by Joel Smith and Sheri Boggs & r & Joel Smith Lays the Clues & r & Last month, I wrote a feature on unorthodox outdoor activities for our annual Summer Guide. Among these was a brief mention of letterboxing and geocaching, two pastimes about which I knew almost nothing before beginning my research for the story. I found them both so interesting, though, that I figured they deserved a more thorough treatment than I could give them in a rundown of other summer activities.
Letterboxing is treasure-hunting, but without doubloons or pirates (for better or worse). Thousands of people around the world hide small, waterproof boxes - usually containing a logbook and other random goodies - in strange and out-of-the-way places, then post directions and clues on www.letterboxing.org (and elsewhere). Thousands of eager explorers then visit the Web site, look for boxes hidden near their area and use the clues to find them. When they do, they stamp the logbook in the box with their own personal stamp, take some of the goodies, replace them with other goodies, and re-hide the box.
It seems simple, but it can be quite complex. Some people pride themselves on making their boxes hard to find or on forcing finders to undergo serious hardships to get to their boxes. (I've heard of people hiding them on the sides of cliffs, or underwater.) And the clues given to box-hunters range from the simplest directions (take this road to this park, walk 60 feet north, etc.) to the most cryptic puzzles.
Geocaching is letterboxing's geeky little brother. It's essentially the same thing, except that in lieu of clues or directions, hiders use handheld GPS devices to establish the exact coordinates of their objects, which they then post online for seekers (who also have GPS devices).
To give you a taste of the process, we thought we'd conduct our own letterboxing experiment. (We'd have gone with geocaching, but those GPS units can be pricey.) Last Wednesday, Mike Corrigan and I left work to hide a box for Sheri Boggs. All she had were the following clues and the promise that the box was hidden within a three-mile radius of our downtown Spokane office. She set out to find the box on Thursday, July 7.
The journey of life, they say, is a thousand miles long. That may be so, but what they don't mention is that not everyone makes that journey on flat land. For some, it's all downhill, a journey of a thousand blissfully ignorant skips. But those people are often whelps and weaklings. For the greatest people - the dreamers and schemers, the city-builders and people-movers - life is often filled with obstacles, hills to surmount, and those thousand miles are like rungs on the precipitous ladder to their final resting place.
To reach your final destination, you must keep on the right road. The uphill drive is not always paved and smooth; don't hesitate to take the rougher one. There are signs to mark your way. Cannon. Hillman. Something. Moody.
Just when you think you've reached your just Dessert, look again. There's always another home away in the distance, even if it's the 228th. Walk toward it, and when you reach the path to the door, turn around. There you will find your father. Go to him, and introduce yourself to the loved ones around him, even those who have been estranged. Follow the shining star, and you will find what you've been looking for.
Sheri Boggs Recounts Her Letterboxing Adventure OK. The first few times I read this, I was completely confused. I was expecting at least an initial direction (something like, "Go south two blocks,"). My first guess here is Cannon Hill Park. And god knows getting to the South Hill means crossing terrain (Third Avenue) that is neither paved nor smooth. But none of the rest of it makes sense. Dessert? Moody? 228?
Wait. Father. Father of Spokane? Isn't there a monument to Chief Spokane Garry out at the Greenwood Cemetery? I look at the directions again. Joel mentions the word "thousand" at least twice. And then all the references to "final" and "life." It's gotta be at the cemetery. Even that first paragraph alludes to the way I'd get there - down the hill into Peaceful Valley from The Inlander, then up the hill and to the right onto Government Way. I do a quick Google search for "father of Spokane" and get a lot of hits for James N. Glover. I'll look for him too.
Mike offers to go with me, mostly - I think - to make fun of me as I'm trying to find this thing. I tell him to drive to the cemetery, and off we go until Mike suddenly pulls over and goes "Which cemetery?" Heh. I'd gotten him talking and he was on auto-pilot. If I'd played my cards right, he might have driven me right up to the cache. "Greenwood." I tell him. "Which one is that?" he shrugs, playing dumb.
I make Mike drive up to the terrace level, and we see a new area roped off with some kind of Grecian pillar arrangement inside. Too new. We keep going. Close to the top, another road branches off to the right and it's gravel. Yesssss. Off in the distance, I see the mausoleum-looking thing that sits ominously atop the Thousand Steps. It's all starting to click. By instinct, I glance to the left and there it is - a big granite block emblazoned "Glover." Mike is annoyed because I made us go right and therefore missed a big chunk of the clues that would have prolonged my search. But I'm already out of the car and prowling around "the Father of Spokane" and checking out his loved ones. I sort of poke around in this bush over to the left, but I don't look very hard because it's prickly and I can't see anything in there, anyway. I walk around, start looking for Masonic stars on some of the headstones. After about 15 minutes of this, Mike says, "the word 'estranged' is a big clue." He's right. The bush. A headstone sits halfway under the thorny evergreen and I go back to it and even though I can't see, I plunge my hand inside, feeling around for something that isn't stone or plant.
And suddenly there it is, the slick cellophane of packing tape. I pull out a box -- appropriately wrapped in a copy of The Inlander -- and have to borrow Mike's Swiss Army knife to get the damn thing open. And in the end, the object of my pursuit, is no more than this: a cup or so of Easy Cheese (aka Cheese in a Can) in a box and a little sign that says "Eat Me." Classic. Literary reference (Alice in Wonderland) and editorial immaturity (we thrive on it) all in one handy package.
Joel wanted me to leave the box up there for our readers to find, but quite frankly, it's too gross. Still, if you want to get started letterboxing, check out the official letterboxing site (www.letterboxing.org) or try the MAC's geocaching challenge. They've hidden their own geocache on the museum grounds. If you use your GPS to locate the coordinates N 47 degrees 39.434, W 117 degrees 26.819, you'll locate "The Mapmaker's Eye," with a logbook, David Thompson trivia cards and small trade items. And you'll do so secure in the knowledge that your high-tech scavenger's tool is way funkier than any old fur trapper's sextant.