Monday, August 22, 2011

Letterboxing? WTH?

What is it?

Letterboxing is a mix of treasure hunting, art, navigation, and exploring interesting, scenic, and sometimes remote places. I guess it all started from an ancient custom of placing a rock on a mountain once you climbed to the summit. We just call it an adventure and it ends up being a fun dedicated time to be with family. Oh, the adventure usually involves the outdoors and it's free. Those are all the requirements that I need!

Here is the basic idea. Someone, called a hider, hides a waterproof box somewhere, containing at least a logbook and a carved rubber stamp, and perhaps other goodies. The hider then usually writes directions to the box (called clues), which can be straightforward, cryptic, or any degree in between. Often the clues involve map coordinates or compass bearings from landmarks, but they don't have to. Believe me when I say, if I read that there are compass directions you can be sure that I am staying FAR away from that particular adventure! Anyway, once the clues are written, someone in possession of the clues, called a hunter, attempts to find the box. In addition to the clue and any maps or tools needed to solve it, the hunters should carry at least a pencil, personal rubber stamp, inkpad, and personal logbook. When the hunter successfully deciphers the clue and finds the box, stamp the logbook in the box with personal stamp, and stamp personal logbook with the box's stamp. The hider's logbook keeps a record of all its visitors, and the hunters keep a record of all the boxes they have found, in their personal logbooks. I am thinking that these hiders, are not people with kids. After we read the clues and find the box, I always marvel at the people who have the time and patience to do all this. Well, whomever you are, thank you!!!

The boys and I have letterboxed all over our town and usually pick easy ones. We did pick a "harder" one once that required walking a little far and then turning around different degrees to walk in yet another direction. Needless to say, we spent an hour walking and never found the box. My husband and I were completely annoyed until we realized how much fun my boys had running around the park, measuring how many paces (steps), how far to turn this way or that, etc. So, it really is about the journey and not the destination. Interesting! It's amazing but when we talk about letterboxing, my boys talk about that particular adventure the most even though it didn't result in finding anything.

So, at the very minimum you will need the clues. You should also have a personal stamp, inkpad, personal logbook, and a pencil (for writing in the box's logbook, if you want). We have a simple logbook ( .50 cents at Michaels) and a simple stamp (a bear claw, which used to be our school mascot). We keep the log book and stamp in a Ziploc bag in our car plus some printed out local letterbox clues just in case. I have been known to surprise them in the past by pulling out a letterbox clue on the way home from school.

Here is the website that I use when we letterbox: Atlas Quest
I like this site because you can search by location, which is what we usually do. And they specify if the letterbox adventures is a mental puzzler (which means no thank you to me and the boys), if you have to hike to it or if you can drive by, pet friendly, compass needed (oh, hell no), etc. I choose the letterbox and then print it out, another easy function on this website. There are many other websites out there but this one was the best for our needs.

I highly recommend trying out letterboxing. My kids and I truly enjoyed every aspect of it, from picking out their stamp, to choosing with adventure to take, running all over like crazy people in search of the letterbox, to signing their names and stamps in the logbook. So much fun with just a little effort and will cost you nothing (like!) but a little together time with your kids.

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