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What to Do When You Find a Geocache

Maybe you immediately stumbled on the geocache that you were looking for — or perhaps it took you a couple of painstaking hours, searching high and low to find a particularly devilishly hidden cache. It really doesn't matter in the end, though, because you succeeded and found the cache.

Congratulations! Savor the moment. There's definitely a sense of accomplishment when you discover a cache, and a little bit of child-like wonder as you open up the container to see the treasures inside.

Here are some of the things that you should do when you find a cache.

Opening the cache

When you find a cache, you're probably going to immediately want to open it to see what's inside. But before you do, take a moment and observe how the cache was placed and hidden. When you leave, the cache should appear as it did when you found it.

After you take a mental snapshot of how the cache was placed, you can open it. If water or dirt is on the lid, brush it off so it doesn't get inside the container when you open it.

Surplus military ammunition containers, fondly referred to as ammo cans or boxes, are popular geocaching containers. The metal cans are rugged and fairly waterproof. If you've never handled an ammo can before, you might spend a few minutes puzzling over how to open it. Here's how:

1. Find the latching mechanism on the narrow side of the ammo can.

2. Pull up the bottom of the latch.

The latches are usually tight, so you'll have to use some muscle. Be careful, though, because a tight lid can spring open and really whack your fingers good.

3. After the latch is released, push it up and away from the can.

4. Grab the handle on the top and pull up on the hinged lid to open the ammo can.

It might be a little snug, so again, you'll need to use some elbow grease. If it's really tight, use two hands with one hand on the lid handle and the other on the wire handle below the latch mechanism.

To shut an ammo can, do the reverse, first placing the top of the latch under a metal lip on the side of the can and then pushing down hard on the bottom of the latch.

Signing the logbook

Inside the cache container, you'll find a logbook. If the cache hider was on the ball, the logbook will be in a resealable, plastic food storage bag just in case the cache container somehow gets water inside. The logbook is a record of everyone who has found the cache. It's typically a small, spiral-bound notebook and has a couple of pens and pencils with it for signing in.

Flip through the logbook pages. It's fun to read about other geocachers' adventures and how long ago the cache was last visited. The more you geocache in a local area, the more names you'll start to recognize of fellow geocachers who have already visited a cache you just found.

After you've read the logbook, go to the last page and write your own entry. You should jot down the current date (the time is optional), a few sentences or paragraphs about your experiences finding the cache, what goodies you took and/or added, and then sign your geocaching alias. Be sure to mention any pets or fellow geocachers who accompanied you.

Some geocachers have rubber stamps made up with their alias that they stamp a logbook with. Others leave business card-size geocaching cards or add custom-made stickers with their alias and a personal logo to logbook pages.

Leaving and trading goodies

One of the guiding principles of geocaching is "take something, leave something." A geocache hider places a number of goodies in a container when a new cache is first started. As people find the cache, they exchange goodies that catch their eye with trade items they've brought with them on the search.

A signature item is a unique item that a geocacher leaves in a cache that's his or her way of saying, "I was here." It's sort of like the Lone Ranger and his trademark silver bullet. Signature items can be anything from a printed business card to a handmade clay sculpture. (To give you some ideas, the Michigan Geocaching Organization has a database of photos of signature items on its Web site.

If you take something from a cache, be sure to leave something. If you forgot your trade items, just sign the logbook. A number of geocachers just do this anyway and don't exchange goodies. To them, finding the cache is the exciting and rewarding part of the sport — they're not really interested in the contents of a cache.

If the treasures inside a cache all seem to be related, such as all Star Wars trinkets or different kinds of toy frogs, you've likely stumbled on a theme cache. If you don't have a trade item that goes with the theme, just sign the logbook and don't leave anything.

As you find more geocaches, you'll get a better idea of what kind of goodies people leave in caches — it can be just about anything that will fit in a cache container. There's always a lot of discussion within the geocaching community about what is appropriate and not appropriate to leave in a cache. Here are some quick guidelines:

  • Don't leave food in a cache. Food can attract animals as well as get smelly and messy, and plastic cache containers have been chewed through by critters eager to get at a tasty snack.
  • Never put anything illegal, dangerous, or possibly offensive in a cache. Geocaching has turned into a family sport, so be responsible.
  • Always exchange something of at least equal value for whatever you take. For example, don't purloin a cool antique coin and replace it with a cheap McToy.
  • Try to trade up. Trading up means leaving something in the cache that's better than what you take. Many times, caches start out with cool stuff but soon end up filled with junk (broken toys, beat-up golf balls, cheap party favors, and so on). Some self-righteous geocachers even take it upon themselves to remove anything from a cache that doesn't meet their personal quality bar. If you can, always trade up to make the finds more interesting for everyone.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the next cache visitor. Would they find whatever item you just left interesting, intriguing, useful, or fun?

If the cache contains a Travel Bug (a to-be-taken-and-moved item that has a metal dog tag attached to it with a logo of a bug and a serial number), feel free to take the Travel Bug but only if you will remember to turn it loose in another cache that you find. Travel Bugs are meant for traveling. Go to geocaching.com and click the Track Travel Bugs link for detailed information on logging your Travel Bug find online and what to do next.

Heading home

After you sign the logbook and trade goodies (if you decided to), hit the road and head home — or perhaps try to find another nearby cache. Before leaving the cache, though, here is a checklist of things to do:

  • Make sure that the cache container is sealed. There's nothing worse than encountering a soggy, waterlogged cache because the previous finder didn't seal the lid tightly.
  • Put the cache container back where you found it. Make sure that it's in the same place and is hidden just as well as it was before you found it. It's not polite to relocate a cache to where you think is a better location.
  • Check the area for any of your equipment that's on the ground. You really didn't mean to leave your cellphone, GPS receiver, or compass as part of the cache — did you?
  • Cover your tracks. Sometimes, you'll find you don't even need to use your GPS receiver because there is a well-worn path right up to the cache hiding spot from so many geocachers who had previously found it. Do your best to tread lightly on the land and don't leave too many signs of your visit.
  • Use the track-back feature of your GPS receiver to follow your exact path back to your car. Or better yet, activate the waypoint that you set for your car when you started (but take a different route back to see some new sights).

Logging your find online

Most geocachers share their experiences with others by reporting their find online at the Geocaching.com site. When you get back to your computer (if you're a member of Geocaching.com), you can log your find on the Web site so the whole world knows you found the cache. Note: This is completely optional, and some geocachers prefer operating in stealth mode, keeping their discoveries and adventures to themselves.

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