Writing Great Online Logs
MY day job requires that I do quite a bit of writing, most of it creative. Thankfully it’s something I love to do and for which I have developed a certain amount of skill. Geocaching has allowed me to carry my love of writing into new areas. From designing this website to serving as a moderator in the Groundspeak forums, and ultimately to my online logs, I’ve discovered new avenues for expressing myself, and whole new reasons to worry about typos and grammar mistakes!
It occurred to me recently that for many people posting their geocaching finds online constitutes their first endeavor in creative writing and online publishing. Depending on the individual, that reality can either present a great amount of freedom or fear?freedom of expression or fear of saying the wrong thing or making the wrong impression. Perhaps this is why many people whittle their logs down to such basic sentences that you can hardly tell whether or not they enjoyed the experience of finding the cache.
Your log also benefits the cache owner. The owner has placed that cache there in the hopes that you’ll enjoy the experience, or at least come away with something new. Your log can tell the owner how you felt about the visit and give details about whether or not he needs to make a maintenance trip, what the area surrounding the cache is currently like, and any obstacles or hazards he might not know about.
And of course, your log also provides benefits to you. As you continue in your geocaching experience, from time-to-time you’ll go back and re-read those older logs. They can provide you with a lot of great memories as you relive those caching experiences. They express the growth and change that you experience as you become more familiar with the game. Personally I find it especially satisfying during those long winter months to go back and re-read my logs from summer caches. It takes me back to those thoughts of warmer weather and longer days. Sometimes it even makes me miss the bugs and weeds!
The 4 T’s
The key to effective writing is organizing your thoughts. In longer essays and stories this is absolutely essential and is the difference between coherence and cohesiveness and absolute gobbildygook. In many ways your cache logs are very short stories, snapshots of your search, insight into a small portion of your day spent doing something you absolutely love to do. Even the worst experiences can make the best stories, as many of my own DNF’s prove out. Understanding how to organize your thoughts will take you a long way towards getting your experiences across.
With this in mind, here’s a handy outline to help you organize your thoughts in your online logs. This is not intended to encourage you to take a “cookie cutter” approach to your logs with every one of them looking the same. Rather it’s a simple exercise to keep your thoughts on track and make sure you get the details across as simply as possible. As you become more comfortable writing, your own style will shine through and flesh out your logs for you. Just stick with it and have some fun.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Of course, the journey to a single cache probably contains more than a thousand steps. You’ll probably want to share a few of those with other cachers.
Geocaching is a unique experience in that while we go to the same waypoint as other cachers, we do so with weeks, months or even years between us. We may approach from completely different directions and see the cache in ways that even the owner didn’t anticipate.
The “waypoints” feature on cache pages has been a wonderful new addition. It allows cache owners to post waypoints for parking or trailheads or other features on their cache pages. Being a new feature, most caches don’t have these extra waypoints added and at times knowing where to begin can be one of the most challenging parts of the cache hunt. Your log can provide some valuable advice for future searchers as well as record your own frustrations over that road that you shouldn’t have taken or the path that led to nowhere.
It’s also possible for you to post additional coordinates in your log and include coordinates for trailheads or roads you took. You can also use this feature to post alternate coordinates (if you felt the cache coordinates were a bit off) or post coordinates to various features that caught your attention. Be aware, though, that even the most helpful advice will fall off the cache page after five logs and won’t be seen by those who are using pocket queries while out in the field.
You may also want to tell the story of what brought you to the area to cache in the first place. Remember, your log is uniquely yours. Share a bit of your day with the readers and let them know where you’re coming from.
Human nature being what it is, we’re often concerned about offending a cache owner by logging either a “Needs Maintenance” or an “SBA” log, and the reality is at times they are offended. Approach both of these logs carefully. Write them out of your concern for the game rather than your frustration with either the cache or the owner.
Trading items was at the heart of geocaching in the beginning. Many cachers no longer trade or simply trade signature items. Others however continue this practice and take and leave items as either mementos of the trip or evidence of their own presence (and state of mind). I have a shelf in my office filled with items I’ve found in caches. Just looking at them reminds me of some of those great experiences.
Whether you make a habit of trading or just occasionally swap out an interesting item, be sure you record what you took and what you left in your online log. Other cachers very often go back and re-read cache pages to see who took the items they left and who left the items they took.
Obviously when it comes to travel bugs and coins it’s very important to log them in and out of the cache, but it’s also helpful to report any bugs that are in the cache inventory but missing from the physical cache. This can often be helpful in tracking down exactly when a travel bug went missing and what might have happened to it.
Got Some Good Examples?
I would love to fill this article with great examples of well-written cache logs. If you’ve written some good ones or have read some that others have written please use the form below to submit them. I will try to include them in future revisions of this article.