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Trackable Activity in the Time of Covid

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A preamble. I discovered geocaching in 2009, when I was already a long-time-retired old man who was plenty busy. The following year I placed my first hide and released my first travel bug. My focus in geocaching departed the mainstream almost immediately. As the game took me over, documenting the activity of my own caches and trackables appealed to my nature more than tracking down containers hidden by others.


I maintain records on all my caches and travel bugs on spreadsheets. However, keeping records for the sake of anything other than seeking insight is pointless. That said, time and numbers are needed to give weight to conclusions. So, I started hiding and maintaining more caches and making more travel bugs…both are now just habits that I can’t break. The point being, after 11 years, I have ample sample sizes over enough time to address virtually any question that occurs to me.


I started 2020 not knowing how many trackables I  actually have in circulation, given that 50% go missing in the first year after release, while at the same time some small number of my oldest (2010-released) trackables are still active. Thus, in January, I set out to count every trackable that had at least one retrieve/drop/missing log in the 2020 calendar year. Well, as we all know, Covid happened, and beginning in March, I noted releases were declining and reached a record low in Apr. I continued the original count (for another post coming soon), but I retroactively restructured spreadsheets to compare 2020 activity with previous years.  The results are graphed below.


The three curvy lines in the graph represent the maximum, mean and minimum monthly drops for the years 2012-19.  The red line represents the values for the months of 2020 only. While interpreting these data, there are two major considerations. 


First, because I release 350-500 trackables per year, there a net gain in the number of trackables in circulation each subsequent year.  The consequence is that average monthly values annually increase.  For example, the January and February values for 2020 are close to what I would have expected for those months.  Furthermore, I believed subsequent monthly values would likewise have hovered just above or below the previous monthly maximums.


Second, the activity graphed is not just for Texas. The map below (from GCtrackables.com) shows the distribution of caches into which one of my trackables was logged as of the end of 2020…I assume that my travel bugs "in-the-hands-of" are distributed in the same pattern. While it is tempting to state my bugs are world-wide, the influence of trackable activity numbers outside the US, Canada and Europe are minimal.  That said, my trackables that have landed northern Europe move far more frequently, and last far longer, than in the US.  Thus, they have an effect beyond their smaller actual numbers. To this point I will note that not one of my bugs has been released in Germany, yet at the close of 2020, there were more of my trackables there (82) than in any US state, except Texas.


There are no real surprises demonstrated by the graph. Once the threat of Covid was acknowledged by the geocaching public, the March and April 2020 numbers declined.  After the various quarantines appeared to have the desired effect, cachers began getting out more, approaching merely average activity patterns in May, June and July.  August, September and October values are near what I would have anticipated in a normal year.


If there is something a little unexpected, it is the near-average November and December numbers. This is the time when the pandemic reached new levels of concern, so one might have expected numbers at or below that observed in April. However, caching is an outdoor (and for me, solitary) activity and not inherently hazardous.  Thus, I believe once the risks from Covid were better understood, cachers worked around them.  In my own case, we are two in our own home, we are cautious shoppers, we don’t eat out, our children and grandchildren are remote and we did not travel.  Nevertheless, with day-trips, I continued to place new caches, service old caches and drop bugs throughout the year.  The only risk I encountered was at the gas pump and I carried a mask, gloves and disinfectant to address that circumstance.



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350-500 trackables released each year is a whole other side-hobby.  :D


That's odd though, nearly all the coins the other 2/3rds lost, were lost in Europe .     :)

A few people now have said they "last longer" there... we just never saw it...


I guess it depended where you were when trackable/cache movement declined. 

But I gotta say, we haven't seen correct logging of trackables for well-over three years now, and are lucky if we spot one that's listed in a cache for almost as long.

 - We figure TOs are watching trackables move that haven't really been seen in years.  "Took it to" months on end with no pictures doesn't help...


Here in PA, our Reviewers started publishing new cache hides just a couple weeks after "the shutdown".

None in urban/suburban/industrial areas, by local virus rulings.

Our largest landowner wasn't going to close hunting for the year, and along with State parks, provided many new caches placed.  ;)

People are actually walking woods trails again, something I thought was heading the way of the dodo. 


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