On a sweltering day earlier this summer, Marcellus Cadd stood in a hip neighborhood in downtown Austin.
His phone told him he was 20 feet from an object he was focusing on using GPS coordinates. He walked over to a bank of electric meters on a building, knelt down and began to smell underneath.
“Holy shit, I found it!” he said, taking out a small metal container. Inside was a plastic bag with a paper log. Cadd signed it with his geocaching grip, “Atreides was here.”
Cadd is one of more than 1.6 million active geocachers in the United States, according to Groundspeak, Inc., which supports the geocaching community and manages one of the main applications used by geocachers.
Every day for the past three years he has participated in what is essentially a high-tech treasure hunt. It’s a game run by volunteers: some hide the caches, others find them.
But shortly after starting, Cadd, who is black, read a forum where people were talking about how rarely they were bothered by police while geocaching.
“And I was thinking, man, I’ve been doing this for six months and I’ve been arrested seven times.”
As a Negro, Cadd said these encounters can be terrifying.
“Nothing serious has happened yet, but the concern is still there,” he said.
It’s not just the police questioning Cadd. Random strangers – almost always white people, he says – also stop him and ask him why he’s snooping around their neighborhood.
Geocaches aren’t meant to be placed in places that require someone to search for them encroach or cross boundaries that prohibit access. And by uploading the coordinates of a cache page to the geocaching application, the hunter must accept that he has obtained “all the necessary authorizations from the owner or the land manager”.
Still, Cadd avoids certain caches – if they’re stashed in the yards of private homes, for example – because he feels it could be dangerous for him. And while looking for caches, he uses a few tricks to avoid unwanted attention, like carrying a clipboard.
“If you seem to be working, people don’t tend to pay attention to you.”
He writes about his encounter with racism on the road on his blog, Geocaching in black. He had heartbreaking encounters, as being called “boy” in Paris, Texas. Where to find a cache hidden inside a pole that displayed the Confederate flag.
Such experiences may explain why there are so few black geocachers. Cadd says he often goes to geocaching events and has only met one other African-American geocacher in person (although he has interacted with a few others online).
Bryan Roth of Groundspeak said that while there is political and economic diversity among amateurs, people of color are vastly under-represented. He said Groundspeak often features colored geocachers on its website and social media, to encourage more participation in the game.
Geocaching is based on the idea of getting people to places where they wouldn’t be otherwise. Roth, who is white, recognized that race can play a role in how people perceive snooping in such places.
“Geocaching is only a small part of this. It will take a fundamental change in society” to get rid of this bias, he said.
Roth said he hopes that as the game becomes more popular, there will be less suspicion of geocachers.
For Cadd, he said he got too much joy in geocaching to let prejudices distract him from the hobby.
“I’ve seen so much and been to so many places. Places I wouldn’t have been to on my own,” he said, adding that he hopes his blog will encourage “more people. that look like me doing this. ”
“There’s a certain joy in being black and going out in places where you don’t see a lot of black people. And being there and being able to say, ‘I’m here whether you like it or not. ‘”
Cadd has already found more than 3,200 caches since he started, including at least one in each of Texas’ 254 counties. His lifelong goal is to find a geocache in every county in the United States.