Friday, February 08, 2008

Letterboxing D.C. Redux

As many of you may remember I had planned to go letterboxing in D.C. last winter (2007) but due to some unforeseeable circumstances was unable to even attempt one box. So this year I was scheduled again to travel to the D.C. area and I was determined to make the best of it.

So as soon as I checked into my hotel I was off to find at least one letterbox in the fading light and succeeded in finding Orion the Hunter. As the Lady in Red mentioned in a post earlier this year, true urban boxing is quite a different sort of thing than we are used to in Mid-MO. There actually are only about 15 or so boxes located in the District of Columbia itself mainly planted by a longtime boxer named Scarab, who I met and will talk about more later. There are more boxes in the area surrounding D.C. but I didn't have the extra money to afford that kind of transportation so I resolved to focus on the ones in D.C. itself. Many of the older boxes are missing. In fact, they have a very interesting philosophy about urban planting. It was similar to the one C2B2 had for their "Now you See Them Now you Don't Contest." Scarab in particular will plant a box almost expecting it to go missing. he kept saying often he was surprised that several of his boxes have lasted so long. Also he has been able to recover quite a few of his missing boxes as well to his surprise. In short, he places boxes expecting them to be only fleeting and to disappear which avoids a lot the frustration one experiences when a box disappears. Instead of disappointment for a missing box, he is delightedly surprised that several of his boxes are still around for the logging.

On my first morning I got up early to make a breakfast mini meet with Scarab and two members of Kilroy who was up visiting D.C. from their home in Tampa, Florida. We didn't have too much time because Scarab had to work and I had to go to my conference (my real reason for being in D.C.) but it was nice to exchange stamps and stories if even only for a short time. We set up this meeting in advance largely so I could attempt "It's About Time" an extreme letterbox of Scarab's that has been in existence for over year with no attempts. When you learn of my instructions you may know why. Anyway me being a crazy Midwestern letterbox with a reputation for FFs, I just could not pass up such a opportunity.

Before Scarab left I was given directions to his building and told to go to the security desk and say I had an appointment with him. I would be told the rest in time and I had to trust him. He did stress one final thing, that NO ONE at any time other than he and myself would know what I was up to. At first I thought this to be silly advice since it is always applicable to any letterbox, but as I approached the building, an internationally renown law firm specializing in Supreme Court law, I began to grasp the gravity of the situation. Here is a picture of the place.

Needless to say, I swallowed the frog in my throat who quickly joined the butterflies in my stomach and headed to the security desk. I had to present I.D. showing who I was and then given a visitor's badge and instructed to proceed to the 6th floor. Upon arriving at the 6th floor I was immediately overwhelmed by the impressive architecture and art in the lobby. The main hallways were lined with marble and the atrium above the reception area rose to the form the dome in the roof. I proceeded to check in with the receptionist and security gaurd there, where I was told to have a seat and given a hand written envelop from which I was to follow the instructions inside. Now I am not at liberty to discuss the rest of the hunt due to the secretive nature of it and I wouldn't want to spoil it for any brave boxers who may want to follow in my footsteps, thogh I may divulge more details over some good libations. But let me tell you, sneaking around city streets is one thing, but sneaking around the 6th floor of a strange office building within spitting distance of the White House, ducking into rooms that you really have no business being in and pulling envelops out from under desks to get your next instructions is something entirely different. You always have to be ready with an excuse for when you are accosted by that mosey employee wondering what the heck some stranger is doing poking around (which happened). It takes some confidence (the bad kind) and a little acting. Oh did I say that this hunt was "business casual dress required". I had a suit on so I blended in fairly well, but it was still very nerve wracking. When I finally had the box in hand I was so relieved but I got one final unplanned scare. It definitely was the most memorable hunt I have ever been on and I would highly recommend it for those without heart problems or pregnant.

I went on to find about 12 more boxes in D.C. while I was there. Several were missing and weren't well documented, but on average 60-70% of the listed boxes in the District were still around. I would highly recommend the following for anyone traveling that way or planning a family vacation for D.C. These are not in any particular order:
  1. It's About Time
  2. Pandemonium: the Fourth Estate
  3. Radio Days
  4. Orion the Hunter
  5. UU & Rice (my favorite theme of any box I found in D.C.)
  6. The Letterboxing Tour of Georgetown
  7. The Possessed (which i missed even though I was right there. I completely forgot to look for it while searching for others).
It was a super trip that more than made up for last year. Even the return flight home was nice, because I met fellow boxer D.C. Stones for a post-security exchange at the airport while waiting to board my return flight. He works at Reagan International and this was the first time he had done an exchange "post security" so that was kind of neat. It was also the first time I actually looked forward to waiting for my return flight.

The one warning i will give about D.C. boxing is that you sure do a lot of walking. It was often just easier to walk than to try and figure out the cryptic bus and public transportation schedules/routes. My feet were pretty sore and blistered by the third day and I figure I was walking at least 8-10 miles a day. I walked 16 miles on the last day I was there, so you get a lot of good exercise , though walking on concrete isn't as pleasant nor as easy on the feet as trail walking. Next to the walking the biggest challenge was the homeless which D.C. has an awful lot of. We are not used to walking in the wooded parks of our city looking for boxes and finding lean-tos and make shift shelters. On my final day, I even met the police on the trail as they were transporting a homeless man from the place he had made in the woods. They were collecting all of his aluminum cans, destroying his shelter and hauling him off to who knows where. It is a sorry state of our social world that we rarely notice or are able to ignore in Mid-MO, but one you cannot avoid while boxing in D.C. I was thwarted on more than one attempt by the homeless. It sure does humble a letterboxer. I mean here I am out in the woods looking for art and plastic and these people are just trying to survive. It sure keeps you in perspective and makes you appreciate the things you have and are able to do.

All in all, I got to meet some great people, acquire some superb stamps following some exciting and rather vague clues. I also learned a heck of a lot about how to successfully plant and make attempts in true urban environments. I more than made up for last year and would highly recommend this area for anyone.

Happy hunting,


Grace to You said...

Wow, what an adventure! My heart was in my throat just reading it...thanks for the vicarious thrills! :)

Grace to You said...

Cools pics, btw, esp the one of the White House. Is the other the Executive Building?

ahistory said...

No that's the law firm where I went on my hunt. It's located about 2 blocks from the White House on the now infamous K Street.

ahistory said...

Here are some non-letterboxing photos I took while touring D.C.

Lnd-Crzr said...

What adventure. I love it!

Fox-fyr said...

I think I may be to faint of heart to successfully pull off urban boxing n that scale. Confidence (the bad kind) is not my strong suit.

Hoof'n It said...

You trip sounds absolutely fantastic! I could not wipe the nervous grin off my face waiting for you to have big issues about vising rooms you should not have been in....I love it!

The pictures were awesome too! Thanks for sharing!
Hoof'n It

Giddy said...

Thanks especially for the vivid account of the search for "It's About Time." Exciting and unnerving. Kudos to Scarab, as well.