Monday, March 13, 2006

Injury Prohibiting Geocaching

I took a pretty bad fall last week due to my hypermobile joints, and thanks to a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Type III. No geocaching for this fella for a little while longer..

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Placing & Maintaining a Geocache (eg. Take Care of Your Caches!)

On the way home from work yesterday, I snagged a cache nearby the Circuit City in town. I knew it would be an easy one, and I was counting on it because I needed to get home—momma wasn’t feeling so good and I needed to look after the little one.

I arrived at the cache location, parked the car and hopped out. After spending the “customary 7 minutes” looking for it, I took a look at the hint only to find “purple is a favored color of the Los Angeles Lakers.” At first glance I thought, sure, no problem. I’ll look for something purple, maybe even something related to the Lakers or basketball and it will lead me closer to finding the cache. Nope. Another 5 minutes goes by, and just before I leave I decide to blindly reach under the Circuit City sign and my fingers closed around a small purple cache container that probably once served to hold a young girl’s small jewelry. The cache was small, the log was wet more than once in the past and it STUNK.

Now before I rant, I want to say a very heartfelt thank you to the cache owner for placing this cache, because we know that deep down it was placed out of a joy for geocaching—even if a few elements had been overlooked.

Onto the rant. When you place a cache, it’s good to try and find something redeeming about the location that makes finding a cache in that spot even more rewarding. To the cache owner’s credit, this was placed at a local landmark that was pretty interesting. Where the cache went wrong, was the hint. The name of the cache didn’t do anything to lead us to the cache, so after a while of searching we decided to use the hint to help dial it in a little further. Nope. The hint referred to the LA Lakers and the color purple. The cache container was purple, but you wouldn’t have known it until you actually found the cache as it was completely out of sight. On top of that, previous cachers had posted almost a full year ago that the cache was wet and the log was showing signs of damage. A few even commented that the hint did nothing to help find the cache. In a nutshell, this cache needs maintenance!

The moral of the rant? If you are going to place a cache:

  1. Monitor the responses from cachers who’ve found your cache. Often they can tell you when the cache needs attention, and if the cache has gone missing.
  2. If someone does note that the cache is wet, visit the cache and dry it out/replace it/replace the log, et al.
  3. If you are going to add a hint to the cache, make sure it actually leads the cacher a step closer to FINDING the cache!
  4. If you happen upon a cache that needs maintenance like this, don’t hesitate to use the “this cache needs maintenance” button on the cache webpage on

Monday, February 27, 2006

Google Earth Accepts .GPX Files & Rainy Days

Wow. We just learned today that Google Earth also allows you to import .gpx files that we receive from our membership through the pocket queries function. Instead of dealing with the Geocaching KML (which shows every geocache in the area up to 150) we can now directly import our personalized geocaching .gpx files into Google Earth. It’s brainless, and can be tinkered with to improve visibility.

Here’s a screenshot of our GPX file import. Amazing!

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Can’t wait for the rain outside to stop so we can get back out geocaching. We’ll have to stay urban for about a week, otherwise we’ll have enough mud on our shoes to build a small hut.

Here’s a shot outside my office window in Westlake Village at 4:50pm today:

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

A weekend Geocaching Before the Storm

Today the team and I headed out for a little geocaching near a family member in Simi Valley, but when we realized that most of them were gone we opted to stay in our local Thousand Oaks. After a quick bite we headed out to the local park to grab two or three caches—quickly turned into one. Unfortunately only one cache was active in the park, so we quickly grabbed it.

I’m not sure if we’ve posted about it before, but we use the old Mexican peso as our personalized geocaching token, and we traded one for a $1 bill. Doesn’t sound like a fair trade, huh? Well the dollar was a “geocaching” dollar and was being tracked on, so we figured it would be fun to take it to our next cache. We had to move quick because the weatherman is predicting a large amount of rain!

All was going great until we moved up the street to our next park for caching. Excited about the chance to do a multi with the entire Trace Amigos team, we pulled up to the first step only to find that… the coordinates had worn away. What’s worse is that these coordinates have clearly been aging over time, and the last fellow to log this cache was only two (2) weeks ago! Why didn’t they alert the cache owner that these coordinates needed a little re-writing maintenance? We aren’t sure, but it was disappointing. Knowing we needed to find at least one more before the little one pooped out, we snagged a cache up the road only to find—and empty ammo box with a log. Nice. At least we got to see some interesting parts to the park that we’d never been to before.

Here’s a picture of the little one before she wiped out entirely:
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Friday, February 24, 2006

Hilltop Nirvana - Yet Another Cache Adopted

Another local geocacher responded favorably to our offer to adopt caches that could no longer be maintained. A cache formerly called “Kurdt Cobain” was the first of a series of three geocaches tied together, that were deactivated because the owner had become to busy with the other necessities of life to maintain the location. We called it Hilltop Nirvana partly because we like the name, but also as a nod to the former cache-owners choice of cache name.

Click here for this cache’s details: Hilltop Nirvana (GCMK5H)

We didn’t adopt any of the other two, as hadn’t seen them and prefer to adopt only caches we’ve visited before. This cache sat on top of a small hill just below the area-famous “Eyebrows on the Hill” buildings that formerly housed our City Hall many years ago. City Hall moved out years ago, and the area fell into disrepair and became a preferred illegal shelter for transient homeless families. Eventually the city released the property for renovation and it is know known as “Hillcrest Center” and is home to new tenants.

When the adoption was completed on’s site, we stopped by this cache for maintenance before re-activating the location. The view from this cache location is phenomenal, but the cache was just a simple 35mm film canister. Adequate, yes. But interesting, no. The Army Decon container we used (look at our blog entry on April 11 2005 for pictures of this type of cache container) is large enough to trade small items and maintain a rather large log for caching. It’s about 1/8th the size of an ammo can, but much more appealing than a 35mm film canister.

Many thanks to Kurdt Green for allowing us to adopt this cache and share it once again with the community of geocachers.

Another DNF - Cache Missing in the Brush

We intended to find a geocache in a hillier part of Thousand Oaks today, with no luck. Two days ago I stopped by this area, but a quick analysis of the brush told me that I wouldn’t be venturing down the hill in my work slacks.

Today in jeans and casual gear, I ventured down the hill and spent almost 20 minutes searching and searching for an AOL CD-ROM case geocache. Unfortunately, these caches are very slim and are easily hidden in this area. It’s been a few months since this cache was located, and we suspect it’s off course.

Click here for this cache’s details: Barely in T.O. (GCGB20)

Nothing worse than spending 20 minutes in the brush, off the beaten path—unable to turn up the geocache. Oh well. Better luck next time! We have no problem posting a DNF here. It’s critical to help cache owners know the status of their individual caches, and users afraid to post DNF’s actually may end up hurting the cache by “helping keep their reputation.”

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Adopted Cache – Stare Down

Today we completed the adoption of a once popular geocache within walking distance of my office. After noticing that the cache was still inactive after a year, we contacted the owner (Pain & Panic) and offered to adopt the cache if they no longer had the opportunity to keep it active.

Turns out Pain & Panic has moved out of state and the person asked to keep it up wasn’t able to do so. We were eager to replace this cache, and when Pain and Panic agreed we quickly headed out there for a little cache maintenance. Now reposted as “Stare Down Redux” we are hoping this once popular micro cache is active again. The code for this cache is: GCF817

A big thanks to Pain and Panic for allowing us to takeover the responsibility of maintaining this geocache.

Yesterday's Caching Experience in Thousand Oaks

I left the office early yesterday and spent about 2 hours out geocaching in the local neighborhood. Because it had been a while since my last caching experience (almost a year due to the birth of our first child), there was a plethora of caching to go out and grab. I was actually able to be picky about it too, which was good considering that I was still in office work attire.

Geocaches in Thousand Oaks, CA and surrounding areas:
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As you can see, my town is littered with snug geocaches ranging from hilly hike finds to urban park-and-grabs (PAGs). It’s well known in the geocaching community that California is cache-country. It doesn’t matter if you are traveling PCH up to Frisco or heading South into Los Angeles—there’s geocaches everywhere. When I decided to go caching yesterday, I hit about 8 caches and found 5 of them. Given my work attire (slacks and a dress shirt), I had to be picky about what I was going to search for. One individual had hidden a terrain=1 geocache just out of reach, requiring me to scale a very low fence—I wasn’t about to explain the tear in my pants to my wife had I slipped!

All in all it was a good day geocaching, and got our count past 30 caches found. We are small compared to others out there, but the baby comes first!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Our PDA+GPSr Geocaching Equipment - UPDATED

It’s been some time since I’ve discussed how exactly we (Trace Amigos) geocache, so after a short day of “corporate caching” (wearing my work slacks and dress shirt) I thought it appropriate to sit down after logging my finds and put down our caching technique in writing.

Trace Amigos is not a “die hard” geocaching team logging hundreds of finds each month. We are family team of usually just two and a half, and like many others, we have a little one to look after and she demands a ton of care and support at her young age. When I first began looking into geocaching, I decided that the equipment MUST be multi-functional thus serving to do more for me than geocache. Being in business real estate and CASL, travel is a huge part of my life. In-car GPS units are great, but they are stuck within the car and can’t travel with me. I decided that there simply must be a way to use my PDA for geocaching and travel.

A little research showed that I could purchase a Bluetooth GPSr for around $100 to work with my PDA, so that’s exactly what I did. I also spent another $100 on a program called “Mapopolis” to make my PDA also serve as a turn-by-turn GPS navigator. Both serve to assist me with geocaching AND travel, and I couldn’t live without them!

-To travel, I use my Dell Axim PDA to sync with my Bluetooth GPSr unit, using mapopolis to plan a route and give me step by step instructions as I go. Very useful.

-To geocache, I use the same PDA-GPSr combo, but I use the following three (3) programs to make a quick and paperless geocaching experience:

1. Cachemate – All those details I get on each local cache at can be accessed via cachemate so I can lookup hints and other details on the fly by importing the member-only Pocket Queries files. MUST HAVE.
2. Mapopolis – Yes, I use this for caching too. A little freeware program called GPXtoMaplet program takes the .gpx pocket queries files I get weekly from and converts them for use in Mapopolis. Now I can visually plan a caching route, bringing nothing else along but the PDA and GPSr.
3. BeeLineGPS – Mapopolis is great for driving, but it’s all that accurate for on-foot geocache hunting. For this, I use a little program called BeeLineGPS to give me distance, speed, and very accurate GPS cords. The same .gpx file can be imported here, so caching is made super easy.

With a small PDA window mount purchased off eBay for $5 and an equally-cheap $5 aluminum hardcase for the PDA make this my ideal caching combination. If I still have energy later, I’ll post a little more regarding my caching experience today. It was only 5 caches, but quite memorable.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Placing Micro Caches - Be Creative!

Remember the white micro pill fob’s I received last year from a cheap Amazon purchase? Well I finally got around to camouflaging the first, and she’s almost ready for placement.

The red rubber seal has to be paint free, but the rest of the micro is green enough to hide but not so perfectly camouflaged that you won’t find it hanging in a tree:
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Lots of folks in the geocaching community despise micro caches, and it’s understandable why—they aren’t creatively hidden. Many are in for the hunt and the “kill” of finding a cache, while even more are in the hobby to see new things and places. Micros tend to be the most commonly placed caches in less-than-notable locations, so they’ve been given a pretty poor reputation.

Changing the pace of micro caches is the job of every geocacher serious about the sport/game/hobby, and the two (2) primary criteria are simple and must be given credence before stashing a micro away and posting the coordinates:

1. Camoflauge it accordingly (add a magnet, paint it, creatively hide it) just don’t stick with the same old boring stock 35mm film container micros.
2. Try and place your micro somewhere notable! If you cannot seem to meet this criteria, at least try and find something remotely notable about the area you stashed it in. Many of the cachers in it for more than just the find don’t enjoy spending the time to find a cache only to find out that the person who placed it had this to say “An airplane flew over this house yesterday, so I thought I’d place a cache here to mark the occasion.”

Be creative! Share something new! Think beyond the placement of your caches.

Monday, February 20, 2006

First Family Cache - Convincing Them to Geocache

Today was a monumental occasion. The entire family team logged our first cache together without any cajoling from me! After a quick meal at Macaroni Grill (ideal place to eat good food with a baby—a very family-friendly restaurant) we plopped the little one into her stroller and opened up the PDA. After a quick 10 second sync with the Bluetooth and satellites, we had a fix and began walking to what was to be our first family cache.

In this area, there’s another geocaching team by the name of Ventura Kids. When we arrived at the cache location and the clue didn’t immediately yield cache-gold, I recalled that the cache owner had been given advice from the Ventura Kids on a quick cache relocation a few feet away. It helps to know your major local cache hiders because in this case, the Ventura Kids are famous for magnetic caches leaving only a few places to place them. That in mind, we had the cache in hand in less than a few seconds and I experience a surge of pride as I saw the thrill of the find light up in my wife and little-one’s eyes. It was their first cache!

Here’s a photo I took to commemorate the occasion (Promenade Micro GCNATE):
Family Find #1

How did I convince them to join me geocaching? Well, for our family getting outdoors is largely difficult as my better half loves to spend time with her family in town and I love to go places and see new things. Splitting the difference, we can now get out and get some fresh air (her love) and hunt things down using technology (my joy). Geocaching is the perfect middle ground.

Not long after this find, mom’s tummy rumbled a bit from lunch so I took her home for a nap and took the little one out to a quick errand to OSH. Along the way (in the other direction) we grabbed a member-only cache hidden by Dakiba (GCMP08) only to later realize that we didn’t have a pen. We’ll have to get back later and plop our mark on the log to complete the find. Only two finds today, but being casual geocachers I consider it a successful day!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cachemate: Now for the Pocket PC!

Wow. We just discovered that Cachemate had released a version of their famous Palm OS caching utility for the Pocket PC so I quickly headed off to Smittyware's website to download the demo version, and boy was I surprised.

Cachemate is really no different from GPXsonar, except for one very critical thing: speed. Now we cache with a terrific PDA-GPSr combo which is entirely paperless and quick. Using mapopolis to get driving directions to a cache, BeeLineGPS to get us directly to the cache on foot, and then GPXsonar to get us details about the cache to aid us in locating it. The problem with this is that GPXSonar is a very demanding program on any PDA and is often slow to use--very easy, but slow nonetheless and on a cache-busy day every second counts.

Enter cachemate. Cachemate dispenses with the unnecessary graphics that GPXSonar has, and is all text based. Cachemate is easy to use, easy to search for caches, and contains all the details that you need to find any cache--what makes it different (and worth the $8) is the speed and little PDA memory the program demands. We can now have Mapopolis, BeeLineGPS, and Cachemate open all at the same time with no effect on speed and usability.

In a nutshell, if you use a PDA to cache you NEED to get cachemate. It's required-ware.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

First Post in a Year - Name Change to "Trace Amigos"

It’s been nearly a year since our last posting to this geocaching blog, mostly because our baby daughter was born in spring of last year—leaving pretty much zero time for geocaching. She’s almost a year old now, and vigorous enough to handle the outdoors like we used to enjoy so we’ve decided to get back into geocaching.

Geocaching was largely the adventure of “acPilot,” but now with the other two on board, we’ve decided to change our geocaching name to “Trace Amigos.” Trace Amigos draws a play on words from the Spanish word “tres” (meaning quite literally, three) but we switched the spelling of the word to give a play on “tracing” geocaches. Phonetically it still sounds the same, and we like it.

Here’s our new Team logo:
Trace Amigos Geocaching Team

I just received a new Toshiba satellite laptop which doubles as a tablet PC—could be very interesting for use on long geocaching trips, so we’ll be sure to post more about geocaching with a laptop here too. It’s a bit fragile, but nevertheless useful so we’ll see.

Here’s a stock photo of the new laptop:
Toshiba Satellite Tablet PC Laptop