Inside Geocaching HQ transcript (episode 48): Geocaching on Mars – Interview with Dr. Francis McCubbin

(link to podcast)


0:00:12.0 Chris Ronan: Hello everyone, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast about what is happening at HQ, in Seattle. I am Chris Ronan, one of the HQ lackeys. My Geocaching user name is Rockchock. We appreciate you having a listen to our podcast. If you are new here, we try to share a new podcast about every month, there has been a bit of a gap since the last one, with the holiday season and with me taking a little bit of vacation, but I am making up for lost time with a fantastic guest for this episode, Dr. Francis McCubbin is the Astro materials curator at NASA’S Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He is also a long-time geocacher and was pivotal in a project that is so exciting, that the word “exciting” hardly begins to describe it. The first interplanetary geocaching trackable contained on NASA’S Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, which is scheduled to land on Mars on February 18, 2021. Dr. McCubbin is here to share details of how this milestone came to happen. Let’s get into it.


0:01:35.1 CR: Well, let’s start by talking about how you got involved with geocaching, going back to when how did you first hear about it and how did you first get started with playing the game?

0:01:45.8 Dr. Francis McCubbin: Yeah, so my friend Alex Smirnov first introduced me to it. In fact, I had bought a GPS for doing fieldwork, ’cause I’m a geologist and was in graduate school, and so I had this GPS to go mark locations where I would find rocks that I would study. And my friend Alex was like, “Hey, I’m going back home to Slovakia, I’m gonna try this thing out I heard of called Geocaching. Can I borrow your GPS?” So I gave it to him, I didn’t think too much about it, went about it. He came back and he’s like, “This Geocaching thing is a lot of fun, I think you would like it.” And so we went out and he kinda showed me geocaching and I was like, “Oh my gosh, there’s these things hidden in plain sight sometimes, or just hidden everywhere, and no one knows about it, and you can just go find them?” And I don’t know, that’s pretty cool. And so I was hooked, like right away. And yeah, it was a ton of fun. And I think that was in late 2006, and so I’ve been caching since then.

0:02:47.6 CR: And what types of caches are you most drawn to?

0:02:52.6 DM: As a Geologist, I love earth caches, that’s for sure. I’m also a big fan of webcam caches, just ’cause they’re kind of a novelty, there’s not that many left, except there seems to be a ton in Germany. And yeah, I really like challenge caches, not so much for the cache, those are usually in light posts and boring places like that, but working up to qualifying for them, using it as a way to track your stats, I find that to be a lot of fun.

0:03:20.3 CR: Now, I will admit, when it comes to Earth caches, sometimes I will read an Earth cache listing and just… It’s Greek to me sometimes. It can be difficult for me. I would imagine, when you look at an Earth cache listing, I don’t know, that must be pretty cool to have that power to be able to look at a list, even to just understand it every time. [laughter]

0:03:41.9 DM: Well, I’ll be honest, I don’t understand it every time, because the quality of the Earth cache does vary. And sometimes I find myself, when I don’t fully understand the question, I don’t answer it. It’s not gonna be clear I’m a geologist from my answer [chuckle], just because I don’t wanna be that guy, where I’m like, “Hey, you got your answer… Your questionnaire should have been worded this way.” No one needs that, it’s a game, it’s fun. And so it’s all part of the fun.

0:04:14.3 CR: So tell us about what you do at NASA. How did you end up there? And what is your day-to-day work like at NASA?

0:04:22.5 DM: Yeah. So I’ve got two roles at NASA Johnson Space Center, I’m a research scientist, where I study meteorites, I do experiments, basically make my own rocks in the lab, and that’s a ton of fun. That’s kind of how I got into this field, doing experiments and studying meteorites. And a lot of our samples that we study come from Johnson Space Center, because it is the curation facility for all of the astro materials owned by the United States. And so every space mission that’s gone out, including the Apollo missions, all that material that they bring back is stored in the curation facilities at JSC, and so it’s where I always got my samples for the most part. There are meteorites kind of scattered about the world in different museums and things, and I’ve studied those as well, but a lot of the sample-centric work comes out of JSC. And so it’s always been on my radar as this really cool place.

0:05:18.8 DM: I had visited the curation facility as a research scientist, to pick out samples and got to know the folks there pretty well, and when the Astro Materials Curator job opened up, which is basically the head curator for all of JSC, I applied. I was fairly junior, I didn’t really have very high expectations of getting the job, but I ended up getting it, which was awesome, and came and joined them in 2015 and I’ve been in the Astro Materials Curator since then. And my day-to-day is a lot, especially right now, a lot of Microsoft Teams meetings. But in general it’s a mixture of meetings, being in a lab and doing research, and then helping plan future sample return missions and how we’re gonna curate those samples and also fulfilling sample requests for scientists around the world, that try to get our samples.

0:06:13.9 CR: I often tell people, because I was a huge Geocacher before I came to work in HQ, that getting this job that I have was a little like Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory, it felt a little like that to me, and as I hear you saying, as a geologist, getting to be the Astro Materials Curator at NASA, it feels like maybe that’s a similar thing as to how I feel about my job that, “Wow, you get to work with lunar samples and stuff like that.” That’s super, super cool for a geologist.

0:06:49.9 DM: It’s really awesome, and you’re just… It’s not just the awesome samples, but it’s the awesome history behind everything. Going into the Apollo lab early in the morning when it’s my day to unlock things, and you’re putting on your bunny suit, ’cause it’s a clean lab, and you’re putting in the combinations and getting in and unlocking everything, and it’s just completely… Well, it’s not super quiet ’cause there’s a lot of air-handling and air passages to keep things clean, but it’s certainly serene. And you feel the history of that place every time you’re in there, and it’s a feeling that is just wonderful every time you go into the lab.

0:07:32.9 CR: That’s super cool. So with this project that we’re here to talk about, The Mars Perseverance Rover, you’ve gotten to combine your work life at NASA with your hobby of Geocaching, and that is a super cool thing to do. How did this all start? Let’s go back to the beginning, to the genesis, to use a NASA history term, the genesis of this project and how it all started to come about.

0:08:05.9 DM: So I’ll go back to first when I first heard about the Mars 2020 mission, the Mars 2020 Rover. And so there’s this campaign we call Mars Sample Return, and this is essentially… The main goal of this campaign is to ultimately bring pieces of Mars back to Earth so that we can study them, curate them, and get all kinds of wonderful information about Mars. Doing that is technically challenging, and the strategy that NASA has developed to do this is they’ve sort of broken it into several missions. The first mission, the first leg of this campaign, is the Mars 2020 Rover, and when I first heard about this and I kinda heard their strategy, they were gonna land this Rover on the surface, it was gonna go and drill different samples in different locations and put them in tubes. And then they were gonna cache them on the surface of Mars and put them in these cache depots, and then drive away and keep doing science and maybe they’d set up several cache depots as they traversed through. And then they’re gonna have another Rover come in, right now they’re calling it the “Fetch Rover”, and it’s gonna come and find those sample caches, collect them and then bring them back to a vehicle that’s gonna then launch them and eventually bring them back to Earth.

0:09:27.6 DM: When I heard this, it was like, “Oh my gosh, they’re geocaching on Mars. The rovers are geocaching.” And this is really cool to me. And I know it’s not exactly Geocaching, but it’s right down the alley of that kind of thing. And so I got excited and started thinking about Geocaching in the context of this mission early on. A colleague of mine, Marc Freese, he is on the Sherlock Team, which is an instrument on the Mars 2020 Rover, and he and his son, they’ve dabbled in Geocaching, and they also saw this connection between the rovers are caching, and they came up with the idea initially of how to incorporate Geocaching into this Rover. And mostly ’cause Marc knows about the Geocache that went to ISS, and he thought, “Well, why don’t we try to put a Geocache on Mars? The rovers are caching. This would be pretty cool.”

0:10:25.6 DM: But he didn’t know a lot about… Well, he knows a lot about Geocaching but he wanted someone that could speak the language, someone that knew the sport or the hobby pretty well, and so he brought me in on the project and told me about it, and I was like, “This is awesome.” They asked me to be a collaborator on the instrument team and try to work out how to get a Geocaching component onto this Rover, as one of our ways to do public outreach with the Rover, which we always try to do with all of our missions. And I enthusiastically accepted that role, I had no idea what to do with it or what I was gonna go with it, but I was pretty sure that we didn’t wanna put a physical cache on the Rover because although that would be really cool, it would also be kind of disappointing, ’cause I don’t think anyone’s gonna go there and sign the log any time soon. And to me, it’s the most fun when everyone in the community gets to participate in the activity, and so I thought, “Okay, well, if it was gonna be a cache, it would have to be virtual,” that kinda doesn’t really jive with the guidelines, but this is a geological Rover, Earth caches are a thing, let me talk to Matt Dawson, who’s sort of like the head earth caching guy for the Geological Society of America, and see what he thinks about this.

0:11:44.8 DM: I had already been planning to going to the earth cache event that year, which was actually held in the same location and in connection with the Geological Society of America meeting that I was going for, I was going as a scientist anyway. And so I went there, went to the mega event, tracked down Matt and started talking to him about this, he got really excited about it as well. And he put me in contact with the folks at Geocaching HQ, and yeah once that connection was made we started working out how best to incorporate Geocaching into the Rover, we came up with this… A trackable would be the most straightforward way of doing things, it would be the easiest way to get it through approvals for all the hardware, and that’s kind of how this project came to be.

0:12:31.6 CR: Well, you referenceed approvals just now. So how much of a process is it, on the NASA end, to get something like this done, as far as rules that have to be met or specifications or things of that nature?

0:12:46.0 DM: Yeah. So every piece of flight hardware needs to be built to a very specific set of specifications, and every image and every set of text that goes on has to get approved by public affairs, and NASA headquarters, and so we kinda had some iteration back and forth about what we could actually put on the trackable marker. I’m not gonna say what’s on it because you’re all gonna see it when it lands and the Watson camera takes an image of it, but all of what you’ll see there went through many layers of approval, before it could be on the Rover.

0:13:21.3 CR: So as the days count down to the Rover actually landing and people actually getting to see the trackable, I mean, you’ve got a lot of other projects that you’re working on, as you mentioned to me. I guess I’m thinking if it was me I would just be glued to some monitoring system, I don’t even know what you guys are able to look at, to be able to kind of see the state of this. And I would definitely have that date circled on my calendar. It must just be so exciting to have this getting closer and closer and that moment of it landing and then eventually that moment of that camera focusing on the trackable.

0:14:00.9 DM: Oh, it’s incredibly exciting, and the anticipation is… You know, it’s exciting and terrifying at the same time. I mean we have zero expectation that anything would ever go wrong, but it’s not easy to land something on Mars, and I’m certainly gonna be tuned in the whole time as it is descending towards the surface of Mars and landing. But fortunately there’s not too much to do between now and February 18th when that ultimately happens. Everything with the Rover is nominal, which is NASA-speak for everything’s A-okay.


0:14:42.4 CR: Well, as I’ve heard people in the community talking about this project, everybody’s so excited about it. And I know that when we eventually have the time when events can happen and people can be out gathering and seeing each other more again, you’re probably gonna get a lot of folks coming up and thanking you and I’ll be the first to say that right here, because it… Between you and your colleagues, I mean, as you mentioned, a lot of folks have worked on this, including a couple that are familiar with geocaching, like you are. But this is such a neat thing and it’s so cool to see geocaching having a presence, you know, the interplanetary sense. So, what an awesome thing and thanks for everything that you’ve done on this.

0:15:26.6 DM: Yeah. Thank you very much and I really couldn’t have done it without the backing of the entire Sherlock team. This was truly a team effort and it was a ton of fun. And honestly, for me, it’s just so rewarding to see geocaching going interplanetary. It’s so awesome.


0:15:43.2 CR: That was Dr. Francis McCubbin, Astro Materials Curator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We so appreciate his time for this podcast and of course for everything he and his team and the many folks at Geocaching HQ have done to make the first interplanetary trackable a reality.

0:16:03.6 CR: If you enjoyed this conversation, be sure to check out the geocaching blog where we have another interview with Dr. McCubbin, including a few extra details about the Mars Perseverance Rover. Hey, if you have an idea for the podcast or any feedback for us, send an email to We always appreciate hearing from you. In the meantime, from me and all the lackeys at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

Episode 61: Wheel of Challenges

We’re talking about the Wheel of Challenges, which has presenting new monthly challenges to geocachers since April. Genevieve from HQ’s Marketing team stops by to chat about how they came up with the challenges.

You can listen to the episode via this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you use an aggregator to subscribe to podcasts, you can access the RSS feed here.

A full transcript is available here.

Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Episode 61: Wheel of Challenges


Episode 60: This June, we’re updating our pricing for new subscribers

In this episode, Geocaching HQ’s president and co-founder Bryan Roth discusses upcoming price changes for new Geocaching Premium subscribers. On June 6, 2023, we will increase the prices of Premium membership for new subscribers to $39.99 USD per year or $6.99 USD per month. Prices may vary depending on your local currency and taxes. This change will not affect existing Premium members so long as their membership does not lapse.

You can listen to the episode via this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you use an aggregator to subscribe to podcasts, you can access the RSS feed here.

A full transcript is available here.

Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Episode 60: This June, we’re updating our pricing for new subscribers


Episode 59: Geocaching goals

Have you set your geocaching goals for 2023? Need some inspiration? We rounded up HQ Lackeys Mackenzie, Alexis, Colin, and Jessie to chat about their geocaching goals and the tips they use to achieve them.

You can listen to the episode via this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you use an aggregator to subscribe to podcasts, you can access the RSS feed here.

A full transcript is available here.

Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Episode 59: Geocaching goals


Inside Geocaching HQ transcript (episode 59): Geocaching goals

(Link to podcast)


0:00:12.8 Chris Rock Chalk: Hello, everybody. This is Inside geocaching HQ, a podcast from the people who work at geocaching HQ in Seattle. I’m Chris. My geocaching username is Rock Chalk. I am one of the proud HQ lackeys, and for this episode, I rounded up four of my colleagues to discuss geocaching goals. We are not too far into 2023. Maybe your goals for the year are still undefined, maybe you would like some inspiration or some tips on how to plan on pursuing your geocaching goals. This conversation goes into all of that with a group of people that has a wide range of caching experience, and they’re from all over our company, including the mobile team, legal, community engagement, and community volunteer support. I really enjoyed this talk very much. So let’s get to it with Alexis, Jessie, Colin and Mackenzie, talking about geocaching goals.


0:01:21.0 Chris: Alright, so we’ve got a nice group of lackeys here with a great range of geocaching experience levels, and I think it’s gonna be a fun conversation about goals, but before we get started with that, let’s introduce everybody and ask your geocaching username and what you do at HQ. And then later, we’ll get into what each of your goals are. And so I’ll start with Alexis, and I thought it was funny when I asked Alexis if she would participate in this conversation, I went to her office one day and started explaining what I had in mind, and after a minute or so, she kind of stopped me and said, “Okay, so this isn’t a legal question?” [laughter] Which made me think I wonder if anybody ever just comes to her office and doesn’t ask a legal question. So Alexis, what do you do at HQ? [chuckle]

0:02:08.7 Alexis: I think Chris gave you a bit of a preview. So I’m on the legal team at HQ, which means, right now, I’m pretty much working on figuring out how to handle the recent privacy and consumer protection laws that have been enacted over the last couple of years, and then a whole bunch of other things, so working with API partners, working with people who wanna load license or logos to use for merchandise they wanna make. And then I’m also a proud member of Team Unicorn, which is an addition to the legal team. It’s the HR learning and development and operations and the facilities. And so we kind of are just a broader operations team at HQ. Oh, and then my username is Sixsilla206.

0:03:04.8 Chris: And where did that come from?

0:03:06.7 Alexis: That is my last name backwards plus the Seattle area code.

0:03:12.1 Chris: Alright, very cool. So I’ll just move from where people sit at HQ. So next will be Colin. [laughter]

0:03:20.3 Colin: Yeah, I’m Colin. My username is Gamecoug. I’ve been at HQ for about a little less than a year now. I’m the Senior Android developer, so yeah, I work towards deploying the new features that we’re all hoping will get you, get everybody, excited about the game.

0:03:38.7 Chris: And how did you come up with Gamecoug as your user name?

0:03:42.5 Colin: Gamecoug is sort of one of my online avatar names. It’s a combination of… I went to the University of South Carolina and I went to Washington State, and so it’s a combination of Gamecock and Coug. And so I figured that’s a fairly unique combination, not a lot of people are Gamecougs, so that’s me.

0:03:58.5 Chris: I never would have put that together, until you explained it. That is a really unique combination there, South Carolina and Washington State. So Mackenzie, how about you?

0:04:09.6 Mackenzie: My name is, or user name is Phoenix48, and I’m on the community engagement team. Specifically, I help with customer service, so anybody that writes into the help center, I help troubleshoot or answer any geocaching-related questions, as well as curate content for social media, making TikToks, planning, blogs for Facebook and Twitter and anything in between.

0:04:36.1 Chris: And where does Phoenix48 come from?

0:04:39.0 Mackenzie: I remember caching for the first time back in 2003 or ’04 in Phoenix when I was visiting my grandparents. And 48 is actually my favorite NAlexisCAR driver’s number. I’m a big Jimmy Johnson fan, so yeah, and Phoenix was the first place I went to a NAlexisCAR race, so double meaning for that.

0:05:01.5 Chris: Wow. These some really cool user name origins. [laughter] My comparison is so simple and lame. [laughter] Jessie, how about you?


0:05:15.8 Jessie: Hi, everyone. My name is Jessie Maxwell. My username is jtcoffee. And at HQ, I’m on the community volunteer support team, and my title is Community Volunteer Support Manager. So what I get to do is support all of the community volunteers, which include reviewers and moderators and translators and mega hosts, even cache owners or even people that come in to visit us here at HQ, and it’s the other half of the community team that Mackenzie’s on and so how I kinda think of it is her team helps draw in a lot of the new players and help them get started, and then once they become deep dives into the community, that’s when our team supports them.

0:06:01.2 Chris: Well, this is great. We’ve got a really nice collection of folks from across the company here, and also a wide range of experiences with geocaching, so I’m really interested to hear how everybody looks at goals for your game play. And I think that’s one of the cool things about geocaching is that you can… When you talk to different people over time, you find that there are so many different ways that people play the game and different motivations for their game play, and sometimes, I’ll hear of something and think, “Oh, I never thought about that before, and that sounds fun to me.” So selfishly, I hope I get some new ideas here. So I’ll start with Jessie, so you’ve been playing geocaching for a number of years. How has your approach to goals changed over time? Can you think back to when you first started and you’ve been playing a long time, so I assume there have been many, many goals along the way.

0:06:56.8 Jessie: There definitely has been. I’m a very goal-oriented person in general, and it has certainly changed over time. I’ve been playing since February 2011. And there are still some things though that call to me now that called to me in the very beginning, which was numbers. I remember I started in February, and then that April, on the 30th, I decided to take my geocaching buddies and find 30 caches on April 30th and I just thought that the symmetry of those two numbers was just the coolest thing. And I made a playlist that was along that theme, and everything we did had to have some sort of 30 related in the day. [laughter] We DNF-ed three of them, which I was okay with because that was near 30 or I it was adjacent to 30. But I remember that day really clearly and how the numbers and things like that have always, always called to me, and so even now when I am working on my challenges for this year, on my little quest, even if it’s not a challenge cache that, I’m working toward, they’re always numbers based. I want a certain number in a certain box to do a certain thing, or I want to increase that number in that box by a certain number or to have them all be a certain number of digits or something like that. So I’m very visually motivated. So on our stats pages, when I can see the results of my efforts, that’s usually what’s deeply motivating for me. [chuckle]

0:08:27.1 Chris: Yeah, it’s funny how sometimes you’ll hear people talk about wanting their calendar grid or their DT grid, whatever, to have a certain shade of color to it. [laughter]

0:08:37.1 Jessie: Oh, yes.

0:08:38.1 Chris: I just think that’s really wild that, that’s something that we… That we kind of grab on to is the shade of… And you’re thinking, there was a time when some designer put together the shade of these things and wasn’t thinking at all about it, [laughter] or at least I really doubt was thinking about how that would someday motivate people in their game play.

0:08:57.7 Jessie: But do all of my squares have a minimum darkness? Absolutely. [laughter]

0:09:05.2 Chris: What about you, Mackenzie? Are you motivated by the shade of different things, or do you have different motivations?

0:09:11.9 Mackenzie: Yeah. I’m not quite at Jessie’s level, to be honest. I haven’t had many geocaching goals until the last two years, once I joined HQ. I tried to do the streak, which I know a ton of people tried to go for, but mentally, for me, it was exhausting and I was not finding joy out of it. So after 30 days, I called it quits, and then decided what made more sense for me was filling my calendar, and just so it has at least a color. It doesn’t have to get to a certain shade yet, but just trying to fill so there’s at least one in every day. And I started that goal last May, and on April 20th, I will have completed it. So I have 24 days left and I’m very proud of myself. So yeah, that is what’s motivating me right now, as well as I have one challenge cache that I have been focusing on for the last year as well. In the Seattle area, there is a challenge cache called Monthly Variety challenge, so I’m getting myself to find specific cache types in that month, and I have one month left. February, I need to get four cache types. So yes, it’s the little things that don’t cause me stress or anxiety, but bring me joy throughout the year, so. [chuckle]

0:10:37.7 Chris: Once you brought up streaks, I realize we could have had a whole episode about streaks and about the psychological impact that they might have on people. I know, for me, when I did my one streak, when I… Fortunately, I thought about it pretty soon after I started caching, so my area had a lot of caches in it, and it wasn’t all that hard to be able to find something every day, or at least find something I could try for every day, but by the end of it, it really did feel like a job, and it wasn’t as much fun. So I’ve never wanted to try to beat that, that one that I had, and then when I hear about people that have gone for years, I just… I guess my hat’s off to them and then I also I’m just like, “Ugh, well.” Again, different strokes for different folks. But Alexis and Colin, have you guys been into the streak stuff as well?

0:11:31.9 Colin: Yeah, when I first started, I did a 45-day streak and I was trying to go for 60 and I got to 45. And I think that Mackenzie and I were overlapped in our streaks. And I was talking about it with her, and she said, yeah, I gave up and I… Probably the next day I was like, You know what? No, this isn’t fun anymore. It’s getting to be work. And so I refocused on some other goals. What about you, Alexis?

0:12:01.0 Alexis: Yeah, I also, I initially tried going. I did a 30-day streak and very similar experience to Mackenzie and Colin, it became more work and just too stressful for me. And so I’ve since also began focusing primarily on filling in my calendar, which didn’t go as well at the beginning, because it was still a little stressful. So I still have some days back in October and November that I have to go back to now. But now I feel like I’ve kind of gotten into the groove and have a bit of a rhythm, and so now, I guess the strategy started to come to together a little bit better. And so now it’s sort of… Because it was so bare in January and then February will be also, I decided, you know what, if I’m already trying to fill in these days, try for a longer streak again because it’s just… I’m gonna have to do it anyway. So I tried to be a lot more strategic about it, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m currently on day 35 of a streak.

0:13:18.6 Chris: Wow.

0:13:19.2 Alexis: But like I said, February is very empty, so if I’m gonna be wanting to fill those in anyway, I might as well try to get the streak accounted for also. So hopefully, people in the area will also be hiding caches that I can use to help me along.

0:13:35.2 Chris: Well, that’s an impressive time to start your streak. ‘Cause in Seattle, in the winter time, it’s sometimes not the greatest time to be out geocaching, so it’s pretty impressive that you picked this time of year to go after that. And as you were talking about, a couple of you were talking about the calendars, it made me think during the pandemic, I got a little bit more into Waymarking, which of course we’re talking mostly about geocaching today, but I’ll mention Waymarking because I also… Which Waymarking, I was trying to fill in the calendar with finding one for each calendar date, and the Waymarking website works different than geocaching and that the… It goes off at UTC time, so if… And in Seattle we’re several hours behind UTC. So I would have calendar reminders to myself, “Okay, today, you need to find a waymark,” and I would find it. But then, maybe forget to log it until evening, 5 or 6 o’clock at night, by which time it’s already the next day, UTC, and you can’t back date it. Anyway, just be glad that you’re not into that yet, but if you ever get into it, know don’t make the same mistake that I’ve made now, multiple times because I’ve got two dates left and I’ve had those two dates for two years because I keep screwing up on those two dates.

0:14:52.3 Chris: So anyway, that was on the side. So let’s talk about how we keep track of these challenges and how you keep track of and how you don’t make the mistake that I did and miss a date or whatever. I have to think, Jessie, that you’ve got some sort of a system that’s just amazing and that we can all learn something from.

0:15:13.1 Jessie: My system ebbs and flows too over time, but I do love a good spreadsheet, and I do love a good piece of graph paper, and I do love a good notebook. And at first, when I started, I really… Again, I really like being visually affirmed for the things that I’m working on. So if I wanted 10 more letter boxes to reach a challenge, I would make that, a little page in a notebook, like 10 little boxes so that I could check them off and then I could remember, have I gotten my… Am I there yet, or am I still… How many more letter boxes do I need? Well, I had it right here in my little notebook and then it was so nice to be able to check them off rather than achieving the 10, I almost achieved one every time, and that snowballed into different pages for different challenges so that I can be really opportunistic. If we have a challenge over here that requires, it’s an older legacy challenge type, certain finds in certain cities and towns through Washington State, and if I am driving around, “Oh, is this one that challenge? I can’t remember,” I can check my notebook and it’s written right there.

0:16:17.9 Jessie: Yes it is in there and it’s a teeny little town that you wouldn’t necessarily even think much existed in there, let alone in geocache, but it was a challenge qualifier. So I had to find something there. And there’s lots of programs that the community has made that help you with these things. And I use my Google calendar when I work on my calendar-related challenges, and I can easily add those things. I have color-coded on the days that I need multis, they’re orange, just like the little icon on the map, so that I can visually look real quick. Okay, a puzzle, a multi, a lab cache, all the different bits and parts and makes it really easy for myself to not miss one of those days because I’ve certainly been there. And the painful thing about calender challenges, is if you miss a day, then that little box just stares at you for an entire year and reminds you of messing with that. That’s how I got started on my streak, as a matter of fact. I was working on my calendar and I needed a bunch of days and I thought, “Oh, man. If I lose a day or if I get turned around, it’s a busy time of year, so I might as well just streak the whole thing. And so I set out to streak 30 days and that turned into three years. [laughter] But once you got the momentum, you can just keep it going.

0:17:37.3 Chris: Wow. Anybody else wanna streak for three years? Colin, you wanna streak for three?

0:17:41.2 Colin: No.

0:17:46.8 Chris: So how do you keep up with the stuff that you’re working on, Colin?

0:17:49.9 Colin: Honestly, I don’t have a very good system. I’m pretty new at geocaching, and for me, my calendar is wide open. If I find a cache tomorrow, that would be the first time I found a cache on January 31st ever in my life, because I have been geocaching for less than a year. Yeah. So I do like the numbers and the symmetry of… The symmetry of numbers sometimes. And I like efficiency. I wanted to get… My goal this summer was to get my 200th find at the geocaching anniversary event. And so I worked towards that, and then I… And actually, I had pause and hold off on some of my, some of the finds to make sure that I got the 200 right on the day. And that was very gratifying to me. I was just thinking that a really fun challenge for this coming year, a nice challenge for this coming year, would be starting on the 1st of March to do 366 days and end on week day. And fill in my whole calendar and also do my full streak. Thinking back on the challenge, on the streak, I don’t know if I’ll stay motivated, but maybe I’ll just make it a sub group challenge to fill in most of my or all of my calendar by League day if it’s not a full streak, so that’s… Yeah, that’s my thought.

0:19:12.0 Chris: Well, as somebody who, like you said, is newer to the game of geocaching, as you’ve been around the community, have there been certain types of goals that have resonated with you as you’ve talked to people, and maybe it’s not stuff that you haven’t pursued necessarily yourself, but kind of sounded interesting to you?

0:19:32.2 Colin: Yes, some of the Fizzy challenges look really interesting as far as many different types of difficulty and terrain rating of a different given type of cache is an interesting challenge to me. And I think that’s something that I’m gonna go for in the future. And right now, I’m just trying to get my foundation. I found that when I was doing my streak, I’d been here for less than two weeks before I started my streak. And then I tried to do it for two months, and I just thought that I felt like my inexperience at geocaching was… I was struggling to get these finds because I was still learning the ropes of game as well, so yeah.

0:20:12.1 Chris: Well, it’s funny you bring up the difficulty terrain grid because I remember when I first started, and I met people in my community who talked about that and they were working on that. And I just thought, “That is so… ” I don’t wanna say ridiculous, but it seems so outlandish, this idea of finding 81 different difficulty terrain squares. And of course, I eventually became hooked on it. I found that to be kind of the case with a number of different types of goals is that I hear somebody else talk about it and I think, “Oh, there’s just no way I’d ever do that.” And then eventually, I’m kinda hooked into it myself. Mackenzie, is that something that you’ve ever found yourself doing that you maybe heard about something and think, “Oh, I would never do that,” and then maybe months later, years later, you’re kind of falling into it, too?

0:21:02.0 Mackenzie: Yeah. Honestly, DT grid, filling that, that will be my next goal. Once I finish my calendar, I’m gonna focus on the last 19 spots I have left on the DT grid, which a lot of them are hard to find. And I’m gonna have to go on a lot more hikes, which I don’t do very often, but I’ve convinced my partner to go on some hikes this summer with me to fill that out. I never really focused on it before at all until I was at HQ, and then talking to everyone. And I want to be on everyone else’s level. I want to understand what they’re talking about when they’re telling me their weekend adventures. [laughter] So yeah, I’d like to join the crowd, I guess.

0:21:50.5 Chris: Well, I’m gonna give you a warning about the difficulty terrain grid because when I finished it, I was with somebody. He helped me find the last one, and then he turned to me and said, “You know, you’re only… ” I forget how many it was, “You’re only six caches away from doing it a second time.” And that is a vicious cycle to go down, I can assure you. Be forewarned. [laughter]

0:22:15.2 Mackenzie: Okay. Maybe I’ll find the last one by myself.

0:22:21.7 Chris: For you, Alexis, is the difficulty terrain something that you’ve gotten hooked into yet?

0:22:27.5 Alexis: Well, it definitely got me motivated to get out and try. We have the deer closet at work and we have some inflatable kayaks. And I’ve been tempted to do it, but I’ve never done it before. So just the scene, those T5’s on my grid just sitting there sad and empty made me motivated to get out there. And I absolutely loved it, and so I got a kayak for Christmas and so I’m already eyeing where I wanna go if the weather starts to warm up, hoping to get in some paddle caches this year.

0:23:11.3 Chris: Well, that’s another great thing about the game and about goals is that maybe you end up doing something that you haven’t done before, or something that has, I don’t know, just maybe seemed outside your comfort level. I just know that’s happened for me. And Jessie, I think you were always kind of an outdoorsy person before you got into geocaching, but are there things that you’ve done since you started playing the game that maybe you wouldn’t have because you were pursuing some sort of a goal?

0:23:43.3 Jessie: Definitely. I was an outside person, grew up playing a lot outside, so doing things like going hiking or paddling were certainly things we did as a family. So it was certainly within my comfort level. And when I learned I could do those things and go geocaching at the same time, and geocaching was an add-on to those already fun things, then that made it really easy. And it was pretty accessible for me to do. I think, just this weekend, I was talking about how something I have not done is dove, done any sort of scuba or diving for a geocache. And I had someone in our community pointed that out to me and offered to help me and make sure that I could check that little box on my list. So that’s certainly something that geocaching will lead me towards, and I would not have done. I think I had never used gear, done a technical climb up a tree before. Certainly just on my own power climbing up a tree, but never with actual gear and ropes and line and everything, and that’s an opportunity that geocaching has given me, for sure.

0:24:53.1 Chris: Oh, yeah. I’m kind of the… I have only done one technical climb and it was geocaching related. Alexis, when you were talking about getting your inflatable kayak, it made me think of years ago when I was driving back home, before I was a lackey, driving back home from an event. And it was a drive through several states, and as I was driving back I was passing through an area and saw all of these T5 caches. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh! Look at all these T5’s.” I was looking at a list, and then I opened up the map and there were all these lakes and streams that had geocaches on them. And I was like, “Oh, my gosh! That looks amazing.” I didn’t own a kayak or anything, but a month later, I did and made plans to come back the next year to try to snag some of those, which I eventually did. But again, I never was a kayaker. I never did any of that stuff. And thanks to geocaching, I’ve got one that I take around every so often, so another good thing about the game.

0:25:52.3 Chris: We haven’t talked yet about the program that we have within HQ, which is a program that encourages lackeys to get more involved with geocaching and sets certain goals for lackeys to try to meet as they’re out caching. I’m curious how that program has affected those of us here in this conversation. For you, Colin, when you came into HQ, is that something that helped to motivate you or helped to kind of direct your attention as you kind of got your feet wet with the game?

0:26:30.1 Colin: Oh, yeah. For sure. Yeah, so I came into HQ with three finds to my name, I think. I had tried it out when I started interviewing and just… And so then yeah, the fact that the company is very openly really wants us all to be geocachers. And it helps me in my normal… My normal life is Android developer, so bug hunts that affect certain people. I found bugs while I was out geocaching that then I wound end up fixing. Then it’s like, “Well, this affects me, it must affect other people, too,” or, “Oh, I have more information about it because I reproduced the issue.” So that’s been great. And yeah, on the 200 day, on the day of the anniversary event, getting 200 finds also leveled me up on the internal. Again, that was a big motivator for me, so for sure.

0:27:23.3 Chris: That’s cool. How about you, Alexis?

0:27:26.1 Alexis: Yeah, absolutely. And I think actually it’s even when my husband learned that it was tied to being able to travel to Megas, he, I think, became more motivated than I was. And so he now is the one who’s actually scouring my statistics and saying, “Okay, you need to get this DT combination over the weekend and then that can combine… Oh, then that’ll be another letter box that you can get.” So he has actually become my primary strategist, and then I’m just the boots on the ground who’s actually actually getting it done, so he’s been extremely helpful in that respect.

0:28:06.3 Chris: Wow, I wish I had one of those. That’s a nice tool to have. [laughter] Mackenzie, how about you? Has the internal program helped you with your geocaching?

0:28:20.1 Mackenzie: It points out things that I wouldn’t necessarily go for. I’ll look and see what it is, and sometimes it’s finding micro-caches. And I don’t typically pick out cache sizes, unless they’re larges. Those ones are fun to find, but I don’t typically look for micros. And so once I get close to something like four more micros or five more smalls, then I will pay more attention to the map and go for those ones first. So that’s pretty fun to change up my style of caching or what I’m looking for, especially since I’m just focusing on filling my calendar. It gets me to look for something specific that day, but then also going out with other lackeys or friends and seeing what they need to complete and helping them, ’cause I know eventually, will help benefit me, too.

0:29:11.8 Colin: I was just gonna say that, yeah, piggy-backing on what Mackenzie said, it helps you with variety. You can get stuck in a rut if you’re just, “Oh, I’ll just go find geocaches. We’ll just keep going after lamppost caches everywhere.” And they’re easy, it fills in my days, let’s finish up my streak. But yeah, we were just talking at lunch today about there’s a gang of caches up in some ravine up north that they’re all weird DT ratings. And it’s like, “Wow, that would be really cool to go up there, and very challenging, and a lot of fun to go with the group.” But everybody’s motivated to do it because that fills it in an odd spot in your DT grid that we all all wanna fill in. Yeah, it helps get you out of your rut and looking for other things. I would’ve never tried an earth cache if not for the internal of the game just because I didn’t know what they’re about and they seemed like lots of work. And I was just in a mood of, “Oh, let’s just go find something else,” but now that I’ve done them, I enjoy them and it’s an interesting learning experience.

0:30:14.3 Chris: Well, I get the sense that we all have maybe a varying degree of how we go about planning, how much work we put into that, how efficient or inefficient it might be. There are a lot of tools out there that people can use besides Jessie I think mentioned spreadsheets and graphs and stuff like that, but GSAK being an authorized developer and Project-GC, I’m sure there are many others, but is there anything… Maybe start with you, Jessie. Are there any tools that you recommend to people that you use, in particularly, that are maybe geocache-specific?

0:30:51.9 Jessie: Yeah, like you said, Project-GC is such a gift of… It even has a link when you look at the needed found dates, so if you’re trying to fill in a certain flavor of your calendar, and then it’ll show you, on a grid, the dates that you need. There’s a button underneath it that automatically links it to your calendar of choice, and so it just makes it so easy if you want to really deep dive and if you want to do that as quickly as possible, or if you’re… Then it’ll show right up like that. For planning trips, I really love Cachetur because it will allow you to add a lot of caches, it will give you some of the information underneath it. Under the list, there will be a map, there’ll be an average DT score, there’s a list of counties that you’ll be finding a list of types of caches, the star ratings for them. All of that kind of stuff that could possibly be a challenge qualifier, if you happen to be building something like that, Cachetur will also tell you how long your trip will be.

0:31:55.0 Jessie: And I know, the folks at my house, absolutely want to know when I will be back from my early morning departure, and something like Cachetur gives you a pretty accurate mapping and therefore a pretty accurate ETA. [laughter] As someone who often is making those texts of, “Well, it looks like I’ll be a little bit later than I said,” it’s nice to at least be accurate when you say when you’ll be home and Cachetur will do that for you.

0:32:28.1 Chris: Well, that’s great. Is there anything else that anyone else uses or things that Jessie already mentioned?

0:32:35.1 Alexis: I primarily just take advantage of the list feature. And then when I go… If I know I have a trip coming up, I’ll then look at what maybe things I wanna target in that area, and then I’ll just add that to my list. And then it’s really helpful knowing that I can download the list and then not worry about the issues with coordinates at the time, so that has been really, at this point, the only tool that I really think advantage of.

0:33:08.7 Chris: I guess that’s a selfish question, for me, because I always hear things that maybe I was aware of a tool before and just didn’t pursue it, and then somebody starts talking about it, like Jessie was here a second ago. And I’m kind of taking notes to remind myself to go check back on something because maybe I tried it once and it didn’t resonate with me right then, but as somebody starts talking about how they’ve used it and had more of a mastery of it, and I realize it could be pretty beneficial to me with my geocaching. Well, we’re starting to run low on time here, so I just wanna go around and ask everybody what’s the immediate, for you, with your goals and or maybe if there’s something down the road that we haven’t talked about yet that is kind of on your mind, and maybe we’ll have some accountability to each other here after we’ve done that. So I’ll start with you, Jessie.

0:34:03.5 Jessie: Yeah, I was thinking about how there’s a balance of when you set a goal of finding a goal that’s really motivating for you, whatever that is. And it doesn’t have to be something that is the most difficult that somebody is doing, or it doesn’t have to be something that nobody’s ever done. But if it gets you outside and gets you excited, and motivates you to go and do some exciting things, then that’s a perfect goal. And also being able to let go of a goal is something that I’ve really worked on as a goal. But sometimes, certainly a few years ago in beginning of 2020, I set out for a lot of different goals that ended up having to be pushed off for a few years or edited to make sense for the time that we had. And it’s okay if you don’t meet a goal, just adjust the amount of time that you wanna do it, or that you wanna have it done in. Or make it so that is a nice balance of fun and challenge for yourself, and that’s how I found the most successful goal-setting for me.

0:35:13.5 Chris: Yeah, that’s some good advice. Mackenzie, how about yourself?

0:35:16.9 Mackenzie: I love everything Jessie just said, and it resignates with me, especially since I started streaks and was finding no joy in it. And so knowing that it’s okay to stop and to do something that brings you joy is really important. I don’t know. I’m just looking forward to getting outside more and doing caches that are outside of the city because I’m strictly a city-cacher, especially since I just moved and now I have a whole new playground in my area. Going to do more hikes and finding… Oh, yeah, I would like to find more Wherigos and virtuals ’cause I don’t do many of those, so I think those would be fun to trigger on my map.

0:36:04.5 Chris: Yeah. Alexis?

0:36:07.1 Alexis: Yeah, so I have two more days to complete my January calendar, so that’s the very immediate goal, and I’m excited. I saw a new cache was posted on my commute route home. Today is taken care of hopefully. Yeah, so then, like I said, I still have way out, November 27th is just going to taunt me for the rest of the year for the full calendar goal. But then kind of what I’ve liked working on this goal is that it then also sort of secondarily helps me to fill in or make more progress unintentionally on potentially other goals. And so I keep hearing about this variety challenge, and so it had been too intimidating for me to try when my find counts were so low in some of the areas. And so I figured once I have a few… Well, a better base, I’ll start looking at challenges like that. And so I think that will be a goal to start looking for, for some of those that feel like a good next level.

0:37:15.1 Chris: Sure. Colin, how about yourself?

0:37:18.9 Colin: Yeah, I’d say my goals are pretty simple at this point. I think that, yeah, filling in as much in my own calendar as possible. I really like the idea of starting on March 1st and doing it, putting in 66-day streak. On the other hand, it just occurs to me that that means that, well, it doesn’t start for another month, so what am I gonna do for the next month? The other thing is that yeah, Washington’s sort of my adopted home, and I think there are something around 10 webcams in Washington State, and I’d like to go get as many of those as as I can. It give you also an excuse to go to areas of the state that you wouldn’t necessarily go otherwise, so that would be really interesting.

0:38:02.3 Chris: Oh, yeah. And I’m a plus one for you going after the whole March 1st to February 29th thing, so I strongly encourage that even though I won’t personally be doing it. But I love the symmetry. You’ve sold me on it. And maybe you’ll sell some of the people who’ve been listening, too. Well, this has been a lot of fun and I’ve gotten some new ideas and some new tools I wanna go look up, and some spreadsheets I need to start. Thanks everybody. This was fun, and really appreciate you all taking part in the conversation.

0:38:33.3 Alexis: Thank you.

0:38:34.3 Colin: Thanks for having us.

0:38:36.3 Jessie: Thank you.


0:38:40.1 Chris: Thanks again to Mackenzie, Colin, Jessie, and Alexis for joining me to talk about goals. I have even more ideas to work on now as if I didn’t have arguably too many as it was. Hey, if you have an idea for the HQ Podcast, you can email We always love hearing from you. And until next time, from all of us at geocaching HQ, happy caching.