A Stone Mountain Easter, Strange Soup, and an Ice Cream Sunday
(April 2006)

For as long as Pete and I have been together, we have always celebrated Easter with a traditional Polish dish that we make only once a year. It's officially called "zurek wielkanocny", but we like to call it "strange soup". It's a rather unusual combination of chunks of kielbasa, hard-boiled eggs and rye bread in a broth once made from bread that had been fermented for 3 days, but nowadays we cheat a little and just add vinegar to flour and herbs in the kielbasa broth. It doesn't sound very appetizing, but probably because it's only once a year, it tastes surprisingly good, and we actually look forward to it. We even drew a picture of it amidst our Easter meal in a logbook in CT when we came back from a trip to Death Valley just in time to first break "The Devil's Ring of Surpersonic Steel" mystery on Easter Sunday in 2002!

Anyway, as Easter approached this year, it began to look more and more like we'd be skipping the "strange soup". We'd originally thought we'd be driving down to Georgia together for that weekend, but between our recent trip to Arizona, Pete's mom passing away, and his getting a new project at work, Pete didn't think he could take any more time off. However, he kept encouraging me to go on my own anyway, so after we had our nice little "10K celebration party" the weekend before, I thought I'd give it a try. After all, I'd be leaving him with lots of food to get through the week from what seemed like our Easter dinner shared with special letterboxing friends, and we could always celebrate Easter again when I got back!

So, on Tuesday night after several invitations from letterboxers in Georgia to come on down, I was pretty much packed and ready to go. I kept complaining to Pete that night that my back was really hurting, but thought it was a combination of packing, bending over for gardening, reading maps spread out on the floor and finishing up the Iditarod - a long, multi-box series in CT! The next day, as I drove across CT and NY, I even put on the heating pad in the car seat, thinking that might ease the pain, but it wasn't until I hit PA that I finally squeezed myself around to discover that I had a tick well embedded in my back where I could not get at it! I thought about going back home or calling Lightnin' Bug for his tick magnet advice, but instead ended up calling the Blue Cross people to see what they would tell me to do. At first they tried to tell me that I was not in one of the 21 counties in PA serviced by Blue Cross, but when I told them I was familiar with the counties in PA (thanks to letterboxing!) and would be willing to drive to any one of them that was on my way to Georgia, they quickly found a place for me to go that was just down the road at Pocono Medical. It seemed a little bit extreme to have to go to the emergency room to have the tick surgically removed - with novocaine and tetanus shots and antibiotics no less - but the folks there were very nice, said they got this all the time from the nearby camps, and that I was the "first of the season"! Needless to say, I lost quite a few hours there, so I only got as far as the first AT crossing to camp that night.

The next day I boxed my way across PA, MD, WV and VA, stopping to get at least one "token box" in each state I passed through on this trip. (Sorry, Aud and Bev - once again I managed to completely by-pass NJ, but, don't worry, I'll get back there one of these days!) Sunset saw me perched atop one of my favorite spots in northern VA, Woodstock Tower, with its view of the Seven Bends of the Shenandoah River. The following day, Friday, I thought I'd make good time driving and just stop to get "token boxes" in Statesville, NC and Greenville, SC, but I kept running into accidents that slowed traffic on the interstates to about 3 miles an hour, so once again I lost a lot of time just trying to get to the next exit so I could use back roads! After a delightful stop at Reedy Creek Park in Greenville, SC, with all kinds of people promenading along the waterfalls and flowers, just like a real "Easter Parade", I thought I was in good shape to reach Beachcomber's house northeast of Atlanta by 9PM, but another big accident - a semi that caught on fire - held me back another couple of hours, so I didn't get there till 11PM. We stayed up chatting till 1AM, instantly feeling like "letterboxing family"!

The next morning at the gathering in Grayson was like meeting a lot more of our extended "letterboxing family"! Everyone was so friendly and so willing to "fill in the gaps" for anything that went wrong. The zipper on my colored pen case broke, and Beachcomber instantly produced a new one for me! Then when I discovered I was just about to fill up my old logbook, Mark immediately handed over a large new notebook for me to start stamping into! Desi and Darran (drgdlg), the young couple that did such a fine job of organizing the event, sent me off with a bag of Easter goodies, the lollipops of which came in extremely handy to assuage the sore throat that I was fighting most of the way home! It was almost like these folks knew ahead of time just what I was going to need and had it ready for me - talk about serendipity and southern hospitality!

And, of course, the letterboxing was terrific, too! After sampling the various snacks and "condiments" that were on the table, watching the pi–ata get cracked, and getting over 40 exchanges, 20 personal travelers and several cooties, Red's Bunch suggested a swing over to Stone Mountain to get me started on finding some of the many boxes there. It was rather late by the time we finally got there, but we went through a dozen or so of the boxes there and decided to come back the following afternoon for more.

That night as I was counting up my finds and exchanges, and plotting out a possible route for Beachcomber and myself to take on the morrow, I thought fleetingly how cool it would be if I somehow managed to find enough boxes the next day to reach a 2-day F-count of 100+ boxes, but didn't really feel like pushing for it. After all, even with higher 1-day gathering counts in places like Texas and Western New York, I simply hadn't cared enough to press on to that goal the next day, even though several times I'd come pretty close! So, I decided to just take whatever came along in the way of individual boxes and a few new ones along our route, and save some of the bigger series and "hot spots" to hit when I came back down some day with Pete. Even doing that, though, we found ourselves getting quite a few boxes, including about a third of those in Tribble Mill Park, until suddenly Beachcomber found herself getting attacked by red ants! After taking care of that problem (with baking soda paste), we basically had to high-tail it over towards Stone Mountain to meet up with Red's Bunch again at 4PM. We had to laugh that we were in such a hurry that all we could grab on the run for Easter dinner was a Taco Bell burrito, and later on a Sonic "Sunshine Smoothie"!

When we met up with Red's Bunch to go into the park, in order to save time and avoid heat exhaustion in the high 80 degree temps, the group decided to take the lift up to the top of the mountain. This was bad news for me as I sometimes suffer from claustrophobia, but I withstood the process of being jammed into the corner of a stuffy hot little cubicle surrounded by about 80 people speaking Spanish, Polish and Japanese, for the mercifully short 2 minute ride to the top. We enjoyed the view in all directions from the stony summit, then began to box our way down. We had only gotten a couple of boxes along the way down when whom should we run into but T-Rex on his way up, telling us we'd missed one of the Easter boxes! So back up I went with him, since I wasn't about to miss one of those boxes on Easter Day! Meanwhile, everyone was formulating a plan of "efficiency boxing" to get me all the boxes I would need to reach 100 finds in 2 days! At first we thought we'd do T-Rex's new series of 10 boxes, but it quickly got dark on us just as we started. We did, however, enjoy the "group night boxing experience" for the first three boxes, and whooped it up for Rebecca's 100th find at "War" (or maybe it was "Peace"?). Then we basically resorted to picking up the remaining "drive-bys" before the park closed, while the baffled police probably wondered why a group of mostly adults would be acting so giddy about finishing up an Easter egg hunt in the dark! And yes, I did reach my goal, with a few extras to spare, thanks to this fine group of Georgia letterboxers!

That night I slept like a log, and got up early to follow Beachcomber out to work and onward to more letterboxes. I hadn't plotted out anything specific to do, but found plenty of parks with boxes along my route northeast. When I got to a park with the same name as a Massachusetts town where I once went to see a Polish movie, I was surprised to find the park closed that afternoon for "research", but continued on to some boxes and beaches along Lake Sidney Lanier, with a campsite nearby. I had originally thought I'd continue on to Amicalola Falls and the Appalachian Trail, but since I decided to return to Chicopee Woods the following morning, I opted for a pleasant afternoon of waterfall hopping along the Bartram Trail in northeast Georgia instead - with memories of having hiked that trail with Pete in 1994. I still had hopes to get back towards Dahlonega to plant the Golden Teddy, which I had stuck in with the Gummi Bears at the gathering. I was a tad sad to discover that no one besides Beachcomber had signed in, but since I didn't end up going that way, the bear will just have to wait for another trip!

The following morning, I got a late start due to some hail and lightning storms in the vicinity of Franklin, NC. Once again, I "switched gears", and instead of heading up through the Smokies and Gatlinburg, I decided on a route through the pleasant little town of Dillsboro to box and the remote mountain town of Hot Springs to pick up the AT. It felt so strange to be once again stopping in at Elmer's "Sunnybank" after so many years since he'd invited me in for a complimentary dinner on my 4th AT "thru-hike", southbound in 1988! It was also nice to see several new letterboxes popping up in that area as well.

The next day had me picking up a couple of "token boxes" in Tennessee and then heading northeast back up through the Shenandoah Valley. The funniest thing that happened that day was stopping to look for some boxes in a certain park, not finding them, but finding two unlisted boxes instead, both stuffed into the same tree trunk! (I'll have to try to find out just what was going on there!) Anyway, I ended up getting another "blast from the past", hiking the AT in northern Virginia, and stopping by the Bear's Den Hostel near Bluemont, which I hadn't visited since my 3rd AT "thru-hike" in 1986. Naturally, I got to pick up a few letterboxes around there, too!

The final day of my trip was a rainy one, so I mostly just kept driving through PA, NY and CT. I did, however, get home to RI in time to dye some Easter eggs and make that strange Easter soup for us to have for dinner! So, this year I got to feel like I celebrated Easter three times: first at our "10K party", then atop Stone Mt., GA and now once again back in RI!

The next morning I was hoping to sleep in after my trip, but Pete got me going earlier than I might have wished for the 2+ hour drive to the Ice Cream Gathering at Great Brook Farm in Carlisle, MA. We took in a couple of boxes on the way up before it started pouring again, then thought we'd just hang out in the ski barn and meet the many new people, saving the boxes for a non-rainy day. It wasn't until shortly before the gathering was to wrap up, though, that we found out that almost all the boxes planted in the area were only there for the day! So, we had to make a mad dash to try to catch most of those boxes before they disappeared, but not before catching a taste of some of the most delicious raspberry sorbet we've ever had, topped with hot fudge and praline sauce! Eyze on the Prize, OldPatterns, Team Randalstik and others did a fantastic job of organizing the event especially considering that most of them were relatively new to letterboxing! That evening back at home as we counted up the many varieties of delightful ice cream concoctions that we had collected, we felt like we had gotten quite the "scoop"! So, thanks again to everyone along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Massachusetts, for two weekends in a row of great letterboxing - a spectacular "double dip"!


Wanda and Pete

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