Bios (In their own words)
Don: 65, overweight and bald. In 1972 Gwen and I purchased a small (14 employees) security guard and patrol company that we operated. It grew over the years, and then it was time to sell in 2001. We still receive phone calls occasionally from some of our old clients whining that we sold, so we must have done something okay in service to them. As far as notable investigations, unfortunately most of them were pretty confidential, but I did work for the National Inquirer shortly after the JFK assassination. My task was locating several possible witnesses who had relocated from Texas to California. Usually most investigations are pretty mundane, but if there have been anything horrendous occur, it was my job to try figure out why and produce evidence that I had found. So while a TV PI is always in the middle of the action, usually I was far behind trying to figure out what happened and why.
Hobbies: Bird hunting with our two Brittany’s Maggie and Lucy, Clay Target Shooting, Shotgun Shooting instruction particularly for kids and others who have had no experience, White water boating and of course Letterboxing.
As I get older I no longer have the desire to run those class 5 rapids and I’m just as happy to be on any river that is not that severe. Occasionally I can get talked into doing a roadside class 5 section of the Kern River, but that has to be done with some of my old rafting buddies I trust.
Since I figured you might send us a follow up question about the rivers we have run, I tried to compile a list. The list was about 30 rivers long, which is way too many to list. My favorite one? The next one!
Gwen’s story: My life is about family, friends and water. Don and I went to same high school (class of ’60) in Long Beach, Ca. but didn’t know each other. We found each other through mutual friends a bit later. We married at 21, and had our kids while in our early-mid 20’s so we grew up with our kids. After starting college in 1960 I finally graduated from Cal State Long Beach in ’73 (Anthro). I “discovered” the outdoors via white water rafting. Don took an intense weekend of lessons; we honed our skills and sought out others with similar interests. We bought boats, gear and a weekend place in Kernville. We started when our kids were 10 and 14. It was a healthy addiction for over 25 years. We spent summer vacation time rafting rivers all over the west (and beyond) and on weekends we boated the Kern River.
In the early 70’s we bought an older wood sailboat. Don knew how to sail and thought he would teach me. While tacking, I managed to hit a seawall slightly and Don not so gently suggested that I take lessons. What a concept. I joined an-going sailing class that changed my life. I learned a skill that developed confidence, and forged friendships. I got an 8 ft. Sabot (a boat invented by a Long Beach sailor) and I sailed in regattas along the So. Cal. Coast. Then I joined a Thursday evening sailing group in Long Beach and concentrated on competing with older folks like me. When we moved to Kernville, I gave my boat to our son for his boys. As the 1990’s were ending, many of my sailing friends moved, died, got to old to sail or developed other interests. I got a smooth water kayak and became a solitary kayaker. I then could enjoy the bay in Long Beach and even go places I could not take the sailboat. So I transitioned into kayaking as sailing time diminished. Now on trailer trips, the yellow kayak is my trusty companion.
Besides letterboxing, which our kids also enjoy, I quilt, read, garden, and love music (current favorites: Diana Krall and Steve Tyrel). Did I mention the 3 lovable little boys and 1 sweet princess who make up the grandchild group? They are heavenly little ones for us to love.
Retirement has been fun, so many opportunities to see projects come to fruition, learn more about our country and to visit some historical sights. It just gets better and better and to borrow a phrase from the Rain Man, Don is an excellent driver!
Interviewers Note: Last June, Sue & I took a trip to Camp Funhog with Deanne and Dave. While there, we managed to get to know this lovely couple. Gwennie is just a joy - the epitome of what everyone would want in a mother. And Don (DJ) is a crusty old character on the outside but a warm and fun guy inside. It was our pleasure to not only spend some time with them but to include them as great boxing friends. We're both pleased and honored to present you with this intimate look at some CA boxing pioneers!
We usually begin by asking when and where you first heard about letterboxing. At that time, were there many boxes in your area of Kernville, CA? If not, how far did you have to travel to hunt Tupperware?
Gwen: When I read an article about letterboxing I had the same feeling of intense delight as when I first heard about white water rafting; I want to do that! There were no boxes in Kernville and probably not any for several hundred miles. In the Long Beach area though, we found one in Palos Verdes (about 15 miles from us). We took friends with us to the second box, Circle X and hoped to get them involved but it didn’t “take” with them. The Circle X box was bout 45 miles from Long Beach and was almost an all day event.
Don: Gwen read an article in the Rotarian magazine sometime in November 2000. At that time we had a weekender cabin in Kernville, but we lived in Long Beach where we both grew up. Our job was running a 24/7 security service business and it was very difficult to get away from it both physically and mentally. So when she read about Letterboxing I remember just saying something like “Lets go”. I carved a very crude stamp from an eraser using a sharpened letter opener and that next weekend, 12/2/2000, went to find Wendy Gault’s “Enchanted Trail View Palos Verdes”. We were so thrilled and excited, even though we had to make several trips back to that box to find the bonus box clues located at the end of the logbook.
At that time there was only 14 letterboxes listed in California and our second found letterbox was Circle X Ranch in the Thousand Oaks area which was the first letterbox planted in CA, by Lonewolf (one of the original organizers). We adopted the Circle X box when Lonewolf dropped out of letterboxing.
Shortly after our first two finds we became planters and started our planting in the Kernville, and Long Beach areas since we would have to drive for two to three hours for our next finds.
We often hear the term “plant and they will come.” What does that mean to you and can you tell us how you implanted that phrase?
Gwen: As we all know letterboxing is about visiting places, some quite sensational, some ho hum and lots in between. Our 3rd found box was planted in the Santa Monica Mountains, (almost at the Ventura border) and a long way from Long Beach. The box was planted in Aug 1999 and we visited it in Jan. 2001. I guess at that time many boxes were placed on peaks. We are not big time hikers but we read the clues and felt we could do “some distance” to the box. It was about 2 miles UP. The trail was good, the views amazingly beautiful, (ocean, mountains and canyons) but we were so tired. Don hiked to the actual Magu Peak so he could get the compass reading. I waited at lower level and joined him when he found the box. Such elation! We were first finders! So someone planted that box and we came. We certainly would not have visited that spot on our own for a day’s outing. To me and also to so many other boxers, the very thought that someone took the time and trouble to plant a box for a fellow boxer is reason enough to seek it. It’s like opening up a present. Plant and they will come is a great catch phrase and is true. The area around our little mountain town of Kernville has lots of boxes now and folks come to letterbox where before most boxers had not even heard of our little valley.
Don: Since there were no boxes in our areas, both Long Beach and Kernville, I remember getting a bunch of encouragement from Jay (Jay Drew) and I believe he kept telling us to keep planting and they will come. One thing Jay did that was pretty cool, he was a web master that was transplanted from California and when ever we would send him a clue he would post it very quickly. We kept him pretty busy. In those days you couldn’t post the clue yourself, but sent them in via the LbNA chatlist or directly and each web master had several states to keep up on. So that made for a heck of a lot of work for the webmasters.
Any way there was a long time where we had many more plants than finds and it seemed like an eternity before we got our first note from a finder. I think it was nearly a year before someone found one of our letterboxes. So we kept planting and yes they did come.
Now when some folks write on the chatlists that they don’t have any boxes within 50 miles of where they live, I just chuckle to myself and think, “Gee, just think of all of the planting possibilities”.
How have you seen letterboxing change from those early days to now – both positive and negative?
Gwen: Letterboxing has lots more communication now than in the “old” days. I see that as a positive because we get to “talk” to fellow players. Meeting other boxers has enlarged our circle of friends. If there is a negative I suppose it would be the loss of boxes when there is a huge flood of new, unconditioned, less stealthy boxers who take up the game after reading a magazine or newspaper article. Often boxes go missing or get left on a bench or not closed properly. While the loss of boxes is sad, I guess it is part of our game’s growth process. The game would not have grown without the publications. Boxers get better by planting their own creations and writing clues and then they have a stake in the continuation of the process. I like to believe new boxers hide other folks’ boxes better after awhile because they want theirs treated with the same respect.
Don: In the early days the spots where letterboxes were planted were seemingly a bit neater. You could expect that when you went to find a box that the location was very special. There was no expectation that the box was there and there were no listings of prior attempts, ratings of boxes or anything that came close to what is currently the fad. When you found a box it seemed a bit more special because the location itself was special and the surprise was to find it. Now some folks want to have every box there and never want to accept disappointment and they want to rate boxes, list all the attempts, list what type of stamp and even have a day to have multiple plantings and have some sort of a guarantee that the box is there. There are some that try to see how many boxes they can find in a day or weekend, and never really enjoy each gift the planter has given them.
When we plant we believe we are giving a gift to the finder and take them to a neat spot, historical place or event, or some other significant reason. That isn’t to say we haven’t had some pretty stupid reasons to plant a box, but for the most part there usually is some method to our madness.
Our first plant “Anniversary Western Divide” letterbox is at one of those really great spots that aren’t marked on a map, there is no signage, and even the local Forest Service office isn’t clued in to this place. We planted it on our anniversary, and this is where our daughter was proposed to. I bet Silent Doug still has it toward the top of his list. This box has probably been found by less than 5 letterboxers that have enjoyed the cavern/grotto behind the waterfall.
The major positive change would be the quality of the handmade stamps. I know my carving has improved drastically, and I have graduated from using a sharpened letter opener.
When you first started letterboxing, who were the principals in the game? Have you had the opportunity to meet and exchange with any of them?
Gwen: I recall meeting Amanda from Seattle and Wendy Gault in March of ’02. Both gals had wonderful logbooks and stamps and I was so impressed with their creative powers. We had a nice visit and exchange but at the same time I expect there was some trepidation on the 2 gal’s part meeting up with “folks you had only known from the Internet”. Ryan Carpenter was a big surprise to me when we met in Kernville. We knew from his posts, his clues and travels that he was a hiker-dude. I had created a Marine persona, 6 ft. 6, fully buffed out, and a type of guy who could lift a vehicle if he had to. It was a real knock out to see the slightly built, quiet and deep thinker of the guy that is the real Ryan. No wonder Amanda finds him so adorable. In later years we have had the pleasure of attending a few gatherings and meeting other folks who ventured to our trailer or have come to Kernville: Buzzard, Lee and Nancy, Grumpy Grinches, Sierra Sally, Princess Lea, Double Saj and Old Blue. There are so many really nice people involved in letterboxing!
Don: Jay Drew was one of our first mentors. I also remember receiving a note from Randy Hall. When I thought because the letterbox was so small it would be too hard to put a logbook inside Randy went way out of his way to explain all of the reasons why a logbook, no matter how small, was necessary. That small letterbox is still around with its very small logbook.
We came in during what I would call the “Second Wave”. About the same time that Funhog, Adventure Seeker, Ryan and Amanda popped into the game.
California had its first gathering at Joe Josts Bar in Long Beach, with Amanda, Wendy, Gwen and Don on 3/26/2002.
Silent Doug, Wanda and Pete and others have stayed with us in Kernville and have spent some time with you and Sue at Camp Funhog. On our trailer travels we generally try to meet up with other letterboxers and have had one on one meets with Adventure seeker, Clio Mouse, Der Mad Stamper and Maiden. Our Kernville Gathering included about 14 letterboxers and that was fun as it gave everyone time to talk and get to know their fellow letterboxer.
We were at the first Idaho Gathering with Cadenza and A Bear at our trailer. Two years ago I met A Bear, J Bear, Cadenza and ArtTrekker in Markleeville Ca. and though ArtTrekker had to stay back, the rest of us did the first ever “all letterboxing” White Water trip down the East Fork of the Carson River.
The folks before us were the real visionaries. When we started letterboxing I went to the archives on the main LbNA chat list and read all that I could. I’m sure that there were many interesting posts that have been deleted or left out, but the information that is still there is truly incredible. To see where we have come from and where it all started is amazing, particularly with the concept of “no rules”. Keeping something going like this without hard and fast written guidelines is a credit to our founders, and to all of those that want to see the game stay true to the early ideals. I hesitate to name all that I remember as folks reading this should take the archive trip for themselves.
How many planted boxes do you have at present? Is there one in that large body of work that is your favorite box and why?
Gwen: Early on I kept track of our boxes as a sleep inducing devise. By the time I had recalled the 20 or so boxes we planted, I had nodded out but that is not possible now. We go through big planting times then, go fallow for a bit until the next wave of creativity and opportunity hits.
One of my early favorites was a box we planted on Santa Cruz Island above Pelican Bay. Don had carved a pig, as we knew there were wild pigs on the island. We were staying with friends on their boat and were anchored in the bay. We took the dingy ashore to scope out potential spots. Up a slight hill, we saw an incredible site. Over the past 80 + years, visitors to the island had carved the name of their boat and the year of the visit on a very old tree. The entire tree was literally a log of visitors. We hid our little pig in a hole in the tree. We knew there would not be many (if any) letterbox-sailors as visitors but the spot was key to us. We joined with the other written visitors’ stories of one California’s channel islands. Later we were notified that the National Park Service had picked up that box and others that were planted on the islands. We had masked the clues, so we thought. We wonder what the NPS did about all those names and dates on that old tree!
Another favorite box was one we planted 2 years ago in the borders area of Scotland. We visited the “oldest occupied house” (so we were told) in Scotland, Traquair House. After touring the house, we found a spot for a box in the Woodland Garden. I think the stamp is special due to the historic location.
Don: We have planted 252 letterboxes not counting some specialty boxes (Hog Heaven) and other gifts, but we have only about 190 still viable as we delete those that are missing and particularly those we know we will not be replanting. I realize that many folks only retire their letterboxes but we delete as maintaining counts can be done very nicely in one’s logbook rather than having a count online.
Concerning favorites: As far as location is concerned I would say our first letterbox, but there are a few others that have some of my better carvings such as Jackson’s Big Elk in Wy., Lewis and Clark Caverns, Sacajewea’s Brother in Mt. Then there are some of those surprise stamps. I say surprises, as many times the stamp image isn’t what one would expect at some of our boxes, and those will remain nameless for this interview.
The Hog Heaven Theme Park was a hoot to set up and plant.
Don – you are very active on our Newboxers talk list. Your patience amazes us and we appreciate all that you do there. Why do you feel so committed to the newbies?
Don: There was a time on the main LbNA list when all of the repetitious questions were getting pretty negative answers and some folks were dispensing some pretty poor advice such as putting home phone numbers and other personal info in letterboxes or in clues. Not only was bad advice being dispensed but many new folks unsubscribed from the main list due to the negativity.
With my background in security and investigation I have had opportunities to see some really bad things happen to folks when too much information was obtained about them. A friend and fellow investigator obtained the home address from a license plate for a client that resulted in ending Rebecca Schaeffer’s life and while DMV info was pretty easy to obtain in those days, he had to live with his seemingly innocent service to a client. That changed DMV access drastically here in California and probably most other states as well.
Letterboxing is a great hobby/game/pastime and with all of the ways one can play there is absolutely no reason not to play safely, but that way sometimes needs reinforcement. Most folks, thank goodness, never see some of the worst of society, but I have seen my share and just wish to keep that worst side out of letterboxing. Plus many times it (Newboxers list) forces me to play nice.
From a selfish point of view I think that education for many new letterboxers is something that is needed. Not everyone gets into the sneakiness needed on many boxes and if folks aren’t schooled on that aspect of letterboxing then some letterboxes go missing through carelessness.
I use the Time Magazine article as a good example. During the first week after the article was published we lost 10% of our letterboxes (15). I realize that could be due to several factors, but we hadn’t lost but two letterboxes in the previous 6 months. So be it selfishness or giving back to letterboxing I see a need for some time spent trying to bring some new folks up to speed. I see it as good use for some of my time.
Do you still count your finds? If so, would you share that number with us? What is the most unique box and, as long as it doesn’t serve as a spoiler, why is it unique?
Gwen: At the end of a trailer trip I tell Don how many stamp images we have accumulated.
I don’t have favorites but my special memories of boxes tend to be those that involve a hunt through a pretty place, Funhog’s Oregon boxes placed near waterfalls or along the coast come to mind. ArtTrekker’s (from Lake Tahoe) carved images are so intricate. She has such talent and then she finds really cool locations to hide her stamps. We hunted for another planter’s box one year along Oregon coast and couldn’t find it. Don got spooked by the trail’s proximity to the cliff edge and went back to the truck with the dogs and waited. I trudged on and finally returned empty handed. Then in ‘06 we were in the same area so took the hike again and really followed the clues – Duh- seeing more landmarks and found the box. Elation! The hike was just long enough for us, the ocean view grand, and the weather was fine and we were rewarded for efforts. Everything combined for a good hunt. The stamp image was not that special, but the placer had found a wonderful location for her stamp and that is the unique feature for me.
Don: We are somewhere around 650.
I guess the most special stamp we have an image on is Wanda and Pete’s “Little Oscar”, or as they call it…The LALA. It is special because it is their personal “Thank You” to some prolific planters.
Security is not only a pet letterboxing cause whose mantel you’ve taken up, but it’s your former career. What do you think are the key items that boxers should know relative to their security before and during their time out on the trails?
Gwen: Be aware of your surroundings and maintain vigilance. Are we likely to encounter bears or cougars? What are weather conditions? We don’t go boxing late in the day. I would not go on a trail alone although there are many boxers who do and have had no problems. This may sound drastic, but I don’t mind Don carrying a gun on isolated country trails. I know that is not even an option for some folks so I guess it is comfort level thing.
Don: Post a link to my two security articles as I think that covers most information sufficiently.
Sue & I love to travel and we know that you two have the bug. In a recent email, Don mentioned your December trip to the Galapagos. Tell us your impressions and memories of that trip and how it changed your lives?
Gwen: Actually we booked in Dec. for an early March trip. Not much lead-time but I was antsy to go! Yes, I admit I wanted it NOW! The abundance and fearlessness of the variety of birds and the enormous land tortoises and the ugly but appealing land and marine iguanas and other animals were exciting to see, but I think the organization of the folks in control of the islands have to be commended. Eighty-seven thousand people visit the islands a year and every one of those visitors has to be educated before taking a step on an island. Except for a few small towns the islands are a national park including the waters off shore, and if it weren’t for the dedicated guides, tour operators, boat captains, the local government and the country of Ecuador the pristine nature of the islands would be compromised. The Galapagos are a world treasure and it took lots of foresight to see the potential for tourism and yet walk the fine line of not degrading the very things you want to show visitors. I’ve never been in such a tightly structured situation yet felt so grateful for the opportunity to have seen what we did. Being on a nicely appointed cruise ship during our off island times where I did not have to cook, clean or plan anything didn’t hurt either!
Don: The Galapagos was a Gwennie trip initially but once there it was something to see all of those critters up so close. I just couldn’t find anyone that was cooking up some turtle soup.
I have seen many TV programs showing all of the birds and other critters and always felt that with the advancements in camera lenses that the photographers were at a distance. The most mind blowing thing was seeing the birds and critters up close, and I do mean up close because you had to watch where you stepped.
I think this is one place where written descriptions, videos, and photographs just cannot tell the story. It has to be experienced.
We had a couple of days in Quito so took an opportunity to leave a letterbox directly on the equator.
What are some of the other locations on your future short travel list?
Gwen: Gosh, after seeing the Galapagos it was hard to think of another place I wanted to go but I’ve been considering Belize, more England, maybe Greece. The big question is: Will Don want to go? Your Cruise sounds just about perfect too! I like the idea of traveling with other folks but so far our agenda doesn’t mesh with our other retired friends’ plans.
There is still so much we have not seen in the U.S. I think we will have to add another M in our vacation plans and that is motoring. We have done 4 summer long trailer trips so pulling our little trailer and seeing our lovely country accompanied by the beloved dogs will be a definite travel do as the years go by. By July we will be invading Oregon again, so we are looking forward to meeting more boxers and seeing perhaps a certain Hog.
Don: I’m heading back to Argentina in November with some of my hunting buddies and fellow shooting instructors. That is going to be strictly a “guys” trip. Last time in Argentina I was trying to figure where I could plant a letterbox, but the area where we were really wasn’t very pretty. It was mainly farmland so there will still be no Don and Gwen letterbox in Argentina. I would like to revisit Spain and do some more “Driven Shoots”. I was there in 2001 and really loved the area. I don’t think I could get away with it being a “guys” trip though.
You seem to, like a certain pinecone pair, leave boxes in your wake as you travel around the country. Do you feel, like some have said in the past, that you are leaving orphaned boxes that will not get the care they need?
Gwen: I don’t worry about those lonely babies anymore. We have been blessed with comments from fellow boxers who tell us the condition of many of our far away boxes. If we feel we had a good box placement in a special place for a now come up missing box Don will often carve a replacement and we will mail it to a boxer in the area so the cool location can be retained. Sometimes our far away box locations can’t be salvaged so we just let it go. Maybe the location has been compromised due to weather or there are “spoilers” in the area.
Don: Some of my best carves are left in our wake. I think seeding an area like many of us do is a good thing. If an area has no boxes or very few then if you plant a few and a local stumbles upon letterboxing then that will give them something to go and find. If that local didn’t have any boxes to find then they may never get interested. With the “Contact the Placer” function at LbNA and Atlas Quest easy mail, we are able to stay on top of our clues and if a box goes missing then many times the boxer that notified us will ask if we want to send a replacement stamp and they will rehide.
There have been a few times when Newboxers have sent us a “could not find” report, and we have learned not to necessarily pull clues to those boxes. I remember one where we had received 3 reports, figured the box was missing, pulled clues, only to have Azroadie tell us the box was fine. Now, we really like to have cooperation of local and experienced boxers to help verify.
In all of the places that you have traveled, can you think of 1 place that seemed the most beautiful?
Gwen: It is too difficult to name a most beautiful place but the river corridor of the Grand Canyon is definitely a special place. There were so many really cool places we have visited due to muscle and money.
As young marrieds with kids we had neither time nor money to travel too far from home. As Pam and Chris got older we got hooked on river rafting. Our family river skills improved, we met other rafters and we began to take river vacations from 4 to 16 days with friends. So it was the muscles that took us down river and enabled us to camp away from civilization in some very special places for over 20 vacations. Don was the major muscle mover as rower for our family but everyone works hard on a river trip. Don passed on his rafting skills to both kids and they in turn became captains of their own boats. More muscles rowing meant kids could take friends. Some of our trips were small in number and the biggest had 24 folks. It is like having it all: being with friends and family and getting to experience the wonder of rivers all based on teamwork. The 20 rafting years were highlighted by 3 Grand Canyon trips filled with amazingly beautiful places. First on my list is the confluence of the usually muddy-red, wild dancing Colorado and the sometime and clear Little Colorado. The condition of the Little Colorado depends on rainfall miles up river and several thousand feet in elevation change. No rain on the high plateau means a tranquil clear Little Colorado.
As boats round the bend of the great Colorado approaching the confluence of the Little Colorado the question is asked of the lead boat, “Is it blue?” If the answer is yes, then boats pull over into the crystal clear turquoise-blue warm water, folks jump out and the play begins: hikes along the bank, swimming in the fresh clean water, sunning and feasting. If the Little Colorado is muddy colored like the main river, there is moaning and we just continue on. My second favorite beautiful place is a small labyrinth canyon called Matkatameba. Private boaters are about the only ones who can visit the magic place, as the small entrance from the river does not permit big commercial boats to tie up. Once out of the boats we can only reach the inner corridor and amphitheater area by skinnying along tight sided walls; in places we needed to put hands on one close canyon wall and feet on the other wall and chimney ourselves through. Then a few minutes later, the walls open up into a grand multi leveled, red sandstone arena. There are shaded overhangs; sunny rock perches and a glistening silver thread of the creek to play in. As we explore this magical place with friends we are so caught up in the beauty of the small treasure that is Matkatameba. One of our white water rafts is named after the canyon and just seeing that name painted on it is enough to take us there again.
As our kids grew up and we could leave them with the dogs in charge we were able to get away for longer periods of time to far away places that only money could make possible, we traveled to Mexico several times, and then to Costa Rica and Canada.
A New Zealand trip in the 90’s was a beautiful destination. Daughter and 2 other gal friends and I visited southern England. Then came Sweden with so many lakes, forested mountains and the elegant coastal capital of Stockholm. Later it was Dartmoor, England and Scotland. The beauty of the highlands of Scotland satisfied my need to see lush green mountains, long clear lakes and rocky, high cliffed coastal zones with huge expanses of ocean. Scotland was even better and more beautiful than expected so I would consider it the big winner.
Don: Both the Little Colorado/Colorado confluence and Matkatameba are two really great places, and because of the extremes in the Grand Canyon, those two places become even more dramatic. As a total experience the Middle Fork of the Salmon and the Forks of the Kern as two really great spots. Both of those rivers have sufficient difficulty to whet most boatmen’s’ appetites and with the Forks of the Kern it is now beyond my skill level for any return, and both are very beautiful rivers.
But then there is the Rio Paquare in Costa Rica where I have a rapid named, or East Fork of the Carson, or … too many rivers.
We have been extremely fortunate to get into White Water Rafting in the late 1970’s and over the years being able to travel on many rivers in the west, Canada, and Costa Rica. Traveling on those rivers brought us to some really incredible locations that are very unique. When someone asks about our boating experiences I just say we are lucky and we can still play with our kids. I’m looking forward to playing with our grandkids in the next few years on some pretty river.
Don – could you please tell us the story of the events that led to that great homage series to Funhog – Hog Heaven Theme Park – that you initiated?
Don: I thought the Pinecone “Spamps” affair that Funhog set up for you was so cool and I started thinking what could be done as a pay back. I knew Funhog had planted a box at Hog Lake Plateau and we had found that box and knew that the Plateau could hold 50 + letterboxes. The Hog Lake Plateau while being flat is probably the closest area, in kind, to Dartmoor. The area is dotted with rocks with a kind of tough turf in between. There are drastic weather changes and a heck of a lot of territory, and we would be traveling in that direction for the summer.
Most importantly Funhog is a Silverback who has given quite a bit to letterboxing and has bunches of plants all across the country and I figured she needed a bunch of pig boxes planted in her honor. Lastly she would be learning of “Her” boxes in the middle of summer when temps reach 110 degrees, and I knew she would just have to go boxing in all that heat or suffer the pangs of wanting to go. So it was a bit evil.
I contacted everyone that participated in the Pepe’s Pinecone deal including you and Sue and I added a few others. Thankfully the total stopped at 15 and that number took us nearly two days to plant.
Some folks wonder about the text I wrote, but once the letterboxes started coming in I just looked at the stamp image and let my brain go in whatever direction that image took me. The story came pretty quickly and I just stayed with the first thought. Once planted Jay (Drew) added the clues to LbNA in Funhog's name and Ryan did the same at Atlas Quest. The first inkling Funhog had was when she saw that “she” had several new plants at Hog Lake Plateau listed on “What’s New” at LbNA. I can only imagine what the heck she thought.
We left that area and cruised up to Camp Funhog central Oregon. By the time we got there she had been surprised and someone had already told her that we were the ones to spamp her.
Once folks realized that a Hog Heaven existed it became a destination and a repository for more pig boxes. I think the present count is somewhere around 25 letterboxes, all with a pig theme. It is a ‘must do’ for letterboxers traveling through the Northern California area. There is still plenty of room for more pig boxes, so bring’em on, cuz we don’t want to HOG it all for ourselves.
What one attribute of letterboxing is your most favorite? What about your least favorite?
Gwen: The fun of finding a box in a totally beautiful place or the giddiness of finding that perfect place to hide a box.
Least favorite: All the negative chatter and dissention that occurs on the lists sometime. Just play the game. There is so much room for originality and creativity in this game.
Don: Exploration of new and sometimes hidden spots that you might not have gone to if a letterbox wasn’t planted there.
My least favorite is the desire for many Newboxers to change the game, and those that get all hung up about trying to keep their records online. My goodness if Wanda and Pete can keep their records straight I would think that everyone could do the same. Why change the game???
Gwen – Just before your trip to Dartmoor, I received an email from YOU! For years, we thought Don was a bachelor who made up a wife! Why do you remain in the background and let Don take the more public role in boxing?
Gwen: Well Mark, DJ is the analytical, big picture guy. I’m OK being the little brown duck to the fine figured showy mallard. I prod along, arranging, planning and enjoying my interests outside of boxing. I allow Don to handle most communication except when a topic really grabs me. It was your trip to Dartmoor that was the kicker. You folks all had such a great time, found so many boxes and your on line journal was a real pleasure to read. I just wanted to find out more about some of the details of your trip so I had to kick Don off the chair and take charge. I’m one of those folks who really enjoy hearing about other people’s travels.
Tell us about your Dartmoor trip of several years ago. What did you like best about the way they letterbox across the pond?
Gwen: Um, I planned a Scotland trip and DJ piped in with, “How about going to Dartmoor too?” I was so surprised he would want to complicate a tour with more travel arrangements, driving and navigating but I was not going to turn down Dartmoor! Then as I followed your journals from the year before I could “see” us managing the pilgrimage to the “ Home of Letterboxing”. Just imagine, a place where letterboxing has been going on for nearly 100 years! We were only there 3 days though. Andy (Wilkes) was so kind to meet up with us and show us around some of the Tors. I found the idea of scavenging delightful in theory, but frustrating in practice but we did find several boxes, some with your image too. Andy cut us loose on our last day together as he had to go back to his real life. We lunched at the Dartmoor Inn (I think) then Don and I set off to visit some old stone sites on a nearby grassy hill. We were caught up following the path along the stone uprights when I saw a “likely” spot a bit away from the stone markers and I moved a couple of rocks and yes, I found the last box of our visit to Dartmoor! No clues, just poking around I guess that was the best thing! After whooping, I stamped in and gazed around to take in the view. The pub was just down the hill, the narrow road twisted about in front of us, I could see the car park in the near distance and the surrounding hills were such a beautiful shade of green that I felt I was in the “moment”. It couldn’t have been much better!
On the Tors Don wanted to find boxes the Dartmoor way, but when I checked out some clues, I found my math challenged brain was not up to the task. Triangulation was something I had not mastered, then it was those cuddly cute ponies that caught my attention, then it was the realization and thrill of being in Dartmoor that made me just gaze out at the scenery.
Don: Ha! My best time was spent in Scotland at a Sporting Clays venue! Shooting with the locals was a real hoot. I could have been transported back to the USA, as all they talked about was Taxes, Government, and gun control. Their hospitality was fantastic, and of course several verbal jabs went back and forth, but all in good fun.
Unlike some letterboxers I place letterboxing a few pegs down on my fun list. I realize this borders on heresy but I have a few things that I enjoy more than letterboxing.
In so far as the Letterboxing aspect of our trip I was a bit disappointed in the non-hand carved stamps, but loved the Dartmoor area.
When are you two left coasters coming our way so we can show you around the Letterboxing Capital of the US?
Gwen: A trip east is on my “to do” list and I’d love another visit with you folks. Maybe a trip east will come up when we can manage to drag ourselves east of the sights of the west. As you know we travel with our dear dogs so it means a trailer trip of at least 6 weeks. I’m up for it but it is a cross-country drive. Once there though, how fun it would be to find boxes in places with so much history. Oh, yes, I’m so up for the visits with boxers and the thrill of the “hunt”.
Don: When are you coming to the center of the known universe as far as White Water is concerned?
How has letterboxing changed your lives? What do you feel is the most rewarding part of this hobby and why?
Gwen: The game has given us a hobby to enjoy together. We have diverse interests from each other and the sharing of the hunt and planting boxes makes our trailer trips so interesting. So the reward is the togetherness we share while boxing.
Don: It allowed me to touch some of the creative side of my brain as I’m the carver and lean toward the planting side of the game. Gwen is more of the “Finder” and has a real knack for writing some of our more tedious clues.
On our summer trailer trips we generally touch bases with some local letterboxers and those encounters have been very special part of letterboxing. It is really about the folks!
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