00:15 Chris Ronan: Hello there, welcome. This is Inside Geocaching HQ, a podcast from Seattle. I trust that you are in the right place. If somehow you got here by accident, stick around, hear more about this great game that we play, the game of geocaching. My name is Chris Ronan. My user name is Rock Chalk. On this episode, we have another in our series of conversations with community volunteer reviewers. This one is with reviewers from Southern California, Utah, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Wyoming, Iowa, and a Geoaware, which is EarthCache reviewer. Now, you may wonder how we came to talk with these particular people. Well, we put out an invitation several weeks ago to the reviewer community. Anyone who wanted to participate could sign up for a time slot. And then we conducted several recordings, which you have been hearing over recent weeks. I’ve heard some good feedback about the episodes, which is always appreciated. This is something we may revisit from time to time because it’s always valuable to hear from reviewers and learn more about how to make the review process go as easily, as smoothly, as most efficiently as possible for everyone involved. So let’s get on to it, a conversation with six Geocaching and EarthCaching reviewers.
01:44 CR: So we’ve got a full house with, I think, six community volunteer reviewers here, and they run the gamut of number of years that they’ve been doing it. We’ve got a couple that are relatively early in their reviewing career, and a couple that have been doing this for many, many years, and a lot of great insights to hear about. So just wanna start by going around, and everybody say a little bit about themselves, your reviewer name, where you review, how long you’ve been doing it, and how you got into this crazy volunteer role that you’ve been doing. So we’ll start with you, Becky.
02:22 Becky: Okay. Hi, my name is Becky. I am known as reviewer Bec. I’ve been reviewing for just a hair over 13 years, started July of 2007. I review for Wisconsin again, been doing it for quite a long time. It’s a great gig. I get the biggest kick out of it.
02:43 CR: BlueRajah, how about you? I think you’re next up on the seniority list in this group.
02:48 Dick: Yeah, my name is Dick Nielson. I’m from Utah, and I have done this for 11 years. I go by two monikers. So I go by BlueRajah and then Geoawareusa2. I’m not really even sure why I was chosen. I was just asked out of the blue, and no one’s ever explained why they went with me, why they were crazy enough. But I had been geocaching for a year when they asked me, and then it was about a year later that they needed help when the Geoaware was bringing in more reviewers for the first time to do EarthCache. So a few of us volunteered to be part of the first group of Geoaware reviewers.
03:37 CR: And we’ve got one other Geoaware here with us and that’s Brian. How did you get into this whole thing?
03:44 Brian: Well, I’m Brian. I am GeoawareUSA10. And, actually, I was approached by another Geoaware who was wanting to retire and tend more to her family and everything. So she actually had reviewed several of my submissions from my area as well, so she just wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing it. And I said, “Possibly. What do I have to do?” And she said, “Basically, kind of what you were doing before. Just except now, you would be the actual one looking at all the reviewing.” So I said, “Sure, why not? Let’s give it a try.”
04:19 CR: And that was relatively recently, right? Within the last couple of years?
04:22 Brian: Yeah, I actually started March of 2019, so just almost a year and a half now.
04:29 CR: Well, over on the West Coast, James, how did this whole reviewer experience begin for you?
04:37 James: I have been caching since 2005. During all of that time, had gotten to know Tom pretty well, who was Marko Ramius. And after about seven years or so, he called me up and said, “Hey, do you wanna be a reviewer?” And that’s largely how I got into it. It was sort of one of those questions that I had actually thought about quite a bit beforehand, what if they ask me? And to be honest, I didn’t have the answer when he asked. “I’m gonna have to think about that a couple of days.” It’s one thing when it’s an abstract question. It’s another when it becomes real.
05:18 CR: And you review in Southern California. How did the user name Lava Lizard come about?
05:25 James: In truth, it largely came about because the other 46 names that I picked before that were already taken. It actually came from a trip that I had taken the year before to the Galápagos Islands where lava lizards are largely the only kind of lizard that exists on the islands. I kinda liked the sound of it, so that’s where the name came from.
05:52 CR: Heartland Cacher, you’re in Nebraska, and folks are only going to hear this podcast, I think, but if they could see you with… You have the most… I’ll say the most impressive Zoom background of the group with what you explained to me is called Carhenge.
06:09 Dick – Heartland Cacher: That’s correct. It’s in the western part of the Rosedale, up by Lancaster. They tell me it’s one of top tourist attractions in the state of Nebraska. I don’t know how many times I’ve been… It was never there before I started geocaching, but I don’t know how many times I’ve been there since. I started in March or April of 2006. I’ve been geocaching since 2003, and I don’t know if any of you remember, electric mouse, but she was reviewing in Nebraska… Well, I should say I review a Nebraska and Wyoming. But Carlene was reviewing in Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and she was getting ready to move to Illinois. And, one day we were at an event some place, I don’t remember where we were, and she said to me, “How would you like to become a reviewer?” And of course, I about fell on the ground and I said, “You better let me think about that for a few days, like some of the others did.” I came home, I talked to my wife, ’cause I knew she was gonna have to put up with it. And I really didn’t know what I was getting into. We had none of the tools like we have nowadays, we had to plot everything, I was using MapSource. I had to plot everything on MapSource if I wanted to see how close I was to another cache… It’s just so much better for everybody, reviewers and cachers alike the way things are now. They’ve improved so much over the years.
07:34 CR: And the newest reviewer in the group here is a Thingamabob. And I love that, that reviewer name. How did you get roped into this Bob?
07:46 Bob: They suggested that a husband wife team would work really well. My wife’s as much of a geocacher as I am, we geocache together, that’s how we met. Our wedding, four years ago was a geocaching event. We had one of our geocacher friends was the… Presided over the wedding. He helped us out. Yeah, we’re geocachers, we’re crazy geocachers in some ways. Then I received the phone call from Mark and he said, “Hey, would you be interested in… ” I was a little confused. But he was more clear and he asked if I would be interested and if my wife would be interested. My wife, her first name is Robin, and her reviewer name is Thingamajig. I came up with Thingamabob and she thought that was really neat and I thought it was neat, and it was an easy transition to put us both in as reviewers.
08:48 CR: There’s such a wide range of experience levels here. I’d love to hear a little bit from a few folks about what you love so much about it, what keeps you engaged with this volunteer position that you have. Becky, how about you?
09:02 Becky: I like to look at the geocaches because you get to see what somebody is… What they’ve created for you to see. And there’s usually a reason why they want you to go there. It’s like a little adventure, you get to go on. I can see where the coordinates are, I can see the location, I can see the puzzle, so I can really get a feel for why this is important to them, and that really keeps me going all the time, that and just the fact that, like Dick had said, everything is changing and evolving and getting better and better, so geocaches are getting better. They’ve got all of these gadget caches now, just things that are amazing that are nothing like the early days of finding a Tupperware container just out in the woods. It’s just something exciting every time I look at a cache page.
09:48 CR: BlueRajah, how about you Dick, you’ve been doing this for an awful long time too, what keeps you going with this whole thing?
09:57 Dick: It’s gotta be the people. You know, I’ve had the opportunity to do caches all over the western United States as a Geoaware, but I’ve also… Heartland and I both worked in Colorado and New Mexico for about a year, before a new reviewer was brought online and just the people, wherever you go, meeting them, the communication with them, everyone is just so great to work with. There’s always one or two people that don’t like the decisions that you make and will argue with you, but the people are just the best part about the whole game and then to see a new place that pops up, especially doing EarthCaches, because I feel like I know my state really well, but when something pops up in Montana or Idaho or just distant from me and I sit and go, “I have to go there now and see that, ’cause that’s really cool.”
10:56 CR: I don’t know if it’s possible to really answer this question specifically, but I wonder if we could maybe get a sense for how much of a time commitment this is, and I’m sure it varies based on the time of year, there’s certain times a year that are busier than others, and all that stuff, but James, for you, for instance, of how much time would you say that you spend going in and reviewing caches?
11:21 James: Well, it’s really changed considerably over the years. When I first started Markuranius and I had all of Southern California, and at that point, we were probably publishing at about 11,000 caches a year. And that doesn’t count all the ones that, of course, we didn’t publish. You’d open up the queue in the evening and you’d go, “Oh, crap, there are 80 caches in here.” And you can’t just let them slide because there’s gonna be more tomorrow and more the next day. Over time, a couple of things have changed, one is we brought in two other reviewers, so all of us have a little bit less share of the load, and for the most part, over those years, the number of caches that were being placed was going down. We’d still get these massive 2000 cache power trails sometimes, sort of the numbers have been coming down up until last March, and then something happened, I don’t know what, but suddenly the number of caches has jumped up again, and now you can open up the cue and find 40 caches in there. Whereas a year ago, I’d find 15. Now how much of a commitment, right now, I do two days of the week, probably about an hour and a half to get through 40 caches or so. And it really depends on what they are, so it’s a mix.
12:46 CR: Well, as I heard you talking there, I wondered about the geoawares in this group and the EarthCache review process, because I’m guessing that there aren’t a whole lot that you just do in a couple of minutes. Brian, how about that process and the amount of inspection that you do on EarthCache submissions?
13:09 Brian: I’m kinda one of those… With my email, I’m what you call a zero inboxer. I always wanna have my stuff all done as soon as possible, as soon as I see it. I try to stay on top of my queue pretty well. Definitely, it’s not just to get in there, quick 30 seconds, I have to look at it. A lot of this is back and forth two or three different times, changing their actual write-ups, maybe their geology might be off, permissions with the land owners and national parks and that kind of stuff. There are some that… I would say a quick one might be maybe 10, 15 minutes doing everything, and there’s some that… 10 months. There’s some that we kinda bounce back and forth and issues with this permission, that kind of stuff, and so yeah, it can be a pretty extreme gamut to run.
14:05 CR: I’m sure that when you all are out in the community, you’re asked questions about the review process, and I’m curious what kind of tips you give to people to help the process go as smoothly as possible. Bob, in the short time that you’ve been doing this, what kind of advice have you tried to pass on to people?
14:26 Bob: Maintenance is the one thing that I talk about all the time to geocachers. It’s the one thing I get asked about. It’s constant and continual. Every day, I go into that queue, every day I’m sending emails asking people to do maintenance.
14:42 CR: Yeah, maintenance is a really important topic. Becky, up in Wisconsin, what kind of advice do you like to give people about the review process?
14:50 Becky: Two big ones. First one is, if you have to ask me if you need to get permission, yes you need to get permission. Don’t always assume that you have permission because other people have placed caches there. Get permission. That’s my one big one and the second one is, when you submit your geocache, give me a good two reviewer notes. Let me know the nature of the location of the geocache. What does it look like? How is it attached? What kind of container is it? What is it near? It’s gonna help me more smoothly get through the process and get that cache published.
15:29 CR: From an EarthCaching side of things, Brian and Dick, what kind of advice do you give people for helping that process go smoothly?
15:37 Brian: I always tell people, start with a general idea, and once you have that idea, even before you start writing things up, start with the permission part. Because you don’t wanna get… A couple weeks into doing your thing and then all of a sudden that place says, “No you can’t do it here. I’m sorry.” Then they feel like they’ve wasted all that time and they kinda get frustrated with it and they may not pick it up again for a while and try to develop a different listing.
16:03 CR: How about you BlueRajah?
16:05 Dick: Read through all the guidelines in the help center first. There’s four little pages in the help center, five little pages that kind of give a lot of advice on how to do logging tasks, what kind of things are acceptable and what kind of things aren’t. And then if you know that when you’re… If you’ve read through those at some point… I’ve just been driving down the road and I’ll see something and I’ll say, “That’s cool. I wanna do that.” I already know that’s possible, and I can kind of get some ideas of how I want to structure the page or how I’d like to do the logging tasks and so I see… That’s probably one of the key things, ’cause I think I… At least here in the west, I get a lot of people on vacation coming to see Yellowstone or Zion or Arches National Park. They go in, they find something they think is very cool, then they go home, and it’s something they need a little more information, but they’ve already left the site and they’re not ever gonna go back. And then it’s really, really hard to try to assemble a logging task or something when they’ve already traveled 4000, 5000 miles back to Europe.
17:23 CR: Well, as we start wrapping things up here, I’d love to ask each of you if there’s one thing or a couple of things that come to your mind that you would love for people to know about reviewers or about the review process.
17:37 Becky: Probably number one, and I kinda thought maybe people realized it, but it comes up probably week to week, we don’t go to the geocache. We don’t go to every single one and look at it. We actually do it from our desktops. [chuckle]
17:52 CR: Heartland cacher. How about you, Dick?
17:54 DC: Becky took what I was gonna say [chuckle]
17:58 Becky: Sorry [chuckle]
18:00 DC: But one thing, like I said before, the communication is very important. And reviewer notes, and any way you can communicate with your reviewer because we’re here to publish caches and that’s what we like to do. I don’t know anybody that likes to archive caches as a first choice. Sometimes you don’t have any other choice, but we’d like to publish caches and if there’s one that needs some work that we can get back up and running, we like to help out as much as we can. We like to help you out. At least I do, anyhow. I think most reviewers try and help the people that are in their reviewer area.
18:32 CR: James, I don’t know if you guys make mistakes in sunny Southern California, but [chuckle]
18:36 James: Yes we do.
18:38 CR: What comes to your mind as something…
18:41 James: We just don’t talk about it much. The biggest thing I’d like people to know is just, we’re geocachers first and reviewers second, our goal is not to deny people their cache or to archive people’s caches, our goal is to help them have caches that are publishable and well maintained and so forth. That’s what we like to see. That’s what makes us happy. We are human, we do make mistakes. We do make a mistake, we’ll try to work with you to fix it and make it right.
19:11 CR: Brian, how about you?
19:12 Brian: I would say, I always tell people, don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t know how to do something or they shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it, everybody starts from somewhere, and even if they ask me and I don’t know the question, I’m going to other reviewers who have done it longer as well, and the more that people will know about it, the easier it’ll come later down the road, so that’s my first thing is don’t be afraid to ask it, and if I don’t know the answer, I will find out the answer for you.
19:40 CR: Bob?
19:40 Bob: I guess there’s two points I would make. The first one is that everyone here that’s talking was once a brand new geocacher, and one of the things that I really enjoy right now is seeing all the new geocachers and going through the experience of that first geocache being published, and just simply because I remember it, I remember being a new geocacher, I remember the very first geocaches I put out and what I put into it. Right now, I even have a clipping that I use in my review in for new geocachers where I’ve had to kick their geocache back a couple of times. That just says, I was a new geocacher once before. Please don’t get discouraged, I’m here to help. The second thing, I guess, I wish I could tell everyone in the world is that by and far, I have found that geocachers and the geocaching community are some of the best people, nicest, most fun people that I have met in my life. I feel that way. My wife, Robin, Thingamajig, she feels the same way. You really have to experience that part of geocaching to know and understand it.
20:56 CR: BlueRajah, we’ll give you the last word here.
21:00 Dick: Communicate. That’s just so huge. I don’t know how often I’ve heard somebody say, “I was so upset with you about this cache or this experience”, and I was like, “Well, just communicate. Let me know. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes.” And I think that’s just so key, and the second thing with that is when we make mistakes or you feel like we’re too strict with a rule, I’ve never been upset at somebody for going to appeals, having somebody… Having somebody at HQ say, “No, that’s not right.” Or “Yes, that’s fine.” If somebody doesn’t feel we’re doing something right or feels like something… We’re being too harsh, talk to us and go to… If you need to go to appeals and see what comes of it.
21:48 CR: That was a nice talk with Lava Lizard, James from Southern California. BlueRajah, who is also GeoawareUSA2, Dick from Utah, Beck or Becky from Wisconsin. Heartland Cacher, that’s Dick from Nebraska. Thingamajig from Iowa. Thank you to Bob and Brian, who is GeoawareUSA10 My thanks to all of them for taking time to participate. If you have an idea for the podcast, please drop us a line, email@example.com is the address, and while we wait to see if you drop us that line, waiting patiently from me and my fellow lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.