Wow! I can't believe I lived in the Dallas area for 20+ years and that I missed it when I moved. Let me rephrase - I do miss Dallas...I just don't miss triple digit heat indexes and 95% humidity. I arrived yesterday at about 6am when it was still (relatively) cool outside. Humidity was down too. I expected to step off the plane into what I call the "wall of goo". But it was actually quite pleasant. I tried to fool myself into thinking that I managed to bring some of the cooler weather from the NorthWest down with me and that it would stay that way through Monday when I head back to the Seattle area. Even at mid-day it wasn't all that bad. Definitely not what I have become used to back in Redmond but entirely bearable.
Today was another story altogether....
I picked up my two youngest daughters around 12 noon to go Letterboxing (more on that in a moment). I had been in my hotel room all morning and figured it was going to be a scorcher because it was bright and sunny outside and the air conditioner in my room didn't shut off all morning. As soon as I got on the elevator I knew it was going to be nasty outside.
I see old film footage of the Dallas area now and then and see the men from the 50's and 60's wearing full suits with hats and I just can't imagine how how that must have been come July and August. Consider that air conditioning was still a luxury back then and then imagine it being 90+ degrees, 90+ humidity and wearing a full suit. When I lived here from 1982-2002 it just never seemed that bad to me....
Back on track...
The "wall of goo" nearly stopped me in my tracks when I left the hotel. I sensed it in the lobby. The clerk at the registration desk had his sleeves rolled up and I believe I saw those tell-tale pit stains that we have just come to ignore on other people in Texas. I could practically feel the air get thicker, slowing me down, the closer I came to the hotel lobby door. Many hotels in Texas have airlock style doors - a set of doors opening to a small foyer or entry way then another set opening in the hotel lobby. The idea is that one set is always closed which helps keep cool air in during the summer and warm air in during the winter. I stepped through the first set of doors and was almost stopped in my tracks. Immediately, beads of sweat bubbled up on my forehead. My own pit stains appeared saying, "Welcome Home!".
Enough of that.....on to letterboxing.
About two weeks ago, I was tuned into NPR about half way through a story on Letterboxing. (Btw.....how can you tell if someone who lives in the Pacific Northwest? They listen to NPR...) Letterboxing involves hunting down a hidden "letterbox" based upon a set of clues provided by the person who placed the letterbox. I would compare it to geo-caching but apparently there is a little animosity between some letterboxers and some geo-cachers. I have never geo-cached but with letterboxing, I like the idea of finding something without modern technology (save maybe a compass).
The letterbox itself is typically a small, water tight Tupperware style container. This seems to be the best and preferred method. Inside the letterbox, one will usually find a small rubber stamp and a log book. The person hunting for the letterbox will normally have their own logbook and a "signature stamp" that is usually unique to them. When the letterbox is found, the finder puts their signature stamp in the letterbox log book and maybe a note with the date and time and some kind words for the person who placed the letterbox. The finder also stamps their own logbook using the stamp found in the letterbox along with their own notes of the find. The finder then hides the letterbox exactly where they found it so the next letterboxer can find it.
How do you get clues to where letterboxes are hidden?
There seem to be two primary sites where one can find clues. Atlas Quest is the site I have been using since it also provides for online tracking of letterboxes you have found or placed. It also has a much more detailed set of search criteria for locating letterboxes around the world (yes! There are letterboxes hidden in just about every country on every continent a perfect past time for some one who travels a lot). Many of the clues found on Atlas Quest link over to the other primary site, Letterboxing.org. I think the latter site has been around longer but it doesn't have the same box tracking features which is why I have been using Atlas Quest.
I have already found letterboxes in the cities of Leavenworth, Redmond, and Seattle in Washington State. Today, my two youngest daughters and I made runs at 5 letterboxes in Sunnyvale, Tx and Dallas, Tx. We were 3 for 5 in our endeavor. One of those boxes I think we just overlooked. We are going to make another run at it tomorrow. The other box was no longer in the location provided by the clue.
Which brings me to....
Some of these boxes have been in their hiding places for years. The oldest I have read about date back to 2002 though I am sure there some older than that. I am mostly interested in the ones that haven't been found in a long time which has caused me some frustration. One of the boxes we looked for today had not been found since 2006. I felt like it wouldn't be there when we set out, but my kids were excited by the new hobby so we took a run at it anyway. The clues were all accurate down to the tree roots it was supposed to have been hidden in. The problem is that tree is now behind a fence with razor wire on top and it appears that landscapers may have discovered it and removed it.
Keep that in mind if you decide to take up the hobby. That is the third box I have made a run at only to find that since it was planted things in the area have changed and the box was probably stumbled upon by someone who has no real clue what it is. Most letterbox planters include a note asking people who find them and don't know what letterboxing is to simply replace the box in it's original location and then to check out one of the two sites I listed above to learn more about the hobby.
Many letterboxes are hidden along hiking trails or camping areas throughout the world though they can be hidden just about anywhere. Some aren't really hidden at all. Some are located in stores or shops where you have to ask the proprietor about it and maybe even give them a password. Some are hidden in urban areas or parks. I picked up the hobby as a means to get me out hiking and camping more often. It can also be very family friendly which is why I introduced my kids to it. My eldest daughter, L'oren, is hooked already and found a few with us in Washington when she came to visit last week. My two youngest, Megan and Samantha, now have three stamps each and already want to plant their own letterboxes and track who finds them online. If you have kids it is a wonderful family activity. If you don't have kids, it is a great excuse to get out and do some hiking or just see parts of your own town that you have never visited before.
Wow.....this is a long post....let me wrap this up.
I was originally intrigued by the NPR story on letterboxing because the woman they interviewed for the story talked about how some of the clues are more like riddles. In fact, some of the clues are down right cryptic. I have seen many clues that involve decrypting the clue using a Caesar Shift or other substitution ciphers. I like a good puzzle. Some clues for local letterboxes are so foreign to me that I have decided to wait to hunt for them until I have a few more finds under my belt and I run out of easy ones to find. Some involve a compass while some are easy enough that you can drive to the location and find it within seconds of getting out of the car.
Some letterbox clues also give rather detailed history of their area where the letterbox is hidden. I have taken a much greater interest in history in the past few years so this gives me another interesting way to learn more about the places where I travel and hunt for boxes.
In all cases, stealth is of the utmost importance, particularly when the box is hidden in a well traveled or public location. Once the general location of the letterbox is identified it is always a good idea to check to see if others are in the area. You don't want a casual observer to see where the letterbox is, and after you have replaced it, go find it, remove it, and not return it to it's exact location, rendering it undiscoverable by subsequent hunters or even the original placer, or even just not put it back at all. Remember, some of these boxes have been hidden in the same spot for years and the person who hid them truly enjoys tracking who has found them over the years.
So, if you ever stumble upon a little plastic box in the woods, a downtown park, or under a random rock, feel free to write a little note in the logbook, and then respectfully replace it back to exactly where you found it. Then head over to one of the sites above to learn more and start your won letterboxing adventures!