Winter Whirlwind Weekend in Upstate NY (Feb 17-19, 2006)

So, while the Winter Olympics were running their course in the mountains of Sastiere, Italy, off we headed to stage our own mini letterboxing marathon in the hills near Syracuse, NY! Not that we were out to set any speed records or anything - we figured just getting out there and outside in the brutally cold, windy, and snowy, lake effect weather would be challenging enough - but somehow we did manage to reach new heights for our own personal best in conjunction with the "Desperately Seeking Sun" event at Highland Forest Park down the road from Fabius! Here's the story of how it happened: Let the wild winter games begin!

Actually, we had a rather slow "take-off". Pete had taken off Friday from work, but because the forecast called for rain in our area, we weren't expecting to get an early start. When we got up Friday morning and it still wasn't raining, we decided we might as well do a couple of boxes along the way through CT before the rains came. The downpour didn't hit us until around noontime in Springfield, MA, but by the time we had crossed westwards through the Berkshires, the sun had surprisingly briefly come out! No sooner had we hit the NY state line, though, than the clouds rolled in with great gusts of wind and fierce flurries of flying snow! Pete and I tried to stop to do a few boxes in the Herkimer area, but at one point when Pete left the car to return a box to its hidden fortress, the whole car was shaking, along with me in it! After being buffeted by howling winds at the "Haunted Playground", seeing accidents, blowdowns, and power outages at our last thruway stop, we called it a night, and were glad to have a huge sheet pizza delivered right to our door in preparation for "Desperately Seeking Sun" the next day.

The following morning we woke up to several inches of new snow in the Syracuse area, and did a slight revision of plans. We had hoped to get in a few park and cemetery walks before heading down to the gathering, but, concerned about getting stuck in unplowed parking lots, we contented ourselves with just a couple of drive-bys on the way south. We figured it was too bitterly cold for much of anything else anyway, and we were glad to get to meet our wonderful hostess, Lock Wench, at Highland Forest Park just after 10 AM before things at the gathering got really busy. Already a few folks were starting to wander around in what we like to call "the mushroom hunter's daze" (a la Mickiewicz's "Pan Tadeusz"), and every time we turned around there were several more! Eventually, we managed to collect 30 new exchanges and more than a dozen personal travelers! Most remarkable for us, however, was the horde of cooties that seemed to have proliferated in this particular lodge! Having never gotten any cooties in RI or CT, only one in MA and a couple in NJ/PA, we were simply amazed to "get bitten" by twice as many at this one single event as we had at all the other events we'd ever attended combined! And, the biggest surprise of all was finding the tiniest little flea - in a box no bigger that a baby fingernail - dropped deep down in the bottom of Pete's pack later that evening! (Couldn't help but think of the story of the tsar's jeweler, who not only made a famous tiny flea pin, but put gold boots on it afterwards!)

Anyway, after a nice hearty pot luck lunch, it wasn't until after 1 PM that we finally decided to go out again to brave the elements, and what a blast that turned out to be! With initially no intentions of "going for numbers", or even really pursuing the BINGO game, by the end of the day we found out that, by sheer perseverance, we had accumulated no less than 40 "outdoor stamps", including most of those listed on Lock Wench's blue booklet for Highland Forest, and many more besides! Our favorite letterboxing experiences of the day ended up being doing "Scratch and Sniff" in the deep, dark woods of the Nature Trail, hearing the vespers church bells playing one of our favorite hymns at the "Giant of Cardiff" and hunting down the "Armory Square" poetry boxes on one extremely blustery night! If we add in the 40 "indoor boxes" we got that day, including the hidden ones, the "table toppers", personal travelers, cooties, and even a few new hitchers that Celtic Quinn was kind enough to pass along to us to help get them started out in the wild, we can actually claim a new "personal record" of 80 boxes in one day! Maybe we didn't put in quite the miles we've had to do for some of our other "big boxing days", but, I can assure you, we more than made up for that with "wind chill factor" on the ones we did! And, our "slow start" made for an even more dramatic finish, just because it was so unexpected!

The next morning we were feeling pretty whipped, and even more snow had fallen overnight in the Syracuse area. So, we decided to loop back home by way of Binghamton, where there was considerably less snow. We lingered long enough in Syracuse to get Pete on the hidden camera grabbing the Marshall Street box, then headed south for a dozen or so boxes in the Binghamton area, including the Scary Vegetables and the Carousel animals, before we turned to head back east. We got home happily with 125 new boxes under our belts and almost 1000 miles under our brand new tires - not bad for one wild and windy winter "interlude", eh? (And, after this nice big jump in box count, there's even a remote possibility of reaching F10,000 by April Fool's Day! Not terribly likely, as these huge count special boxing days that we write about are by far the exception to the vast number of plodding-along-for-a-few-boxes days that we generally do! Also, we've pretty much covered most of the boxing spots within a few hours drive for us (500+ boxes in RI, 1000+ boxes in MA and nearly 4,000 in CT!) so it gets harder and harder to collect large quantities of boxes the further away we have to drive! We'll do our best, though, and will definitely still be looking forward to seeing where that 10,000th box find will be! :-)

Thanks so much to everyone who helped make this such a wonderful winter weekend to remember, especially to Lock Wench for her remarkable generosity in sharing her creative energies, and to Kerith for putting us up and putting up with all our letterboxing chatter! It was a blizzard in Syracuse that got Pete and me together many years ago, and it was a "blizzard of letterboxing" that gave us many great new memories this year, too, so hopefully it won't be quite so long before we get back out there again!


Wanda and Pete

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