A New Hope

As it’s the end of the year, or the start of a new one. At this time there’s always some chat on geocaching forums about who achieved what in the past year, and what plans you have in the coming year. I don’t normally go in for setting targets. I haven’t in the last couple of years because I’ve lost my caching mojo a little bit. In the case of 2020, you couldn’t really plan to do anything at all. So whilst I was sitting at home over the New Year I invented the Shifty Fifty Challenge.

As we enter 2021 we’re still in lockdown, so I can’t plan anything at all. Indeed I can’t even travel outside of our immediate area. That causes a bit of an issue because you’re more likely to do caches close to home than anywhere else. Right now I’m limited to caching in Milton Keynes until the world gets back on its feet a bit.

As a long-time cacher, you might expect I’ve got none at all to do near home, but you’d be wrong. In the past 3-4 years I’ve spent most of my caching days out by driving over to Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire to do big series. I’ve spent relatively little time finding caches locally, and really haven’t done any “odd ones and twos” at all. This meant I’d got a stock of 60-70 caches in town, plus maybe 200 more in the outlying villages. In addition, there’s a new series of about 40 around Olney. That’s enough for a while, I guess. Also, since Groundspeak started reviewing the world of Lab Caches, there’s loads of them around. There’ve been about eight groups of them set up in MK, of which I’ve only done three.

What’s the story?

So what about challenges and targets? I mean I’ve titled this post as if it’s about a challenge, haven’t I? Yes, I have.

The challenge I chose is to try to reach at least 50 total finds on each of the 366 days in the year. Not all in the one year – that would be impossible unless I was retired and divorced. I am neither of those and don’t plan to be. I may retire at some point, but there’s two children to fully educate first. So 50 total finds minimum on each of 366 days of the year. When I set the challenge, at the very beginning of 2021, that meant finding caches on 264 of 366 days. It also meant at least 9,464 finds. You can see it’s not a simple challenge for me. One of the days needing attention is February 29th, so I can’t finish before 2024. Another one is Christmas Day. Another is my kids’ birthday.

It’s taken me 10 years to make 12,736 finds so far, so it’s possible that a further 9,464 will take me another 7-8 years.

Having devised a challenge, I obviously needed a suitably bad name for it. So two words, something that rhymes with “fifty”, but can’t be “nifty” because that’s the name of a lottery. The Shifty Fifty Challenge it is, then.

Why choose this?

Why did I set such a challenge, one that’s simple in concept but time-consuming to achieve? Mainly because I don’t like challenges, or more specifically I don’t like feeling that I am obliged to go out caching. A few years back (2013, I think) I set myself a very aggressive target to fill each day with at least one cache. I had something like 160 days needing to be filled and it became a chore. There was a night in February when I couldn’t find the needed cache, and another day in June where I simply forgot to go.

After that year I no longer pay any attention to “streaks” of caching. Maybe that’s something for retired people who’ve moved to a new area. So to be honest, the Shifty Fifty isn’t not really a challenge. It’s just a review of the calendar to give some sort of priority when choosing days to go caching. I will prefer to stay at home on weekends when I already have 50 finds on each day, and I will prefer to go out on weekends when one or both days need a boost. It also helps me spot weekend days which only need a handful of finds (so can be done by driving and walking locally) and ones which need forty or more, and so need a “proper” trip out.

The scale of the problem

The picture below shows the size of the Shifty Fifty Challenge following my (successful) attempt to bring January 1st up to scratch.

Shifty Fifty Challenge Starting Grid

I sort of also set myself a target of trying to get 2,021 finds in 2021. This is totally dependent on the lockdown situation starting to ease no later than the start of February. Any later than that and I’ll be trying to pack in too many caches at the end of the year. I’ll most likely run out of places to go locally. January 2021 has nine weekend days that need attention, two require under 10 finds and the rest require over 30. If I complete 4 of those 9 days I’ll be happy.

So for now, I have maybe 300 caches available that I can access during lockdown, but relatively few of those are big series that can be used for days when over 30 finds are required.

All in all, I guess it’s more of a strategy than a plan. I am setting off with the best of intentions, but wary that I might be pushed back by forces outside my control. What a strange world we live in now, when a comment like that is true. The Shifty Fifty Challenge is born, and I very much hope it survives its infancy.