Thursday, November 22, 2007

Letterbox Trading Cards

Thanksgiving Day, for those of you not in the know, is a pretty slow day on Atlas Quest. Which is expected--you should be spending quality time with friends and family and enjoying the day off of work. Many of you, I suspect, might even be off letterboxing, dragging along those friends and family despite their protests. This is good. It isn't call "quality time" for nothing. ;o)

So I thought I'd use the relative lack of activity to do one of my rare daylight updates to Atlas Quest. This particular update: Support for Letterbox Trading Cards, or LTC for short. I've also seen them called Letterboxing Trading Cards and Letterboxer Trading Cards. All the same, though.

You can now create, list, find, and search LTCs on Atlas Quest as a distinct type of letterbox. No big shocks about how that works. It's all the same as before--just that you now have an option labeled LTC whenever there were options for box types. Additionally, I created a separate section in the help pages explicitly for Letterbox Trading Cards. If you have questions (or answers) about them, that's the place to go. Not to mention the LTC message board as well for discussion about them.

I have to admit, when I first heard about the idea of LTCs, I groaned. "What do we need another type of letterbox for?" But I brushed it aside, figuring it was a passing fad.

Probably a month or two after I first heard of them, my opinion of LTCs changed, and you can blame Batty Girl for that. ;o) She surprised me with a package full of them--probably from a dozen or two people in all--and they were absolutely amazing. Wow! How cool! I showed them off to Amanda, and even brought them with me to the Western New York gathering where I showed them to a couple of other people. "They're not trying to change my mind about LTCs, and they're doing a darn good job of it!"

But I still worried about it being a passing fad and didn't do anything with it. Wait and see, wait and see....

A few more months have passed, and there's still talk about them. More and more people seem to be asking about them. More and more people seem interested in them. At the Bye Bye Turtle gathering, dbltall brought an album filled with this amazing little pieces of art, while everyone else around the table oooed and awwwed.

I've finally decided, LTCs aren't going to go away, so I finally decided to officially support them. Anyone who already listed a box that started with the letters LTC--I've automatically changed the box into an LTC. If you listed LTCs but didn't bother to prefix them with those letters, you really should. I'll come through in another week or so and convert any new boxes that start with the letters "LTC" into an LTC.

For now, there aren't any special attributes that go with them. There are no special tools to track groups of people who want to share them. (Some people have adopted trackers for that purpose, but trackers were never designed to handle LTCs so use them at your own risk.) Perhaps in the future I'll add attributes and tools, but for now, I'll start things simple and see how they evolve. The LTCs of today could change over the next several months, perhaps dramatically so. No sense building a bunch of attributes and tools that may not be useful down the line.

So that's what's up on this Thanksgiving Day. =)

Monday, November 12, 2007

I'm exhausted, and I haven't even started yet!

As many of you know, I thru-hike the Appalachian Trail back in 2003, from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, the highest point in Maine. What a grand adventure! You can read all about it in my Great Adventures if you're interested. Some people have told me I'm quite amusing and that they're a lot of fun to read. =) I've even started turning them into a book, but it's only about half done at this point. Still a lot more work to do before it'll be published.

I started working on Atlas Quest a few months after finishing this great odyssey, and have continued working on the website ever since. It started as a small project to get back into the groove of things--I hadn't worked for two years and my programming skills were rusty. Then I was going to get a 9 to 5 job, work at it for a couple of years saving up lots of money, and if things went really well, get laid off again so I could thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. =)

Except I never stopped working on Atlas Quest, and I never did get that 9 to 5 job. Which leaves me with a quandary--how can I get myself laid off?!

The trail is calling me, though. I miss the trail. I started my hike on April 16, 2003. That was the day I saw my first white blaze, and I stood at the summit of Springer Mountain. I remember the weather--sunny and warm, and by sunset, the breeze became chilly. I'll always remember that day. Every April in particular, I feel the pull of the trail. And every April 16th, I imagine all those poor, foolish souls that hiked up to Springer Mountain with the intent to keep on walking for another 2,176 miles.

I have no desire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail again--been there, done that. But I want to thru-hike other trails, and I set a goal to do the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008--five years after my Appalachian Trail hike.

But the responsibility of running Atlas Quest is something of a quandary for me. For the most part, the website is pretty stable as long as I don't muck around with it. Things go wrong when I start adding new features and making changes.

I decided to bag the Pacific Crest Trail for now. It's so remote, I'd have a difficult time checking up on Atlas Quest regularly, and if something DID go terribly wrong, I'd have a hard time getting off the trail and into civilization to do something about it. But the trail is still calling me....

And so I decided to thru-hike the Florida Trail instead. From Key West to Pensacola. About 1,300 miles, across alligator infested swamps and no mountains to scale. =) I figured it would take me about three months and take me through a huge swath of Florida I've never seen or explored. Start on January 1st, and end sometime near the end of March or early April.

Half the length of the Pacific Crest Trail, it would only take me out of action for three months instead of six. And the Florida Trail is in a much more populated area of the country. I could check up on the site much more regularly (I'm hoping for at least two times per week, rather than the once every week I would have expected on the Pacific Crest Trail). And if something does go wrong and I need to jump into action, the trail is never far from civilization. There's even quite a number of letterboxers in the area who would likely kidnap me from the trail just to get AQ running again if it came to that. ;o)

I just added a new webmaster, so there are now three of us. Both of them would prefer to stay under the radar for now, although I suspect many of you can probably guess at who one of them is. Hopefully they won't have to do much while I'm off hiking, but at least there will be two people around who can restart the server as necessary. They won't be adding new features or anything like that--just making sure the site stays up and running and monitoring the site.

So I'm trying to get all my affairs in order before hitting the Florida Trail. The "paperwork." Some of it quite literally is paperwork. I need to acquire permits, fill out forms, and blah. Not really fun. I'm getting rid of my car--I won't have need of it in Florida and it'll just cost me money to leave it sitting in my mom's driveway the whole time. Atlas Quest is the sticking point, though. I can't just up and carry a computer with me the whole way, but in case of some Atlas Quest emergency, I want to have my development system with me!

So I've figured out a way to put the entire development system on a flash drive. It's very slick. I plug the 2 gig flash drive into a USB port, and my entire development system is available. I can actually run the entire website off this flash drive! It's pretty freaking cool! So I'll be carrying that with me. Technology today is amazing!

The Florida Trail Association puts out a magazine called Footprint. The last copy I received mentioned that 12 people thru-hiked the Florida Trail last year. Twelve! Over 2,000 people attempt the Appalachian Trail each year, and hundreds make it. Not even a baker's dozen pulled off the Florida Trail, though. I'd be in a rare group indeed if I make it. =)

I don't really know much about the Florida Trail, and there's not nearly as much literature about it as you can readily find about the Appalachian Trail. But there is one book, by a Mr. M. J. Eberhart (a.k.a. Nimblewill Nomad), who thru-hiked the Eastern Continental Trail from Key West, along the Florida Trail, to the Appalachian Trail, and finally the International Appalachian Trail deep into Canada. Even AT thru-hikers such as myself think he's crazy. ;o) But it covers his travels in Florida and it's the only book I could find with a detailed description of his trip through Florida, so I ordered it and started reading it several days ago.

It's not an especially impressive book, and in good conscious, it's not something I'd recommend for most people. He uses way too many exclamation points, and if you cut out every sentence where he thanks a hiker, trail angel, trail maintainer, or God, I think there might be three pages left to read. =)

There is a connector trail between the end of the Florida Trail and the start of the Appalachian Trail, however, and I never really gave it much thought. It runs through Alabama and Georgia, and from what I heard, is mostly a bunch of road walking. Not exactly exciting stuff.

Except... it connects to Springer Mountain. Where I started my first thru-hike, back on April 16, 2003. It hit me yesterday afternoon--I have to do this section. It would complete my Appalachian Trail hike. It would add another 500+ miles to my hike, and I figure I'd arrive at Springer Mountain sometime in mid-April if all went well.

Wouldn't it be ironic if I arrived at Springer Mountain on April 16, 2008? Five years to the day I started my AT thru-hike. Five years to the day I last stood on Springer Mountain? It would be prime thru-hiking season as well. I could see those fresh-faced hikers, aching, blistered feet, carrying those 60+ pounds packs up the Approach Trail. I'd be ending my hike, lean but strong, with a beard after not shaving for over four months.

And darn it, I want to be on Springer Mountain April 16, 2008. I don't just have an end point, but also an end date. Maybe Mark can pick me up and bring me back down to Atlanta, and I can take the train back to San Luis. =) That was the route I took to Springer Mountain in 2003--Amtrak from San Luis to Atlanta, and Mark driving me up to Amicalola Falls.

I can't think of a better way to end a hike. =)

The Springer Mountain finish is only an idea I got yesterday, though. I'd been planning to end at Pensacola, Florida, but I need to start doing a bit more research about that connection trail between the Florida and Appalachian Trails.

My hike just got 550 miles longer, and all I did was read a book.

The trail is calling me, though.

Key West to Springer Mountain, January 1-April 16, 2008. That's my goal.

-- Ryan

PS. If anyone is going to the Microsoft Annual Shareholder meeting at 8:00am in the Seattle Convention Center tomorrow morning, keep your eyes peeled for me! =)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rise of the Tortuga

My long lost signature stamp still has not resurfaced, despite rumors to the contrary. Perhaps someday it will, but until then, I needed something new. My original turtle stamp was supposed to last for 100 finds, then I was going to replace it with another signature stamp. Five years later, I was still using that stamp old turtle. Oh, it was upgraded--with boots and everything! But it was old and I wanted something new and fresh for a long time. Something with the words "Green Tortuga" already carved on it so I'd no longer have to write it in by hand anymore.

It's been weeks in the making, searching for that perfect image that captures my essence. And at long last, it is time to unveil my new signature stamp!

For those of you who often ask, is it okay to change your signature stamp once you've started using it? If I'm any example, the answer is YES! Don't feel stuck with the same stamp, find after find, month after month. Feel free to shake things up a bit and carve a new one. Perhaps a small stamp for those logbooks that don't have room for large ones. Perhaps seasonal stamps. Perhaps different signature stamps for different parts of the country. There's no reason you can't have a whole pocketful of signature stamps.

That said, I'm terribly lazy. I probably won't end up replacing this one unless it becomes lost or damaged. And when the time does come to replace it, I'm sure I'll create another completely new stamp just to shake things up again. =)

Carpe diem!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Death of a Tortuga

The Tortuga Boots signature stamp was born on a wet, dreary day in August 2003 in the state of Connecticut. The frogs were out thick, and Amanda of Seattle fame carved it in honor of the Green Turtle's Appalachian Trail thru-hike. The left boot clearly says AT, but Amanda never did like the right boot that says 03.

Ryan retired his old bootless signature stamp and has been stamping in with Tortuga Boots ever since including an estimated 60 or so trail registers, 800 letterboxes, and 400 exchanges. Not to mention the 500 or so stampings of invoices, envelopes, and other miscellaneous items. In four different countries.

In March 2006, the stamp traveled to Dartmoor and the famed Cranmere Pool letterbox.

It has exchanged with such luminaries as wassamatta_u, Celtic Quinn, Trekkie Gal, Wisconsin Hiker and Martini Man, Doublesaj n Old Blue, Alaska Homeschoolmommy, Dixie, Eidolon, and--most recently--Webfoot.

Tortuga Boots is survived by his older brother, Tortuga Barefoot; his caretaker, Green Tortuga; his mother, Amanda from Seattle; and far too many friends from around the world to mention by name.

Memorial services may be held in Gorham, Maine, the last known location of Tortuga Boots. In place of flowers, it was Tortuga Boots's wish that donations be made towards premium memberships on Atlas Quest.

We'll miss you, Boots, but you will not be forgotten.....