Sunday, November 13, 2011

AQ Box of the Week and Letterboxing 101

"What do you want to do today?" we ask every weekend.  A list off all of the "should do's" (housework, yard work, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.) is rattled off.  All it takes is for one of us to say, "Maybe we should go letterboxing," and off we go.  What started out as a hobby, quickly became an obsession.  Since most of our friends have no idea what letterboxing is all about, I decided to try and explain it here.
Image Carved by Steve Olson

What is letterboxing?

Letterboxing is an fun pastime that combines artistic ability with delightful "treasure-hunts" in beautiful, scenic places.  Participants seek out hidden letterboxes by following clues and cracking codes.  Wikipedia describes letterboxing as "an outdoor hobby that combines elements of orienteering, art and puzzle solving."

Our Signature Stamp
The reward of successfully locating the letterbox is a miniature work of art in the form of a rubber stamp, usually hand-carved by the person who planted the letterbox.  Along with the rubber stamp, the letterbox will contain a logbook.  Every letterboxer has a signature stamp and their own personal logbook.  After finding the letterbox, the signature stamp is stamped into the letterbox's logbook to record the find and the letterbox's stamp is stamped into the letterboxer's logbook to record the discovery.

History of Letterboxing

Canmere Pool Letterbox
Letterboxing has been around for a long time.  Back in 1854, a man named James Perrott placed the first "letterbox" at Canmere Pool near Dartmoor, England.  Atlas Quest has a nice history of letterboxing.  Jump ahead to April 1998.  Smithsonian Magazine ran a short article about a peculiar English hobby called letterboxing.  With that article, letterboxing was established in the United States and has been growing in popularity ever since.

How did we get started letterboxing?

Steve is a passionate rockhound and our family vacations for  many years revolved around rocks.  I enjoy rockhounding, too, but it is not my passion.  Being out in nature and with rockhound friends is what I enjoy, but I can only take sitting in a gravel pit for a couple of days, then I get restless.

Our daughter, Signe, graduated from high school in 2006 and went off to college.  The summer of 2007 was our first "empty-nester" summer and I was looking for activities that Steve and I would both enjoy doing together.  Letterboxing popped up on my radar after finding the April 1998 Smithsonian Magazine article describing the hobby.  Since I like to hike, I thought this would be an activity I would enjoy after a couple of days rockhounding.  In the back of my mind, I was also thinking that letterboxing is similar to rockhounding, as they are both basically treasure hunts.  Steve is also very artistic, so I thought the artistry of the stamps would interest him.

Our 1st Letterboxing Weekend
Although we joined Atlas Quest in October 2007, we did not find our first letterbox until September 2008.  Our first letterboxing weekend took us to the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota and we found six traditional letterboxes and two hitchhikers.  Not bad for our first time boxing and we were hooked!  One of these first boxes, Hungry Jack Pine (AQ Box #46572), remains one of our all-time favorite boxes.

SZSRocks is our hastily chosen trailname.  We pronounce it S-Z-S Rocks.  The SZS part stands for our first names (Steve, Zoma, Signe) and the Rocks part denotes our first hobby of rockhounding.  Signe now has her own letterboxing trailname (The Tree Hugger).  As the summer of 2011 comes to a close, we have found over 500 traditional letterboxes and have planted 28 letterboxes.

Where do you find letterbox clues?

LbNA (Letterboxing North America)

Atlas Quest

Meeting Other Letterboxers

In October 2007, when we first joined Atlas Quest, I was exploring the site and discovered a local "event" (Something Wicked This Way Comes) was being held.  I got excited and signed us up to attend, even though we had not actually done any letterboxing.  We ended up getting cold feet and canceled out of attending the event.  In hind sight, I wish we would have had the nerve to go to the event!  We attended our first letterboxing event (A Skeleton's Picnic) in October 2008.  It was held at a park in Bloomington, Minnesota, and believe it or not, it snowed that day.  The weather did not discourage our fellow letterboxers and we had a great time.  Since then we have attended 12 more events in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois.

Goofing around at the MI Fall Gathering: Viva Grand Haven!
On October 1st of this year, we hosted our first event (MN Fall Gathering: Rock Around Elk River!).  Planning and hosting the event was fun and exhausting!  We planted 27 letterboxes for the event.  I think everyone had a good time.

This morning, we received word that the letterbox series we planted, "Rocks and Minerals," has been chosen the "Box of the Week" for the week of November 13, 2011 on Atlas Quest.  This was quite a surprise and an incredible honor.  Thanks to everyone who has found this series!

If you choose to hunt for our Rocks and Minerals Series, here is a sneak peak at one of the stamps you will find.

Tanzanite on Diopside, Carved by Steve Olson

I hope this post has peaked your interest and that you will try letterboxing.  We have discovered so many new and beautiful places that we never would have found, if it weren't for letterboxing.  And, we have made many fabulous friends!

"Not all who wander are lost."
~J. R. R. Tolkien

1 comment:

Maery Rose said...

Congratulations on "The Box of the Week"! I like how letterboxing takes you to places you wouldn't see otherwise and I love hiking and agate hunting too, but I'm not sure I can take on another hobby. I follow another blogger who just wrote a series of 3 posts on a letterboxing adventure. The third in the series is here

There are links to trace back to the previous posts.

p.s. The best agate finds I've made were from the river rock landscaping around my old house. I'm thinking of having river rock put around my new house just so I can find more agates!