A couple weeks ago, I wrote a story about letterboxing, an activity that involves searching for containers called letterboxes in public places, such as trail networks and libraries, parks and historic sites. It’s a game that gets you exploring, and it also involves a little bit of creativity. As I learned more about the game, I realized that while I was enthusiastic to write about it, I also wanted to participate.
Luckily, getting into letterboxing is easy and inexpensive. It’s a simple game. Using written clues, participants — or “letterboxers” — find letterboxes, which are just containers, often tucked away, out of sight. Inside each letterbox is a rubber stamp and a logbook. On the flip side, each letterboxer carries a personal rubber stamp, logbook, ink pad and pen. Then, upon discovery of a letterbox, stamps and messages are exchanged using the stamps, ink pad and pen.
More specifically, the letterboxer takes her stamp, presses it in their ink pad and leaves an imprint on the letterbox logbook, along with the date, a short message and the letterboxer’s “trail name,” or nickname. And in return, the letterboxer takes the letterbox stamp, presses it in their ink pad and leaves an imprint on their own personal logbook, along with the date and perhaps a few notes about the adventure, as a record of finding the letterbox.
So for materials, I needed a stamp, a logbook and a trail name. I also needed a way to find letterbox clues, and nowadays, the easiest way to do that is online. After talking to multiple letterboxers in the area, I learned that one of the most popular letterboxing websites is atlasquest.com, where you can create a free profile, message other letterboxers and record your accomplishments or “finds.”
Creating a profile was easy, though it did take me a few minutes to think up a trail name. In the end, I decided on “Jumping Spider” because I think jumping spiders are cool and I was fairly sure I could carve a spider stamp.
Now, I know it’s kind of strange to “like” spiders. Most people don’t. In fact, I used to be very afraid of spiders. But a few years ago, I resolved to get over my irrational fear and started photographing spiders with a macro-lens, and it really has helped me overcome my fear. In the process, I learned that jumping spiders are the most photogenic type of spider. Two of their eight eyes are big and positioned right at the front of their head, like big goggles. They’re also nice and small (in Maine, at least), and they tilt from side to side in a humorous — dare I say “cute” — fashion when examining something.
Carving a stamp isn’t hard, but it also isn’t easy. My jumping spider stamp isn’t exactly a masterpiece, but I think it’s pretty darn cute. Following the advice of an experienced letterboxer, I cut out the rubber so the stamp measured no bigger than 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/2 inches. She suggested the small size because some letterbox logbooks are rather small, and it can be frustrating not to be able to use your entire stamp on the pages.
After creating my stamp, I visited my first letterboxing destination, the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland and easily found the two letterboxes closest to the south gate of the Hothole Valley Parcel. The clues for the letterboxes were available in a brochure right at the gate, so there was no need for me to print them out from the internet. However, going forward, I’ll usually have to print off clues before embarking on letterbox hunts.
One thing I enjoy about letterboxing is that, unlike geocaching, it doesn’t usually require the use of a GPS or any electric device whatsoever. The written clues often just describe, in words, the location of the letterbox. Some clues are written in riddles or as poems. But there are rarely GPS coordinates involved, and I’m not great with numbers, so that’s a plus for me.
Another thing I enjoy about letterboxing is that the letterboxes have to be at least big enough to contain a stamp and logbook. In geocaching, on the other hand, the caches can be very small, almost impossible to find, and that tends to frustrate me.
And the thing that really got me hooked on letterboxing is the creative aspect of it. In the logbook, people share imprints from their personal stamps, many of which are hand-carved, as well as stories and other forms of writing, such as haikus.
Now I invite you to join me on atlasquest.com if you think letterboxing might be a fun activity for you. (And no, I’m not being sponsored by them). It’s free, and you’d be amazed how many letterboxes there are throughout Maine — or in Bangor alone! If you do try out letterboxing, give me a shout and let me know what you think. Though my trail name is Jumping Spider, I promise I don’t bite.