Tuesday, December 30, 2008

First Aid

I have been shopping pre-made first-aid kits for my outdoorsman supplies. I looked at military surplus kits, which are fine things, but I think that my favorite is the Web-Tex Small First-aid Kit, available directly from Web-Tex. This company manufactures high-quality personal-purchase goods for the British military, so it is fraught with that degree of Britishness that I seem to need. Or, at the very least, that I like. More later.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Shopping List

There are a few outdoorsy items that I want to add to my immediate collection.

  1. Gloves – As discussed below, a pair of good quality, leather work gloves with a leash-clip fastener to hold them together. Whilst I want leather, I am averse to spending a fortune on these because, as a struggling writer, I really cannot afford to put a fat stack of cash into them. I will be checking at Harbor Freight Tools soon.
  2. A small first-aid kit – Possibly military surplus. Not one of the Nalgene kits, for numerous reasons which I will handle in another post. Just something to address scrapes while in the field.
  3. Flashlight – A good quality tactical flashlight, probably LED, compact enough to be lightweight and readily packable.
  4. Stout Hiking Boots – I love good hiking boots, and I generally despise modern hiking boots. What I am currently wearing are a pair of, I must admit, really nice Teva hiking shoes, but I want something that will lend support to the ankle as well.
  5. Hat – As discussed earlier, I would really like a nice Montana Peak, though that is somewhat cost restrictive. I want something to keep my head warm and to keep the spider webs from accumulating in my hair. Additionally, as spring comes upon us, I would like something for spring and summer other than my Panama. I am thinking of a nice palm.
  6. Knife I have several functional clasp knives. One is a Leatherman Wave multi-tool that I keep in my letterboxing kit, and I take every opportunity to use. (I just love that thing!) I would like to add a nice sheath knife to the kit, however, because when you really want a knife, a good sheath knife is much easier and functional to use.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Something that I understated earlier is the need for a pair of stout work gloves. These need to be lightweight and well fitted for dexterity in tight places, but they need to afford a good degree of protection against brambles, spider and insect bites and oogy stuff. I have a pair of cheap work gloves from OSH, but I am definitely considering something a bit more leathery, though that is purely aesthetic on my part. Additionally, because you will likely not want to wear your gloves all the time and because they tend to take up a pretty substantial amount of pack space, you might want to get a pair that clip together. That way they can be slung from a hook or ring on your pack.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Old Apple Tree

Last Friday we went up to Apple Hill in Camino, California to kill our annual evergreen in honor of the season. As is usual, we got a beautiful tree and, as is unusual, we got it in record time! For reasons that escape me, we did not have to look at every tree on the mountain prior to making our selection.

As a result, after we completed our tree hunt we had time for a letterbox! We chose one of a handful in the Apple Hill area called Old Apple Tree. It was in a beautiful location on Apple Hill, readily findable to even the greenest letterboxer with the help of the information available for free at any of the Apple Hill growers. The stamp is hand carved, and is a beautiful keepsake of your trip to Apple Hill. If the weather gets harsh, this may be a difficult one to find, especially if a layer of snow is covering the ground, but in the absence of inclement weather, it is very straightforward and fun.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

High Times

We lit out for the High Times box today. This is my second attempt – the last time I did not take my beloved wife, which was foolish. I explained my procedure from the last visit to her, and she walked directly to where the box was. I was both embarrassed and proud. One more for the Wandering Walkers!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Brittney and the Treasure Scouts

I will likely be abandoning my letterboxing efforts in the month of November in favor of one of my other favorite activities: NaNoWriMo! It is true, November is National Novel Writing Month, and I will be assailing that mount in earnest this year. In order to keep my letterboxing fix, however, I am using that as a key element in the book. The story includes young Brittney Birch and her younger siblings, Pepper and Bobby Birch. They find a series of clues to a hidden treasure, and, using their compass and clue-solving skills, they find the long lost treasure, though it is not what they expect!

I am really looking forward to this project, and I hope to channel some Nancy Drew in its course.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Another Perk of Having a Voice That Carries. . .

So there we were, after letterboxing earlier in the day, taking a brief sojourn at Le Boutique Target, and I was mentioning to my beloved wife how much fun we were having while in the field earlier that day, when a gentleman down the aisle says, "Did you say 'letterboxing'?" I replied in the affirmative, and he and his wife immediately started telling us how much fun that they had while letterboxing and how they just found their hundredth box! It was one of those chance meetings when you really wish that you had a Personal Traveler with you. It was a really fun chance encounter in any case.

The Year of the Dog

I felt the urge to try out the new leash, so I mentioned to my wife that I was going to take Maggie for a walk. Mrs. suggested that we might head out for a letterbox, so I said, "Sure!" and we were off. I had already printed instructions to The Year of the Dog in El Dorado Hills, California, so that was the direction we headed, and it could not have been a more perfect day for it. Since we were in a rural area, we were able to let little Maggie run off the leash for most of the adventure, which she loved. The box is a nice walk out into some lovely, hilly pasture land, which is probably even more beautiful in the spring, but today it was a lovely autumnal hike. The box itself is just challenging enough to keep it interesting, but my no means a difficult one. The stamp is handmade and very cute, and we are pleased to have that record in our journal now. If you are passing through the El Dorado Hills area, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Folsom Powerhouse

The Wandering Walkers took off on the path of the Folsom Powerhouse box this late afternoon. It promised to be a very simple one, but, as it happened, the terrain had changed significantly, and it proved quite challenging. It was great! We took the intrepid boxhound, Maggie, with us, and we spent an hour evaluating the terrain and searching for likely clues as to its location. We had all but surrendered, when we spotted the hiding place. It was an exhilarating and rewarding afternoon of box-hunting!

We placed our stamps in the log book and put the lovely hand-carved stamp in our own, carefully re-packed the box and returned it to its hiding place, and we took the trek to our automobile. Once home I noticed it – I had forgotten to recover our own logbook! What a sad loss! I plan to return tomorrow to see if it is still there, but my hopes are slim. Ah, well, it gives us a great opportunity to start afresh, but I do hope that it is still there upon our return.

UPDATE: 10/3/2008 We made the morning trek back to the niche where the letterbox was hidden, and there, undisturbed, remained our cherished log book. Though far from full, I am relieved to have it back again.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Walking Sticks

I will admit it. I am a consummate consumer. I love collecting all types of rubbish, and I will part with hard-earned dollars for the purpose of doing so.

That admission made, I have always loved walking sticks. This affection is in part due to the fact that I have battled with gout ever since I was sixteen years of age, and I did not care for the aluminum cane provided by the hospital. For the last several years I have used the blackthorn stick that belonged to my father and his father before him. It is a particularly beautiful example of an Irish blackthorn, and it is one of my most cherished belongings. My particular fondness of that ancient warrior is exactly what led me to this post – I am far too fond of it to risk damaging it in the wild! When in the wilderness, you need to have a stout companion of a stick with you that you are willing to stick into holes and beat up a bit, and grandpa's blackthorn is not the one.

So I went on-line to see what is currently available. After sifting through a bunch of trash, I stumbled upon a site called The Stick Man. The stick man himself, Keith Pickering, is an elegant soul who is very willing to talk you through stick repair, and, further, his sight hosts a stick-making forum! This could be a wicked new obsession for me. I am toying with the idea of buying old knobby cane heads off of eBay and making luscious new walking sticks to go with them!

If only I were rich. . . .

Saturday, September 27, 2008


We all know that a hat is a necessity in the outdoors. It is a bit of common wisdom that most modern folk ignore unless they work in the blazing sun, and then they don't. In fact, I really like hats, from a fashion perspective as well as a functional one. Sadly, Indiana Jones ruined the fedora for most of us. In the summer I still don a good straw hat, either fedora style or, most recently, a lovely Monte Cristi Panama straw, which is handsome and summery. It works well with shorts and a t-shirt or with a blue blazer and white flannels.

But what about autumnal outdoorsy hats? When I was a Scout, I was really perturbed that the Montana Peak had disappeared from Scoutdom many years before. I had photographs of my dear old dad (b. 1913 and a Scout in the early and middle 1920s) wearing breeches and leggings and a Montana Peak, but my Scouting years were somewhat later. I was a Scout in the polyester 1970s - it was all ball caps and sneakers by the time I got there.

Nowadays, with the prevalence of Cowboy Action Shooting and various types of reenacting, there are a wide variety of great quality, authentic Montana Peaks around. What Price Glory carries a couple from different eras, and there are a number of others, such as Dirty Billy's Hats and the Tonto Rim Trading Company. So availability is not an issue. The issue comes down to convincing my darling wife that it is a reasonable expense. When I was shooting in CAS, a few years back, I nearly got one on a couple of occasions, but never quite made the leap. We shall see. . . .

Monday, September 22, 2008

Additional Equipment

Some additional stuff for the letterboxing pack:
  • Work gloves
  • Canteen
  • Stout Walking Stick
Also, I really want to trade my backpack in on a satchel of some sort. Initially I wanted to get an Indiana Jones style satchel as recreated by What Price Glory. It is beautifully done and it appeals to my aesthetics, but it does not compensate for my organizational shortfallings. Currently I am contemplating the Maxpedition Fatboy Versipack if I can find one cheap. The fact that I cannot find these for bargain prices may indicate that are really good, but I am holding out. I may just go back to the Indiana Jones satchel.

UPDATE: Since I was able to find one in Maxpedition's least militaristic color-scheme, the khaki and foliage two-tone, I opted for the Fatboy. The Indy satchel will have to wait for another day! All-in-all, I really think that this is the best choice for the job.

Additionally, I have been carrying one of my most prized possessions whilst letterboxing, my grandfather's Irish blackthorn walking stick. It is the finest example of a blackthorn stick that I have ever seen, and it is a stout and trusty walking companion. The stick that I use for letterboxing, however, will need to be subjected to some minor abuse, and I want to feel comfortable so abusing it, so I think that the blackthorn will go back into reserve for gentler walks, and I will find a replacement for letterboxing purposes. More to come on that later.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Folsom Prison

With the lovely Mrs. Wandering Walker off awandering on her own this week, Maggie, the intrepid Boxhound, and I decided to take on a local orphaned box in her absence. The box is local to us and it is very easy to find, though satisfying for beginners. The instructions are such that I had an excuse to use my compass, though there are no azimuth readings to be done on this adventure. The hiding place is very pretty, and it was a fun twenty minute excursion! Should you be in the neighborhood, I recommend it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Garmin Oregon 400t

I am diverting from my chosen topic of letterboxing for a brief detour into the realm of geocaching. As I mentioned elsewhere, geocaching is a sibling sport to letterboxing, the main difference being that geocaching leverages modern technology in the form of a Global Positioning System (GPS) device rather than the old-fashioned clues and compass readings. Personally, I am an old fashioned kind of guy, and I like old stuff. And compasses. As a result, letterboxing is my outdoor activity of choice. I am also something of a wannabe technoscentus, and I love playing with new tech toys, so I can hardly resist the urge to spend a chunk of change on a GPS unit, if for no other reason but to have it. I would probably use it in the car far more than in the field, but no matter. I want one.

The consensus of the geocaching cognoscenti (I am into my Latin roots today, it seems), one GPS unit is pretty much as good as the next, when it comes to geocaching. There are, of course, slight preferances one way and another for various units. Generally, Garmin is considered the choice for the brand, as the maps are more reliable and the units are, perhaps, of slightly better quality. The Garmin Oregon 400t is considered by many to be the current state of the art for geocachers. This device is a delight. It has all kinds of high-tech features to be found on sundry Garmin instruments, and, perhaps most importantly, it supports Geocaching.com wirelessly! After you have found your geocach of the day, you can immediately move onto your next conquest without getting to your Internet connection and loading the next set of instructions. You may, instead, just have your 400t take care of it for you, and you are on your way!

Ok I will admit, there is a certain possibility that I don't actually need this device, but, I really want one.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Old Boy Scout Compass

To be perfectly honest, if you have one of these lying about the house, you are not only very fortunate to have such a lovely memento of the Scouts, but you have plenty of compass for purposes of letterboxing. Just because of my affinity for all sorts of old stuff, I really love this trinket of the earlier days of Scouting, and have little need for anything else.

The Lensatic Compass

I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I love compasses. This one is, aesthetically, one of my all-time favorites. This is the lensatic compass used by the United States military since the Korean War, and it is essentially unchanged from when it was first issued. The biggest noticeable change is that since September of 1992 it has been manufactured with Tritium markings, making it very readable in the dark.

As I said, aesthetically speaking, this is one of my all-time favorite compasses. It is, however, difficult to read and temperamental. When sighting, three different users will produce three different azimuth readings. Also, as a letterboxer, it is far more compass than you will ever need.

The main reason I include this compass in this little list is because they are available as used military surplus for very modest prices. Be wary, however, as there are many inferior replicas of this compass, so be certain that you are getting genuine military surplus.The current U.S. manufacturer is Cammenga, and they are stellar. I like old stuff, and will usually give old stuff the benefit of the doubt, but, in this case, you cannot do better than the current issue. Previously they were made by Stocker & Yale, Jay Bee Corp., Union Instrament Corp., Waltham Precision Instraments, Marine Compass Company and Lee and Stemwedel Inc. Though available inexpensively, the genuine article will rarely be cheaper than the Suunto baseplate model discussed below, and, for purposes of letterboxing, that is a much better choice. This one does look cool though. . . .

Suunto A-10 Partner II Baseplate Compass

Much like the Suunto MC-2G discussed below, the little A-10 Partner II compass is a beautifully finished piece of industrial art. Unlike the $75 price tag on the MC-2G, this little baseplate model can be had through The Compass Store (my favorite new place to window shop) for just about $11. In this day and age, I cannot imagine a better value. This is a simple and well made unit. It has a very modern ergonomic baseplate with a 1:24,000 map scale, a fixed declination correction scale and a snap-lock lanyard that allows easy separation of the compass. For the money, in my humble opinion, you cannot get a better compass for purposes of letterboxing or teaching your kids about how to use a compass.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Suunto MC-2G Global Compass

As I mentioned earlier, I am vastly over-compassed for purposes of letterboxing. I sent an email to the good folks at The Compass Store and asked for a reasonable successor to the orienteering compass I favored thirty years ago, a sighting compass made by Silva. At the time, the Silva was considered to be about the best there was. In order to get better you had to get a Brunton pocket transet, which was restrictively expensive even in that era.

In researching compasses online, however, I found that the current breed of Silvas are not well received by users. Though some orienteers still use sighting compasses of the traditional variety, thumb compasses have come to dominate that game as it has become more of a running game, and less of a hiking-in-the-country sort of game. Among those who do use sighting compasses, the Silvas are generally considered inferior, many recommending that you track down an older Silva, even from a few years past.

So I asked the Compass Store folks about a first-class sighting compass that would not cost me an arm and a leg, and a week later my Suunto arrived. It is art. Usable in both hemispheres, I can go letterboxing in New Zealand or Antarctica, I suppose, should I ever be so inclined. Naturally, the declination is manually adjustable, though, for purposes of letterboxing, magnetic direction is normally used.

I cannot wait to get lost with a good topigraphical map now!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Friday, August 29, 2008

Monkey Business

Yesterday we decided to track down our first letterbox. There are several hidden near us, so we opted for what appeared to be a straightforward box as our first experiment.

We packed the equipment and snacks. We forsook a full-fledged lunch, as it appeared to be a pretty short jaunt, though we did take a bottle of water. We loaded the equipment into a day pack, I found my trusty blackthorn stick and we packed the
letterboxers and the intrepid Dartmoor Boxhound into the Kia Sportage and headed off to the trail head. We found the start point with ease, and parked in the shade. Maggie was already on the scent of the box.

We followed the first two instructions like scouts, but after that things got foggy. We proceeded on a lovely mile-and-a-half long nature walk in Folsom, trying to spot which "two oak trees" were growing right next to each other, but we couldn't decide which two they were! Eventually we wandered into a children's play park, and we took advantage of a shady bench for a swig of water and to re-evaluate our instructions. Maggie was looking exhausted, and needed to rest. We opted to back-track, keeping a particular eye out for rock clusters this time.

We were nearly back to the
trail head when it paid off! Jennifer and Maggie spotted a couple of rock groupings, and, lo and behold, one of them was home to the Monkey Business box! We were very excited. We stamped the cute monkey stamp in our journal, and we put our monogram into the Monkey Business journal, dated it and noted that it was our first adventure! What fun! We can hardly wait for our next adventure!

My New Thing

I discovered the activity of letterboxing recently whilst researching an article, and it sounded like loads of fun. It is an excuse to get out in the country and take long and restorative walks with your faithful hound leading the way. Unlike letterboxing's sibling activity, geocaching, which will likely be my next step, the equipment required for letterboxing is minimal and inexpensive, though some additional general purpose "outdoor" equipment may well come in handy on occasion.

In order to start letterboxing, you need to have:

  • A trail name. Mine is shared with me by my wife Jennifer and my puppy, Maggie the intrepid Dartmoor Boxhound. We are The Wandering Walkers!
  • A personal rubber stamp. Ours is a floral monogram, integrating my wife's initials and my own. It was made by a rubber stamp company that does beautiful work, but many, if not most, letterboxers make their own. Rubber-stamp making seems to be a significant sub-hobby of letterboxing. It is something to do on those stormy winter nights while you are waiting for your next round of letterboxing! Also, wise advice, carry your own stamp pad. Letterboxes, especially the more remote ones, will likely have dry stamp pads.
  • A writing implement. I carry a couple of good quality gel pens, but I also take a fountain pen along for photo ops. The pen is to sign and date your stamp as well as for leaving notes in the host stamp book and your own.
  • A personal log book. This is a blank journal of some sort in which you put the host stamps. It becomes a record of all the letterboxes you have visited. The page paper should be acid-free for the sake of longevity and it should be fairly robust so it can take the wet ink of ink-pads. I picked up a cute little leather journal, quite picturesque, but the paper is inferior to what I would prefer.
  • A compass. I am way over-compassed at this point, because, as a former orienteer, I love good compasses. Mine is a Suunto MC-2 Global compass, usable in both northern and southern hemispheres! What you actually may need on some letterboxes is a simple baseplate compass, such as the Suunto A-10 Partner II, available for about $10.95 on line. That is a terrific little compass, and I may well add it to my collection. The compass is optional, as many letterbox clues do not require it, but if the clue invokes an azimuth reading, you cannot get away without it.
  • A computer, Internet access and a printer to access the thousands of letterbox clues available on-line.With this kit, you are ready to take on the game!

Wife, puppy and I found our first letterbox yesterday, and we are hooked! I will report back on that adventure later.