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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Personal History

I began letterboxing unofficially in 2003 in the summer. You see, that’s also when I really got into geocaching. My brother really turned me on to both hobbies and I liked letterboxing better. However, my problem was that I had no letterboxes near me. There were a few up in the Adirondacks but that was a day trip for me for only a couple boxes. I liked the creative aspects of the hobby and the writing of clues. But since there weren’t any close by, I invested in a GPS unit and began to geocache.

I cut my teeth on geocaching for a couple years. I found a few boxes here and there and even planted one of my own. (Check out “The Making of a Letterbox”) I was simply ecstatic when a letterbox was planted close to my own and couldn’t wait to find the Tupperware in Tupper Lake when it was planted. I found it in the Fall of 2004 and was extremely impressed with the carving. It was phenomenal! It stood as one of the best in my logbook until just recently.

But it wasn’t until June of 2005 that I really turned my energies to letterboxing. Geocaching was too predictable; too follow-the-arrow-into-the-woods. There was too much stuff to trade and none of it was interesting to me. It was too much dollar store and not enough flea market. I thought that maybe it was just my area. Maybe, I was just tapped out on my locality. Maybe if I went somewhere else to cache, I’d be rejuvenated. So my sister, LOSTGIRL, and I planned a trip to Ithaca, NY to cache and letterbox.

Why did I pick Ithaca? We had been to a wedding in Auburn and had scooted down to Ithaca for a large semi-annual book sale. We loved the area…saw the Purity Ice Cream shop and vowed that we’d have to come back in warmer weather to try the homemade local ice cream. When I did a search on geocaching.com, I saw there were a lot of caches in the area. Not only that, but I found that there were also a tremendous concentration of letterboxes as listed on letterboxing.org. I was elated. We would be able to do both.

We rented a cabin in Taughannock Falls State Park for a whole week and scheduled our activities around caching and boxing. We found close to 30 boxes total including 18 letterboxes. We were sad to discover that The Plantations, Ithaca’s first letterbox, was under a large tree that had blown down the week before. But we had much more success finding the letterboxes than we did the geocaches. Which goes to show you how unreliable coordinates can sometimes be. Technology is not flawless but good clues and hints get you where you want to be.

We had just missed the Finger Lakes Letterbox Gathering in Ithaca by a week. So that certainly helped with the concentration of boxes. This was just as Atlas Quest was coming to be known to me as well. My brother and sister-in-law stayed with us the first weekend at the cabin and we went letterboxing with them. They had clues that I had not seen before and printed in a format that was not LBNA. I was informed of this new site that was hosting clues and when I returned from Ithaca, I logged my finds to those few boxes there. And that’s when everything began to happen fast and furious.

Everywhere we went, I had to check to see if there were any nearby letterboxes. Even on so called “caching” trips, I pulled up nearby boxes that we could find. I brought along my logbook that I had bought on a whim in Ithaca when we went to the book sale because I thought we might be boxing. It was really a “just in case” item. Now it was an essential for every trip. After Ithaca, I was addicted to boxing and everything about it and I believe Atlas Quest has a lot to do with that.

When I began to poke around Atlas Quest, I discovered a “connection” to other boxers. I began to read the forums and message boards. I began to get a feel for people and how they approached this hobby. I felt part of a community and even found people who were as obsessed as I was even though, like me, they had few boxes around them. I really felt the need to contribute, to give back, to concentrate on this hobby and lessen my activities with the GPS.

Over the Columbus Day weekend in 2005, my sisters and mom decided to take a “girls” trip to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. My older sister wanted to see the Hershey factory in Smith Falls and I wanted to return to Merrickville for shopping. They were on route. We don’t live far from the border and Canada is always a good trip. So naturally I checked to see if there were any letterboxes in those areas. I was amazed to find that Kingston had quite a concentration of them while the rest of Southern Ontario seemed to have nothing. A few caches here and there but no letterboxes. I printed out some clues in hopes that we’d have time to find some of them.

Being the Canada Thanksgiving weekend, we weren’t sure what would be open and what wouldn’t. LOSTGIRL and I settled on a group that had been planted in the Royal Military College not too far from our hotel. The clues were good, the stamps were interesting and no one was around early on a Sunday morning. We had a great time.

I felt that I could do this for my area. I could plant a lot of boxes, up to a saturation point. After all, when I planned a trip somewhere and wasn’t sure where to go, I looked up to see how many letterboxes were nearby. The more letterboxes, the more I wanted to go. And letterboxes really took me to good local locations. They were a great key to unlocking the “culture” of an area.

So I began to plan boxes. Lots of boxes, lots of ideas. But what to do about stamps? From the message boards on Atlas Quest, I got the feeling that hand-carved stamps (even beginner ones) were more highly prized that a store-bought one. But I was intimidated. The ones in my logbook were so good. I am no artist. I can’t sketch really well and if I do manage a good picture, how do I convert that to a stamp? But my questions were answered by jackbear and the tutorial on Atlas Quest. Both made it sound so easy. So I took the plunge and ordered supplies. I had too many great ideas to throw them all at jackbear for stamp making. I took matters into my own hands and decided to test the waters.

I couldn’t have been more excited when I finished my very first hand-carved stamp. It was the stamp for “Bones of Stone”. I was so proud of it and jackbear thought it was great. I got attached to it and was scared to plant it because it might go “missing”. But I decided to make it a bonus box and the clues can only be found inside another letterbox. Then, I was off and running. I couldn’t carve these babies fast enough. Jackbear told me that I could print images off the computer but I was more comfortable with tracing pictures and transferring to the medium that way. I traced anything that might make a good stamp or fit in with one of my ideas.

I started with Mastercarve as my medium and still like it. I tried orange PZ cut and like that for more detailed carvings. I use primarily a #1 and #5 gauge and jackbear is still impressed with my enthusiasm for carving words and letters. I admit that not all have come out good but I don’t let them intimidate me. If I want my stamp to say something, I’ll carve it in there.

Now I am a veteran of two letterbox gatherings and I have over a dozen letterboxes planted in my region with many more ideas to come. I have over 100 finds, a good portion of them found recently in the city of Rochester, NY, home of jackbear. I am currently trying to get all the letters of “Adirondack” planted in the mountains by a number of different carvers…all members of a yahoo group called Adirondack Letterboxing. And still my ideas overflow…hence the blog…it’s so hard to contain my enthusiasm.

1 comment:

  1. Nice post! Couldn't agree more with the comments about Atlas Quest! Keep up the good work. Your clues rock!!!

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