So even though there are millions of people participating in the pastime of Geocaching and despite the fact that it is labelled as a social hobby there is a problem. The thing is that the whole ethos of geocaching is that you should exercise a certain amount of covertness when searching for caches. What this means is that all the millions of geocachers avoid meeting other geocachers whilst caching as everyone is trying to act normal and not like some weirdo popping in and out of the bushes looking for Tupperware… which of course we are! The net result is that you have to try rather hard or be extremely conspicuous to meet other fellow geocachers. In the 3 months that we have been caching we have met a total of 2 other sets of people whilst out caching, and apparently that is above the average… by a long way. So what do people do about it? Well some people do nothing and are content to continue being a part of a global pastime whilst at the same time being completely independent and insular. Others do something about it.
What they do is two things. Firstly they organise themselves into social media groups, on forums and Facebook and other websites and share their experiences in that way. This quite often centers around physical locations, so you end up with pockets of cachers all around the country chatting to each other about how they all are trying to find the same caches but still never bumping into each other over a relatively small area, say a county.
You can probably see where this is going… well maybe. Once you have a virtual gathering of people who live in the same physical proximity, it doesn’t take long before people are suggesting that they could cache together or why don’t we all go down the pub and get legless and then go night caching … “for a giggle”. Bingo!, and in a not very long period of time, in areas where there are proactive people and/or people who like alcohol there soon develops a regular “meet up” of geocachers. Having bumped into one of the most prolific cachers in the 3 counties area of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, a charming man who goes by the name of Bones1, after only 2 weeks of starting the hobby we thought we would be meeting people all the time, but we soon realised the reality. So we went down the social media route and found a Facebook group called Beds, Bucks and Herts Geocachers (BBH for short), a group of people based roughly in the vicinity of the borders of those three counties. as you can imagine things progressed from there and it wasn’t long before we realised that they had a meet-up generally once a month for people to chat in person and share stories, experiences, cake and beer.
Today we decided to go along to one of BBH monthly meets which turned out to be in a pub (what a shock) in Harpenden. The timing had worked out perfect as Sam was away visiting Nanny so we had no need for a baby sitter which would have made the exercise very expensive. A certain amount of nervousness accompanied the build-up to the event. You just never know what sort of people are going to be at these things. You wonder if you are going to fit in or whether it will be a very tight group and difficult to participate.
The long and short of it is that Shar and I had a great evening. There are, of course, all sorts of people at things like this. You would think that the majority of the people there would be very outdoorsy but the thing about geocaching is that you can play the game on whatever level you like. If you want to spend all your time doing long country walks that involve caches then you can. If you want to drive from cache to cache and walk as little as possible then you can. If you want to sit at home all day and solve the puzzle caches and then go out once a month to pick up the puzzles you have solved then you can. In a relatively small group of people, around 40, it was surprising the different types of people that were there. Like all walks of life you get those that are comfortable in social groups and out-spoken and then you get those that are shy and tend to let others do the talking. You get those that tend to dominate the conversations and then you get those that listen and allow others to join in. But they all have one thing in common… and that is geocaching. And there are even a few people who aren’t really as into it as their partners or wives etc. but came along because they had to… or because “someone had to drive”.
Breaking into new social groups is often tricky and taking those first steps into conversation where there is a larger group is often very difficult. At the beginning of the evening there were only a handful of people there and thanks to very lovely and engaging hosts we were brought into the conversations easily. After a while and more people turned up and the room got noisier and broke into smaller sub groups it became difficult to be a part of the group at times. As the volume rose I realised that it was becoming very difficult for me to tell which conversation I should be listening to. This is because without being able to see who is talking your brain has trouble trying to lock onto one voice and is easily distracted by louder voices. Without your eyes keeping you focussed on the source of the voice the hub bub seeps in and I find myself struggling to follow anything.
I had a brain wave at this point and Sharlene and I moved to the bar which was at a slightly quieter part of the room but nonetheless a focal point…. obviously… it was the bar. This did two things. Firstly it allowed me to be able to concentrate on conversations we joined a lot easier and secondly by standing up and moving to the bar it made everyone notice that I was the blind guy that had recently joined the group on facebook. The rest of the evening was spent standing at the bar having lots of conversations with very nice people who often came up and introduced themselves, pointing out that “you must be Paul” because they had read about some of my exploits on the group. In this case my white cane became a very useful ice breaker, though not in the literal sense… the barman said he was “fine for crushed ice and would you mind going back to the other side of the bar, please.”
The evening was a great success… the real ale was good and rather plentiful as my head reminded me the next day. We met a lot of nice people and the event was a success, thanks in no small part to the charming and likeable hosts Tom and Jo.Highlights included the real ale… did I already mention that? Also standing at the window and having described to me the scene of a cacher from the group trying to look nonchalant whilst retrieving a very overlook cache that had been placed right outside the pub window. It must be so funny to watch people trying to look casual and natural while pulling a magnetic key safe from the back of a telecoms box on eh street.
For our first event we were surprised to be the first people there and almost the last people to leave. We would have stayed a little longer but the last bus was at 10.30 sharp and if we missed it, well let’s just say we couldn’t miss it. Even the bus ride home was fun with a standard issue nutter to keep us entertained at times.
I can’t speak for other groups but so far the BBH group have been very welcoming and entertaining both in the virtual world of Facebook groups and in the real world of pubs. There are bigger events organised by geocachers too and we hope to be attending one of these in the midlands around Halloween and I am very interested to experience how cachers conduct themselves whilst running round the woods dressed as a zombie / witch / Dracula!!