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Backpacker Magazine – May 2010

My Island, My Map: Creating a Custom Map of Bainbridge Island

If you think you missed the age of exploration and discovery, you haven't tried the latest mapping tools. Join our tech scout as he learns how to hike like a cartographer--and sees the wilderness in an entirely new way.

My family and I moved to Bainbridge, a semi-rural island eight miles west of Seattle, about a year ago. We've been life-hopping the past few years, looking for home, and we think we've found it here. The schools teach art and science, the neighbors don't cook meth, and the trees-to-asphalt ratio is off the charts. There's only one thing missing: sense memory. We're strangers, the island and me. It's my firm belief that there's no better way to understand a place, to really know it, than to lace up a pair of boots and start walking. So last summer, that's exactly what I did.

I announced my plans at dinner. "I'm going to hike all the way around the island," I told the family. "A circumnavigation. And I'm going to map the island as I go."

"Is that possible?" my 11-year-old daughter Lucy asked.

"Absolutely!" I said. In land mass, Bainbridge isn't much bigger than Manhattan, but its jigsaw coves stretch its coastline to 53 miles, nearly twice that of the Big Apple. Fifty-three miles sounded perfect: challenging, but well within the realm of the possible.

I told a neighbor the plan. "Is that legal?" he asked.

That seemed to be an open question. Private property fringes much of Bainbridge's coast, and shoreline access laws are like liquor laws: They vary wildly from state to state and there's often little in the way of logic or reason behind them. "Maybe," I answered. "Maybe not."

My 21st-century sextant: an Apple iPhone 3GS, loaded with the MotionX-GPS app. The combination would track my progress and let me collect routes, waypoints, and geotagged data. At home I would use the information to make a custom hiking map that clarified public access issues, and create a multimedia digital map with photos, video, and more. I'd even publish a guidebook that would serve as a family record and souvenir from the first year in our new home.


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