Summer Sizzler and Fall Burnout!

Well, I've been putting off writing anything about letterboxing for a while now because I just have to say that I've been pretty "burned out" on it lately! What with days on end pushing 100 degrees, panic attacks about going into Connecticut brought on by a nasty young policeman who yelled at me for something I didn't even do, and recurrent bouts of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue that once again forced me to give up on my CDT trail work projects in Colorado and New Mexico this year, all it seemed I could do was longingly remember those glorious days of summers not so long ago when I would spend whole months backpacking up and down the backbones of America's greatest mountain ranges! I fondly recalled how even former macho detractors like Phil Goad (first person to hike the AT Springer to Katahdin and back to Springer in one year) had to take back his words implying that I was "yellowbazing" when he finally caught up with me, backpacked about a week of 30-mile days with me, and then finally was gracious enough to admit to the folks at ATC that he'd been "biting Wanda's dust all the way from Georgia"! And now here I am reduced to just the occasional little fling on a short trail in search of tupperware! ( and sometimes barely even able to do that - what a "comedown"!:-)

Seriously, though, letterboxing really has helped ease some of the recent pains in my life, both physical and psychological (and caused a few, of course, too!. ) I obviously can't do anywhere near the type of hiking I did in my 20's, 30's and 40's, but I can still at least sometimes get out and have a decent day of letterboxing once in a while! And even though I really never have been able to say I had much interest in the stamps themselves, I certainly have always done my best to protect other people's "tiny treasures" and collect a fine bunch of mini-memories in the process! So, instead of feeling bummed out over a steamy but lackluster summer, I'll just try to put on my usual happy face and count my blessings (and stamps!:-)

First of all, even though I didn't get to do any big trips this summer, I did manage to squeeze in a few short ones: a couple of trips to hike the AT in the Berkshires, and my "annual pilgrimage" to Mt. Moosilauke in the Whites (where I climbed my first mountain and first heard of the AT while at NH choir camp there in the late 1960's). Standout memories from those trips include taking a boat ride out to an island chapel on "Golden Pond" for Green Faith services with a terrific backdrop of Mt. Chocorua, visiting an "art in bloom" exhibit in North Conway, standing in the middle of a river in the pouring rain looking at stone bridges for rtrw boxes, and getting bitten by a dog while looking for some of Team NH's! (Finding the boxes, though, made it all worthwhile! :-)

Another set of memories was rekindled by my trip out to the Ithaca Gathering in NY. While most everyone else there was just doing the quick urban drive-by waterfalls, farmers' market, etc. I was pleased to also be hiking several fine chunks of the Finger Lakes Trail for many of Scout's boxes that very few others had yet visited. Hiking in the 90 degree temps brought back memories of how I had backpacked that whole 500+mile trail more than a dozen years earlier, thanks largely to Pete, who had encouraged me to keep on trekking when I thought my backpacking days were largely over! The funniest new memory I collected from this trip, however, was doing Scout's "Lost in the Nut Grove" letterbox. As temps soared to near 100, I found myself almost literally going nuts trying to keep a cool head and figure out where to go! At one point I went into a grocery store to cool off and grab a cold drink. I grabbed a flyer, scanned the sales, then tossed the papers on the way out. When I finally got out to the place miles away to start my search, I looked for my clue sheet only to find I'd tossed it out with the flyer, so I had to go all the way back to the grocery store and fish it out of the trash! Talk about feeling "lost in the nut grove", but that was perhaps my favorite memory from the whole trip, along with dancing to the strains of live international folk music on the shores of Cayuga Lake on a hot summer eve before catching a little night boxing back at the campground, and those longer hikes with great memories of meeting up with Pete on the FLT!

July and August brought another string of really hot days, of which the main ones I seem to recall are those when a few of us "boxing nuts" got together and hiked anyway: Rattlesnake Mt. with Bluebird, Sam, Sadie & Russ, where skewed clues and heat had us walking in double circles, and Sleeping Giant, where climbing the open rock ledges with Bluebird and Fish-or-Man got us all so flushed that we actually stopped boxing early and I went to jump in the lake! Fortunately, the weather was a bit cooler for their mystery gathering a few weeks later, so we all had a nice time in an easy-going, relatively stress-free environment.

Finally came September - a month just bursting with gatherings and massive letterboxing burnout for me! We had wanted to go to Knoebel's to see some of the PA folks, but that trip turned out to be nearly a disaster. At one point, unbeknownst to me, Pete had taken off with Phynstar to solve a bunch of interlocking clues related to some Houdini box. Pete was gone a long time, I had no food or money with me, and by then everyone else had disappeared, too, so I went off to look for our car in the huge amusement parking lot and ... couldn't find it! There I was in the midst of this sweltering mass of automobiles having hot flashes, panic attacks and hypoglycemia all at the same time, and it turns out later that it was all because Pete was off wasting precious gathering time on Houdini clues, and hadn't even told me he had moved the car! Needless to say, I was in a pretty bad state, and only after I got some food in me was I able to calm down enough to enjoy seeing Rich and Pete go round and round on the carousel to collect clues for a most cleverly concocted box hunt put out just specially for this event by the Crayola Posse. Later, RV Traveller and Pop Pop the Sailor had graciously invited everyone over to their huge trailer for meatball sandwiches, and we were so amazed that, just like that, they were able to provide such a nice spread for us all. Many thanks to these fine letterboxing folks!

After that, we enjoyed the midway, but didn't care to pay $30 to camp all packed in together under a noisy roller coaster, so off we headed to our quiet secluded campsite on the Midstate Trail, having already waited about an hour beyond the stated time for when the nightboxing episode was supposed to have begun. We caught a whiff of the remains of it the following morning, but were much more impressed with the whiffs of burning coal smoke coming from the nearby smoldering ghost town of Centralia. We even took the underground mine tour, had a very loquacious tour guide, and met folks from Dartmoor in our same train compartment, who were tickled pink when we told them about how letterboxing has developed in the US, and showed them our stamp of the nearby "Whistler's Mother" statue, among others. They were looking for "the real USA", not the "ritzy, touristy stuff", so we were glad that our tour guide really took the time to tell details of US hardscrabble life, not just in the old time mines, but even as it still exists in many depressed areas today. Afterwards, we headed home via Cabela's and the AT, glad to have found a Lightning Bug box that we consider among his best!

The next gathering for us was just over the border into CT to meet the Pirates at Bluff Point. We had met up earlier that day with our friend Irene ("Hibiscus"), and were putting in quite a few miles getting lots of boxes, but didn't see anyone else out there and kept wondering where everyone was. Well, as usual at some of the more recent gatherings, everyone was just milling around the tables collecting stamp images like crazy, and you couldn't even get anywhere near the tables unless you were very good at elbowing your way in! All we could do, as usual, was peer over people's shoulders and try to be patient about getting to see some of the stamps maybe later. I think Irene must have been really appalled to think that this method of "stamp collecting" was considered by most people there to be a legitimate form of "letterboxing" because she just couldn't wait to get away, and it was all I could do to convince her to stay off in a quiet corner with me at least long enough to get the event stamp! She left shortly thereafter, and I could really see her point. I'd been trying to tell people for months that some of these gatherings were like "all-you-can-eat stamp buffets", and, however fun and well intentioned, were just going to eventually make people sick if taken as a regular "letterboxing diet" (giving folks big fat counts with almost no "muscle"!), but some of the newer boxers of just the past few years, having perhaps only known this type of gathering and doing very little other letterboxing besides gatherings, actually thought I was talking about food!!! I went home that evening feeling, instead of happy with my spankin' new 90 stamp images, almost sickened with the glut of table toppers, personal travelers, hitchhikers, cooties, etc. that almost seemed to make a mockery of all the hard work we had done that morning to actually earn our couple dozen "real finds", or all the hard days of "real letterboxing" we put in over 90% of the time to earn the huge bulk of our finds, which get trivialized by these rapid consumption one-day "binges"! I almost wished we could go back to the days when gatherings did consist of just real food, real (non-stamp-fixated) friendly people and perhaps one event stamp!

There, now I'm glad I got that out my system, and I know I run the risk of people hating me because here they are giving out all these great stamps and I seem to be "biting the hand that feeds me", but I do think it needs to be said. (Whether Pete will put it up on our webpage or not is a different story! ) I simply don't notice the stamps I get at gatherings! They all jumble together, and I've been trying to tell people for years - if you want your stamps to get noticed, don't send them to gatherings where they will get "lost in the shuffle". Plant them individually, and wait for those who will appreciate them as part of a unique "total letterboxing experience". But people these days are often just too hungry, impatient, or lazy. They want the "quick-fix", and - yes - it does even seem at times that some folks have become "addicted" to the big counts offered at gatherings. Just watch that glazed look they have in their eyes as they sit there stamp-stamp-stamping, oblivious to everything else going on around them! I always find gatherings terribly stressful because the only time I can muster that type of concentration is out in the woods by myself! So, what could possibly be done to make "real letterboxing" more appealing to these "stamp-collecting/ gathering-addicted" types? Well, the only thing I could come up with off-hand was to have it become "more profitable" to box outdoors in motion, by showing that it was possible to get an even higher non-gathering box count by getting some exercise hiking with real clues and finds than just by stamping into boxes sitting around a table at a gathering! So, I began formulating my plan...

Well, I couldn't quite pull it off. I don't want to tell all the details because most letterboxers trying to do the same boxes I did would probably really hurt themselves! ( There are easier series to do, of course, but I had to pick ones that I hadn't already done, so I figured this was probably going to be my last shot at a really big day!) Anyway, Pete didn't want any part of my plan, so I did all the research and plotting myself, drove in the dark to position myself at one of the non-posted trailheads, and started off at a run at the crack of dawn! The first few series went extremely smoothly, small containers very easy to rehide completely, and only one logbook at the end. I started to drag on the dunes, but kept going until the rain Pete had told me was coming anyway did in fact hit. I thought I could still just do some drive-bys, but even that got to be too tough for me in the steady downpour, so I just quit, gave up in the middle of the morning, ate my cookies and went to hang out in one of the local libraries! Little did I realize that the rain would be letting up in a couple of hours, so that even without the benefit of a full dry morning or a long sunny evening, and starting up again still in the drizzle, I would still be able to go "double time" all afternoon and well into dark to get 75 boxes as my biggest non-gathering letterboxing day ever! (My previous had been 66 out in western CT, where Patriotic Girl had helped me out by kindly volunteering to drive me to all her plants, so I certainly didn't feel like I had worked for those boxes the same way I did for these on Cape Cod!) Anyway, do you think I was proud of those 75 boxes? Well, sure - I showed quite a few folks my stamps the next day at the Great Cape Escape, but mostly there I was, still feeling not quite good enough because I hadn't managed to break 90 or 100! (Go figure - must still be the results of my narcissistic mother's upbringing that no matter how many straight A's, trophies, or awards I used to bring home to her, it was never going to be enough to win her love!)

Well, maybe somebody else can get those 100 boxes someday, but I'll tell you this - it's not going to be me! I was so beat when I met up with Pete the next morning around 10:30 at MacDonald's that I didn't even want to go to the gathering, just wanted to hang out at the beach! I pulled myself together, however, with the assumption that Pete would have to tell me what to do that day because I just couldn't get through it otherwise. The one-at-a-time index card system to find a few of the nearby planted boxes (rather than having table-toppers) worked pretty well, but I was still so frazzled that I ended up "barking" at Moonstone and grabbing stamps out of turn! Fortunately, there were chocolate-dipped Cape Cod potato chips to crunch and Nantucket nectar to sip, so I somehow got by in a daze, even managing to finish the light houses just before dark and long after everyone else had passed through. With just a few of us left in the park, Old Hounder, Siamese, Lundy & Vickster joined us for a quick bite at D'Angelo's, and then, while Pete and the others headed off, it was just about all I could do to drive around the corner and promptly fall asleep!

The next day had me out boxing again mostly in the Brewster area, sometimes in the rain, and I swear the man at the African art store must have thought I was nuts to keep going out again and again with my big red umbrella even in the heaviest of the downpour! (He knew about the letterbox, though, so I wasn't giving anything away!) The following day took me from Chatham (where I thought I was rescuing the fourth rooster in a series that had fallen down a cliff , but found that it was the fifth that had been dragged there and chewed by an animal instead!) out towards Provincetown and the National Seashore, but by then I was so tired that the harder I tried to keep going to reach F12,000, the more impossible it seemed. I kept walking past boxes, blundered through the dunes, boxed by moonlight, swung back through Falmouth, got caught by high tide, and eventually had to concede that if I didn't get going home soon, I'd probably have to check myself into a hospital for exhaustion! I finally gave up on reaching F12,000 on the Cape, and hopped on over to the other side of the canal to reach that milestone at "Stop and Smell the Flowers"! Good advice - please take it and don't try to box like I do - it'll only lead to massive "burnout"!

If I had to do it all again, though, I'd probably do just the same thing! And in spite of the complaining I do sometimes about letterboxing turning into "stamp collecting", I still do appreciate that aspect of the hobby, too, so I hope it continues to flourish along with the nice walks and interesting places! Many thanks to the planters who keep this hobby going by offering "healthy morsels" and "gourmet delicacies" in addition to those occasional "AYCE buffets"! (and hope we never have to end up resorting to "scavenging" and "pub crawling" for stamps the way they do on the other side of the pond!:-) And God preserve us from the "burnout "and the "fallout"!



Our Letterboxing Treasury

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