Exchanges, Exhaustion and Exhilaration

Sunday, June 17, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CARTERSVILLE, Georgia —In its ninth year, the annual Letterboxing Southeast event (LbSE) took a radical turn this year.  Instead of its traditional Stone Mountain location, the 2012 gathering was relocated to Red Top Mountain State Park in Cartersville.  And rather than Memorial Day weekend, it would be in mid-June.  Having missed the event the previous two years because we were traveling, we eagerly signed up and rented a cottage in the park for the weekend, hoping some of our letterboxing relatives could join us. After a variety of scenarios were considered and rejected due to conflicts with other activities, it was at last decided that cousin Alison and her daughter Kendyll could come to Georgia for a weekend of hiking and boxing.

Like about 100 other letterboxers, the four of us showed up Saturday morning at the event pavilion in the park to collect copies of the excellent clue packages prepared for the event.  In the previous weeks and months, organizers Eidolon, Artemis and T Rex had collected dozens of stamps from a plethora of carvers.  Then they spent countless hours over many weeks scouting for places, putting boxes together, and planting more than 70 new letterboxes on the 15+ miles of trails in this lakeside park.

Kendyll, Ken and Alison ready to search
After examining our color-coordinated clue sets, we decided to begin with the Iron Hill Trail.  A four-mile, mostly level loop, we estimated it would take about 4.5 hours to find the 15 new letterboxes, plus three older boxes, that awaited us on the trail.  Along the way, we met up with congenial Huntsville letterboxers Knotty Lady and ST-Ranger and enjoyed boxing with them for a while.

ST-Ranger and Knotty Lady
Even though there were so many letterboxers in the park on the trails, we saw only one other group on this trail.  With some trial and error on a few boxes and a couple of surprises along the way, we finished the Iron Hill Trail in about five hours with some 20 new finds.  By this time it was mid-afternoon and we were more than ready for the picnic lunches we had packed.

Lunch and exchanging at the pavilion (photo by T Rex)
While we refueled our famished bodies, we visited with other letterboxers who were also lunching late, picking up quite a few exchanges as we socialized.  Gatherings are always a great opportunity to put faces to the trail names we see in logbooks while we're boxing.  We met a few very active new boxers and renewed acquaintance and finally exchanged with others we had actually met before.  By the time we finished, the sun was moving toward the horizon, so we decided to go with the nine boxes on the 0.75 mile Visitor Center Loop Trail and a couple of drive-bys to finish the day.

Stamping in
By the time we started this last trail, Kendyll, who is unaccustomed to hiking, had developed blisters on both her heels.  We offered to skip the trail but, without a whimper of complaint, she insisted that we forge ahead.  A little after 6 p.m., we finally left the park with 31 new finds in our logbooks and ready for some dinner.  The nearby Chili's provided just the sustenance we needed before we headed back to the hotel for showers and rest.  (Yes, the hotel.  The cottage we had rented in Georgia's Red Top Mountain State Park had not received nearly the attention it needed from the housekeeping staff.  When we opened the kitchen cabinets and saw bugs scurrying, we obtained a refund and moved to a hotel.)

Re-energized and with some better socks and bandaids on Kendyll's blisters, we headed to the park Sunday morning for day 2 of our letterboxing marathon.  There were still some 40 boxes left, but we had no chance of finding them all since Alison and Kendyll needed to head back to Tennessee by early afternoon.  Here are the options we had:
               Homestead Trail - 5.5 miles, 23 boxes
               Sweetgum Trail - 3.5 miles, 13 boxes
               Lakeside Trail - 0.75 miles, 2 boxes
               White Tail Trail - 0.5 miles, 3 boxes
We immediately eliminated the shorter trails since we wanted to challenge ourselves to find as many boxes as we could.  In studying the trail map trying to make a choice between the Homestead and Sweetgum trails, Alison conceived a brilliant plan and we all agreed.

Part of the Red Top Trails (Sweetgum in red, Homestead in yellow)
With a careful reading of the box clues and a bit of teaming with a partner to follow some clues backwards and others forward, we followed Alison's approach and were able to find all 13 of the boxes on the red Sweetgum Trail plus six of the boxes on the parts of the yellow Homestead Trail that ran concurrently or near the red trail.  What an ingenious strategy!  If I hadn't confused the order of some of the boxes, we would have probably had about three more.

Stamping into another box
The combined trails we hiked and boxed on Sunday amounted to about five miles by the time we added in our stopping and turning back and revisiting a few spots.  And Kendyll still hadn't complained about the pain she must have been suffering from those darn blisters.  We all admired her perseverance and endurance.

The trails on Sunday were quite different from the relatively flat trails of Saturday.  There were numerous hills to climb and descend as the trail wound along through repeated elevation changes.  Thankfully, the weather on both days was a temperate mid-80s with only moderate humidity.  We ran into a few boxers on the trails today who were also back for a second day.

Very different from the sometimes frenetic haphazard Stone Mountain events, this year's LbSE was a highly organized weekend of letterboxing and socializing.  Alison and Kendyll were terrific boxing partners, and the four of us pushed each other to accomplish more than we could have individually.  With a final count of 50 boxes on 10 miles of trails for the two days, we all breathed a sigh of relief and headed home.  Till next time.

More Photos from Red Top Mountain

Those darn blisters!
Climbing yet another hill off trail to get the box