Alexandra Dolk first discovered geocaching by mistake, when she was still in middle school.
“We lived on Drayton Harbor Road,” Dolk said. “My friends and I came across this crumbling brick wall, and behind one of the
bricks was a Tupperware geocache.”
At the time, Dolk had no idea what the strange little box full of goodies was, or that it would go on to play a role in her future.
Geocaching is a worldwide treasure hunt of sorts – a hobby that’s sprung up in the last decade and is growing exponentially in popularity. At the forefront of the new hobby is Ground Speak, Inc., a Seattle-based company that’s popularized and unified geocaching around the world. Their website, geocaching.com, boasts more than two million users in nearly 200 countries. Two months ago, Dolk accepted a position as one of Ground Speak’s community managers.
Dolk graduated from Blaine High School in 2009 as valedictorian of her class. She went on to the University of Washington, where she earned two degrees, a BS in environmental science and a BA in environmental studies. Though she’d gotten into geocaching in college, she didn’t actively set out to make a career of it.
“I knew someone who worked at the company, and I’d heard it was a fantastic place to work,” Dolk said. “When a position opened up that utilized my skill set, I jumped on it.”
As a community manager, Dolk organizes the company’s social media accounts, keeps tabs on the geocaching community’s needs and spearheads community outreach and promotions. She also writes for the website’s blog, and recently posted about her recent geocaching trip in Blaine, where she and her family scored more than 15 finds. Through geocaching, she was able to discover little details about her hometown that she never knew existed.
Geocachers use GPS technology to locate hidden containers scattered anywhere and everywhere around the globe.
Smartphone users can download Ground Speak’s geocaching app and use their phone’s built-in GPS to track down caches and log them with geocaching.com. Sometimes caches are obvious, kept in big wooden boxes or watertight Tupperware containers. Others are a little more devious, like magnetic boxes hidden in hard to reach places or disguised as something nondescript, like a piece of chewed gum.
The rules of geocaching are simple: find the cache, sign the logbook, put the cache back exactly where you found it, and if you take something out of the box, leave something of equal or greater value in its place. Caches typically come with difficulty and terrain ratings, which run from one to five. A terrain rating of five usually indicates that you’ll need some kind of special equipment or training to find the cache, like a sailboat or mountain climbing gear.
“I like it because I’m fairly outdoorsy. I love to go hiking, and I enjoy this sense of adventure that comes with looking for these little treasures everywhere,” Dolk said. “It’s an extra little incentive to get outside.”
Like any hobby, the geocaching community has built up its own specialized jargon. Being the first to find (FTF) a cache is a big honor, Dolk said, and a lot of geocachers pride themselves on the number of FTFs they’ve earned. A DNF, or “did not find,” is important to log, so the community manager can look into a missing cache and remove it from the list if it no longer exists. And all geocachers need to be aware of “muggles,” or non-cachers, who might find a cache and take it for themselves.
Dolk is still relatively new to the hobby. She’s logged around 120 finds, and has yet to earn her own FTF. Some of her
coworkers boast over 12,000 caches found, and the world record holder has secured nearly 100,000 finds since the hobby first started up back in 2000.
“To get to that number, you have to be kind of obsessed,” Dolk said. “It takes a lot of time and effort.”
Luckily for those hardcore types, there are a staggering amount of caches hidden throughout the world. The geocaching app lists dozens of locations in Blaine alone, most of them with relatively low difficulty levels.
|Dolk has yet to place a geocache herself, but she has an idea for a good place to start: the crumbling brick wall along Drayton Harbor Road, a sentimental tribute to a fortuitous find.