This is a map of the geocaches around my house. (For a quick introduction to geocaching, see this page). The green-on-white boxes are the locations of caches yet to be found. The smileys represent the caches I’ve found already. The blue question marks represent puzzle caches, in which you have to solve a puzzle to get the exact coordinates, more my husband’s thing than mine.
I’m getting familiar with this map because since the beginning of 2016 I’ve been on a geocaching streak. My husband is an old hand at streaks too: a few years ago he did a 100 days in a row, and he has found a cache on every day of the calendar year, although not sequentially, since 2008 when we started.
I have neither of these milestones under my belt, but as this is a leap year, and I’ve found caches every day so far plus Dec 31, I’m interested in seeing how far this can go. There are still quite a few caches within walking or biking distance, that I can find when I’m out and about during the day.
If you zoom out a little bit, you can see from the number of caches visible that geocaching is big in the SF Bay Area–not surprising given the concentration of techno-geeks that live here. In fact, the world’s #1 geocacher, a person with more than 130,000 finds as of this writing, lives not too far from us. We’ve seen his caching name in some logs we’ve found recently, and are secretly hoping to meet him at an event some day (not that we’re cyberstalking him or anything).
Panning around the USA, one sees that geocaches tend to be hidden around cities, rivers, and roads. Sometimes they outline the features themselves:
Or sometimes, hiders get clever and make some “geo-art” out of the caches they hide.
I was talking to my blogging buddy, Mel Pine from Melting Pot Dharma, on Facebook yesterday about names, and I told him that the Allendoerfers had come over from Germany (where geocaching is also very popular) in 1848. He mentioned that his relatives had come from Pinsk, a small city in what is now Belarus, and were originally named Pinsky, changing it to Pine after immigrating. For fun, since I’d heard of Minsk but not Pinsk, I decided to look it up and see if there were any geocaches there. That’s something my family often does these days before we travel to a place.
I was surprised–actually rather shocked, even–to find, that there are no geocaches at all in Pinsk. There are a few to the Northeast in Minsk, but for the most part, Belarus is a cache-free zone. The caches come up to the border of Ukraine and Belarus like little green ants, or army men, and there they stop. A few look like they’ve spilled through and gotten lost, huddled together for warmth around the bigger cities of Minsk, Moscow, and Kiev.
If you look worldwide, geocaching can be seen as a marker for wealth and industrialization: there are lots of caches placed in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Qatar, Bahrain, and Iceland are also well-represented in number of caches per square mile, although harder to see at this scale.
But there’s still the riddle of the empty map in Belarus and to the east. These countries have cell phones and GPS technology. The satellites orbit the entire earth. Why don’t people hide and find geocaches there? Does it have to do with the government? With internet access? With a perception that caches could be dangerous? Or something else?
In my novel, Hallie’s Cache, the characters stumble on an area where not only are there apparently no caches, but the GPS doesn’t work properly. Finding out the mysteries of this place is the key to the story and to Hallie finding her missing father.
Geocaching is a hobby that can be used to bring people together. I hope in the future many of these empty spaces can be filled in!