the cache location with fairly low hopes of finding it. However, the geo-gods were on our side, as we managed to find the cache within a minute of starting the search. It was easy to see why a couple of other cachers had failed to find it, because the container blended in nicely with the surrounding environment. We replaced (and signed) the log, because the one in the cache was too damp and mouldy to unroll, took a few photos, and logged the find through the geocaching app.

Our 500th find

500!

We then headed off for a celebratory lunch, and decided to try and find another couple of our nemesis caches. Like our 500th find, these other two ended up being quick finds. It was a nice way to finish the day. It’s taken us 10 years to get to 500 finds, but I think the next 500 won’t take as long.

Sensible Shoes’ 10 years of Geocaching – a Retrospective

Ten years ago today we found our first geocache at Little Beach on the Central Coast (GCTZ15 – now archived, unfortunately). We were a new couple and geocaching was a great activity to hang out together and have a few adventures along the way. Back when we started it took a bit more preparation and planning before setting out than it does now. We had to sit around the kitchen table of the house we hadn’t moved into yet with the laptop plugged into the dial-up modem and download the cache pages, and then transfer the coordinates onto our GPSr. If you wanted to refer to the cache pages while you were out caching you had to print them out before you left, and manually decode the hint if needed. There were no smartphones, so you couldn’t simply open an app and see if there were any caches nearby. Today, no forward planning is required as everything we need to check for, find, and log nearby caches – internet access, GPS, real-time logging of caches, and cache information – is available on our smartphones. For those cachers who love being the First To Find (FTF), this has meant that they can head straight off to a new cache as soon as they receive the notification email on their phone and log it as soon as they find it in order to claim their glory. This improved technology also means that when we get home there’s no need to try and remember all the details about our caching trip because everything’s already been logged. We found our first few caches using an HP ipaq PDA (which looked something like this – it worked OK, but definitely was not designed with caching in mind).

At our first find

The first cache we found

We were introduced to geocaching by a work colleague whose husband had done some caching, and they generously lent us a handheld GPS receiver (GPSr) (probably a Garmin etrex) for a couple of weeks. Our first experience with this “proper” GPSr was in Canberra and Melbourne a week after our first find. It was during this trip that we had two major revelations:

  1. We needed to get a GPSr
  2. We needed to change our geocaching.com account name.

We signed up as Fairy Spice (which made sense at the time, for a number of reasons) but after having to introduce ourselves to another cacher in Canberra, we knew this had to be changed. At the time there was no way to change our username; we had to create a new account and re-log all our first few finds. As librarian geocachers, we felt that Sensible Shoes was an appropriate name to use, and since then we’ve been comfortable introducing ourselves as this. We cache together as Sensible Shoes, and our logs identify each of us as Mr S or Ms S. We ended up purchasing a Garmin GPS 60 in those first few months of caching, and still use that (in conjunction with our smart phones) today.

That name didn’t last long

From these humble beginnings, the Shoes family has grown. Our sons are known as Shoes Junior and Little Shoes, and both of them had their accounts created and were taken our geocaching about a month after they were born. We also got one of our sisters involved in caching. Eight years later, Sensible Sis is now closing in on 900 finds. We’ve taken a few friends and family members geocaching, and have been successful in recruiting two families from our Mothers’ Group. It’s good to have some local friends who “get it”. However, our biggest success story converting a muggle to an obsessed geocacher is a fellow librarian who heard about caching at a conference presentation given by Mr S. She’s been caching now for 3 years and has over 3,500 finds and 72 hides to her name. As Mr S was presenting at the conference and describing how geocaching can be used as an educational and promotional tool, Ms S was live-tweeting her finding of our cache (GC3K05C) (she hadn’t been involved in the placing of it). The cache involved is a “Mystery or Puzzle” cache, and it has been very positively received by the local geocaching community. Mr S has written a journal article describing how and why the cache was placed. We’ve placed four other caches, however they’ve all been archived for various reasons and are no longer active.

Shoes Junior and Little Shoes out caching

We’ve managed to find 504 caches over the last ten years, and 15 of these have been Event caches. Several of these events have been great fun to attend. These include the three Geotreks that we’ve completed, and the three Worldwide Flash Mobs (WWFM) that we’ve flashed at. The WWFM was the brainchild of Sonny and Sandy from the Podcacher podcast, and is still going strong after ten years. Another geocaching podcast we enjoyed listening to was the Geotalk podcast, hosted by Darren Osborne, a.k.a. Spindoc Bob. Darren was the driving force behind the formation of the Geocaching NSW association, and we met him and his wife Renee at the initial planning meeting for the group. Darren also organised the first couple of WWFM events in Sydney, which we attended. Mr S attended the first Sydney WWFM event alone, because Ms S was resting in hospital prior to the arrival of our first son. All three of us attended the next WWFM event at Luna Park. Mr S had the opportunity to go on a geocaching day trip with Darren and a couple of other cachers in September 2013. Sadly, Darren passed away from brain cancer in January 2015. Although we didn’t know him very well, his passing was deeply felt by us since we identified so closely with him and his young family. Vale Spindoc Bob.

WWFM at Luna Park

In the same way that we related to the Osbornes, Sonny and Sandy from sunny San Diego have also found a place in our hearts. We had been regular listeners to their weekly podcast, Podcacher, when we learned of the arrival of their son Sean while we were pregnant with our first son. Ever since, we have been amused by the similarities between Sean and our 8 year old as they grow up. Mr S has kept up with listening to Podcacher ever since we discovered the podcast almost 10 years ago, and has contributed various news items from time to time. One of these was our most significant geocaching moments from the last ten years. It was the time when Mr S proposed to Ms S at our first FTF. It was nice that he was able to do this at a spot close to our home, and no, we didn’t go on to have a geocaching-themed wedding.

We’ve found that geocaching is a great activity to do while we’re on holidays. We’ve cached as far north as Moreton Island, south to Melbourne, east to San Francisco, but only as far west as Canberra. Port Stephens and Canberra have been a couple of good destinations which combine sightseeing and geocaching. We found our 100th cache at Port Macquarie and our 200th at Port Stephens. On our first couple of trips to Canberra we stopped at several rest area caches on the way. The next time we did the trip without stopping, and we were pleasantly surprised at how quick the trip was. Having said that, we’ve recently discovered that the rest area caches have been replaced, so we have the opportunity to find them all over again. It’s been fun introducing our two boys to geocaching. Our eldest (Shoes Junior) had a Travel Bug on his stroller which we took to several geocaching events. He has recently enjoyed finding some local Harry Potter-themed caches and helping to solve some puzzle caches which have a Minecraft theme. Lately, Little Shoes (our youngest) has taken an increased interest in going out caching, perhaps influenced by the fact that we’ve taken to having ice creams to celebrate milestones. It is ironic that when we cached alone, before the geokids came along, we were finding many caches holding travel bugs and kid-friendly swaps. It seems these are becoming a rarity these days, even though there are many more geocaches to find these days. As for the geokids, despite many years of geocaching experience, they are yet to master the art of stealth. “DID YOU FIND IT?!?!”

Shoes Junior’s Travel Bug

Most geocachers, who have been caching consistently for 10 years, would expect to have found far more than the 500 finds we have achieved … but as the saying goes “it’s not about the numbers”. Although geocaching has held our interest steadily for the past decade it has not been a major focus for our family. We enjoy having it as an activity to fall back on when convenient, but we’ve never felt the need to chase the numbers or achieve long running streaks as other have (even though we’ve been impressed by their ability to do so). Likewise, almost all of our finds have been within the 3.5/3.5 difficulty/terrain matrix, with only a very few outliers. We prefer to be challenged by tricky puzzles rather than extreme terrain. Now that the kids are older, and technology has made geocaching more convenient than ever before, we expect to enjoy many years of geocaching adventures ahead. As Sonny and Sandy would say, “Keeep onn cachin’!”.

On the powertrail towards 500 finds

At our 500th find

Our geocaching resolutions for 2017

Well, it’s a new year which means it’s time to make some resolutions for the next 12 months. On the geocaching front, there are a couple of things that we’d like to achieve this year. The main one is to finally reach 500 finds. We made it to 400 in January last year and are currently on 431. Ideally we would like to get there by 20th May, which is our 10 year cache-a-versary.

To help with reaching this milestone, we’ve set ourselves the goal of averaging at least one find a day for the month of January. That will get us to at least 449. We’ve done well so far (13 finds after eight days), so hopefully we’ll stay on track.

It should be a year for family geocaching milestones for us. Our youngest son should reach 100 finds (he’s currently on 95), and our eldest should get to 200 (he’s on 186 at the moment). I don’t think we’ll be able to synchronise our finds for the same cache, but it will be nice to celebrate three milestones this year.

Oldest cache type in each state

As a follow-up to my previous post on the oldest currently active caches of each type in Australia, I’d thought I put together a list of the oldest caches of each type in each state and territory. I took the advice of Sandy from the Podcacher podcast, and simply used the search function on geocaching.com, rather than setting up Pocket Queries. This certainly made the process a lot easier. The states and territories are listed in alphabetical order, and each cache is listed in chronological order. Those caches marked with * are the oldest of their type in Australia, and dates are in dd/mm/yyyy format.

Australian Capital Territory

Traditional: Canberra Nature Park (GC6CF) – 15/4/2001

Multicache: A Stroll Around the Lake (GC3C22) – 21/2/2002

Virtual: Animal Antics (GC9534) – 30/9/2002

Mystery: Botanic Boggle (GCH0XY) – 6/10/2003

Earthcache: Earthcache II – the geology of WoolShed Creek, ACT (GCHKCK) – 29/1/2004

Letterbox Hybrid: Isaacs Post Office (GCXT3K) – 18/8/2006

Whereigo: Athllon Adventure (GC1D01M) – 6/6/2008

Webcam: none currently active

New South Wales

Virtual: Lane Cove (GC3E) – 18/5/2000*

Traditional: Sydney Geocache Relocated (GC1F11) – 11/11/2000

Multicache: #1 Frog Hollow (GC596) – 29/3/2001

Mystery: #38 Under Pressure (GC39EC) – 15/2/2002*

Earthcache: Earthcache I – a simple geology tour of Wasp Head (GCHFT2) – 10/1/2004*

Letterbox Hybrid: Postman Rat (GC18AZA) – 6/1/2008

Whereigo: The Search for Ned Kelly and the Stolen Treasure (GC1KK89) – 8/1/2009

Webcam: none currently active

Northern Territory

Traditional: Sungroper 4 (GC3399) – 22/11/2001

Multicache: Geocentrical (GC7CED) – 27/6/2002

Mystery: SUE DOUGH COO #1 (GC16CRF) – 5/10/2007

Earthcache: Ellery Creek Big Hole (GC1TA92) – 5/6/2009

Whereigo: The Great Escape (GC4BV4E) – 12/5/2013

Letterbox Hybrid: Snail Mail (GC4DFY7) – 3/6/2013

Virtual: none currently active

Webcam: none currently active

Queensland

Traditional: Queens land (GC8E) – 17/10/2000

Multicache: Simon’s in the Orchard (GC7150) – 14/7/2002

Virtual: Ku-Ta Views (GC86B3) – 30/8/2002

Mystery: Look No More (GCGT19) – 29/8/2003

Earthcache: Whitehaven Beach (GC11A5E) – 7/3/2007

Whereigo: (Virtually) A Common Problem (GC1ETED) – 13/8/2008

Letterbox Hybrid: Free Camp!!!! (GC2045F) – 21/10/2009

Webcam: none currently active

South Australia

Traditional: Riverland Geocache (GC114) – 1/1/2001

Multicache: Scott Creek Multiple (GC1E2) – 3/2/2001*

Virtual: Victoria Squircle (GC40E2) – 10/3/2002

Mystery: 007 (GC83A8) – 24/8/2002

Webcam: Penguins (GCC1EC) – 10/1/2003*

Earthcache: The Sugarloaf Earthcache (GCM4WR) – 24/11/2004

Whereigo: Where We Used To Go (GC1XH4W) – 25/8/2009

Letterbox Hybrid: Frog Mail Box (GC2NQAG) – 11/2/2011

Tasmania

Traditional: North Tassie (GC388) – 25/2/2001

Virtual: South Tasmania 1 (GC408) – 4/3/2001

Multicache: Clinker and Carvel (Multi) (GCD476) – 14/2/2003

Mystery: Codeword+029: Happy Mothers Day (GCNWYY) – 10/5/2005

Letterbox Hybrid: The Apprentice (GCRF2Z) – 11/12/2005*

Earthcache: Fossil Bluff (GC1CH39) – 23/5/2008

Whereigo: Sneaky Monkeys! (GC5BYYE) – 30/8/2014

Webcam: none currently active

Victoria

Traditional: Melbourne’s 1st (GC7A) – 8/10/2000*

Multicache: Rainbow’s End (GC14E9) – 6/8/2001

Mystery: BBB (GCD420) – 13/2/2003 (there are a couple of movable caches currently in Victoria which are older)

Virtual: More Melbourne Television Trivia (GCE258) – 10/3/2003

Webcam: Spirit of the Skier (GCMJ2J) – 19/1/2005

Earthcache: Colqhuon Quarry (GC10PCM) – 1/2/2007

Letterbox Hybrid: A Penny for Your Thoughts (GC10T6T)  25/2/2007

Whereigo: Flight of Fancy (GC1BCA3) – 20/4/2008*

Western Australia

Traditional: Albany Quarantine (GC576) – 27/3/2001

Multicache: Crystal Brook Multi-Cache (GC3397) – 20/1/2002

Virtual: Boat yard bliss (GC733B) – 20/7/2002

Mystery: King Arthur (GCCD53) – 1/2/2003

Earthcache: Living Rocks Earthcache (GCKZB4) – 31/10/2004

Letterbox Hybrid: The Green Angel (GC26YA2) – 17/4/2010

Whereigo: Lucy in Woodvale (GC306CA) – 14/7/2011

Webcam: none currently active

Original Aussie geocaches

Inspired by the discussion on show 566 of the Podcacher podcast about when and where the first of each type of geocache was placed, I decided to try and find this information out for Australian caches. The following list (from oldest to newest) shows the earliest currently active cache of each type i.e. it does not include archived caches, some of which may have been placed before the ones listed here.

Virtual: Lane Cove (GC3E) – 18/5/2000 (NSW). This is actually the first cache placed in Australia. It was originally a traditional cache, but was changed to a virtual when the container had to be removed because it was inadvertently placed in the habitat of an endangered plant.

Traditional: Melbourne’s 1st (GC7A) – 8/10/2000 (Vic). This wasn’t the first traditional cache placed in Australia, but it’s now the oldest traditional due to Lane Cove changing to a virtual.

Multi: Scott Creek Multiple (GC1E2) – 3/2/2001 (SA)

Mystery: On The Run (GC3720) – 3/2/2002. This is one of very few movable caches still active in Australia.

Mystery: #38 Under Pressure (GC39EC) – 15/2/2002 (NSW). The oldest non-movable mystery cache in Australia.

Webcam: Penguins (GCC1EC) – 10/1/2003 (SA)

Earthcache: Earthcache I – a simple geology tour of Wasp Head (GCHFT2) – 10/1/2004 (NSW). This is also the first earthcache placed anywhere in the world.

Letterbox Hybrid: – The Apprentice (GCRF2Z) – 11/12/2005 (Tas)

Whereigo: – Flight of Fancy (GC1BCA3) – 20/4/2008 (Vic)

So if anyone wants to find the oldest active cache of each type in Australia, you know where to go.

Note: I’ve only included caches from geocaching.com; I might prepare a separate list of caches from geocaching.com.au.

Finally at 400!

Today was the day that we (the geocachers known as Sensible Shoes) finally reached 400 finds. It’s taken us 8 1/2 years to get there, but get there we did. We’ve been saying for the last couple of years that “this is the year we get to 400”, but it hasn’t happened until today.

We were at 395 this morning, and found three more before lunch to get us to 398. All the caches we found were either in or very close to playgrounds, so the boys had a good time too, riding their scooters and playing on the play equipment. We even got to climb “Bluluru”!

Seeing that today was my last day of holidays before returning to work, I thought it would be nice to reach our 400 milestone today. So after lunch we headed out and got the remaining two to get us to 400. The 400th find was near a park that the boys love going to, but unfortunately their favourite piece of play equipment has been fenced off (presumably for repairs), so we had to make do with the flying fox. After a couple of turns each we headed off to celebrate our achievements, and as we were walking to the car the rain began and only got heavier once we were in the car. Perfect timing!

Now that we’ve finally made it to 400, our next goal is to reach 450 by our nine-year cacheversary in May.