Letterboxing to the Max

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

On the History Highway, Day 6

HOT SPRINGS, North Carolina— Today we focused on a bit of letterboxing history.  After a restful night at Asheville's hospitable Homewood Suites, we visited Carrier Park to check on our oldest letterbox, Sister's Sixty.  Planted in December, 2008, when we celebrated my sister Jeanne's 60th birthday in Asheville, this is also our busiest letterbox, having logged more than 60 finds.  It was time for us to revisit the box and conduct routine maintenance.

Sister's Sixty was planted on the banks of the French Broad River, concealed about three feet from the ground in a hollow tree next to a tall healthy tree on a walking trail.  As we approached that spot today, we were dismayed to discover that the host tree (to the right of the large tree in the photo) had been hacked down to an 8-inch stump with sucker branches extending from it.


No wonder a find hadn't been reported on the letterbox since October of last year.  I was ready to pack up my disappointment and move on to our next destination, but Ken insisted on scouring the hollow stump, just in case.  And there he found... the letterbox!  Alive and well and in perfect condition, saved by some good samaritan.


Relieved that our historical box was intact, we drove west on I-40 toward a gravel road in the Pisgah National Forest.  We were in search of Max Patch.  Wikipedia will tell you that Max Patch is a bald mountain on the North Carolina-Tennessee border known for its 360° views.  It's a spot well known to Appalachian Trail hikers because the trail was relocated to cross the top of the mountain.

But our quest was for a letterbox named Max Patch.  In the April 1998 issue of Smithsonian magazine, writer Chris Granstrom described the activities of a group of hardy and intrepid British hikers who loved to hide and search for rubber stamps on the stark English moors.  Within weeks, his story, "They Live and Breathe Letterboxing", inspired the beginning of the United States letterboxing movement.

Placed on the mountain on April 26, 1998, by a member of the Sewanee (TN) Orienteering Society, the Max Patch letterbox is widely acknowledged to be the earliest letterbox in the United States.  An estimated 200,000 additional boxes have been planted since then, but none can match the allure of that first box.


Even though the container and the stamp and the logbook have been replaced at various times, Max Patch still beckons to boxers who want to share in this little piece of letterboxing history.  This legendary American original had been on our list for some time, and we figured there was no better time to find it than on this history hunting tour.  And what a thrill that moment gave us.

Now we have our sights set on box #2, planted in Bristol, Vermont, on April 30, 1998.

DAILY STATS:

Started in Asheville, NC; ended in Charlotte, NC
Miles driven:  270
Weather:  63° to 84°, clear to rainy
States today:  1 (NC)
States this year:  12 (only 36 to go!)
Letterboxes found:  2
Hairpin turns on NC-63:  87