Wow . . . where to start? Well I suppose the first thing to do is extend a warm welcome to you Vesper and let you know that this is a great place to ask questions about geocaching . . . or about life in general for that matter.
Originally Posted by vesper04101
I guess the first thing you need to do is have a GPS receiver (GPSr). Next you need to go to geocaching.com and start an account -- as a newbie you can and probably should start off with the free account. If, in a few months, you think that this is an activity you really enjoy and/or you are beginning to think about going paperless and using a Palm Pilot or similiar PDA to keep track of the caches in your area then you might want to go up a step and become a paid, premium member.
Once you are a member (free or paid) you can go to the Find and Seek section of geocaching.com. For me I usually type in the zip code of wherever I want to cache . . . as a newbie I would probably start out doing some local caches to get my feet wet so to speak.
Once you type in the zip code a list of caches will pop up on the screen. This info will show you how far it is from the town/city's center (the zip code you typed in), the type of cache it is and a few other items of interest. A real quick primer on the type of cache: a single green box means the cache is a traditional cache where you will find a single cache (this could be a very small -- nano -- cache, a small cache about the size of a magnetic keyholder or 35 mm film canister, regular cache which is often lock and lock boxes or ammo boxes or larger) . . . two yellow boxes means that this is a multi cache which means you will be searching for two or more caches before you get to the final log book, a question mark means this is a puzzle cache where you typically have to solve the puzzle to get the coordinates for the cache (more on this later) and a ghost means that there is no physical cache at the location, but you may need to e-mail the cache owner some information or a picture that can only be found or taken at that site.
The info page also shows the name of the cache, who placed it and when it was last found as well as when it was first placed . . . finally, most importantly . . . especially for newbies . . . it will show the difficulty and terrain of the search (D and T). The lower the number (1 being the lowest) the easier the cache is to find when it comes to difficulty . . . and conversely the higher the number (5 being the highest) the more difficult it will be to find the cache -- usually because it's a very well camouflaged or hidden cache. The terrain rating is the same -- a terrain rating of 1 for example would mean that you could pretty much get to this cache in a wheelchair whereas a 5 means you're in for a very long hike, wicked rough terrain or you might need specialized equipment such as a boat to reach the cache.
So let's walk through this together. After going to geocaching.com and typing in Portland's zip code (well one of them at least) -- 04101 -- we come up with several nearby caches. On page 1 you'll see several examples of traditional caches (green boxes), multi caches (two yellow boxes), virtual caches (the ghosts) and even puzzle caches (the question marks.) A very easy cache to start off with is the dalmatian series of caches . . . you'll see 101 Dalmatians #9, Lawnmower. Note that the difficulty and terrain rating is 1 and 1. You might want to start off with one of these as they are an excellent way to learn how to use your GPSr and to have a successful first search.
However, if you go to page 2 you'll see the Yale University Cache which is also rated 1/1. Let's check this one out. Click on Yale University and you'll be brought to a more detailed page for this cache.
This page shows us who hid Yale University, when it was hid, the difficulty and terrain rating once again and the size (small) which is often helpful since you don't want to be looking for a 3 x 12 x 8 box in the woods when the hidden cache container is actually much smaller (trust me this has happened to me when I failed to read the whole description.) There's also a small map showing you the general location of the cache . . . and a little further down a more detailed map that gives you an even better view of the cache location . . . if you click on that map you can even zoom in or out to get a better idea of where you're going to.
The most important part on this page however is in the light blue shaded box. It has the coordinates, shown in North (N) and West (W). You'll definitely need this. Some GPSrs can download the coordinates directly from the computer . . . as for me when I first started out I printed out the page and input the coordinates (aka coords) directly into my GPSr as a waypoint (you'll want to read your GPSr manual to see how to do that as it varies by model and manufacturer.)
This page also has a description . . . some are very short and to the point. Others can be quite long (I often have a tendency of being a long winded I must confess since I like to put out caches with a little bit of history about them -- for fun check out my Before Lizzie Borden cache description . . . you can read all about this by going to geocaching.com, looking under the Hide and Seek section and then at the very bottom under "keywords" type in Before Lizzie Borden.) Yale University is a great example of a nice cache to get you started as the hider describes the terrain you'll encounter and tells you a little bit about their cache. At the right side of the page you'll also see some pictographs -- if you place your cursor on these you'll see that they indicate that this cache should take you less than an hour, it's good for kids and parking is nearby -- incidentally if you look further down the page you'll see that this hider was really nice as he/she provided coordinates for the parking spot -- some folks do this with caches and some don't. There's also an encrypted hint -- you can decrypt it here very easily or do it on the trail. Finally, there are past logs (more on this in a bit) from cachers who have found this cache . . . it shows when they found it and includes some of their thoughts, what they took and left, etc.
So let's say you punched in the parking coordinates, drove out to the parking area and then punched in the coords for this cache. OK, this is important. Don't do what I did when I first started and try to match up the coords shown on your GPSr with the coords on your print out . . . you'll end up walking forward, backwards, to your right, to your left and basically look like you're doing a drunken version of the hokey pokey as you attempt to find the cache. Instead use your GPSr's "go to waypoint" feature (again check out your GPSr manual) and the compass screen which will then point you in the right direction.
OK, more free advice. Some newbies think that their GPSr will bring them right to the cache. Sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes it doesn't. You see there are a lot of variables. The cache hider may not have taken the time to get a really good set of coords (I try to go out to where I'm hiding my cache and get three sets of coords and then take the average). The cache hider's GPSr may not have had a good satellite lock due to the terrain, weather, etc. and may be off anywheres from 0-30 feet. In addition your GPSr may not be super accurate that day.
In any case, let's say you're successful and you find Yale Cache. Congrats. Now let's see what's inside the cache. There's two simple rules about finding a cache: First, if you take something you leave something of equal value (in other words don't take a $1 bill and leave a rock you found on the trail -- I know it sounds stupid, but I've seen people do this). Second, you need to find the log book in the cache and at the very least record your name and date of the find . . . many folks also include a few lines about the search, what they left/took, etc. OK, I lied . . . I said there were only two things . . . there is a final third thing to remember that is very important and it's something many, many geocachers seem to have problems with . . . once you've made the trade (purely optional by the way) and recorded your name and date in the log you should put the cache back how you found it in the same place and with the same camouflage -- don't try to hide the cache in a different place to make it more challenging for the next cacher, or hide it in a different way, etc.
As you're trooping out of the woods you might begin to wonder . . . what was that small dinosaur with a dog tag attached to it . . . or that computer chip with the dog tag. These are travel bugs . . . there are also things called geocoins. These are not tradeable items, but are items that have been released into the wild so to speak by geocachers who then watch their travel bugs and coins travel from cache to cache. Some of these items have specific missions -- for example I have a Bangor Ladder TB that has the goal of going to cities where there have been major fires. Other TBs just go from cache to cache. Until you get the feel for geocaching I would probably hold off on taking a TB.
You might also have found a signature item. A signature item is a geocacher's "business card." Many geocachers leave items that are unique to them. For example, I have a series of painted and unpainted miniature ladders that I drop into caches . . . some folks collect the whole series and some cachers just collect one . . . this is just another aspect to geocaching.
OK, at this point you might have noticed I used TB in place of Travel Bug. In geocaching there are a number of anacronyms. For example: FTF = First To Find (this means the cacher was the first to find the cache), TNLN = Took Nothing, Left Nothing (pretty self explanatory), SL = Signed Log, TFTC = Thanks For the Cache . . . there are a few others out there, but these are the most common.
So now you're home basking in the glow of being able to find your first cache. Well, don't go to bed quite yet . . . you still need to record your find on line. Go back to geocaching.com and find that cache you just found. At the top of the page you'll see a box . . . click on the tag line that says "Log your visit." A new page will appear with a drop down menu. If you found the cache, choose that option and type in a short message of your own choosing . . . typically it might include what you took/left, what you thought of the cache, etc. Personally, I hate it when cachers leave a bland TNLN SL TFTC message . . . I figure if I took the time to make the hide it would be nice to know what folks thought of the cache and the area . . . however this is your own personal choice. If for some reason you didn't find the cache there is an option for Did not Find -- the dreaded DNF. Don't worry. We've all got DNFs . . . and in some cases a logged DNF will result in the cache hider e-mailing you an additional hint (at least I try to do so) . . . or it might indicate that perhaps the cache is missing so the cache hider may check on the cache. There is no shame in recording a DNF . . . Lord knows Iv'e recorded my fair share.
Well that's that . . . any other questions? In my next post I'll explain the meaning of life.
Again, welcome . . . and ask away.
"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the realization that there is something more important than fear."
"Death is only one of many ways to die."