I’ve been on a small spree of geocaching recently, both in the UK during a two day residential training course for my PhD and also in New Mexico while I was on holiday. In New Mexico I came across a particular string of geocaches placed along the length of a road. This was my first power trail, exciting!
The first cache of the trail is 20 ON 217-1 (GC5C3XQ), and there are 20 more, hence the name. I logged the first cache of the trail as I wanted to see what a power trail was like, but I wasn’t impressed. The cache wasn’t hidden as such, just a plastic tube inside a partially buried piece of pipe on the grass verge. The cache wasn’t that well maintained and it looked like many people had been doing a thing called a “throwdown” where they don’t even sign the cache log, they just throw a little container or piece of laminated card with their handle on it near the cache. In my mind this is littering and shouldn’t warrant a Find. The experience of standing at the side of a busy road getting blasted by traffic doesn’t appeal to me. The other thing I don’t understand about this trail on this particular uninteresting stretch of road is that there is another power trail set up by another cacher just to the south on the same road, this time with 40 caches (40 ON 217-1 , GC4MBZH). In my mind this second power trail shouldn’t have got past the community moderators.
These power trails along the sides of roads exemplify what I think is a problem in geocaching, where success is based on the number of caches hidden and found rather than the quality of those caches or the journey involved in finding them. When I go out on a walk or I’m exploring a new place, I find having all these uninteresting side of the road caches makes it difficult for me to locate good caches, which leads to me not finding any caches at all, as I can’t be bothered to sift through the low effort caches. I would much prefer it if each cache was placed according to the significance of its location, whether that’s along a hiking trail or at a particular landmark in the city. Bearing in mind that a “landmark” doesn’t have to be a statue in a public place, it could be a bench that has personal significance, or a viewpoint in a park. Just something to make the cache significant and interesting. Having a high density of low effort caches every 100 m along a trail completely ruins the experience of searching for the cache. With the power trails, if I’m not motivated to get all the caches, I’m not going to look for any of them as they’re uninteresting by nature when cached in isolation.
I understand that other cachers like the endurance challenge of finding a load of caches all in one day, but I think that mentality encourages other unsavoury habits like armchair logging and throwdowns, as cachers attempty to boost their find count while minimising the effort put in. I imagine it also leads to those cachers becoming impatient when it comes to searching for a cache, which I think must make the whole thing into a competition, with lots of negative feelings surrounding it.
I searched around on the internet for a while to see if anybody else had expressed feelings about wanting fewer geocaches, or caches of better quality, but I couldn’t find anything beyond a few forum posts about wanting cache hiders to maintain their many caches better, something I think could be tackled if power trails were discouraged. I could start ‘The Campaign for Fewer Geocaches’.
Alternatively, letterboxing is something I’ve been learning more about. There are a lot fewer letterboxes and they are less visible to normal folks, with the network being much more off the grid. Because of their lower density and more enthusiastic community, I think they’re generally better maintained.