Saturday, September 5, 2015

What I've Learned From A Year Of #Geocaching

On September 5, 2014, Aidan and I were hiking in the Ringtail Ridge Natural Area in San Marcos. We had a great time, tasting prickly pear, spotting some deer, and chasing a rather large lizard into the hollow at the bottom of a tree. We didn’t really want to catch the lizard, but it was fun watching it run away from us. In the shadowy hole were several sticks that appeared to have been placed with some intended purpose. I moved them aside to see if our quarry was trapped or if it had managed to escape. Instead of a critter, I found a small container wrapped in camouflage duct tape. I knew immediately what it was; we opened it, signed the log, and carefully rehid it.

A year later, I’m totally hooked on this hobby and look forward to more caching in the future. I’ve been places I never would have visited and discovered some that I didn’t know existed. I’ve made new friends who also enjoy this worldwide treasure hunt. I’ve also learned a few life lessons and I want to share some of them with you.

Everyone Plays the Game a Little Differently

In geocaching, the world is the playing field, the rules are simple, and the goal is clear: get outside and find stuff. Beyond that, however, the hobby can be completely customized to the preferences of the individual cacher. Some play solo while others hunt in pairs or larger teams. Some cachers aim for a high found-it count (there’s a man in Austin who logged his 50-thousandth find back in April!), others who love the more challenging hides at the tops of mountains or the bottoms of lakes (they obviously have special equipment), and still others who play casually, checking for nearby caches when they’re just out and about. There are magnificent vistas to gaze upon while some caches are hidden in ugly back alleys and parking lots. You can play for free or you can spend untold amounts of money on GPS devices, SCUBA or climbing gear, snow shoes, etc. You can also hide or seek, or both. The game is really open-ended and everyone plays a little bit differently.

Such is life. Every single person on the planet experiences life a little bit differently. Some people, by choice or by circumstance, are loners while others are the consummate social butterfly. Some define success by the size of their bank account or the number of trophies on their mantle. Some like to push themselves to the limit physically or academically while others are content to go with the flow. There are roses to stop and smell but some people walk right past. There are the journey-focused and the destination-focused. Some value family or job or physical fitness or cultural heritage more than other things. Life experiences are as numerous and diverse as the people who inhabit Earth are numerous and diverse.

There are countless ways to geocache. And that is okay. There are countless ways to experience life. And that is okay too.

Setting Goals Actually Works

I’ve known about goal setting since middle school or high school. I know how to set them and write them down, but I’ve had mediocre success at accomplishing them. This has led to frustration and a decline in my attempts. Over the past year, I set more than a few caching goals: finding 150 caches by Christmas, earning all the special badges offered for a given period, and finding 500 within a year of my first. I ended up accomplishing all three and then some. I am encouraged that setting goals actually works, and I think there are three key principles that I have neglected before.

First, it helps to tell people about your goals. Anyone can help but it will work best when the other person(s) is involved in the same activity, whether it be writing, weight loss, financial growth, or any number of other pursuits. When others know what you’re working towards, they can encourage you, hold you accountable, and even share their own achievements as a way to tell you, “See? It is possible! If I did it, so can you.” Another benefit of having likeminded helpers is that they get it. People not involved in the activity may not understand why you’re wanting to achieve it. Maybe it’s weird or a niche hobby (like geocaching). People who participate in the same activity understand why it’s important to you because it’s likely important to them too. Also, when you do meet your goal, you have someone with whom to celebrate. This offers encouragement for future endeavors (“Attaboy!! Now, go for three chapters a day!”).

Secondly, goals require disciplined work. The achievement won’t happen on its own. If it is something that’s truly important to you, you’ll work at it. But that isn’t always enough. Disciplined work means setting a schedule, knowing how much you have to do each day in order to succeed, and making adjustments where necessary. Prioritizing is a must. Sacrificing is likely. It may mean long hours, less TV and game time, and, in the case of geocaching, sunburn, poison ivy, blisters, and mosquito bites. If it’s worth it, it’s worth it.

Lastly, it’s important to not let momentary setbacks derail your ultimate pursuit. In geocaching, there are disappointments called DNFs, or Did Not Finds. You go to the location and, despite searching high and low, you cannot find the container. Maybe someone stole it (whether they know about geocaching or not). Maybe a flood carried it away. Maybe it’s missing because a person in authority at the location found it and discarded it. Or maybe the cache is just hidden really well. Whatever the case, it can be both frustrating and disappointing when you can’t find a cache. Life is no different. Changes in work or schedule, the birth or death of a loved one, and natural catastrophes can all work to dissuade you from your goals. Your dream may have to be put on hold until things settle down. Your dream may even change and new goals will have to be set. But don’t give up. Thomas Wayne told his young son Bruce, who would later become Batman, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Treasures Are Worth Seeking

One writer quipped that geocaching is the use of a multi-billion dollar network of satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. Oh, how true that is! To some people though, the finding of the cache is a worthy endeavor in and of itself. As the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The definition of treasure is all up to the person doing the seeking.

In this respect, people are like caches. Some are lowly and easily found. Others are challenging and require much effort. All are worth seeking. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price (both in Matthew 13). One treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven, passionately pursued by a person. The other parable presents people as the treasure, soulfully sought by the Savior. Again, the definition of treasure is all up to the person doing the seeking. God is infinitely more desirable than anything we could find with billion-dollar satellites. And we may be Tupperware in the woods, but to Him, we are all treasure.

I hope you’ve gained a little insight into my favorite hobby; I know I’ve gained a little insight into life through it. How has your hobby influenced your thinking about larger things? Please comment and share your thoughts.

(For more on geocaching, see

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