Inside Geocaching HQ transcript (episode 43): Reviewer Talk, Part III

(link to podcast file)

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00:16 Chris Ronan: Hello everyone, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. Hope you’re all doing well out there in geocaching land. I am Chris Ronan. My username is Rock Chalk. I and around 80 other lackeys work for Geocaching HQ in Seattle. And on our podcast, we are continuing to share conversations that I have had with community volunteer reviewers. This talk you are about to hear is with four reviewers based in the United States. ThunderEggs and GeoCrater, also known as Marla and Chuck, are based in Oregon, while NCReviewer and Dogwood Reviewer, Matt and Rob, are on the other coast in North Carolina. Of course, all reviewers bring their real life experience into geocaching, for instance, Marla worked in a hospital for many years, while Rob is a scientist at a university, which informed their approaches to reviewing during the pandemic. And that is one of many topics that we touched on during this episode. So here we go, me and four community volunteer reviewers talking geocaching.

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01:35 CR: Well, as it turns out, we have each coast of the United States covered here. We’ve got two reviewers from Oregon and two from North Carolina. And I was counting it up between the four of you, 115,000 geocaches that you’ve published since you’ve all been… The four of you, since you’ve been reviewers. And I think that means you must like doing it, but we can get into that. Let’s start with how you got into reviewing. And I wanna ask first, since you’re the elder statesman, NCReviewer, you’ve been doing this since 2005, so this year’s your 15th anniversary. And I assume that means you like this or there’s just something wrong with you. Which one is it?

02:19 Matt: A little of both most likely. I certainly enjoy it. I enjoy participating in the community. I enjoy being part of the reviewing team. I think at this point, some of my best geo pals are people I’ve met through the review team and some of the lackeys at HQ. I’ll point out Chuck’s got the elder statesmen in terms of age but I’ve got the seniority reviewer advantage just to clarify that part. How did I get into it? I got into geocaching, I saw an article in the newspaper back when we used to hold those things in our hands and get ink on our fingers on Sunday mornings. About three or four years later, a Virginia cacher named HuggieD1, who had by default taken on the mantle for reviewing Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, tapped me on the shoulder one day at an event and said, “Hey, I need some help. How about you do North Carolina and I’m gonna find somebody else for South Carolina?” And I couldn’t come up with a good reason to say no, so I said Yes.

03:20 CR: Yeah. Little did you know 15 years would go by. [laughter]

03:25 Matt: Other than my marriage, I believe it is the longest I’ve done any continuous one thing.

03:30 CR: Oh. Well, Marla, 2006 for you, and so you were right behind Matt there. How did you find your way into reviewing?

03:40 Marla: Well, I started caching because a friend told us about the hobby. And it took a little while, and we started caching and creating puzzle caches and whatnot. And then I got an email, ’cause as they say, anybody who volunteers for this job is really crazy. So I got an email from the then current Oregon reviewer that they needed help, and I pondered and consternated and contacted the Washington reviewer, who I knew through geocaching ’cause they used to come to an Oregon event, and reluctantly said, “Okay, we’ll give this a try.” And 14 plus years later, we’re still trying, so that’s a good thing. I would echo Matt’s statement that some of my favorite geo pals and best geocaching experiences have been with reviewers all over the world. It’s fun to be part of helping others enjoy the hobby in a way that very few people get the privilege of doing.

04:36 CR: GeoCrater, you’ve been at it for 12 years now. So what about yourself? How did this all start for you?

04:44 Chuck: Well, I started caching back in 2003. I had read an article on a Sunday morning and then Sunday evening, a couple of guys showed up and they had this geocaching.com sticker on their car. So I asked ’em, “Hey, what’s this? Tell me about it.” And a week later I was out… I had a GPS and was out caching. And then I was, as Marla said, one of those crazy people who volunteered to be a reviewer. I had let folks know, Marla included, that I would be interested. And months later, I got tapped on the shoulder. And in terms of the reviewer family tree, she is the branch that I tied to, so I’m very thankful for that. And I volunteer and do a number of different things, this is just one of about three or four, one of the longest ones that I’ve done and one of the most rewarding. I enjoy giving back to the game quite a bit.

05:48 CR: Well, Dogwood Reviewer is the “youngster” of the group in reviewer age. You’ve only been doing this, I’ll just put that in quotes “only” since 2012, but eight years of volunteering, what is your background in reviewing? How did it start for you?

06:07 Rob: You know Chris, I’ll take any time I’m junior I’m the youngest now because it’s very rare to get that. I started caching in… I actually have to have… I actually have to go and check really quick, in 2002. I actually saw it on a local cable program in outdoor activities North Carolina, it was actually a local cacher who was doing a little article about geocaching. I actually have not tracked down who that cacher was. I went out that afternoon and bought a GPS from Walmart, and much like you guys, it’s probably been one of the longest hobbies I’ve kept going. I tend to be quite, I tend to have quite the wanderlust with various things, and the caching’s definitely been a continuous hobby over the last kind of… Almost what feels like almost, it’s 20 years now. I came into reviewing because of Matt. I know I wasn’t his first choice in North Carolina, but I was good friends with him and we obviously cached a lot as part of a little group of cachers which was… Went on crazy trips. And that’s been… That was basically the origin of my reviewing experience.

07:10 CR: So between eight to 15 years between the four of you folks, and I already talked about how many, over 115,000 caches published. And so you obviously get something out of it, you must enjoy it, and I wonder if we can talk about just what compels you all to want to keep giving this amount of time, because it must be hours every week that… Some caches are easy to publish, but others take a lot longer and take a lot more back and forth with the cache owner, so maybe Marla start with you. What is it that makes you wanna keep getting up and doing this every day?

07:51 Marla: Again, contributing to the game, it’s always interesting. You meet an individual because you know a name that they’ve selected, you know nothing about them, although you can kind of infer approximately where they might live based on how far the cache is from their home. And then later, many of those folks, it’s like “Oh, you’re so-and-so.” And you see them in an event and you’re like, “Oh, this isn’t just this nameless entity behind the computer, this is a real live person who has their own joy of the game,” and it might be a very different joy than my own joy, which is fine, it’s part of the diversity that’s great about this. So again, it’s that, it’s the community and action and feeling like I have a way to contribute to it in a way that is flexible with my own schedule. For many years, I was working 40 plus weeks, and so the reviewing was a nice way to use my brain in a very different way than work was, and on my own schedule, which is a big challenge for someone who’s working full-time.

08:55 CR: Matt, you started this, again 15 years ago, you couldn’t possibly have had any idea that… Well, I would assume you couldn’t have possibly had any idea that this is something that would be going on for this long. What is it that has made it so enjoyable for you to wanna keep at it for so many years?

09:15 Matt: There’s two aspects to it. One is that I keep on caching because I keep seeing new things that I haven’t seen before, I keep meeting new people, and the caches take me to unusual, educational, entertaining places that I wouldn’t find or see if there wasn’t a geocache hidden there for me to go after. I visited the family farm where Jesse and Frank James grew up in Missouri when I was out there for GeoWoodstock a few years back. I’ve gone hiking on trails outside of Seattle because I flew up there to meet some people and go caching. I’ve been out in one of the darkest places in the whole country in terms of light pollution to do some of the ET trail with Rob and a few other people. And if there weren’t geocaches to find in those places, I likely wouldn’t have traveled to some of those places, so that’s what keeps me playing the game. And as I tell people who claim I’m picking on them or making it personal, I really wanna publish your cache because the more caches I can publish, the more caches that are out there for me and everybody else to go find.

10:22 CR: Again, sometimes caches are pretty easy. Everything, all the boxes are checked, and the process is pretty quick. Other times it can be a little more challenging. What do you want cache owners to know about placing a cache before they go and submit it? What are the things that they can be doing to make that process go smoother for everybody? And start with Rob on that.

10:48 Rob: I can give you the obvious answer which is to read the guidelines. I think that the main actually is a point that Matt touched upon, actually, and I do a lot of that kind of reviewing for work as well, I’m a scientist, so I spent a lot of time reviewing other people’s work and giving feedback. And what people don’t realize in that career as well, is we’re not trying to ding, we’re not trying to reject stuff, we’re trying to make it better and trying to make it as good as it can possibly be. So in our world, in the caching world, that’s obviously to get published, and I think that’s a big facet that people don’t realize sometimes, is that we’re not there to try and block. We’re there to try and make the caches comply, keep the hobby going, not put the hobby into some kind of penalty box in certain areas. And that’s kind of really… And that also kinda goes back to why I enjoy it. I enjoy being some kind of steward of the game as well and making sure that it still exists. I don’t want my main hobby and obsession being screwed up by some very strange hides.

11:50 CR: Are there things that… Again, all of you have been doing this for many years. Are there things that you think about more now, or has your process changed over time compared to when you first started reviewing? Are there things that maybe you didn’t… That weren’t top of your mind back then, that are now or… I don’t know, I’m just curious about how, as you do this over the course of many years, how your approach to reviewing changes or how you’re able to for yourself make it more efficient or more enjoyable or whatever. Chuck, do you have any thoughts on that?

12:25 Chuck: Well, certainly the obvious change recently is the whole COVID issues. With the country and the world locking down, reviewing has changed significantly during this period of time. You wanna make sure that people are… Remain healthy. So there are caches today that Marla and I are not publishing in Oregon due to social distancing requirements and things like that, so a cache in the front yard of the cache owner would have been fine this time a year ago, but we’re not listing it for those social distancing reasons today. In terms of the overall game, I would say that the tool set that we have today is significantly better than what it once was, certainly a decade ago. It is easier to see things, to learn things, but still, one relies on the input from the cache owner as to where they hid it, how they hid it, why they hid it. And if those folks could provide that information upfront, in terms of, do they have permission? Have they buried it? How is it attached to the tree? Etcetera, etcetera. That would help us speed the process along and get their listing listed faster.

13:50 CR: Well, and you mentioned COVID. We might as well talk about that a little bit because that certainly is something that the impact has been different in different places all over the world. And by extension, the impact on Geocaching has varied as well, and so we’ve got two reviewers from Oregon two from North Carolina. How have you all tried to navigate this whole thing, just strictly from a geocaching standpoint? We get into life stuff too, but how have you guys tried to navigate it? How have you gotten feedback from other reviewers around the world and from HQ and trying to make sense of all this from a reviewing standpoint?

14:34 Marla: One of the things in my former day job was working in a hospital. And part of that responsibility included being part of the hospital command center, and as you can imagine, the hospitals were early in their understanding of COVID and the implications. And shortly after the command center opened back in March, I called Chuck and said, “Oh, what are we we gonna do about this?” And we had several lengthy phone calls, we live about 100 miles apart, and we said, “Well, what about this? What about this? Let’s try this.” And then I think he did the first draft, but we both edited it enough that it’s got some of both of us in, and we said, “Well, this is how we’re gonna do it while we’re in full quarantine.”

15:18 Marla: And then Oregon announced, Well, this is the reopening process. So then we got back on the phone and we said, “Well, what changes for the areas that are reopening sooner versus the ones that are not reopening?” And of course back then, we hadn’t really dealt with the fact that some might re-close, but we’ve continued to evolve it, much like the overall guidelines evolve. Somebody writes down some things and says, “This is what’s okay, this is what’s not okay,” and then you encounter something new and you adjust. We’ve probably had more communication in the last three months about, “Do you think this one is publishable in so and so county?” Whereas pre-COVID, I would know I can publish this or I can’t publish it.

16:06 Rob: So, I was gonna echo what I think Marla said about what’s been really good for me is the flexibility of this “job”. But my life experience got very much changed when COVID happened, much like Marla’s did, and we ended up having to mobilize a lot of stuff at work and really kind of changed tack into what we… I normally research things like burn injuries, but I’m very much involved with a lot of groups here who do coronavirus research, and we’ve actually be researching coronavirus in this institution for 30 odd years. We are probably one of the best places for that work to happen. And I ended up running the central processing lab, but actually collected and distributed COVID-positive samples to other groups working here. So, I got really, really busy, Matt… And that’s just a reflection of how we’ve worked together over the years, we were able to just… Matt basically said, “Let me do this, let me just handle reviewing for a couple of months, three months, however long it takes.”

17:02 Rob: So Matt let me have a breather and really focus on work. It was good to see other places and how they’ve responded to it. I’m still very much torn. I love to go to events. I think events are completely inappropriate at the moment. This is still very much on the increase in this first wave. We’re gonna have issues next year as well. So I personally think that it’s, local laws aside, I think the all regional events should be, basically have a moratorium on them for at least six months plus, if not longer. But again, that’s the scientist in me talking, but the geocacher in me obviously wants to go to Georgia, wants to go to Seattle, but I just feel a bit that that’s completely inappropriate at the moment.

17:46 CR: Now, each of you can bounce ideas off each other, Marla and Chuck for Oregon, and then Matt and Rod from North Carolina, but then to have this larger community of reviewers, hundreds of people all over the world to be able to get feedback from, must be a really helpful thing.

18:03 Chuck: Oh, it is. Especially for… Even though most of us are a decade or close to a decade of reviewing, there are always new situations. And this is at least for me, my primary means of getting feedback on whatever is new. You can take it and say, “Hey, what about this cache, is it publishable?” Because again, that’s the idea, or how can it be salvaged? And other reviewers globally have perhaps seen the situation, perhaps not, but they can add their two cents as to how we can coach the cache owner to make sure that it meets the guidelines and to get it listed. That was the aim.

18:49 Marla: One of the people that’s become a dear friend of mine, and I know Matt’s and many other reviewers, is an Ontario-based reviewer, and he regularly says things like, “Geocaching is a global game played locally.” And recognizing different jurisdictions and different cultures and the like, while the guidelines are universal, certain elements of the implementation vary by jurisdiction, and so… But yet it’s important that collectively the reviewers worldwide are as reasonably consistent as possible, notice I don’t say 100% consistent. And so it’s really helpful sometimes we learn that, “Oh, in Oregon, we’ve been really lax on X, Y, Z, and everybody else is strict, and maybe we need to rethink that.” Or, “We’ve been really strict and everybody else is lax, maybe we need to rethink that.” So it’s really helpful to get those other perspectives.

19:46 CR: So I think what I’m hearing from all of you is, whether it’s COVID or non-COVID times, read the guidelines and get familiar with the game a little bit before… As exciting as it is to think about going out and hiding a cache as soon as you can, have your feet in the water for a little bit longer before you start with that part of the game.

20:08 Rob: Yeah, but as we’ve all seen, there’s always chat about should there be a minimum number of caches you find before you hide some. I think I’m definitely in the camp of “no”. I’ve found caches hidden by people which are absolutely remarkable hides, and I’ve only found two or three caches. Again, it’s hard to have one brush that paints all, but, yeah, certainly familiarity of the game, read the guidelines, at least very much the basics about hiding the cache not too close to another, there’s plenty of stuff they can read up about. And I like the videos which Groundspeak have done… Geocaching have done, which kind of really ease people into the hiding aspect now.

20:48 Marla: And I also really like the notion that, and it’s right there in the guidelines which I just pulled up, that Briansnat, a charter member has said, “When you go to hide the geocache, think of the reason you’re bringing people to that spot. If the only reason is for the geocache, find a better spot.” Many new and experienced cachers look to hide things in parks, in natural areas, and whatnot, and most cachers prefer those hides to the ones in parking lots or in guard rails in places that don’t have a spectacular view. They’re all within the guidelines, so we publish them, but if somebody brings me to another parking lot of another grocery store…

21:33 Rob: Super quickly. So whenever we see a zero-zero hider, so the first cache they’ve hidden, where Matt and I always send them a welcome note, which is like a block of text, we personalize it a little bit with their name, et cetera, but we always include Brian’s quote in that email as the parting words that basically kind of follow this advice. But yeah, I enjoy finding caches, I mean any kind of cache. I’m somewhat of an omnivore when it comes to cache finds. But yeah, I’m with Marla. I still would prefer to go somewhere more natural, nice view, somewhere interesting, and not the kind of Walmart parking lot.

22:10 CR: Well, before we wrap up, I’d just like to ask each of you if there’s something or some things that we haven’t touched on that you would just like people to know about reviewing and about what you do. It may be something that people don’t know, it maybe something people don’t realize. Marla, is there anything that comes to mind for you on that?

22:30 Marla: I think something that a lot of new cachers don’t realize when they see that the reviewer has very few hides and/or very few finds, like, “How come this inexperienced person is reviewing?” And so my profile even says, “Don’t believe everything you read, my player count shows that I’m an experienced person,” and so that’s one important thing. Your reviewer may look like they’re zero-zero in terms of hides and finds, but they’re not. And then the other thing, at events when we can go back to doing those, I love what Matt sometimes says about the different hats. So sometimes I wear a shirt like this, that’s community reviewer, sometimes I specifically don’t, but if we’re at an event, chances are we wanna enjoy it also, and we’re happy to do reviewer questions at times, but we’re also a regular cacher and a regular member of the community, and wish folks would respect that as well.

23:27 Chuck: One of the things that we haven’t talked about at all is the other half of the job, is sweeping. We reviewers have the responsibility to remind cache owners of their obligation when they place a cache. You can’t just, or shouldn’t just put it out there, and then ignore it. If it goes missing, if it gets damp, if it gets damaged, the cache owner has the responsibility to go out and fix it, and address notes as they come in on the cache log. And we’re the reminders, if you will. So as I cache, if it gets identified to us as having issues, we will put a little nag note out there. It is not because we’re being mean, it’s not because we wanna hammer someone, we want to assure that the next cacher’s experience with your cache is a good thing, but if you go out and you find the first five caches that you find are soggy, moldy, broken, that’s going to discourage that next cacher. So we want you as a cache owner to be responsible, take pride in your cache, take care of your cache.

24:47 CR: Well, this has been very enjoyable for me, and I think the community will have enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each of you a little bit more, and thank you for your time, not just with this, but again, for this collective amount of time that you’ve given to the community and the over 100,000 caches that the four of you have published. It’s just amazing, and you all deserve a lot of thanks for all of that, but then also just for the time that you’ve given here to share a little bit about yourselves here on this podcast. So thank you.

25:20 Rob: Thank you Chris.

25:22 Marla: Thanks.

25:23 Chuck: Thanks Chris.

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25:25 CR: Another interesting conversation with some interesting people… ThunderEggs and GeoCrater based in Oregon; NCReviewer and Dogwood Reviewer in North Carolina. I hope you enjoyed that. More reviewer interviews are on the horizon, so keep an ear out for those. If you would like to share any feedback about our podcast, send an email to podcast@geocaching.com. Thanks for listening, we really do appreciate it. From me and all the lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

Chris
Hopelessly addicted cacher and Geocaching HQ's public relations manager.