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.